Thursday 18 December 2014

What Did You Do in the Cyber War, Daddy?

We often read about cyber-attacks, and some of you may even have heard of the expression zero day vulnerability, but this exotic world is usually pretty far removed from our everyday lives.

If for example you’ve been following the story of the Sony Pictures hack, or FBI reports on the widespread proliferation of Iranian malware, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t actually affect you. This week, however, I’m beginning to realise that this may not be the case.

We see computers with malware infections every day, and most of these are actually relatively unsophisticated, regardless of the harm they cause to the system. A typical infection is most likely to come from visiting a compromised website, as these days people are too savvy to risk opening infected attachments. Anybody can radically reduce the risk of what we call drive-by infections by ensuring that their operating system is up to date, and that they have a good (also up to date) antivirus program in place*.

If it is a superficial infection then we use a variety of cleaning tools - the art is in determining which tools to use at any given time, and in which order, and also how the tool is used, and our standard operating procedure will change according to the prevalent threats at any given time. Most customers won't appreciate the level of care that goes into what we call a Level 1 clean.

A proportion of machines, typically 10% to 20% depending upon the threat cycle, will be so badly compromised that we carry out what we call a Level 2 clean, which is where we back up any user data, and completely wipe and reinstall the computer. In most cases this is because we’ve identified a root kit, which is where the operating system itself has been overwritten to mask nefarious activities; in this case wiping the machine is often the only way we can be sure that we are returning the computer with an operating system which has not been compromised.

In the last couple of weeks however, we've seen a fundamental shift in the nature of malware attacks, and while our industry is used to reading over-hyped articles about malware threats in the press, in this case you would be hard pressed to find any mention of this in the mainstream newspapers.

At the start of the week the technical press reported that a widely used plug-in for WordPress had been compromised on a huge scale with more than 100,000 infected sites having been identified. It appears that these attacks were exploiting what’s known as a zero day vulnerability in Firefox and Internet Explorer. The term zero day attack refers to an attack that has not been previously identified, and is therefore one that developers have not had time to address and patch.

Since this happened we have seen a surge in cases of computers misbehaving without any apparent reason, which is to say our scanning tools aren't finding anything to explain this behaviour.

What’s been particularly worrying is the case of a customer who has just narrowly avoided a bank fraud which almost certainly resulted from the interception of his on-line banking credentials. In itself this isn’t unusual, however unlike most victims he didn’t click on a link in some phishing email, but logged on via a bookmark. Most worrying of all is the fact that two weeks ago the machine in question came in with a malware infection and we carried out a level 2 clean, which means that we can be sure that he was using the most up-to-date virus scanner, drivers, and operating system updates.

So this Christmas I’d like to wish you a particularly vigilant holiday, and a cyber safe New Year.

*If you’re on a budget we recommend AVG Free , although the most recent versions have become so insistent in their nagging you to purchase the paid-for version that I’m more inclined to point you towards our preferred paid-for option which is Eset Smart Security, which has consistently been at the top of our A list for a decade.  

Monday 17 November 2014

Lying is Cheaper than Acting

So if you're wondering what happened with my BT HomeHub let me give you the latest.

I'm sorry to say that I've given up. It's not for want of trying, as I have repeatedly called BT, but each time despite my protestations they carry out the same checks, make the same setting changes, and then trot out the same promises about calling me back at a set time to ensure that everything is working smoothly, which of course they don't. I'm effectively stuck in a loop, and it's a loop which takes about half an hour out of my day each time I fancy taking my support issue for another spin around the block. Given this level of intransigence it just doesn't make sense to persevere, particularly when I can easily replace and configure the HomeHub with a better router, because of course that's what I do for a living.

It has at least give me some insight into the frustrations that our customers face, and BT should hang their heads in shame at the service they are offering their customers.

What is worse is that this behaviour seems to be becoming more common. You may recall that last month I also discussed the problems I was having with my Nokia Lumia 930. As I predicted I was simply unable to get Carphone Warehouse to budge from their position, and given that I'd rather live with defective camera on my phone than lose the smart phone capabilities that I've come to depend upon, I'm still in exactly the same position that I was two weeks ago. One would think that this adequately demonstrates the level of inconvenience that I would suffer if I were to lose my smart phone, but Carphone Warehouse don't seem in the least bit concerned.

If you want any further examples of this sort of behaviour let me tell you the story of a client of ours who recently suffered a power outage. As it wasn't in an internal problem they called out UK Power Networks who are responsible for the incoming mains supply. UK Power Networks determined that the problem was a break in the cable between the cut-out and the meter, and that our client would need to get an electrician to run a new cable, and then contact EDF to connect it. 

I only got involved in this because the power surge that took out the cable also took out one of their PCs, but as I unravelled the story I pointed out that my client was being lied to. The rules are quite clear; the cable at fault is not his responsibility, and it's up to the two electricity companies to repair it. As I'm not an electrician I posted the problem on a specialist forum where this position was confirmed as correct by experts, however the consensus was also that the chances of getting these two parties to affect a repair would cause so much disruption, and take so long, that my client would be better off doing the repair themselves, and footing the bill, rather than waiting for the power companies to do the right thing. 

The power companies know that this is the position, which is why they are being so obstructive. Worse still is the fact that they know they're going to get away with this, because the complaints procedures are so time consuming and convoluted that, like my efforts to get my HomeHub replaced, they are simply not worth the effort. All I can do is name and shame the companies involved, so if by chance anybody who works for British Telecom, the Carphone Warehouse, UK Power Networks or EDF happens to read this I would just like you to know that you really suck. As for the various ombudsman services, you are not only useless, but we're paying your salaries to be useless which in some ways is even worse.

The only positive in this story is that at least small businesses can beat the big boys by providing far better levels of customer service, and above and beyond that by treating our customers with respect.

Monday 27 October 2014

It's All About Data

I spend more time than most talking to help lines – it’s not a particularly enjoyable task, but I find that by sticking to a few simple rules I can minimise the tedium. First off remain polite regardless of how frustrated you are getting – you are at the mercy of a call centre operative, and they are far more likely to make an effort to help you if you treat them with courtesy. I like to make it clear that I’m technically trained quite early on and then try to treat them as fellow techies. In between tasks I’ll often ask where they are working from, and what the weather is like there (usually a lot warmer).  These people have what I’d consider to be pretty horrible jobs, and take a lot of abuse from angry callers, so if I can make their day a little better then I’m doing us both a favour.

This week, however, has tested my patience to the limit. The problem has been a failing BT Home Hub 3 – twice a day or more it needs to be rebooted to restart the wireless services, and as is common with these routers the signal strength has dropped off so that I’m lucky if I can get a working connecting from 10m away. And worst of all is that it’s my own Home Hub, so I have to live with this problem myself.  I considered replacing it with a nice fast Netgear router, which is what I’d suggest to a customer, but pennies are short this month, and out of some perverse sense of masochism I also wanted to see just what it takes to work my way through the labyrinthine BT fault finding service.

This problem itself is a common one – Home Hubs fail often enough that we Angels have all seen this problem before, and it’s going to be something that is well documented on BT’s knowledgebase. You’d think therefore that it would be a relatively straightforward job to get them to replace it – but actually no.

The first obstacle is their insistence that this is caused by wireless interference. I'm pretty sure that they are working to a script because I've heard exactly the same things said twice now, and as these technicians have been taught this is part of their training the clearly believe it. Wireless interference can be a problem, particularly in neighbourhoods with lots of wireless routers, but there is an excellent little tool called inSSIDer that allows you to map the levels and frequencies of any interference, and once you know which frequencies to avoid you can set a channel for your network that you can be sure will minimise interference. When interference does occur you wireless won't stop working except in the most severe cases (think embassies making burst transmissions which are probably damaging you health as well as you wireless signal), but you will notice a performance drop as your wireless connection slows.

After two weeks the engineers have repeatedly change my channel (although without once resorting to any channel analysis), and all this has at least taught me is that the Home Hub’s intelligent channel selection feature is a complete joke. Yesterday for the first time one of the engineers actually agreed that we might need to replace the Home Hub, but he then kept me on hold so long that I actually forgot I was still supposed to be waiting on the phone and went out. This should allow them to drag out my misery for another few days at least. All the while the shiny new Netgear router is beckoning and I have to admit my resolve is weakening, which is probably what British Telecom are depending on.

In separate news I've been getting along very well with my Nokia Lumia 930, but last week I suddenly noticed that I was getting a blemish on all my photographs. The camera on this phone is pretty amazing, especially for such a tiny device and I'm guessing that there is a speck of dust inside the lens assembly itself which is causing the problem, however trying to get this resolved has been another uphill battle. I purchased the phone from Carphone Warehouse a couple of months ago and according to the advice given by the OFT in their publication ‘Sale Of Goods Act Explained’:
“Any refund, repair or replacement you arrange with your customer relating to faulty goods must not cause them too much inconvenience and you will have to pay for other costs, for example, collection or delivery”.
The problem here is that Carphone Warehouse wants to give me a dumb phone (as in one without any data) as a replacement while they sort out my phone, which will cause a great deal of inconvenience as I pretty much run my business from my phone now I don't have a permanent desk in either of our service centres. At the moment I'm pushing for them to replace the phone as the only viable solution that complies with their obligations under SOGA, but something tells me that this is will be a case where what should happen will fall short of what actually happens, and I'll be the one losing out. Where we've faced similar problems ourselves as the retailer we've either bent over backwards to expedite a rapid repair so the customer isn't inconvenienced, or taken the hit and replaced the equipment - this isn't a case of us trying to keep to the letter of the Sale Of Goods Act, but rather just a demonstration of good customer service.

One thing that both these stories demonstrate is our total and utter dependence on a data connection both at home, in the office, and on the road. In the old days we used to think of data loss as being one of the greatest risks to a business, but with all the cloud services employed these days that risk has moved into the background: the new risk is not being able to access all that data. So what's your disaster recovery plan?

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Two Thousand Reasons to be Cheerful

Although we’re still enjoying a spectacular Indian summer I can't help but notice that the leaves on the trees are starting to turn glorious shades of gold, bronze and copper, and it's a sure indication that it's that time of year again.

I'm talking of course about the Hammersmith and Fulham Brilliant Business Awards for which we are this year defending our position as Best Business Supporters of the Community. If you can spare a moment, and of course if you think we deserve it, we would be delighted if you could vote for us here.

If you're still uncertain and you happen to run a retail business in the Borough then perhaps I can give you two thousand reasons to change your mind by informing you about the Retail Rates Relief scheme. 

If you follow this blog you'll know that we have two shops, one in Fulham and one in Surbiton, but neither of these councils seems to have publicised the scheme yet, so congratulations to Wandsworth Council who have kicked off a pink envelope campaign to inform local shops, cafes, and other small retail businesses about the scheme; as I live in Putney I was lucky enough to read about this in the council magazine that comes through my letterbox.

All you need to do is ensure that you qualify as a retail business which is fairly self-explanatory, but do check the list of exceptions which is on page 2 of the form, and if you do qualify then download the form from here:

Then it’s just a case of filling it in and sending it to the council's Business Rates Department at:

London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
Town Hall
King Street
London W6 9JU

A single application will allow you to claim the rebate for 2014/15 and 2015/16.

If your business is based in another Borough then you should be able to find details on your councils website if you search for 'retail rates relief'; I believe the scheme is being run nationally.

Monday 14 July 2014

Customer Service with a Sting

Many of our customers, both businesses and individuals, will have heard that Westminster are to change the providers of their pay-by-phone service, which as we all know is extremely popular with Londoners, particularly for the way in which it doesn’t try to profit from drivers.

The new suppliers of this service are a company called Ringgo, who are part of a sizeable corporation servicing over 500 cities, yet when I tried contacting them to discuss how to register multiple vehicles for our business I couldn’t find any number listed on their website. I tried arguing with their automated payment system and after a few minutes of robot I managed to get through to an what I assume was a human only to find out that my options were either to send an email or call a 09 (premium) number at a pound a minute.

I have nothing against 09 numbers – there are lots of suitable applications for premium services, but as a policy we bar these from our phone system because there is no situation in which our employees should be calling them. Our reasoning is that any supplier who wants to charge us to talk to them isn’t really interested in our business anyway, and we are happy to find an alternative supplier. Except of course where this service is being provided by a public body such as Westminster Council, where choice isn’t a luxury we are offered, and the ‘service’ allegory doesn't really work because we aren’t the customer, we’re the hostage.

I’m not alone in thinking that the use of a premium number for a customer service line is unreasonable – The Cabinet Office seems to agree so rest assured that I’ll be taking this up with Westminster’s CEO, Charlie Parker.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to finding out how quickly Ringgo respond to support emails when we find out this Thursday that we can’t park our scooters, and specifically whether it’s going to be faster that the reaction time of Westminster’s friendly parking enforcement officers.

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Right to be Forgotten

Until today I’d never heard of  Stan O'Neal, but this gentleman has succeeded in making the news despite trying to achieve exactly the opposite.

O'Neal is suspected of using the new "right to be forgotten", following a ruling in May by the European Court of Justice that Google must delete "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" data from its results when a member of the public requests it. I say suspected because he is the only person mentioned in the linked article, and if that’s the case he gets very little sympathy from me.

When Google received the take-down request it contacted Robert Peston who wrote the original article informing him of this development, which is a clever move because it’s galvanising the press into exposing the ECJ ruling as utter nonsense.

Peston points out that his reporting shouldn’t be classified as inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, and I believe the same goes for all factually accurate reporting – and remember that the original article is remaining in place – it’s Google’s link to it that is being removed. So we’re not actually burning books here, just making them inaccessible.

I see this as an ominous development, and would go so far as describing it as Orwellian because Orwell knew that once you control the news a person sees, you control what they think. I also think that sleaze bags - especially those in public life - shouldn't be allowed to crawl away from their sordid pasts.

Free speech aside, I am reminded of my first forays onto the internet in the early nineties primarily because it was utter rubbish. Unless you knew exactly where you wanted to go you were unlikely to find anything relevant because the search engines of the day were useless. Admittedly there wasn’t actually much content out there in those days, but now we’ve finally got so tantalisingly close to the font of all knowledge it seems we are looking for ways of turning off the tap.

It’s not just the right to be forgotten that jeopardises our future – most governments want to control us by restricting what we see; censorship starts by targeting the universally abhorrent, but pretty soon you’re into grey areas  and then it’s back to quoting Orwell (or Heine) again.

I’m passionate about the freedom of the internet because it transcends governments and borders – it’s the ultimate medium of communication; all we need to do is make sure we keep talking. And in the meantime we can use it to answer all the important questions like is there vitamin C in oatmeal (no), and is Stan O'Neal a total dickhead (you know the answer to that).

Tuesday 10 June 2014

The Outlook is Cloudy

I had  problem with iCloud that I couldn’t solve, which is ironic as I don’t actually use iCloud. Every time I plug my iPhone into my PC, iTunes starts, which is fine as I like to back up my iPhone regularly. The problem is that each time it started, up popped a message asking me if I wanted to install the iCloud Control Panel, which I really didn’t, and nor did I want to be 'reminded later', which was the only other option. It’s a very Apple thing – you do it their way or you don’t do it at all. What’s wrong with a ‘No thanks’ option – or even better now I’ve seen the message a few dozen times, a ‘shove your iCloud where the sun don’t’ shine button. Then one day the same message popped up with a slight difference –the ‘Later’ button read ‘No Thanks’. I clicked on it. It was magical.

I’ve never been a big fan of Apple’s iCloud and in particular the way it works with Outlook– it makes no attempt at logically synchronising data but instead duplicates data, and every time I’ve worked with it I’ve started by doing a full backup of the Outlook data files which more often than not has saved my bacon. I’m told that even Apple themselves regard iCal as a joke. Probably the only useful feature of iCloud is that it can back up my devices wirelessly, but as the limit is a paltry 5GB before I start having to pay for the service I’m quite happy to stick with Microsoft’s OneDrive which happily backs up the Photostream from my iPhone, and rely on backing up the rest via iTunes.

OneDrive is part of the Office 365 family of products which in the past 12 months has matured into a robust and reliable platform, and for some time it’s been our solution of choice for both SMBs and home users who want to seamlessly synchronise their contact, calendars and data across multiple devices.

This is a market that is all about 365 Hosted Exchange, which is the preferred back-end of Outlook. Whatever Microsoft’s competitors would like to think, Outlook is what we see being used on pretty much every business computer and a fair proportion of home ones too. Mobile devices may not use Outlook, but they work seamlessly with Exchange, and even Blackberry devices manage to work reasonably reliably with it.

It’s been interesting to see the marketplace evolve – 365 is displacing Google Apps for Business almost completely; a couple of years ago Google ruled the roost, but their offering has hardly changed, and their delay in supporting Outlook 2013 was disastrous.

Before 365 the other option was to use Hosted Exchange which we regarded as the Rolls Royce solution – solid and reliable but expensive. This is still a sizeable market in our industry, but this has more to do with the profit margins offered to resellers than value to the customer. We still regularly meet customers who are paying hundreds of pounds a month for a mailbox that would fit nicely into a 50Gb £3.30 a month 365 Small Business subscription. To be sure, you’ll have trouble getting rich on the miniscule commission that Microsoft pays their Cloud Partners, but if it’s value to the customer you’re looking for then this is really the only choice.

As a result a lot of our work right now involves migrating customers to 365 Hosted Exchange, and this includes many of our customers who were using POP or IMAP email via our decrepit old 1and1 server. I’m looking forward to turning this server off – we haven’t actually used it for hosting for over a year, after 1and1 proved incapable of installing a secure image on it for us to work with (or for that matter to offer any support), and as they offered no migration path for the associated mailboxes we’ve been stuck with an expensive white elephant for far too long. For me the retiring of POP and IMAP marks a fundamental change in the way we use computers. It’s indicative of the move away from a single fixed device to multiple mobile devices, but it’s also about the move from locally stored (and easy-to-lose) data to cloud hosted systems.

Right now I’d love to spend some meaningful time living with a Windows phone to see how much of a difference this cross platform integration makes with a ‘native’ device, but the sad fact is that while I’d love to dump my iPhone 4 which has become rather lethargic since I reluctantly updated from iOS5 (and yes – I hate Apple maps as much as I expected to), I can’t because I’m too heavily invested in apps that aren’t available on the Windows Phone platform – yet…

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Software from the Shadows

If I were to ask you what software was installed on your computer would you be able to tell me?

It’s a simple enough question to answer you’d think – you’ve got your browser or two, probably a version of Office, some antivirus software, and maybe an account package or some games. If you install your software using standard install packages then you will find them listed in the control panel under Programs and Features. It’s always interesting to see what’s listed, and what you can identify, because when I examine a customer’s computer I’ll invariably find several programs they had no knowledge of installing and one or two really obscure ones that I have to Google for (almost always before I remove them). When I write up the job I describe this part of it as ‘removed unwanted programs’.

The question we are always asked is “how did this software get there”. And the answer is of course that you installed it. This certainly wasn't something you did intentionally but the sad fact is that a lot of the free software that we regularly install will come with a hidden payload that you will only see if you look carefully while you are installing it.

We are talking here about the fringes of the dark Internet; that borderland where what is going on certainly isn't good, but falls short of the activities of the criminal dark side. It's a confusing world where a button on a webpage may not do what you think it's going to do; where you need to be on your toes to make sure you don't click the big green ‘Start Download’ button because the one you really want is a little one above it, and it’s the sort of place that would confuse the hell out of your parents. Welcome to the world of foist-ware

At one end of the scale you've got Adobe who I seem to mention far too frequently - their default download of Adobe reader tries to foist a copy of McAfee Security Scan, which is top of our list for instant removal. Two respectable companies there, both of which should know better.

Next let's take the example of another respected name; Java. As you'll know Java will regularly prompt you for an upgrade. If you look carefully at the install screen it will have a pre-ticked box that will install the Ask toolbar and make Ask your default search provider. Apart from the fact that the Ask search engine is absolutely terrible, this resetting of your search engine without your actual permission is exactly the sort of thing that malware will do. Evil is as evil does.

Another piece of software that we regularly see installed is uTorrent, which has gone from being a well-respected bit torrent client to a bit of a whore when it comes to foist-ware. Their recent partnerships have included the Ask toolbar, another piece of borderline malware called Search Protect, and at one stage even the Bing toolbar. I mean which self-respecting user would ever knowingly install any of that tat?

There is of course a reason for all this and it comes down to the commission that is paid for deploying these nasty bits of software, but the ends shouldn’t justify the means. It reminds me a little bit of the old days of trying to book a flight with budget airline, where just as you were about to check out you noticed that the price has mysteriously changed, and on closer examination you'd spot that travel insurance had been added to your purchase.

In the name of consumer protection this sort of practice has since been stopped, but for some reason the low-life that pedal a lot of the software that we customarily remove from computers seem to think that the same rules shouldn't apply to them. Given that generally users don't want their software, didn't ask for it, and suffer in performance terms as a result of it running, I have no hesitation in calling them out as peddlers of malware.

They may claim legitimacy and threatened to sue those who attack their business model, but it seems to me that a simple code of conduct that states that software may only be installed on a computer when explicitly requested by a user, rather than by means of a pre-ticked box, would see these companies put out of business overnight. This simple change would at least allow some separation between the bad guys and the rest of us, and I've no doubt that products like Search Protect will find no place to hide if they are forced to come out of the shadows.

Thursday 6 March 2014

How Computers are Creating a Lost Generation

This post has been a while in the making – it’s a subject I first thought about covering when Fred, one of our long standing and well liked customers started passing beyond the point of understandable confusion with the ever-changing digital world, and regressed in a few months into crippling and overwhelming dementia.

It’s a tragic thing to watch; Fred enjoyed a successful career and headed up a French property group before retiring. He had much in common with the  large number of seniors amongst our clients, many of whom came to computing late in life, but still managed to embrace it with enthusiasm. We are terribly proud of them, and I’m happy to say that usually the sequence of events isn’t as dramatic as Fred’s but I’m sure we see a side of computing that those who write code are rarely exposed to – after all that’s a young man’s world, and the last thing they are concerned about is anything that interferes with the pace of progress. I should know - I was once one of them.

These days I realise that I am now no longer part of that generation because I’ve failed the PSU test – it’s a simple metric – I can officially no longer read the power rating  labels on laptop power supplies without reading glasses, and the same goes for most of the serial codes and the badly etched lettering you find on motherboards.

Fortunately I’m still able to use my screen at native resolution, but I know from my clients that eventually I’ll be forced to step it down to be able to read it – and that’s where another set of problems start. A few weeks ago I dropped in on another of our senior clients who was unable to print PDF files. I assumed this was a user problem, but as it turned out it was actually an Adobe problem – their custom print dialog was so large that on a 640x480 screen that the bottom of the form wasn’t visible, and as this was where the OK button was the only way to print was by using the TAB button to get down to it; easy enough if you know this trick, but I’m still going to name and shame Adobe for failing to take into account the needs of poorly sighted users.

Developers love updating their software, and one the things that I’m sure contributed to Fred’s decline was when Yahoo Mail rolled out their major revamp of the widely used webmail service. Developers probably don’t give a thought about moving buttons around on a page, but they should be aware that something as simple as a relocated print button can throw older users into total confusion – they lack the good eyesight that allows them to spot the newly located button in the first place, and they don’t have the same cognitive abilities as younger users that allow them to remember where it now is even if they do find it.

In a month Microsoft’s support for XP will officially end. It’s had a good run since it’s release in 2001 (and we conveniently forget just how bad it was in the early days), but things move on. Since XP we’ve had Vista, Win7 and now Win8, so it’s a long way behind the curve. I fear, however, that this will orphan two important groups – those who cannot afford to replace their computers with newer ones, and those who are unable to adapt to a new operating system. Stop there and imagine these two groups on an intersecting Venn diagram. Do you see the huge intersection, and can you guess the demographic?

I’m not sure that the end of support means the end of XP – after such a long run I suspect that most of the vulnerabilities have been discovered and patched, so hopefully any new vulnerabilities will be minor ones. I also suspect that the technical community will step up to the mark and introduce patches if they are required, and I think this is going to be important, as I see XP being used by a select group of older users for some time to come.

I’m not the only one who hopes I’ve got it right. Susan has suffered through a series of neurological problems and suffers from frontal lobe epilepsy; her ability to cope with even the smallest change on her computer is severely reduced by the cognitive impairment caused by her injuries, and worse still, the stress of trying to cope with something as simple as a revamped web page layout can cause her to have a seizure. As her laptop is approaching the end of its life, our solution is to take a new laptop and recreate her old working environment as closely as we can. With a bit of luck she should be using XP and Office 2002 until well into the 2020’s.

It’s time that we all woke up to the dangers leaving our parents and grandparents behind – there are lots of simple things that can be done, such as extending the legacy layouts of webpages like Yahoo mail, and simple things like testing page layouts and minimum resolutions, but it’s got to start with developers, so spread the word, because if we’re lucky, one day we’ll be old too...

Wednesday 22 January 2014

It's All Change for Remote Desktops

If you’ve been using LogMein Free you will by now have received notification that the Free part of the name is being retired at the end of this month.

It’s a sad day for many of us; I’ve been using the service to access my own PCs for years, and as a result of this experience we adopted the professional version, LogMeIn Rescue as our platform for remote support here at Computer Angels. Many of you reading this will have the tell-tale icon of a white cross on a blue background that is the Computer Angels Remote Support tool, or as we call it, the panic button.

I’m not sure how many people will opt to pay for the product now that it’s no longer free, but for those using the product for non-commercial use there are still several options out there.

My first thought was to switch to TeamViewer which is marketed as a business tool for virtual meetings and online presentations, but it also works as a remote access service. In works well on both Windows, OS X and Linux, and includes file transfer and remote printing functions. Remember however that if you’re using this for commercial use then you are breaking the licensing conditions, and the paid-for version is a whopping £439. Most of my access falls under non-commercial use, but there’s a definite grey area there, and when I started to look for alternatives I found a familiar name with a new product which I just had to check out.

Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop requires a Google account, but is totally free, including for commercial use. Installing it is straightforward, and if you have a small stable of computers that you want to access remotely then this could be the perfect solution.

First impressions are that it’s not perfect – I’ve had a few freezes and disconnects which may be to do with my using nested Virtual Machines which I’m also trying to control with the tool, but the screen clarity and resolution handling is great, and hopefully as more people move to this new service, which I'm sure will see a surge in download in the next week, then I've no doubt the Google will pile on the developer resources and fix the inevitable niggles.  I’ll let you  know how I get on with it.