Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My first experience with a uCertify Exam

So I decided to download, install and register the complementary uCertify exam. I chose 70-291, Implementing, Maintaining and Managing a MS Windows 2003 Network Infrastructure. That took about five minutes. It was easy to install and get started. The opening screen presents a series of tests, beginning with a fifteen question pretest. I took the pretest.

Immediately I was transported back to the last time I took a Microsoft exam and was reminded of why I hate them so much. The exam questions make you wade through a bunch of introductory verbiage that is totally superfluous to the question being answered. uCertify has done a great job of making their questions just like the real ones.

The pretest covered each of the areas that are covered in the final exam: IP addressing, RRAS, DNS, infrastructure and security. With fifteen questions and thirty minutes you have about two minutes to read the question, understand it, review the multiple choice answers and make a correct choice. Some questions have more than one correct answer.

The diagnostic pretest had some of the drag and drop and 'click on the correct spot on this screen' type of questions. It didn't seem too hard but then I hadn't studied or reviewed the material in over a year. You can configure the test for a learning mode which allows you to see the correct answer right away and adjust your answer accordingly.

Feeling brave, I chose to do the full test simulation and get my score at the end of the test. As I went though it I had to review in my mind if some of the acronyms were valid and what function some of the server utilities were designed to accomplish. DHCP, DNS, subnets, SAP, GPO (lots of GPO questions) reminded me that being an MCSE is really learning a new language.

So far, my impression of uCertify is similar to using TestKing or Transcender, two other test preparation companies that I have used in the past. Would I recommend the product? So far, yes. Will it help me pass the test? I'll tell you after I pass it. Right now I'm going to go back and take another diagnostic pretest since I failed the first one with a score of 533 out of 630 required.

Have you had any experience with uCertify? Is one test prep company as good as any other?

Now that's a harsh review of Vista

CNET UK has a story on Vista that finally says what a lot of us have been thinking all year: Vista sucks! There is simply no reason to upgrade. Here is another reason to stick with XP: Windows XP with SP3 outperforms Windows Vista with SP1.

This Vista review made the number one story on Digg this morning. It also gathered a ton of comments. A lot of other professional Windows supporters must feel the same way. I wrote previously how some of my fellow techies are making a buck by removing Vista.

Quoting from the review: "Any operating system that provokes a campaign for its predecessor's reintroduction deserves to be classed as terrible technology.

"Any operating system that quietly has a downgrade-to-previous-edition option introduced for PC makers deserves to be classed as terrible technology.

"Any operating system that takes six years of development but is instantly hated by hordes of PC professionals and enthusiasts deserves to be classed as terrible technology. Windows Vista conforms to all of the above.

"Its incompatibility with hardware, its obsessive requirement of human interaction to clear security dialogue box warnings and its abusive use of hated DRM, not to mention its general pointlessness as an upgrade, are just some examples of why this expensive operating system earns the final place in our terrible tech list."

Wow! That's quite a scathing review. I agree with all the points but my heart goes out to Microsoft or more accurately to the product managers, the designers, the programmers, the marketing team and all the Microsofties that put so much of their lives into a product that will be forever classified in the same category as Windows Me.

What do you think? Was that a harsh review or did Vista and Microsoft deserve it?

IT Managers who are also webmasters

I've never worked for a large company. Well, I take that back - Ingram Micro is a large company but when I worked for them back in the day they were very small. Most of my career has been in a small IT shop where I am the only computer guy or one of a small group of two or three or four computer guys.

I like that arrangement because I get to wear a lot of hats. One of those hats is the webmaster. I wouldn't say that I'm a really good graphic artist. In fact, I would say that graphic design is not one of my creative strengths. Don't get me wrong - I know good design when I see it. I just haven't been able to produce it myself on a consistent basis.

That's why when it came time for a new Web site for my employer, I didn't mind when we decided to farm it out to an outside agency. Of course, I and my associate computer guy will end up maintaining it in Dreamweaver just like we do our current Web site. The new site looks cool with all the Flash animation. You would think I would have learned Flash by now.

Well, I know for those who use it every day that Flash is simple stuff. But most of my day is spent putting out fires and helping the employees use their computers. I'm amazed sometimes at the simple stuff that my co-workers don't know about Windows or how files are stored on servers or how they can access their email from off-site. You know - basic stuff.

See, that's my point. What's basic stuff to me, a certified network engineer, is a mysterious world to my co-workers who only use a computer to communicate. Likewise, the world of graphic design is a mysterious world to me, a man of many hats. It takes a lot of patience to create all those little Flash illustrations. I know because I've tied.

So even though I am the webmaster, don't ask me to create you an award-winning Web site. I'll maintain it for you once it gets designed, but my web work is basic stuff. I don't feel bad about that because I add so much value to the company in all the other areas in which I am an expert. I love what I do and appreciate the variety - including working with outside designers.

What do you think? Can an IT guy be an exceptional webmaster as well as a great engineer?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An Ultra Mobile PC to get excited about

I'm not a real gadget junkie. In fact, I'm somewhat of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to implementing new hi-tech devices like iPods or iPhones into my network. I see them as an intrusion on my security.

But I saw a new device today that just blows my socks off. And what's better is that I saw an immediate application for our flight crews. It's a palm-sized mobile PC from OQO. The display is amazingly clear for a 5" screen running 800 x 480.

I know, we've seen palm-sized computers already that have not flown but this one seems to have what it takes. It's a full Windows compatible computer - XP Pro or Vista Business. It fits into what's called the UMPC category - Ultra Mobile PC.

We have several flight crews who carry a tablet PC and use it to replace their Flight Engineer's bag of maps and charts and books. It's called Jeppview and even though it is a big step up from the cumbersome charts and maps, a tablet PC is still too big.

The beauty of the OQO is that it runs just about any software that runs on a regular Windows PC because, well, it is a regular Windows PC, just a whole lot smaller and lighter - one pound with the standard three hour battery.

The OQO 02 is slightly larger than a 3-inch by 5-inch index card and is 1 inch deep, meaning it fits comfortably into a jeans back pocket or the inside jacket pocket of a sports coat. It has a 5-inch screen that slides up to reveal a full thumb-keyboard.

It comes with a 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB memory and 120GB of storage. It has built-in broadband wireless using the EV-DO network as well as standard 802.11g and bluetooth. An optional docking station allows quick and easy connection to a full size display, keyboard, mouse, and wired Ethernet.

Maybe I'm a little behind the times. Have you seen this baby before and if so, what do you think?

Monday, November 19, 2007

What does it take to stick with a job?

I have been a job hopper most of my career. I admit it. I've always had my eye out for the next best thing. I'm an expert on working the job boards. I've figured out how to get more responses from Dice and Career Builder than I could ever use. I have a list of agencies from all around the world who send me job listings for which I am at least partially qualified. If I wanted to start a new job next year I'm sure I could shake the trees and have something lined up in a few weeks.

I don't think that's bragging. I just think that's the miracle of modern technology at work. Job hunting is easier than ever for a qualified technician. If you have a specialty on some hot piece of software or are a good Java developer you could probably name your price. In my opinion, if you have a good track record and are good at what you do, there's not much to stop you today from moving on in your career if that's what you want to do.

For the most part my strategy of changing jobs every few years has always paid off. Because of my entrepreneurial spirit, I attack a new job with gusto, get the projects lined up, figured out and completed usually within two years. In my current position I finished my project list in less than six months after I came on board (OK, now I'm bragging). My point is that I have enjoyed changing jobs because of the challenge, the salary increases and the new technology. If you need any evidence of my propensity to change jobs just check out my Linked-In profile.

I'm not so interested in changing jobs any more. Why? No, it's not because I'm getting older and it's not because I wouldn't enjoy the challenge. In fact, I was offered a job not more than six months ago right in my home town that included everything I thought I was looking for: a pay increase, no commute, a company that needed my skills and good people with whom to work. So why did I turn it down? I stayed because the CEO told me he needed me and he meant it.

Now some headhunters would tell me I was crazy to believe my boss. "He just told you that to get you to stay while he is looking for your replacement." Nick Corcodilos has often said, "Never, ever accept a counter-offer. The reasons for your dis-satisfaction will still be there six months from now." Well, it's been six months and I couldn't be happier with my choice. Sure, the boss sweetened the deal but something else has changed that is more important.

I don't feel like just a techie any more. There comes a point in your career where trusted relationships are more important than money, working with the latest technology or having a big training budget. Those things are nice, but when you are treated like and feel like a trusted part of the management team, than you've earned my loyalty. I guess what I'm saying is there are just times when you have to look beyond the technology and consider who you are helping.

What do you think? Am I nuts for staying on a job longer than the customary two to three year time frame of most techies today? Have a got a rare thing going here or should I keep those job interviewing skills hot?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How do you prepare for Microsoft Exams?

I started managing networks before there were certifications. Novell Netware was the defacto server OS back in the day. Yep, 1983 was when I was first exposed to Netware, which had just been announced. Did you know that Netware used to be called Sharenet? We installed ARCNet topology in those early days.

In 1995, after more than ten years of managing Netware servers on 10-Base2 (thin coax) and Token-Ring networks, it became clear that Novell was losing ground quickly to Microsoft with NT 3.5 on 10-BaseT. I started installing and supporting NT just when I was getting serious about pursuing certification on Netware.

Instead I began to prepare for Microsoft certification. This was back in the days when there was only one Novell cert - CNE, and one Microsoft cert - MCSE. Even though there are millions of Microsoft Certified System Engineers now, becoming an MCSE is not an easy thing. There are six major exams at $125 each, each one with 40 to 60 difficult questions.

After supporting NT for about five years, I received over 200 hours of Microsoft Approved training from a Certified Technical Education Center (CTEC). After long days at work, I took classes almost every evening for three months which cost thousands of dollars. The only problem is that it did not prepare me for the exams like I thought it would.

Microsoft exams are a tricky mixture of academic and real-world scenarios. I had the real world experience but could not always explain the academic reasons behind why something worked a certain way. My learning style is hands-on and always has been. Put me in front of the console and I'll figure it out, but ask me to explain it, especially in non-technical terms and I sometimes struggle.

So I started looking for some tools to help me pass the MCSE exams. Any Google search will reveal dozens of websites offering study guides and practice exams to help you pass the MCSE tests. I confess that I used 'braindumps' to pass my NT 4.0 exams. Braindumps are web sites where those who just took the exam will post the questions they remember and their answers.

Of course, the disadvantage to braindumps is that the questions are not always remembered accurately and the answers will sometimes be wrong. When I updated my MCSE training in 2005-2006 I very much appreciated the fact that in addition to the additional 200+ hours of classroom training, the instructor would use questions from TestKing training materials.

I started taking the Server 2003 exams last year and have been thinking about investing in some TestKing test preparation material. That's why I was pleased to respond to an offer from uCertify to evaluate their study guides and test exams. I assumed their questions would be like Testking questions, many of which come right from actual exams.

According to Roger Stuart at uCertify, "We do not provide actual exam questions, instead we encourage the users to learn and practice with lots of challenging questions in an environment that simulates the actual exam. Our PrepKits consist of study notes, articles, how tos and exam tips besides the questions. So I think that they should not be compared with Testking, but they will definitely help you pass the exams."

I'm contemplating whether to invest the hours in using their materials. What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Would you pay to remove Vista?

I looked out the front door of my home office a few minutes ago and saw a little car with this magnetic sign on the side: "Why pay hourly? Flat Rate Computer Services"

Being the curious sort of fellow that I am I went to their Web site and was amazed to see that someone is now selling their services to remove Vista. This can't be good publicity for Microsoft.

From the Flat Rate Computer Pros Web site:

Is Microsoft Vista Driving you CRAZY?
Just when you got used to XP, they changed it.
Wish you had XP on that new machine?
Save your sanity SPECIAL!
Remove Vista and install Windows XP on your machine for one FLAT RATE!
Only $150!

I wonder if one of my neighbors is having his copy of Vista removed right now? Just yesterday one of the other managers at the airport asked me for a laptop with Vista. When I submitted it to management for approval the answer came back a resounding no.

I'm glad the boss has been listening and reading my emails. I've told him that I do not intend to update any of the 120 company computers to Vista in 2008 - maybe 2009 when I can't buy XP anymore but not 2008. There's just no good reason to update that I have found.

Microsoft, call me. Convince me that I should sell the boss on Vista. Where are the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages? Why shouldn't we wait for Windows 7, due out in 2010?

Update: Isn't technology amazing? I emailed Daniel at the address on his web site to let him know that I had written a post about his business. When he was done fixing my neighbors computer he came over and asked if I had emailed him. We met, talked and I even got to know my neighbor a little better. Daniel's services were highly recommended by my neighbor. See, technology does help you connect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leadership in technology is all about people

One of my favorite headhunters after Nick Corcodilos is Marc Cenedella. He runs The Ladders, a high-end search firm that deluges my mailbox with an email at least every day, sometimes several times a day. Of course he is in business to make money and is always asking me to subscribe to the features I will find on the 'professional' side of his Web site.

Marc has the modern technology marketing concept down. His emails are filled with great content and I find myself reading them even though I am not in the market for a new job. For example, today I received a post from Marc with a great article written by Carmine Gallo who has apparently written and published a book called "Fire Them Up!: 7 Simple Secrets to Inspire Your Colleagues, Customers and Clients."

Here are the seven secrets:

1. Demonstrate Enthusiasm - Constantly.
2. Articulate a Compelling Course of Action.
3. Sell the Benefit.
4. Tell More Stories.
5. Invite Participation.
6. Reinforce an Optimistic Outlook.
7. Encourage Potential.

You'll have to go to his Web site to read more about these secrets. I found myself thinking about my current boss and many of my past bosses over the life of my career. I've worked for a lot of good men and women but sadly, can only think of one or two that really demonstrated leadership.

They may have been a good manager and had skill in one of the above areas but I have never found anyone who did all these things. I wish there were more people who exhibited leadership in the business world. It is sadly lacking and needed, especially in today's work environment.

I've made it a personal mission to try to improve in the seven areas that Mr. Gallo enumerates in dealing with co-workers, sub-ordinates or other professionals. I've determined over the years that it doesn't matter how much I know about technology. What really matters is how people use the technology and how they feel about it.

What do you think? Would you like to see a little more leadership in your workplace?

Use Small Business Server to full advantage

In the last few weeks I've received several calls asking for assistance with Small Business Server. In each case I have been amazed to discover that the businesses were running SBS either without Exchange Server enabled or with it crippled in some way. Microsoft has done a good job of selling SBS and it is an awesome deal, but apparently the VARs who have been selling and installing it have not done as good a job. Why? Do they not know how to use or configure all the features or is it because they can't convince the SMB to put them in place?

I'm referring specifically to the idea of hosting your own email server. It's not hard to do and I can't figure out why anyone wouldn't want to take advantage of it. The benefits are many. You have total control over your email. You never have to wonder if something got blocked in the spam blocker of your ISP. You can use Outlook Web Access to reach your email from anywhere. You can take advantage of all the benefits of a common shared or Global Address List (GAL). You can use ActiveSync to push your email out to mobile devices.

There are three basic requirements to hosting your email server safely and effectively. First get a great spam filter for Exchange Server. I always recommend Commtouch but you can also go with GFI Mail Security. I have also installed and used Freedom9 Freeguard at some clients. Commtouch is an outside service, GFI Mail Security runs on the Exchange Server and the Freeguard firewall does spam filtering or marking - you can either drop it completly or send it to the mailboxes (my preference) marked as spam and run rules to send it to a spam folder.

The second requirement is to have your ISP change your MX record so all email destined for your domain is sent directly to your Exchange Server. Now do you see why you MUST have a good spam filter in place first? Did you know that 95% of unfiltered email is spam? That can be quite a shock if you have been relying on your ISP to filter your spam for you. My home ISP uses Barracuda and it still struggles even though I've been training it for years. It will send things though that I know I've told it not to and stop things that I have previously cleared.

The third requirement in hosting your own email server is to set up a reverse DNS record with your ISP. This is especially important if you plan to send a lot of emails out through your Exchange Server like a weekly email newsletter to a large mailing list. Without the reverse DNS lookup configured properly with the word mail in their somewhere you will soon end up on the RBL (Real-time Black List) of the spam databases like Spamhaus, Spamcop and Spamcannibal. There are at least 100 spam databases out there. You do NOT want to get listed on any one of them because it a pain to get removed. You can check if you're listed on DNS Stuff.

What do you think? Has my experience been unique or do most SBS users host their own SMTP email on their Exchange Server?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Can you produce emails under legal order?

Awhile back we had a little 'situation' in our organization where we needed to be able to produce copies of emails sent or received by several of our employees. I thought I had it handled and that it would be no problem. I do two backups of our Exchange server each night - one of the entire Information Store (the database) and one of the individual mailboxes (aka brick level).

I have a twenty-day tape rotation and pull a tape once a month so I figured the chances of being able to reproduce the emails would be fairly high. Just pull a tape from the month-end after the time period in question, restore it to a recovery database and viola - there are the emails. The only problem is that the emails weren't there.

What happened? I know they were sent because I could see the headers on my Exchange Server tracking log which I had turned on long ago. I could even see log entries on my SMTP gateway log in Symantec AV for SMTP gateways. I had also turned that log on long ago. I was scratching my head for days all the while under the gun from the boss and the attorneys.

Here's what happened. The employee in question was a high-level executive who had done some social engineering with the IT Manager - me. I got took by a trusted employee because she sweet-talked me into revealing how emails could be permanently deleted in Exchange using a little known feature in OWA - the MS Outlook web client.

As soon as an email was sent or received by the employee that they didn't want tracked, they would delete it and then empty their deleted items folder. Then they would go into the OWA client into the options section and click on the 'View Items' in the 'Recover Deleted Items' section. From there you select the items and then click on 'Permanently Delete'.

You see, normally I have a 30-day window when any employee can recover their own deleted items or I can do it for them. This feature of Exchange is not turned on by default but I have found it very useful. I can't tell you how many times an employee has asked me to help them recover a deleted email before I turned this feature on so they could do it themselves.

If you do the permanent delete right away or at least before the end of the day when I do the nightly backup the items will not be saved. The trick is to catch it before the nightly backup. Otherwise I could still recover them from tape. I would have never revealed that little trick to just any employee but why should I question what a long-term trusted executive asked of me?

Well, that will never happen again. I have now put into place a new archive mailbox and turned on a feature in the Information Store that copies every single piece of email - in or out of the company or even intra-company - to this mailbox. Yes, it grows extraordinarily fast. I have to archive it off to a PST file and purge it at the end of every month or it would be unmanageable.

So now I can produce on demand any email from any employee and any time period even if it was deleted immediately. Yes, it even copies the porn, the jokes, the videos, the personal emails, everything except the spam. 99% of our spam is stopped by Commtouch before it gets to our Information Store. That's a fairly bulletproof backup solution if I say so myself.

Friday, November 9, 2007

PC Auditing made simple

One of my favorite system administrator tools is AuditWizard from Layton Technology. I found it a few years back and used it at a previous employer. When I came to my present employer I bought a 50-computer license because they told me that's how many computers I would be supporting. I quickly upgraded that to a 100-computer license and finally to 500 computers.

One of the things I like about it is that I can keep a history of my inventory. Every system administrator knows that there are always a dozen or more PCs floating around that aren't in actual productive use at the moment. So even though we really only have 80 to 100 computers that are in use and that I support, I have records of 120 computers in my database.

Some have been pressed back into service as a quasi-server, others to an unused back office where they are used more as a Terminal Server client or for guests to check email. Most are sitting on the bench awaiting an upgrade or repair before being redeployed for some function or as a spare when someone has a failure. My point is that I know exactly what I have on hand.

How does it work? Quite simply. The software is installed in a public folder on a server that can be reached by all workstations no matter what location or subnet they are on. I then modify the network logon script to require every workstation to run the auditing software in the background upon bootup. Yes, it adds about 5-10 seconds to the boot process but is well worth the annoyance to me.

What does it do for me? It saves me hours and hours of work that I don't enjoy and on which I have a hard time keeping up. The automatic audit records just about everything about the computer you could possibly need to know - hardware configuration, software installed, serial numbers, web browser cache, network addresses, patch history and lots more.

I have a policy of installing corporate licenses of software when I need it. At the end of the year I take an inventory by simply running a report in Audit Wizard and noting the difference between how many licenses I have consumed and how many we own. Submit the report to management and after a little grumbling and a small purchase we are legit again. Licensing compliance has never been simpler.

I use it almost daily. The report generator is excellent but tends to add a lot of fluff by spreading things out over too many pages. So I export to Excel, tweak it a little and I can tell you at the push of a button which computers need to have their memory upgraded this month or which are running low on hard drive space. It's a pretty slick piece of software.

I checked out lots of different pieces of auditing software before I found this one. I highly recommend it. What do you think? What PC auditing software do you use?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

IP Telephony in the SMB

For years our Cisco VAR has been trying to get us to go to an IP phone system. I trust our reseller but kept asking him when he was going to put in his own IP system. Finally he did and the stakes got serious. "Come on, Tim. You could save your company thousands of dollars a year by putting in VoIP." Being the cautious guy that I am, I investigated several competitors, read their literature and listened to their sales pitches. I got several quotes and yes, the estimates bore out his claims. We probably could save thousands of dollars a year mainly because we have VPNs with remote locations.

So why did we sign another contract with AT&T, who now manages our local services which used to be provided by SBC and PacBell before that? Fear of change. Yep. No matter how persuasive it looked on paper I could not convince management that it would sound just as good to our clients. Given the type of clients we handle I can understand that saving $25,000 or even $50,000 was nothing compared to the fear of losing a client that generates millions of dollars in annual revenue. Besides, AT&T lowered our prices by bundling local and long distance together.

Now don't get me wrong. We will eventually go to IP Telephony and it may be sooner than management thinks. Why? Because we are running a 15-year old Panasonic DBS 72 hybrid phone system that could crash any day. The voice mail system is just as old - an Active Voice Replay Plus running in DOS on a 486. A 486? Yes, a 486! I swear someone did a great job of selling Active Voice systems back in the early 90's. I have managed the same system at each of the four companies I have worked for in the past 12 years.

So what was management so concerned about? Latency and Jitter. Gamers know latency as lag and jitter is the recompilation of packets in an order that can make speech unintelligible. I get a lot of calls from third-world call centers when I call for tech support. I don't intentionally call India but that's where it ends up. Most of these tech support centers are running VoIP and to me, it is very noticeable. I can understand why management is concerned if all VoIP calls sound like some I've had to put up with lately. But we put up with bad cell phone calls, don't we?

And yet management can be funny about wanting cost savings on fixed costs like phone bills. At one time I had to respond to requests from several managers as to why we weren't using Skype to communicate with our flight crews. Supposedly there are 250 million registered Skype users with as many as 10 million on line at any one point in time. Do you remember what happened to Skype on Aug 16th 2007? The network failed for two days due to so many users rebooting their systems after applying the regularly scheduled Microsoft security patches on patch Tuesday.

The FCC offers a great web site for educating the public about VoIP. How Stuff Works has a good multi-part article online that explains VoIP in simple enough terms that I could even recommend it to some of the management team. Pay special attention to part 8, the disadvantages to VoIP. Unlike regular phone service, VoIP depends on local power. And of course there is always Wikipedia for a fairly in-depth look at the topic.

What do you think? If you are in a small business, have you implemented VoIP yet?

Monday, November 5, 2007

The truth about Windows Vista adoption

I read a great article this morning in Jason Hiner's Tech Sanity Check on Tech Republic about Windows Vista adoption in business. I have long been wondering how Microsoft could be claiming that Vista sales are brisk. I am not seeing that in my own experience as an IT Manager of an SMB - Small to Medium Business. The article points out three areas in which Windows Vista sales are flourishing but concludes as I do from my own personal experience that Vista is not being deployed in the corporate environment in big numbers yet.

First there are the laptop sales, 95% of which come preloaded with some flavor of Windows Vista. The PC Industry on the whole is experiencing a 10% increase in computer sales over last year and a large part of those are laptops. Laptops, more appropriately called notebook computers account for more than 55% of all new hardware sales these days.

So the largest part of those Vista sales Microsoft is claiming come from all those laptops. I have seen that in my own experience as more users ask me to work on their personal laptops, which are running Vista. Yes, I still work on employee computers - can't seem to get away from it. If they connect to my network via a VPN I have a vested interest to make sure they are secure.

The next big chunk of Vista sales come from upgrades. Every early adopter of Vista I know has upgraded from the Home Basic version to the Home Premium or Ultimate, or better yet to Vista Business, usually at my urging. That's a no-brainer. But Microsoft's claim of high sales of Vista into Corporate America has long been surprising to me until now.

It appears that many large enterprises are renewing their corporate licensing agreements which includes provisions for future upgrades of the desktop OS to Vista. In other words, they are buying Vista on paper but not actually deploying it this year or maybe not even planning to do so next year. Like me, many have concluded to roll out Vista only when they have to due to either an inability to purchase XP or due to the unavailability of XP support from Microsoft.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but I just don't see what business benefits Windows Vista brings to our network. In fact, to me, the new security features are a hindrance to implementing the OS. I hate having to answer yes five times when I want to install a piece of software. Like Jason points out in the article, Microsoft has simply tried to transfer culpability to users for letting malware into a system. Why introduce another level of complexity for security?

Conclusion: We will not be rolling out Vista in the workplace until probably 2009 when most of our desktops are due for a normal tech refresh.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Where do you buy your laptop memory?

We probably have two dozen laptops in use among our executive, management and sales staff. As all computers do, laptops get old and slow with the growth of a bloated and patched operating system - Windows XP Pro. In order to extend the life of our laptops from three to five years I have been adding more memory where they are not already maxed out. XP Pro runs much better on 1GB than on 512MB and don't even think about running Vista on less than 1GB.

I buy from several vendors on a regular basis for computers, monitors, printers, disk drives, memory, software, office machines and supplies. One vendor that I like for laptop hard drives and memory is Kahlon. While their prices are not the rock bottom, they are reasonable, they have a great web site that is easy to navigate and fairly comprehensive and they provide great customer service. Shipping is not an issue for me as they are just a few miles away in Orange County.

As an example of their great customer service, I was having trouble confirming that a certain piece of Kahlon memory was compatible with the recommended part from HP which of course was literally ten times as much. I kid you not. The price for the same piece of memory on HP's online store was $309 and was only $34 on Kahlon. I emailed a request to confirm that it would work and had an answer within a few hours. What's more the memory worked when it arrived a few days later. Now that's good customer service.

I recommend Kahlon as a great source for laptop memory, hard drives and batteries.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ziggs, Xing, Nayms, Ryze and ZoomInfo

Have you ever heard of these networking sites: Ziggs, Xing, Nayms, Ryze, Konnects or ZoomInfo? Except for ZoomInfo I hadn't either until recently but I joined them all today. I have been pushing my freelance consulting business and decided to do some online networking. I'm already a member of Linkedin, Technorati, Dice and a few other social networking sites, but I'm trying to focus the ones that are geared towards professionals and not teenagers - like MySpace or FaceBook.

It would be nice if there were some way to upload the information once to each of these sites but they all have their own interface. The best I can do is copy and paste from one to the other. I liked the automatic bio creator on Ziggs. You fill in a few pertinent pieces of information and does the rest. The result is a professional looking bio with career history, your educational background and a family or personal summary. I've always wanted something like that.

What do you think? Are online networking sites replacing traditional social networks?

Update: I also joined ecademy, but discovered that everyone who wanted to connect with me was in England. The same goes for Xing - everyone there seems to be in Germany.