You need a password manager!

Do you have sticky notes all over your desk with ID’s and passwords? Perhaps you have a notebook with passwords scribbled out and rewritten. Or you went the other direction and have nothing!

I run into this all the time. A customer’s hard drive fails and I load Windows or Linux from scratch. When I deliver the computer, they want to be sure they can access their email, Facebook, on-line games, etc.. They are shocked to find that it does not automatically log in. I often end up spending 2 hours helping customers reset their passwords.

Both Chrome and Firefox have the ability to store this information on-line. That works fine to store the information for that browser. However, once that browser is configured I have to open the other browsers and import the settings. The data between the various browsers will never be synchronized. “Oh, but I never save my passwords in a browser because it’s not safe, and on-line is even worse!”

There is a lot of truth to that. So why would you ever trust a password manager to automatically gather your ID’s and Passwords and save them on-line? One word, encryption. You must remember ONE password that is used to encrypt/decrypt your data. All information is encrypted on your PC before ever being sent across the Internet. “No, I’m afraid someone would crack it.” If the Federal Government trusts AES encryption to keep their secrets safe from China, you can certainly trust it! AES Encryption is very secure when properly implemented. The encryption itself cannot be broken. What can be cracked is your password. Did you know that ANY 8 character password, no matter how complex, can be cracked instantly? Today’s crack utilities employ the graphics card in your computer to do the number crunching. Graphics cards can process numbers far better than any Microprocessor and math co-processor combination. Here’s a little test for you: howsecureismypassword.net. Don’t worry, this does not send your passwords. It runs a little Java program on your computer.

But my computer is managed by my company, I can’t install software. Most password managers have enterprise versions available, that are managed by your administrator. If you work in a health-care or financial industry, password managers help maintain HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. The password manager can generate random passwords that meet your company’s requirements, check the age of your password, and in some cases, even change your passwords for you automatically! If your company is not interested in this, many password managers have plug-ins that run in the Firefox and Chrome browsers. This may be a way around your company’s software restriction. Not that I am asking you to bypass their restrictions. Please verify with your administrator first.

This sounds interesting, but how much will it cost? Some are free, with certain limitations. For example, LastPass is free if you want to use it only on your computer. You can upgrade to premium for $2 per month that will allow you to use it on your smart phone as well. RoboForm is the same, with a free option, and $19.95 per year for RoboForm Everywhere. Dashlane is another option. They have the same free personal option, and $3.33 per month billed annually for use on all your devices.

PC Magazine has reviews of several other managers here: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

Interesting to note, I have both RoboForm and LastPass. I have used them for many years. Neither received an Editors Choice from PC Mag. They recommend Dashlane, Keeper, LogMeOnce, and Sticky. The last two I have never heard of until just now. It just goes to show you how rapidly the digital landscape changes. Even the experts have trouble keeping up. That’s not to say LastPass and RoboForm are not good. I’ve been very happy with them. Why do I have two? Because RoboForm did not work properly on Linux. I filed a bug report with them and it took months for a proper fix. I now rely heavily on these and being without RoboForm was not an option, so I switched to LastPass. However, LastPass did not properly import everything from RoboForm, so I kept it too. Now all my new stuff is in LastPass, so I have both. Perhaps one of these new programs will import everything, and I can migrate back to just one. I won’t include them in this article because it may take a few months for me to test all the features before migrating completely. You see I also use them on my iPhone for my business. They log me in to my invoicing site so I can create invoices for my customers when I work on their computers. They each hold hundreds of ID’s and passwords for the various sites I use, include private notes for things like my EIN number, my spouse’s social security number, etc. If my wallet were ever lost or stolen, all my credit/debit card information is in them. I could easily contact my banks to cancel the cards. I rarely allow websites to store my card information because the password manager will automatically fill this for me. The same goes for all those website forms that need your address, phone numbers, etc.. The password manager will fill these automatically for me. I have a pretty good understanding of encryption, and am quite familiar with Rijndael’s cypher. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. Many people competed to win this title from the NIST to replace the aging and compromised Data Encryption Standard. Serpent, Blowfish, and Twofish are other contenders that in some cases provide even better encryption, but are not as easy to implement, or could not provide the performance. Rijndael was the winner. But data encryption is another discussion topic. Suffice it to say that AES encryption is very secure, and the weakness is the password. My weakest passwords will still take billions of years to crack via brute force attack. Some of my more secure passwords are in the quadrillion or septillion years range. Yes, I trust these password managers to store my information much more so than paper. And if anything is ever lost, I can log on to their website and get it all back. Everyone NEEDS a password manager! They’re inexpensive, easy to set up, and indispensable. I can’t imagine not having one. If you need a little more help, give us a call at 480-382-4761. We’d love to help you. Irwin Electronics makes old computers run like new, and so much more.

Update: Since writing this article I had the opportunity to try Keeper. Overall it’s a fine password manager, but it’s form fill is limited. It successfully imported my logins from LastPass and Roboform, but not my Identities, credit cards, or Safe Notes. Their support advised only logins are supported. I also had a problem with the Chrome extension on one PC. Their support advised this is a known issue.

These forced me to take a deeper look at PC Magazines reviews. The reason LastPass did not receive an Editors Choice award is because everything you need is now included in the FREE version. There is no need to upgrade to premium. The Free version IS an Editors Choice. Therefore, I will stick with LastPass, and whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone!

For those of you that are super paranoid, Keeper does focus more on security, privacy, and anonymity. They only use 256 bit AES encryption, and are all about Zero-Knowledge. Nothing identifiable is ever stored unencrypted on their servers, not even briefly. And if that still isn’t good enough for you, Sticky Password has a Wi-Fi only sync option that syncs information across your devices only on your Wi-Fi connection. Your data never leaves your network! Of course this means you can’t access your data from a website, but that’s exactly what you would want.

Custom Built Computers

What exactly is Custom Built? What are the advantages/disadvantages?

Will it cost me a lot more?

A custom built computer means hand selected components for your specific needs. Off the shelf computers will likely meet your needs, but they are general purpose machines, designed to run a broad range of tasks. That doesn’t mean a custom built PC will not run other tasks. In most cases, it will run all tasks better, but it is specifically built to excel at a specific task. The best example is gaming. You can buy gaming PC’s that will run most games very well. But what if you want to dominate at one game in particular? You could spend thousands on a gaming PC that will help you do that, or we can build one specially tuned to run your game at top speed for much less.

Perhaps you need to transcode HD video. A gaming PC will do that well too. But we can build one that does it faster, for less.

One of our customers makes custom motorcycle wheels. They bought a highly specialized Dell PC for this task, as recommended by their software manufacturer. A roof leak during a heavy thunderstorm proved to be a fatal combination for this PC. It would take weeks for Dell to build another PC for this task. I said I could do it in less than one week, for half the cost! They were a little skeptical, but didn’t have much choice. I delivered as promised. With their specialized Dell, once they hit the render button, it would take about 20 minutes to render the new wheel. With our custom built PC, it rendered instantly! And we were still able to build it for half the cost of the Dell! Needless to say, they will never buy a PC from anyone but Irwin Electronics going forward.

If you want a general purpose budget PC, buy off the shelf, and hope for the best. We can’t beat the big guys on budget computers. But if you’re willing to spend just a little more, we can give you much more!

What are some other advantages? All the individual components are standard, off the shelf. That means if something does fail, or you want to upgrade in the future, standard components will plug right in. Frequently, the big guys will use non-standard parts, such as odd shaped power supplies in their computers. If/when the part fails, you have to buy the exact part from the manufacturer. If you need to upgrade that part, forget it. Time for a new computer. With a custom built computer, let’s say you’re upgrading the video card and need a heavier power supply to support it. The old supply slides out with 4 screws, and a new one slides right in. For us, this means parts are available locally the same day. Which means we can repair or upgrade your PC the same day. Each component comes with it’s own manufacturer warranty. Unless otherwise specified, we always use new components, in the box, with full manufacturer warranty. We have preferred manufacturers we use, that we know make a quality product, while keeping prices competitive. For example, we only use G.Skill, or Kingston memory. These are the only two companies that test every chip before is ships, and they offer a lifetime warranty. We could save a few dollars with a no name, or discount product. But high failure rates lead to lower customer satisfaction, and it’s just not worth it. We also insist on using Solid State Drives for the Operating System. Today’s Solid State Drives have a meantime between failure rate of 1.5 million to 2 million hours. This is much longer than a traditional hard drive, which lasts about 5 years. Solid State Drives are also hundreds of times faster than traditional drives. The cost of an SSD is about the same as a traditional Hard Disk Drive, but for a lower capacity. If you need the additional storage, we will install a Western Digital Green drive, just for your data storage. The green drives spin at 5400 RPM, compared to 7200 RPM for most Hard Disk Drives. This gives the drive a longer lifespan. When it is used specifically for data storage, the slower speed does not affect the performance of the computer. The undisputed king of Solid State Drives is the Samsung EVO 850. This would be our preferred drive, but this is one area we may save a few dollars if necessary. Lower cost drives deliver similar performance, for about 2/3 the cost. However, there is some question as to how well that performance stands up over time. All drives use different algorithms to store and clean their data, and tend to get slower over time. While the Samsung is best able to maintain it’s speed over time, even the lowest performing SSD will still be much much faster than a traditional Hard Disk Drive.

Another advantage of custom built, no bloatware! We do not install any limited time, or trialware software. The software we install is all recommended, necessary, software, to give you full functionality out of the box. We also believe that being a computer, it can take care of itself. We schedule Windows maintenance tasks to run automatically, so you don’t need us for monthly or quarterly support. Of course, if you select Linux, there are no required maintenance tasks other than updates. These you will run manually, whenever you choose. They will not prompt to reboot. They will not hijack your shutdown or startup. They will never bug you, or insist you install. They simply show an icon indicating updates are available, nothing more.

So what is the cost of a custom built PC? That’s like asking what does a new car cost? Being all custom it’s based on the components selected for your needs. The prices range from about $800 to just under $2,000. You can buy budget computers for as low as $300, or gaming computers for $3,000 or more! As you get into the higher price ranges, we can build a better system for much less. Any system we build will be top notch, outperform most anything off the shelf, and should continue to perform well for many years to come. Aside from the performance, we also consider aesthetics. Perhaps you want a simple, understated, black box. Or you may be interested in a 4 inch square box that mounts hidden on the back of the monitor. Others want bling. They want a glass side panel that shows off all the components inside. They want LED lights, all color coordinated, to highlight their prized possession. They want a computer that looks as fast as it is! Perhaps you want your PC to be a piece of wall art? We can do that! It’s all custom, built to your specifications, inside and out.

Looking for a new computer for Christmas? Give us a call at (480) 382-4761 and we’ll get started. We will ask what you expect to use it for, how you want it to look, and your budget. We will begin selecting the components, and email you a list of what we suggest, perhaps a few options from which to choose, and the cost of each item. Once you agree on a system, we will send you an invoice for parts only so we can order and assemble the system. Once we deliver it, and you are satisfied with your new computer, we will submit an invoice for the agreed upon labor cost. It takes about a week for us to receive and assemble the components, install and configure the necessary software. We will send you text messages as the parts are ordered, the expected delivery dates, when they are received, and update you with the build progress. If there are any delays, or defective equipment received, we will update you with that information as well. This is uncommon, but it can happen. One time I ordered a 500GB SSD, and inside the sealed box was a 250 GB SSD! To minimize the downtime, I arranged a cross ship with the vendor, installed everything on the smaller drive and imaged it to the proper drive. I was able to wipe the wrong drive after delivering the the equipment, and return it. This did not delay delivery. We do everything we can to ensure your equipment arrives on time, exactly as ordered, and exceeds your expectations. You will not find this level of service from a chain store. Should something go wrong after the sale, we are here to support you. We put our warranty in writing, and stand behind the products and labor. We want to be your IT company for life. Many of our customers become friends, and some even say so in their reviews! Check us out further, and when you’re ready for a PC that will knock your socks off, give us a call.

We Do Windows

If you’ve been following my Blog posts below, you can see Irwin Electronics does much more than just computer repair. Virus and malware removal is still our bread and butter. As long as Microsoft keeps pushing Windows, and people buy it. There will always be a market to keep it clean. Sure, Microsoft offers their own Windows Defender now. PC Magazine says Lab Results Improving, but… AV-Test.org is the world’s leading authority on Antivirus/Antimalware protection. Their results are about the same. Something is better than nothing, but there are much better products available, at no cost! Of course if you were to ditch Microsoft and go to Linux Mint, you’d never have to worry about it again.

What about Mac? Although much less prevalent than Windows, OSx does have malware. Apple makes a fine product. It’s easy to use, powerful, and much more stable than Windows. However, their products are pricey. You can install Linux on most any Windows PC for free. I know, I know, I always seem to go back to Linux. That’s because it’s all I run now. I’m a Microsoft Certified System Engineer, and I hate Microsoft. I’ve found something that is so much better on every level, and few people know about it. But once I convert a customer to Linux, I rarely hear from them again. It just works, and that means no more paycheck for me. With that in mind, forget everything I said! Stick with Windows, and call me when you have trouble. (480) 382-4761. I’ll be happy to help!

Speaking of Windows are you still on Windows 7? Were you afraid to migrate to Windows 10? The latest version of Windows is arguably the best Windows yet. It is much faster, and more secure. I’ll use that term loosely. As long as Microsoft continues to support legacy software, Windows will never be secure. You know you missed the free upgrade to Windows 10, but you CAN still get it for free as long as you have a Windows 7 or 8 license. You just can’t “upgrade”. It has to be a clean install. We can do this for you. For $200 we can back up your data, install Windows 10 with all the updates and latest drivers. We will restore all your data, and install other necessary software. Did you know we can make Windows 10 look and feel just like Windows 7? Yes, that’s included in that $200 special. Yes, we also include the upgraded anti-virus. Yes, we include a free Office Suite. Our New Windows 10 Setup is included, and that gives you pretty much everything you need right out of the box. We have a full checklist of software we install, and no, none of it is trialware. You will not be asked to upgrade. And in case you’re wondering, none of it is illegal or pirated software either. Sorry, we do not do that. If you’re looking for hacked software, you’re looking for trouble. Not only from the authorities, but you’re opening yourself up to Trojans. We believe in Open Source Software. Much of the Open Source products today rival or exceed their commercial counterparts. They’re faster, more stable, and much more secure. If you already have Windows 10, and just want us to install our recommended software to speed up, protect your PC, and make it more functional, we can do that for $150. Is a new PC on your Christmas list? You can spend a week installing software, hope you get everything right, and still not get everything we recommend. Hire a professional and we’ll have that new PC running circles around anything else off the shelf in just a few hours.

Wait. What’s this about speed? Windows is designed to run in a corporate and home environment. There are services running to communicate with Domain Controllers, Kerberos Authentication Servers, etc.. On a home computer, you don’t need that. Buy turning these services off, it makes the PC faster. Fewer services running also means a smaller attack signature, so it’s more secure. The less you have running, the less chance of something failing, so that makes it more stable too. Plus, our software tunes Windows to the hardware, improving performance by up to 300%! This is all included in our $150 New Windows 10 Setup Service. We make old computers run like new, and new computers run better than ever!

Speaking of a new computer for Christmas, have you ever considered custom built?

That’s our next blog post! See you soon!

Attention Cord Cutters

Tired of paying high prices for cable or satellite TV? We can help, but there are some things to be aware of. The Phoenix metro area has quite a few broadcast stations available. Your distance from South Mountain, and the type of antenna you have will determine how many stations you can receive. There are 99 channels available in our market according to rabbitears.info. With the small, flat, indoor antennas, you can expect to receive 60-70 channels. The lowest channels, 3 and 5, are the most difficult. I have had success on these with standard rabbit ears. Yes, those ancient antennas still work, as do the roof antennas, if you still have one.

But wait, this is the digital age, why am I discussing broadcast stations? Your standard boxes like Roku, do not work for live TV. If you want live local news, you’ll need an antenna ore a paid streaming service. However, that paid streaming service may not work on a smart TV or Roku. Boxes like the Roku are very inexpensive, but limited to the choices installed. There are quite a few, thousands if you sign up at the Roku Store. I must admit, I do not have, nor have I ever used a Roku. Getting my facts straight as I write this, the new Roku lineup is quite impressive! But it still will not play everything on the Internet. For that you need a computer. Streaming media does not require a powerful processor. If you have an old XP desktop in the closet, chances are it would make an excellent Media-PC. It will likely need a better graphics card with an HDMI out, and a remote control. No, you do not want to keep Windows XP on it. Linux Mint or Lubuntu would be the way to go. Linux is fast, very secure, and FREE! I have another Blog post detailing the many benefits of Linux. Resurrecting that old box with a few new parts and new OS can be an inexpensive way to get everything the Internet has to offer. And no, you do not want to navigate a clunky desktop interface from across the room. For this you will want Kodi. Don’t worry. Kodi is free too. Even my fiance, who knows little about computers, can navigate it. Every weekend she goes to the video add-ons section, selects Food Network or Cooking channel, finds her favorite shows, selects episodes, and streams exactly what she wants to watch… for free. I should point out that we have not cut the cord ourselves. We still pay for DirecTV. The Media-PC just enhances it. I have hundreds of DVD’s and Blu-rays ripped to a hard drive, and I pay for Netflix. I also pay for Amazon Prime for my business, and that comes with Prime Video, a streaming service similar to Netflix. Again, for us it’s all about choices. We can watch what we want, when we want. Want to binge watch Breaking Bad, or Orange is the New Black? No problem. You can play every episode, in order, commercial free.

Let’s jump back to the beginning of this post for a moment, antennas. Another reason you’ll want one is as a backup. Let’s say you’re watching a show on satellite or cable, and a major monsoon storm hits. As the heaviest part of the storm slams your location, forget satellite TV. Blowing dust and heavy rain will temporarily disrupt your service, just as you may want to watch local weather for updates. If the wind takes down a power pole, or two, or twenty, cable could be out for days! This would likely kill your Internet connection too, making a Roku useless. You will also find that there are many more subchannels available on an antenna that cable or satellite does not carry.

But wait, this is about cord cutting. Why would we still have cable TV? One word, bundle. If you cancel your video service, and move your phone to VoIP, you lose the bundle discount on your Internet service. You may find it cheaper to keep basic cable along with your Internet, than Internet alone.

Of course, Irwin Electronics can help you with all of this. We’re here to help you save money. Cable or satellite is easy, and provides a plethora of programming. But it’s expensive, and does not always provide exactly what you want to watch at an instant. We can help fill that gap. Give us a call at (480) 382-4761 and we’ll come to your home, discuss your options, and set everything up. If you’re thinking of buying a big screen TV on a Black Friday deal, we have a guy that specializes in mounting it, and connecting all your Home Theater equipment. Perhaps you would be happy with just Netflix and Hulu built in to your smart TV. We can help connect it to your Internet for you.

What is VoIP? Want to save money?

Are you paying CenturyLink or Cox for home phone service? Cox Telephone Premier is $34.99 per month, plus taxes and fees. CenturyLink starts at $20 per month. That gets you a number for inbound calls, unlimited local calling, and nothing else. Not even caller ID. Need to call Aunt Sally in Kalamazoo? It’ll cost ya!

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials for Vonage, Magic Jack, Ooma, and NetTalk. That’s VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol. Typically this is a hardware device you plug a phone into, and the device connects to your Internet router. Instead of plugging a phone into the device, you can connect direct to a wall jack to power all the phones in your home. If a wall jack is not available near your router, a Wi-Fi adapter may be used to connect wireless to your router. One thing to note, however, the VoIP adapter can be sensitive to voltage on the phone line. Before connecting the adapter to a wall jack, you will want to disconnect the jack at the phone company box, usually located on the side of your house.

The VoIP provider typically offers all the standard features, unlimited long distance, caller ID, voicemail, etc.. These big four are the most well known, and their prices vary. Typically their support is very limited. Your only option is chat, an the responses are canned. When they work, they generally work very well. However, if/when the device fails you may spend hours with tech support to eventually be sent a refurbished device that’s no better than the failed one you have!

I recommend an Obihai adapter. If you look at the history of VoIP, you will find that the technology was founded by two people. The company, based in California‘s Silicon Valley, was founded by Jan Fandrianto and Sam Sin. They created the first analog telephone adapters as Komodo Technology in the 1990s. Cisco bought them in 2000. They decided they did not want to work for Cisco, so they left and formed Sipura Technology in 2002. They enhanced their technology, and were once again purchased by Cisco Systems, in 2005. Again, they did not want to work for Cisco. In 2010 they left and formed Obihai Technology. Virtually all VoIP adapters on the market are versions of Komodo and Sipura. Obihai is the latest and greatest technology available today.

The next advantage of Obihai is you bring your own adapter. You are not tied to any VoIP provider. In fact, you can have four providers, of your choice, on one adapter! Next is the price. The adapters cost about the same, or less, than anything from the big four mentioned above. I assume you want all the features such as voicemail, free text messaging, call history, conference calling, call screening, blocking of unwanted calls, and voice transcription to text of voicemail messages, and of course, caller ID and unlimited calls and long distance, most anywhere in the US or Canada. How does FREE sound? Too good to be true? There must be a catch? Okay, if you want it completely free, Google Voice offers it, but there is no 911. You must pay a fee for E911. However, you can get E911 service for $12 per year. There is one other little catch with Google Voice, you get a new phone number. Porting your current land-line number is possible, but not easy. But if you want unlimited free calling, that’s it.

CallCentric has no monthly charge options, but you pay per call, typically 1.8 cents per minute. If you don’t make a lot of calls, and just want a home phone option, this may be a way to go as well. The advantage with CallCentric is you get to keep your number. PhonePower offers an unlimited plan to Obi customers for $59.99 per year. If you don’t need unlimited, there are many plans offering 120 to 1000 minutes per month for just a few dollars per month. If you’re ever unhappy with one of these providers, just pick another. CallCentric is one of the oldest VoIP providers. While you may have never heard of them, those in the corporate world have. CallCentric has been powering businesses with VoIP service for years. They certainly know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

I recommend Google Voice and CallCentric. Use Google Voice for unlimited free outbound calling and CallCentric to host your current phone number. Their Personal Unlimited plan for your current number is $5.95 per month. Their North America Basic outbound plan is only $1.95 per month. This covers your E911 fee, and gives 120 minutes calling to anywhere in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Using both services also gives a backup should one go down. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the city was without power for a week. CallCentric remained online until the UPS batteries gave out, then disappeared. Since that time, they have enhanced their infrastructure, but to what extent, I wouldn’t know. Google has a vast, distributed network. It is unlikely that a local event could take down Google, but a nasty virus replicating through the network just might.

If you have the Cox Internet Starter plan, you may need to upgrade. While VoIP takes very little bandwidth, it is highly sensitive to the quality of the service. High latency and Jitter will make your phone unusable. Cox heavily advertises their speed, but never mention quality. An 8 year old child can make a race car go fast, winning the race is another story! While CenturyLink may not be able to match the speed of Cox, I have found their quality of service so far superior, you’d never know. http://speedtest.net/ will show your speed, but dslreports.com has a much more detailed test to grade the quality.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, we would be happy to help set everything up for you. Just give us a call at 480-382-4761 and we can take care of everything. Within two weeks, you can cancel that expensive, feature limited, phone service. Save your hard earned money, block those nuisance calls, get all the features you could want, at an unbelievable price.

Why Should I Switch to Linux?

First let me tell you a little about myself. After all, everyone has their own opinion, and most are worth the price you pay. I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I have over 20 years of experience supporting Microsoft in Enterprise environments for Fortune 100 companies. I currently own my own IT business, and Microsoft is my bread and butter. Fixing Microsoft’s problems pays my bills.

Now I’m here to tell you that you have been brainwashed, mislead, and lied to for years! Microsoft would have you believe not that they are the best operating system for your computer, but they are the ONLY operating system. They have even gone so far as to work with PC manufacturers that if a PC is sold with Microsoft, it will ONLY run Microsoft!

That caused problems with the IT community, as locking the systems down so tightly prevented people like myself from repairing systems when things went awry. The PC manufacturers had to create new BIOS and UEFI files to allow their systems to be maintained.

The truth is, Linux is the third most popular system in the world. Technically Linux is a Kernel, not an Operating System. There is a myriad of other open source software included that makes it an Operating System, but that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion topic. Currently Microsoft is ranked number one, Apple’s OSx is number two, and Linux is third. Linux is built by a global community of developers. This makes it much more popular in other countries that don’t want their money going to U.S. corporations.

Let me also say that most any IT people like myself will tell you, you need monthly or quarterly maintenance. For the most part, that is true of Windows. That being said, it is a computer. It can be scheduled to run most any task automatically. I typically schedule these maintenance tasks so you don’t need to call me every month. Sure, I’m shooting myself in the foot. That would be the majority of my income, and I’m giving it away. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for the customer. By treating my customers right, I know they’ll be much more likely to refer me. I’ll also be the first one they call if they have a problem on a different computer. Typically, the work I do is good for one to two years. By that time there will be new issues, and I’ll get another opportunity to earn an income.

Now, ALL those maintenance tasks with Windows go out the window with Linux! Linux was written to be a clone of Unix. Unix is a popular Operating System for Enterprise Servers. Unix is quite expensive, but it’s designed to run 24×7. Achieving 99.999% availability on a Windows system is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

I should also note: This does include technical terms for completeness and accuracy. While relevant, an understanding of the terms is not required to get an understanding of the content.

Let’s start with the biggest, and most obvious, Windows task: Anti-virus

Everyone knows how rampant the problem is with viruses and malware on Windows. Linux is virtually immune to viruses and malware. While it’s technically possible to infect Linux, it’s extremely difficult, and there really isn’t anything out there. Is that because Linux isn’t very popular? No! Quite contrary actually! Over 90% of the world’s Internet servers run Linux. Think Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, etc.. They all run Linux servers. Every government globally houses their most sensitive data on Linux servers. You know the best, and brightest, minds in the world are trying to crack that. So what makes Linux so secure? First, being a Unix clone means it was designed with security in mind from the start. The Linux user has no rights to do anything to change the system. Passwords, and root access are required for this. That means no program can silently install itself and make changes without the user’s acknowledgment. Next, there are many different distributions of Linux, each designed for different tasks. Each has their own way of storing files, how, where, what files, and how they’re used. A malware writer cannot simply say, put this file here and execute on start, and expect that to work on every system like they can with Windows. Also, Linux is Open Source software. That means anyone can download the source code, examine it, alter it to fit their needs, etc.. There are many eyes on the code. There is no place for a virus to hide. If vulnerabilities do exist, they are quickly spotted and corrected. Anyone can submit a change to correct a vulnerability. The team responsible for that distribution, or program, will authorize the correction and place it on a server, usually the same day! A Linux install will find the change and alert the user of the update. This brings up another point. Linux will NEVER say installing update 1 of 65,536. Do not power off your computer. Most updates don’t even require a restart. If, however, a restart is required and you say no, Linux will never bug you about it again. It will not hijack your start-up, or shutdown, to install updates. That alone is worth the price of admission. Oh, and about that price… Being Open Source, Linux is FREE! Some distributions come with support, and you pay a nominal fee for that support option.

The next maintenance task is: Defrag

It still has a hard drive, (assuming it does and not a Solid State Drive) so it must be defragmented, right? Wrong! You see, Linux uses the EXT4 file system, which differs from Microsoft’s NTFS. With NTFS, files are stored in any available space, and split a seemingly infinite number of times to fill each little nook and cranny of the drive until the whole file is saved. If the file changes, the whole process starts over to find new locations to save it.

With the EXT4 File System, the computer will find a location with sufficient space, plus a little more, to store the entire file. What’s the little more for? Changes. If the file changes, and grows slightly, it can remain in place and in tact. As long as the drive is under 80% full, file fragmentation will not occur.

What about a Tune-Up? Windows needs regular tune-ups doesn’t it?

Typically, yes, and this usually involves some type of registry changes. Of course, there are different schools of thought on any registry changes. But again, that’s a different discussion topic. Either way, while Linux does have a registry, it is used only by the system, and not by installed software. This make it far less susceptible to corruption than Windows, and changes are not required.

Linux is also much faster than Windows. Some distributions are made specifically for older hardware, and require very little memory and, other resources, to run. While these may not have all the bells and whistles of larger distributions, the necessities are all there. Running one of these on newer hardware absolutely flies!

But isn’t Linux difficult to use? Isn’t it primarily for geeks, developers, IT nerds, etc.? In a word, NO! In may cases Linux is easier to use than Windows. Many distributions look and feel very much like Windows, so users feel right at home. Linux can be made to look almost exactly like any version of Windows, Mac. Many people use their computers only for web browsing. They use email, check the news and weather, Facebook, etc. Google has a version of Chrome for Linux, and many distributions come with Firefox installed. For those people, the underlying Operating System goes unnoticed. They simply open their browser and do what they want to do. That’s really the way an Operating System should be. What about that software? Chrome and Firefox are one thing, but I have a lot of Windows programs! Will Linux run my software? Yes, and no. Most Open Source developers create versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Many proprietary developers are only Windows and Mac. As Linux gains in popularity that will change. There are literally thousands of programs for Linux. Chances are, if your program does not have a Linux version, there is a Linux program that does the same thing. There is also WINE, which is a program to allow Windows software to run natively on Linux. WINE isn’t perfect, but it gets better all the time. There’s a pretty good chance your beloved Windows programs will run on Linux via WINE. I can hear the Linux community cringing! Most Linux users, myself included, are fans of Open Source Software. Wherever possible, we will seek out an Open Source program. Why? For one, most are free! And again, there are many eyes on the code. This makes it much more secure. But isn’t the free stuff, crappy, wannabe, clones? Most of today’s Open Source Software rivals, or exceeds, it’s proprietary counterparts. Many of the worlds greatest developers donate some of their code to the community. Ah, but that means the software is written by many different developers, with various coding styles, leading to a hodgepodge of code. Like those starving artists paintings where one person paints just a piece of the picture! True, but, with so many developers and eyes on the code, inefficient code is identified and corrected. The end result is much cleaner, and more efficient, code than most proprietary software.

If Linux is so great why haven’t I heard of it? Why isn’t it more popular? One, Microsoft is fighting hard to lock down the market, and keep you locked into their ecosystem. Also, while Linux has been a staple in the server market for years, they haven’t had a strong desktop client. The Linux community has said for years they were going to take over the market. I was one of those that scoffed at them. I found Linux cumbersome, difficult to use, and a serious lack in hardware support. A few years ago that all changed with Ubuntu. I found it promising, but still not ready for prime time. A few years later variants like Zorin, Lubuntu, and Mint changed that. These distributions built on to the Ubuntu code with different desktops and bundled software. Many of today’s Linux distributions far exceed Microsoft’s Windows in so many ways. We’ve already discussed the security, speed, and software. Let’s talk about stability. The past five consecutive updates from Microsoft have broken Windows for thousands of users. I should know, I get the calls when Windows won’t boot! My Linux customers remain unaffected. It just works. For the first time, Microsoft now faces a serious threat. I firmly believe that’s why they offered the free upgrade to Windows 10. With the end of life of XP and Vista, users had three options. They could buy a Windows license for roughly $120, buy a new computer which includes the license, or switch to Linux. And that’s exactly what many people did. Fortunately for Microsoft, most people bought new computers. However, I know of several corporations that decided to test Linux. They put a few Linux boxes out for their employees, had them test it and provide feedback. The response was so overwhelmingly positive, the companies decided to go Linux corporate-wide. The users found it much faster, easier, and more stable. As more corporations realize they can save money by switching to Open Source, the users will become familiar with it, and want it on their home computers. We have already seen Linux take over the server market. The educational market has gone to Chromebooks. Again we see Microsoft fighting hard. If the screen size is below 11.6 inches, and/or the cost of the device is below $300, they will include the Windows license for free. Microsoft has developed their own hardware that directly competes with Chromebooks. Time will tell if they are successful. The Chromebook uses a stripped down version of Debian Linux. It has just enough of the kernel installed to run the Chrome browser. Ultimately though, it IS a Linux box. A note to all you Android smart phone users… Android is Linux. There is one more place Microsoft is losing market share, the Office Suite.. you know Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.. Microsoft charges $100 to $300 per seat for Office, depending on the version and licensing agreements. If a corporation has 100 reps on the phones, times $100 per seat, that’s a lot of money! LibreOffice is free, and does everything Microsoft Office does and more! You can create and edit Visio documents, PDFs, and more. It recognizes the Microsoft Office document formats. Word documents open in Writer just as they did in Word, and will save in the same format. The same goes for Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, you get the idea. Switching to LibreOffice is a no brainer, and it is rapidly becoming the new standard. And in case your wondering, yes, LibreOffice has a version for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and comes standard with many Linux distributions.

So what are these “distributions”? Unlike Windows, which is pretty much one size fits all, Linux is highly customizable. You could start with something like Debian, which gives you the basics, and build it yourself, with just the components you need, or use what someone else has built that fits your needs. If you’re looking for a Windows or Mac replacement, there are many distributions built specifically for that purpose. Suppose you’re looking for something highly specialized, like Forensic Investigations. Yes, there are distributions that cater to that as well. Looking at the most common, Windows replacements, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people seem to prefer Fedora’s latest desktop. Honestly, I have not tried that. Fedora is a fork of Red Hat, and one of the most common server distributions. The desktop side is something that until recently was underdeveloped. Ubuntu has specialized in the desktop (personal computer application) for years, and they have come a long way. Now speaking of “desktop”, I put the last statement in parentheses because the desktop is also a major component of any distribution. For years, Ubuntu has used the Gnome desktop, recently switched to Unity, and now have announced a return to Gnome. Development of Gnome was considered dead, which prompted the change. Many people preferred Gnome to Unity, which prompted a fork to Mate. What’s a fork? Remember this is all Open Source. Anyone can see, and modify the code. If a team ceases development, often a new team will take the last version of the code, and begin new development. That’s a fork. Frankly, I like the look and feel of the Unity desktop, and prefer it to Gnome. However, I find the Cinnamon desktop to be my favorite. KDE is by far the most customizable, and often the prettiest, but not the easiest to use. Cinnamon looks very nice, it’s very easy to use, it comes with a lot of features, and many more can be added. KDE also requires a powerful PC. Cinnamon’s features do require some power, but works on a much broader range of computers. What if you have a really old, or under-powered computer? Linux has you covered there as well. LXDE is the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment. This desktop is not very feature laden, but it’s small and fast! Combine the Ubuntu Kernel, the core of what makes up an Operating System, with the LXDE Desktop, and you get Lubuntu. Want to breathe new life into that old PC in the closet? Bought one of those really cool “Netbooks” only to find it’s just too slow to use? Get rid of Windows, and install Lubuntu. You’ll be amazed at the performance!

For the most part, even a PC designed for XP or Vista, will run the Cinnamon desktop just fine. If your PC was relatively powerful when you bought it, it will still be fine today. If you bought a budget PC, go with Lubuntu. For everything else, this is where the vast majority of distributions are. Again, many of these are personal preference, but where to begin? The choices are overwhelming. Are they really that different? Why so many? This is the next place a lot of would be Linux users get turned off, and give up. Live CD’s are very cool, in that they let you download a distribution that interests you, boot from the CD/DVD, and get to see and play with it, hands on. The downside is you can’t change anything. Other options would be to install it on a USB flash dive, or even better yet, a Virtual Machine! That’s much more advanced though. If you like what you’ve read and just want a great place to start, distrowatch.com is your friend! You can search DistroWatch for that specialized stuff, read the latest news and developments. The list all the newest distributions, and updates. But the best part is tracking the most popular downloads. For some time now, at least as of this writing, Linux Mint Cinnamon is by far the most popular download. This is my favorite too! It looks and feels much like Windows. It’s easy to use. It’s stable and secure. And, it’s Ubuntu based. The Mint team has taken the Ubuntu code and added the various alternative desktops, KDE, MATE, XFCE, and Cinnamon. They developed their own applications for things like a notepad, media player, etc. Sure, there are many such apps already available for download, and Ubuntu includes them. However, the included apps from Ubuntu look best on their desktop. They don’t necessarily match the look and feel of Cinnamon, or Mint, really. The Mint team has gone to great lengths to be sure everything works together exactly as it should, on every level, even down to the look of the applications. This is the Microsoft killer system. I do not work for Mint. I am not in any way, shape, or form, part of their team. I am not compensated by them. I saw they were number one on DistroWatch, downloaded, and tried it. I like it so much, I put it on all my computers that would run it. I do have a little netbook, and an under-powered Celeron notebook that work better with Lubuntu, but Mint Cinnamon is by far my favorite! As for my customers, many had XP and Vista boxes that I converted for them. Others were tired of the viruses, malware, and lack of security of Windows. Others yet saw what I had done for their friends, loved it, saw how much their friends loved it, and asked me to install it for them. Of the dozens of customers I converted, two asked to switch back. When looking at WHY they wanted to go back, it was not because of Linux, but rather one program installed in Linux! Well, there’s no shortage of software available for Linux. There’s something for everyone, and every need. All I had to do was install a different program. Now I did have a few cases where specific Windows software was a requirement. There were Linux alternatives, but would not meet all the requirements for various reasons, and they would not run under WINE. There is a way around this too. I installed Windows in a Virtual Machine. They boot and run Linux for most everything, but when they need that specific Windows program, they boot a Windows PC right inside Linux! It actually runs surprisingly well. In most cases, it seems to be faster running Windows in the VM than booting Windows on the existing hardware! I attribute that to the fact that it’s a very clean install of Windows, but whatever the reason, it works.

The bottom line here is, while Linux “may” not be for everyone, there is something for 99.99% of the people. It works. It’s fast. It’s stable. It’s secure, and in my opinion at least, Microsoft just can’t compete! I love it, and most importantly, my customers love it. That’s what matters most.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and learned a lot. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You’re free to run anything you want on your computer, and I’m happy to support it. Please no comments on why you may feel Windows, Mac, BeOS, or whatever is better. This is my Blog, my opinion, and my experience. I have nearly 40 years of experience in the field. I have been well compensated by some of the world’s leading Fortune 100 companies for my work. My resume speaks for itself. If for whatever reason you still feel I am not an authority, we will agree to disagree and leave it at that.

Thanks for reading!

E-Mail Clients

Some of you may find this useful. This is my experience with email clients.

I was never a big fan of clients. I preferred to use the web-mail version, as there was less to get in the way, no configuration, no special software, just a web browser.

Most of my customers, however, prefer to use a client. Outlook is by far the most popular that I support. Of course Outlook is also quite expensive. Thunderbird is the undisputed king of the free clients, so I decided to give it a try. I immediately found it extremely useful to have my personal and business mail in one place. If you have only one email account, I would still recommend using the web version.

I quickly ran into trouble with Thunderbird though. The program is a memory hog, and it’s quite slow. Sure it provides just about everything Outlook has, and many features Outlook does not. It can be used in a corporate environment just as Outlook. But all those features come at the expense of performance. My primary laptop is a small, under-powered, Netbook running Windows 8.1. With a little care, this runs very well, but Thunderbird brought it to it’s knees. I’m also a big user of Google Apps. I use these for my business, and use their calendar to schedule all my appointments. I also share the calendar with my wife so she can see where I am, add appointments for me, and schedule personal appointments where I need to be available. Thunderbird supports the Google Calendar, but it’s nothing more than a new tab with the calendar web page. At first I liked that, but every time I would start Thunderbird and open the calendar, I would have to sign in again. That was a pain.

I was offered a deal from Microsoft for Office 2013 running on up to five computers, with up to five users in the same household, for $10 a month. Libre Office is great, and it’s free, with a solid 99% compatibility with current Office formats. But it’s not completely 100% compatible with formatting such as indented text. Office 2013 gives me the same Office standard used pretty much everywhere. (I should note, however, than many corporations are switching to Libre Office because it saves so much money.)

Now that I have the latest Office, that includes the latest version of Outlook. The first problem I found was after fully configuring Outlook on one computer did not mean installing on another saved my settings. Each computer I use had to be manually configured. Microsoft also has a web version, but that too needs to be separately configured. Next, I found that Outlook does not support Google Apps. There are many applications to “sync” Google Apps with Outlook, but they don’t always work as expected. One app would simply copy items from Google to Outlook. Changes made in Outlook would not sync back to Google. I found Google makes their own sync app, but it’s only available for paid Google Apps users. I am a paid user, so no problem there. Next, I discovered recently added contacts to Google were not immediately synced to Outlook. I have software that captures business cards and syncs the cards with Google. Another app scans email and offers to add the contacts to Google. However, when I attempted to send an email to someone, I found that their information had not yet been imported to Outlook. I tried to re-sync, exit Outlook, and sync again, but my newest contacts were still not available!

I continued searching for other sync apps and came across eM Client. Well, this is not any type of sync app at all, but rather another client similar to Thunderbird or Outlook. My first thought was, “that’s not what I’m looking for!” Not so fast… It turns out eM Client was actually EXACTLY what I needed! The client is small, fast and clean. The interface is uncluttered. It fully, AND PROPERLY, integrates all Google Apps. It does everything I need, and not too much more. It will connect to an Exchange server in a corporate environment, but does not support LDAP for Single Sign-On Active Directory support. This is not a feature I need anyway. This means even on my little Netbook the app is very fast.

eM Client is not exactly free. The free version is for home use only, and supports a maximum of two accounts. For most users, that’s sufficient. The Pro version supports unlimited accounts and is licensed for business use. The cost for the Pro version is $49.95 for one computer with a lifetime license. Discounts are applied for multiple computers. Example: Three computers are $26.95 each totaling $79.95. That does not include upgrades to newer versions though. A lifetime license is available for $30 more per PC, or $129.90 for 3 computers. That’s still much less expensive than Outlook. You get most of the features of Outlook, plus many features not included in Outlook, like Google integration. The software will automatically import from Outlook. It’s small, fast, and stable. eM Client is my new favorite email client.

Next, I decided to see what others were saying, so I searched for reviews. Most everyone agrees with me that this is better than Thunderbird and/or Outlook. One site picked Thunderbird as the favorite, but nearly every comment to the site disagreed. The one comment that agreed did not indicate that he/she ever tried eM Client, but rather was just a fan of Thunderbird. That’s fine. If you like it, and it works for you, that’s great. There’s no doubt Thunderbird has a huge following. They’ve been around for years, it’s developed by Mozilla, and is a solid program. My experience, as with many others, is that it has developed too much feature creep over the years, and is simply too slow.

I should also note that the developers of eM Client have no idea I am writing this review. I am not expecting any form of compensation for this. I am merely stating my experiences so that my readers who have experienced the same troubles I’ve had now have a great alternative.

Check it out for yourself at http://emclient.com

 

Magazine Article Interview

I received a set of interview questions for an upcoming magazine article, so I thought I’d share them here:

Questions About the Industry

 

How did you get started with your business? What made you decide to be a part of your industry?

 

I started working on computers as a hobby in 1980. I had a Radio Shack Color Computer. I attended R.E.T.S Electronics school on weekends while I was still in High School where I was studying electronic engineering. I worked my way through High School repairing Radios and Televisions. I also became a licensed Amateur Radio operator, and repaired HAM radios. I used my electronics knowledge to extensively modify my little Co-Co to do things Radio Shack never imagined! I had 64K of memory when it only supported 16K. I had dual external floppy drives, when it only supported a cassette deck. I tapped into the video out to create a composite video connection to a real monochrome monitor when Radio Shack connected to a TV. I was running a parallel printer through the serial port, and a real modem through the  parallel port. I was able to tie all this together and run the second most popular BBS in the state or Maryland.

In 1990 I was able to turn my hobby into a career at American Express, supporting all the desktops in their Establishment Services division. Then when they decided to migrate from mainframe to a server based architecture, they sent me to school to learn Novell. Later they decided to install Windows based servers and sent me to school again to earn my M.C.S.E.

I spent the last 20 years supporting thousands of Enterprise Servers for some of the biggest names in the world. But I really love the desktop and end user support. As my career advanced, I found myself working solely in the background with no recognition. I also found myself being out-tasked to various contracting agencies as corporations decided to out-task their IT support. The last time I got laid off, I made the decision to incorporate my old radio and television repair company into Computer Repair. Even that has morphed a little over the past year to focus on residential support, my true passion.

 

Which aspect of your industry interests you most?

 

I covered my passion for helping people in the last question. Computers are still my hobby, and I am extremely fortunate to be able to make them my career. I am interested in many aspects from both a hardware and software standpoint. I have become an expert at Virus Removal, in addition to my extensive Windows training and knowledge. I have a unique ability to tune Windows and really speed up most any computer. This helps me save people money as their old computers will continue to serve their needs without spending a fortune on new equipment.

 

What are you doing to keep up with the constant changes in your industry?

 

READ. I read computer magazines. I read advertising catalogs. I search the web for topics of interest. And in my downtime, I still “play” with my computers. I test new software, I read reviews, and I’m not afraid to break things. It is through constant break and repair that I learn how things work, what works, and what doesn’t.

 

What future do you envision for the industry you belong in?

 

People will always have computers, and they depend on them more and more. The hardware may change, but the basics remain pretty much the same. I see the industry moving more toward tablets and cellphones, but hopefully not completely within the next 10 years. As long as there is still an interest in keeping the old dinosaur desktops and laptops running, I will be here to help.

 

If there are changes you can do with your industry, what would it be and why?

 

I hope to help people realize that desktops and laptops still perform better for web surfing, and creating content. I also believe that for most of this, you do not need a lot of power. In the future, this will certainly change, and I will need to adapt. I know that in today’s economy people do not have the money to spend on the latest and greatest gadgets, and those that do still go back to their trusty computers for the tasks in which they excel. I hope to help keep the Personal Computer alive and well for years to come.

 

Any notable experiences/success stories that reinforced your interest in the industry?

 

As a child I was always interested in electronics. I had electronic project kits, where I could build literally hundreds of projects with the included diagrams. I found that I could combine the kits, and create my own projects. This sparked my interest in electronic engineering, and eventually computers. I’ve been doing this stuff for more than FORTY years, and I still love it.

 

Questions About Business

 

What sets your business apart from others?

 

First of all, I have more experience, training, and certifications than most anyone. As I said, I’ve been doing this literally my whole life. I am not looking to get rich doing this. Sure, I could charge a fortune for my services, but how is that really helping people? Deep down, I’m much more of a people person than most people in this industry. I am a Christian, and I believe that I have been granted this gift not for myself, but to help my community.

I also don’t believe you must subscribe to monthly service. Sure everyone, including myself, will tell you there are tasks that must be run regularly to keep your computer working properly. If you think about it, it’s a computer. It can schedule and run tasks on it’s own. That’s what computers do! I schedule these tasks, so you don’t need to pay me, or anyone else, every month for service. I’m confident that when you see how well everything works when I’m done, you will call me if/when you ever do have another problem. I’m sure that you will gladly refer me to your friends and neighbors. It is my hope, that I will continue to expand on this new business enough to keep this company running for years to come.

 

What is the purpose of your business?

 

In the broadest term, computer repair. But I do so much more, for so much less, because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

 

What can clients expect from you in the coming months? The following year?

 

I continue to learn new tricks every day. I have an interest in VOIP, and can use my experience there to help people save money. I continue to add new services, and will continue to adopt new technologies. As customers find new problems with both old, and new, technologies, I will continue to find solutions.

 

What aspects of your business do you want to improve? Why?

 

I am still, and likely always will be, building my business. I need to continue to attract new customers. I need to continue to stay abreast of changes in the industry. I need to continue to expand my knowledge and experience. If I fail in any one of these, my business will fail.

 

Who or what inspires your business?

 

I guess myself more than anything, or anyone, else. It is my hobby and my passion.

 

What is the most important aspect of your business?

 

The most important aspect of my business is helping people. Everyone has a computer, and everyone has problems. No one wants to spend money where they don’t need to. The majority of my customers are unemployed, retired, or living on a fixed income. I understand that. I sympathize with them. I’ve been there myself, more than once! I’m just glad I can help.

 

Describe your company in one word.

 

There are so many “one words” to describe Irwin Electronics. Trustworthy, helpful, ingenuity, and competitive all come to mind. Take your pick.

 

Questions About Products/Services

 

What is your latest product/service? Kindly explain and elaborate.

 

Our newest product is our Dell D630 refurbished laptops. Members of my family needed new laptops for work and school, but they did not have a lot of money to spend. They asked me for help, and this is what I found. When I received the first one, I discovered the refurbishing companies idea of refurbish was simply a new battery, power supply, and clean install of Windows 7. That’s a great start, but many things didn’t work. I could not scroll with the touchpad because the drivers were not installed. I could not see the volume level on the screen because the Dell Quickset application was not installed. The BIOS was out of date. There was no productivity software installed, not to mention anti-virus, flash player, and pdf viewer, etc. Also the laptops were a little light on RAM. Memory is cheap, and it is the most cost effective upgrade you can make. When I was done with it, my family absolutely LOVED it. They requested another for another family member, and yet another after that. A friend of mine said, “you could sell these things.” So here they are!

 

How did you choose the products/services you offer?

 

Need vs. Skills vs. Interest. Is there a need for tablet repair? Sure, but I don’t have the skills. I have an interest, and the knowledge, but I struggle with the tiny connectors. My hands are not as steady as they used to be. Carpet cleaning is in high demand too. I have the basic skills, but not the interest.

 

What product/service you are currently developing/plan to offer soon?

 

We’ve had really good luck with our VOIP solution for our phone system. The need is there, and I’m certainly interested, and excited, about it. The hardware can be purchased for $50, but the setup is cumbersome at best. Once everything is configured, your phone service can be completely free with a few exceptions. What to charge for the service and what are people willing to pay remains to be determined.

I also have a solution to the biggest complaint with Windows 8, the lack of the Start button on the desktop, and the need to go through the Metro interface to get to the classic desktop. I expect this service to really take off as more people migrate.

 

What makes your products special?

 

The service is what makes our products special. In fact, we sell our products at cost!

 

How does your product/service impact your clients?

 

We never sell anything our customers don’t need, and why would we if we sell at cost? We get terrific prices on the products we do sell, and this helps our customers save money. Our service is to identify and correct the problems our customers are experiencing with their computers.

 

How does your product/service make a difference in the world?

 

We exceed the needs of our customers. We include additional services at no charge to help protect them from the dangers lurking on the Internet. I’m not sure if this makes a difference in the world, but it sure makes a difference to my customers!

 

What value do you deliver to your clients through your products/services?

 

First, we shop the competition, and keep our prices competitive. Let’s look at Virus Removal for more detail. Most companies offer a tiered approach to virus removal. The starting service is usually $100 and offers no guarantee. They will attempt to clean the virus, but if Windows is damaged you’re out of luck. You can get your computer back as is, or pay an additional $250 for a re-image. Or you can opt for the $250 charge first which is guaranteed because they will reformat the hard drive and reload Windows from scratch. I understand Staples will do this for $50, but all they do is load Windows, or restore to factory defaults. They do not backup/restore your data.

I work a little differently. The initial charge is the same $100. If that works, great. If Windows is damaged, I will make every attempt to repair it. If I am unable to do so, I will contact the customer and let them know before proceeding to the second level. That is $240, but I do not add the $100 for the first attempt. With the increased charge, I make a backup of the entire hard drive as is, and will restore all the customer’s documents, pictures, and music upon completion.

Also, regardless of the total cost involved, I will ensure that all Windows Updates have been applied. I will verify their anti-virus software is functioning, and that they have a quality product. If they do not, I include anti-virus software at no additional charge. I also include a Windows Tune-up which stops the unnecessary services, hides the computer on the network, and disables the administrative shares. This further increases the security, and stability, of Windows while also speeding up the computer. I include all necessary software to fully utilize the computer, such as Adobe Flash Player, a PDF viewer, and an Office Suite or Microsoft Office.

I also make a compressed image of the drive when all the work is done, and store that to a hidden partition so the computer can easily be recovered to it’s fully tuned state at any time in the future. As you can see, I keep my prices competitive with the independent repair shops, but add a lot of additional services at no extra charge.

Why “I” Do What I Do, by David Irwin

I have been working on computers for over 30 years as a hobby, and professionally. My ability to tune personal computers is what landed me a job in the Information Technologies department at American Express, where I worked for 12 years. As my career progressed, I moved away from the end user/desktop support into servers. My last job was supporting about three thousand servers for a local bank. It was myself and one other guy working all night from 6 PM to 6 AM. We worked very hard, it was extremely busy at times, and very high pressure. For all this work, there was absolutely no positive recognition. Management believed that you were expected to “do your job, and do it well.” When someone went above and beyond, there was no “great job”. That was simply as expected. When the users came to work in the morning, they simply expected everything to be up and running, as they should. They really had no idea how much work we were performing all night to make sure that was the case. When I worked on desktops, I was everyone’s best friend. I was automatically invited to every potluck. Everyone knew me and loved me. I’ve been told I’m unlike any other IT guy they ever knew. Some people called me Professor, because of my advanced computer training and knowledge. Others have said I’m more personable and friendly than any other IT guy. I really miss that. I love helping people. I guess I’m much more of a people person than I realized. I enjoy giving personal service to my customers. Every customer becomes a friend. I’m not going to get rich doing this job, and that’s not my goal. I believe in outstanding customer service with very low prices. I believe in giving my customers options based on expert recommendations. I guarantee that I can make virtually any Windows-based computer run better than it did the day you bought it. The cost to do that varies; based on the problem of course, and is not always advisable. There are many times I have to turn work down because the cost to repair would not be justifiable. I hate to do that! I have had customers tell me they appreciate my honesty. In most cases however, I will do everything possible to keep the cost to you as low as I can. I personally guarantee you will be extremely happy with my work. I DO take it personally! If there is ever something you’re not happy with, please tell me so I can make it right. I started this company on the principles of honest, reliable, expert service at reasonable prices. That’s my passion and my promise!

Data Destruction Part 2:

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has since revised the DoD 5220.22M guidelines with NIST 800-88. The new standard basically states that a single pass overwrite is just as effective as 3 passes. We at Irwin Electronics agree with this to a point, but still prefer a 4 pass overwrite. We want to expand upon some myths, and truths, you should be aware of when selecting a company to ensure your data is safe when discarding, selling, or donating your used equipment. For all practical purposes, yes, a single pass overwrite does ensure that your data cannot be recovered via software alone. In our previous issue, we gave the scenario of the skier going down the slope as it applies to the head floating above the platters of the hard drive. The process of recovering extraneous data requires physically dismantling the drive an examining the platters with highly specialized equipment. This is a very expensive, time consuming, and inaccurate technology. To date, this process has never been used, or proven successful, in the private sector. For that reason alone the single pass method holds true. Our belief is that it’s worth a little extra time to perform the additional passes for the additional security offered since it requires only computer time. A technician does not need to monitor each pass, or restart the process following each pass. The software does that automatically. The NIST guidelines also suggest that the overwrites be human verified on a minimum sample of at least 20%. The tool we use verifies the data on each sector as it’s written, and includes the results on the report generated. We have tested our tool, and confirmed it does exactly as it states. We also verify this on every drive we wipe. The NIST guidelines state that the technician must be qualified in the field of data recovery. Our founder, Mr. Irwin, is considered by many to be a pioneer in the field of data forensics. He was personally trained by Michael Anderson, who is the true founder of this technology. Mr. Irwin was also personally trained by Shawn McCreight, the author of the now standard EnCase software. He personally had a hand in making EnCase what it is today. He has years of experience as a Data Forensics expert, and is even trained as an Expert Witness in a court of law. There is no doubt that our founder is fully trained, qualified, and certified to perform these tests.

We’ve all heard the news reports of sensitive data being recovered from discarded computers. It is important to note that in each of these cases there is no evidence that the drives in question had undergone any attempt to remove the data. No recovery tools were used in the process of recovering this data. In each case, the drives were simply connected and powered. All data, including the operating system, was intact. You can rest assured that this will not happen to you if we are responsible for destroying your data. We go above and beyond for all our customers. It’s almost unheard of to find a company with this level of expertise that caters to residential users and small businesses.