A tablet that is good for work purposes

The new Microsoft Windows 10 Surface Go has received good reviews for use with a detachable keyboard for work purposes.

It is described as a “budget”, ie low cost model, which means it does have some limitations, according to the Guardian’s Samuel Gibbs, who describes it as better for work than for play. This means that it is not ideal for anyone wanting media consumption as it has no apps for such things as Sky Q, Amazon Video or Google Play Movies.

However, when working on the move, Gibbs says that paired with the Type Cover keyboard it is very good work machine, easier to use on a lap, plane or train table.

Wired, too, gives the Surface Go a decent review.

It makes the same point as Gibbs, about media consumption: “if you want to take Netflix, Fornite and the rest of your favourite apps on holiday this summer” it would not be a good choice.

However: “if straddling between spreadsheets, emails and, well, other more boring stuff is a greater priority, then Microsoft’s Surface Go should be your first port of call.”

The tablet could not be used as your main work machine, but according to these reviews it would make an ideal, lightweight and compact substitute for those times when you have to be on the move and still able to work.


Yet another security flaw in Intel chips

Another security flaw has been discovered in Intel’s computer chips, the third this year, say researchers.

The flaw, named Foreshadow, could be used by hackers to obtain sensitive information from computers released from 2015 onwards.

While Intel has already released a patch to mitigate the problem, this latest revelation is not good news for the company.

It has posted a full list of hardware affected by Foreshadow on its website.

According to an article on the BBC tech pages of its website: “Foreshadow was discovered by collaborative work by researchers from KU Leuven university in Belgium and others from the universities of Adelaide and Michigan.”

Intel subsequently discovered two further weaknesses.

Although there have been warnings that installing the mitigation patch could affect the collective processing power of companies using cloud computing platforms Amazon, Google and Microsoft have already installed fixes for this problem. Individual PC users are unlikely to face this problem, however.

As ever, we advise all our customers and clients to be mindful of their cyber security and to ensure that they download and install security updates promptly as soon as they become available.


Can apprenticeships solve the IT skills shortage?

There has been a serious shortage of suitable skilled IT professionals for some time and it is only likely to get worse as fewer people come from the EU to work in the UK because of uncertainty about their status after Brexit.

Surveys have found that 50% of respondents see the skills shortage as a serious problem, and 25% said recruitment was a major challenge.

Certainly, there is evidence that schools need to do more to encourage students and improve their IT skills.  This is something businesses can help with by getting involved in in-school workshops and activities and by publicising the range of their activities in the workplace that need IT skills.

The apprenticeship levy imposed by the Government on larger businesses was supposed to generate money to increase the number of apprenticeships but the results have so far been disappointing in terms of the numbers of apprenticeships that have been created since it was introduced last year.

However, many smaller businesses do not realise that they can get financial help to take on apprentices themselves.

If your business is below the level where it has to pay the apprenticeship levy, you pay just 10% towards the cost of training and assessing an apprentice aged 19-plus.

If your business qualifies it needs to agree a payment schedule with the training organisation and pay it directly, while the Government pays the remaining 90%. For apprentices aged 16-18 the Government will pay the full 100%.

However, your business also must show that any apprenticeship scheme involves the apprentice working with experienced staff, learns job-specific skills and carries out formal study, such as at a college or other training centre, during their working week.

If you are considering setting up an apprenticeship scheme, you will need to find an organisation that offers training for the type of scheme you are considering.

Given the likelihood that there will continue to be a shortage of qualified IT professionals for some time it is worth small businesses considering taking on apprentices.

There is a lot of information about both setting up and funding an apprenticeship here


Tips to take care of your Surface touchscreen

We have recently been receiving several Surface Pro touchscreen tablets for repair most often because of cracked screens.
These are expensive machines to buy and to fix, and often we’re told when they have been brought to us that children have been using them.
We have some tips for taking care of your Surface Pro, and high on the list, therefore, is to ensure that children are taught that they only need a light touch but also that they must take care not to drop them!
Screens need to be kept clean and grease free. Scratches, finger grease, dust, chemicals, and ultraviolet light can affect their performance, so they should be gently wiped using a lint-free cloth dampened with a little bit of mild soap and water, or with screen wipes. You should never apply liquids directly onto the screen.
Keep your screen out of direct sunlight as prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light or excessive heat can damage the display. You should also always close the cover when the machine is not in use.
It is also important to look after your machine’s battery. While all rechargeable batteries do eventually wear out you can prolong their life with these tips:
• Once a month, let your battery drain below half way before charging it.
• Avoid having your Surface plugged in 24/7.
• Store your Surface in a cool, dry room when you’re not using it.
If you are not going to be using your Surface Pro for an extended period, it is a good idea to charge it to 50% every six months to help make sure it stays chargeable.
Power cables can also be vulnerable. They can be weakened or damaged if repeatedly twisted or bent in the same spot.
So you should avoid pinching or twisting the power cord or wrapping it tightly. It’s better to wrap it in loose coils.


GDPR is looming – is your business ready?

It is reported that many small businesses are still either unaware of or unready for the new data protection regime, GDPR, that comes into force in May this year.

Businesses will have to ensure that any information they keep on their customers is stored securely, and this applies to both online and paper-based records.

They must also be able to remove any personal information if the customer requests it.

If any services are outsourced to another provider, they too must be GDPR compliant, and both will need to appoint a data operations manager to be responsible for security and compliance.

The new regulations will apply to even the smallest businesses if they keep customer records and there is plenty of advice on what they need to do on the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) website.  This is the best source for information as the ICO will be regulating compliance and has the power to issue fines for non-compliance.

Two particularly helpful guides are the 12 steps to take now downloadable PDF and the checklists on the website, one for data controllers and the other for data processors, available here

At Colchester IT, we can assure our customers that we have already put systems in place to ensure everything is secure.

All websites are stored on third party software to ensure security and all data is now held on a separate server, not accessible to outsiders nor wifi enabled. Everything is also password protected.

In any event we only hold on to data for a maximum of 30 days.

We have also taken steps to ensure that any third party suppliers we use are GDPR compliant and of course, we ask for permission before we send customers any e-newsletters and updates.

We also ensure paper-based records are regularly shredded.


Time to ditch the TomTom?

We have quickly come to rely on sat-navs, rather than physical maps, to help us get from place to place and nowadays we can use direction finders on our mobile phones instead of buying a special gadget.

But how many people have, and still use, that first well-known sat-nav, the TomTom?

Well that may not be an option for much longer, especially if you still have one of the older versions.

In late January this year TomTom announced that it was no longer be providing updated maps for some of the devices.

A spokesman for the company said: “It has become clear that some of our older generation navigation devices do not have sufficient resources to run the newest maps and software.”

TomTom will still be updating some models – “for their useful life”, and owners are warned that they should not assume map updates will continue indefinitely. It said active subscriptions to map updates will continue until subscriptions run out, but customers will not be able to renew maps or receive new software updates.

There is a list of those devices which will no longer receive updates on the TomTom website.


Intel chip vulnerabilities

Intel computer chip vulnerabilities the story so far

Anyone who relies on a Mac or PC for work, which is most of us nowadays, will have been horrified when news broke early in January that Intel had discovered a flaw in the chips it manufactures.

Potentially, this meant that every machine fitted with an Intel chip for the last 20 years or more could have had security vulnerabilities, although there is no evidence that anyone has so far tried to exploit them.

Nevertheless, the fact that this became known, will have worried users, not least because they were likely to be affecting nearly every operating systems and device. Apple, for example, confirmed that the issue affected all its products from Macs to iPhones and iPads.

Toshiba, Dell and HP, Microsoft, Apple started to rush out patches, and some had apparently been working on patches for operating systems at least six months before the news of the problem broke.

But then other problems began to emerge when users installed them.

They were implicated in spontaneous and unexpected machine reboots, and also in slowing machines down, sometimes by as much as 20%.

Most recently, on January 23, Intel issued a statement advising people to no longer apply the patches.

According to a BBC news online report “Intel spokesman Navin Shenoy said it had been investigating why the earlier patches caused “higher-than-expected reboots and other unpredictable system behaviour”.

It added that Intel said it now knew what caused these problems and was developing fresh patches that would work better. The company’s own investigations showed computers slowing down between 2% and 25%.

Technology specialists doubted that there would be a new, improved patch anytime soon, so it’s definitely a case of “watch this space” for developments and hold off from installing the currently-available patches.


Is Apple losing its edge?

Apple laptops and desktops are often the favourite hardware for businesses, partly for quality and partly because they have always been seen as largely hack-proof.

But a recent problem has caused some technical writers to question whether the “big A” is beginning to lose its edge.

A flaw was discovered in the most recent version of MacOS High Sierra, that enabled anyone to enter the machine without a password.

The bug was discovered in late November by a Turkish developer, who discovered that entering the username “root” and leaving the password field blank, hitting “enter” a few times, he could gain access to the machine.

The vulnerability, which fortunately could not be used remotely, could give someone with root access more powers than a normal user, for example to read and write files to other accounts.

More seriously a superuser with root access and with malicious intent could have deleted crucial system files, rendering the computer useless – or install malware that might be undetectable to typical security software.

Apple issued a temporary workaround by allowing users to set a root password while it fixed the problem.

The instructions are here

However, according to the tech publication WIRED, there were more problems when Apple rushed out a patch, within 18 hours, and users discovered that the “root” bug returned if they updated to the 10.13.1, version.  The machine had to be re-booted for the patch to work, but Apple had not included this in the instructions.


Broadband speeds are not what they’re claimed to be?

Broadband speeds are not what they’re claimed to be

A new survey by Which? has found that more than half of internet users are getting broadband speeds that are up to 62% slower than their providers claim.

The Which? figures taken from more than 700,000 consumer speed checker tests and compared with information collected in 2016 by Ofcom, found that in in 52% of local authority areas, people are recording median speeds that are at least 10 per cent slower than the median speeds estimated by providers.

Moreover in 35% of areas speeds are up to 20% slower.

The list of regions with broadband slower than the recommended 10Mpbs includes Ryedale, Purbeck, West Devon and Powys. While, along with Tamworth, Reading, Luton and Enfield get some of the quickest speeds.

Which? MD of home services said that in some locations “there can be a big gap between what people may expect versus what they actually experience in their homes”.

He questioned whether customers were really getting the service they were paying for.

It is timely, then, that Ofcom has recently announced that customers are to be automatically compensated by providers for delays in fixing problems with landlines and broadband, including for slow repairs, missed appointments and delayed installations.

Under its new scheme, to be introduced in 2019, customers will automatically get £8 for every calendar day on which the service is not repaired, after two full working days. They will also get £25 for an engineer missing an appointment or cancelling with less than 24 hours’ notice, and £5 for each calendar day without service after the day they were promised a provider would start that service.

Although the compensation does not cover slow broadband speeds, the Ofcom ruling is a welcome step in getting providers to improve their services to customers.

High Sierra before you update

Before updating to High Sierra, what to know

Apple’s new OS system

Many businesses will use Apple computers believing that the technology is far superior and less vulnerable to hacking and viruses.

However, reviewers of the latest version of the operating system, MacOS High Sierra, warn Mac users to wait a while before installing it and to make sure they do an external back-up before they begin.

According to The Independent tech reviewer Andrew Griffin, in late September, there are two main reasons to wait a few days before installing: “the risks are much higher and the rewards are much less interesting.”

The danger is that in installation, he says, cherished pictures and other data could be lost, and this will be a catastrophe if the installation is on the owner’s main computer.

The High Sierra system has completely revamped the way files are stored with the intention of speeding up some computer tasks. But the question is whether the new system is quite glitch-free.

MacWorld’s Dominic Preston has compared the High Sierra Version with the previous Sierra version and concluded that it isn’t “the most exciting” MacOS upgrade.

On the subject of the revamped file system MacWorld’s review says:

“First of all, copying files and finding the size of files and folders should now be near-instantaneous, the sort of small improvement that will add up over long-term use.

It also helps keep files safe thanks to built-in encryption, data protection for power outages and system crashes, and simplified data backup. It’s also compatible with HFS drives and data so you shouldn’t lost anything during the upgrade – though we’d still always recommend a backup first.”

There have been tweaks to Safari to prevent auto-playing videos and include tracking prevention. There have also been tweaks to mail and messages.

Preston’s conclusion is that there is little reason to not upgrade to High Sierra, but he, too recommends a back-up just in case.