Gartner survey concludes that 1-in-5 workers think of themselves as an expert in IT.

According to a survey conducted by Gartner at the end of 2020, nearly one in five workers consider themselves to be digital technology ‘experts’ since COVID-19 – and over half consider themselves proficient.

Researchers suggest the increase in confidence (or overconfidence) is perhaps due to the increased reliance on collaboration tools such as Teams and Zoom and a lack of in-person IT support while working remotely – but found more than half (55%) of those surveyed were using personal devices for access to work systems/data, or privately obtained ‘shadow IT’ applications not sanctioned by their employer, at least some of the time.

The sample group, spread across US, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions among around 10,000 full-time employees at organisations with 100 or more employees in November and December 2020, analysed workers’ technological and workplace experiences.

Whit Andrews, distinguished research vice president at Gartner, argued: “Workers seized on the crisis” adopting “a wide range of technologies and applications in the space of a few months.”

Workers Shift Device Preferences

The Gartner survey found that digital workers increased their reliance on portable devices during 2020. Workers reported an 11% increase in the proportion of their work time spent on laptops, smartphones or tablets. The proportion of their time spent on desktops declined by 8%.

The findings also showed a rise in the number of workers using personal technology for work purposes. Over half of respondents reported that they use applications or web services that they personally obtained – most of which are not employer-sanctioned – for collaborating with other workers. The same proportion (55%) are using personally owned devices for their work at least some of the time.

“When organisations were forced to go remote in early 2020, workers started to rely on their own devices or programs they discovered themselves to make up for their employers’ technology shortcomings,” said Mr. Andrews. “In 2021, organisations can embrace this trend by expanding the choice of devices and software programs that workers can use with little or no friction.”

Flexible Work Supports Increased Productivity

One of the main questions lingering among executives regarding the impacts of the last year is remote work’s effect on productivity.

According to the Gartner survey, among employees whose work-from-home time increased since January 2020, 36% reported an increase in productivity, while 35% reported no change. Flexibility in working hours was the most cited factor enabling greater productivity, selected by 43% of respondents.

A quarter of workers surveyed did report that their productivity fell. Connectivity issues and technology changes were among the top reasons cited for decreased productivity.

“Digital proficiency becomes even more essential for productivity when working remotely,” said Mr. Andrews. “CIOs should extend worker-to-worker lateral mentoring and training to ensure that no employees are left behind as technology mastery becomes the expectation.”

 

For IT Support expertise, please contact Lineal today.


Xiaomi debuts wireless air charging

Chinese tech giant Xiaomi have debuted a new, longer-range, wireless ‘air charging’ technology.

Mi Air Charge allows a special charging beacon in the home to detect a device, such as a smartphone, and directionally provide up to 5W of wireless charging at a distance.

The company claims this is the first ‘truly’ wireless charging technology that doesn’t require a device to be physically placed at a base station for induction charging.

144 antennas comprising a phase control array allows the beacon to direct millimetre-wide charging waves via beamforming to a special rectifier circuit on a Xiaomi smartphone handset that recharges the device battery. The company believes similar technology will eventually be available for smartwatches, smart speakers and other home devices.

It’s not yet clear how far a user will be able to roam from the beacon, although Xiaomi claim the charging will work at ‘several meters’ distance.

Although the device is largely a marketing prototype at this stage, Xiaomi are expected develop it into a viable consumer product. The corporation has been officially listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange since 2018, and is focusing on ‘Internet-of-Things’ (IoT) devices and supporting technology.

 

For IT support and expertise, contact our team today.


Petroc Techknowledgey Transfer Launches

Lineal are delighted to be taking part in the new Petroc Techknowledgey Transfer project – aimed at teaching students to support businesses with special technology masterclasses.

The project will involve some of North Devon’s best known technology firm, and cover a range of different topics, including modern accounting, digital marketing, procurement, cybersecurity and other important business processes.

“Petroc’s Techknowledgey Transfer​ project is excited to be supporting local businesses alongside local business experts Applegate Marketplace, Maynard Johns Chartered Accountants, Lineal, LimeCloud and Barr Media to deliver an exciting new project.

We are inviting small and medium sized businesses to access support on business admin technologies. Our business partners will be delivering fully funded virtual masterclasses to eligible businesses. We also have student work placements available for some businesses. For more information, please contact- [email protected]

One hundred small businesses will be selected to take-part in the student-led part of the Petroc Techknowledgey Transfer, which will also be a studied project to measure the benefits of technical expertise being applied to businesses.

More information is available on Petroc’s website here.

 

For IT expertise and support, please contact our team today.


ASUS gambles on dual-screen laptop

Two years ago ASUS first previewed an experimental dual-screen laptop. Dubbed ‘ProjectPrCog’, the unusual concept creation effectively doubled the available screen size to both the top and bottom case of the laptop.

In 2020, ASUS have (sort-of) finally taken the plunge with the ZenBook Duo. An intriguing new design, this ‘one-and-a-half-screen’, $1499 version includes a secondary rectangular monitor in the lower half of the case for extra display room.

Among the theoretical advantages of a dual-screen laptop are the ability to hold communications apps like email or instant messaging on the lower screen while working on the upper, and the ability to stream video from the top while controlling the stream itself lower down. A powerful Intel i7 processor included as standard ensures the extra screen space isn’t wasted, and it’s easy to imagine the Duo becoming a cult-hit with graphic designers and similar.

The overall design is not quite as futuristic as ProjectPrCog – ASUS have shied away from a full touchscreen keyboard, favouring a cut-down version of conventional laptop keys, and a touchpad mouse/numberpad combination.

The ZenBook Duo is also thankfully less wacky than previously failed attempts at the same thing, such as Lenovo’s odd Thinkpad W700ds.

Conceptually though a dual-screen laptop still poses some challenges: a cramped keyboard close to the edge makes it quite difficult to type on top of er… one’s lap.  At 1.5kg the model sits around average for laptop weight, but dual displays is likely to impact the battery life considerably compared with single-screen models.

A highly commendable effort from ASUS and undoubtedly interesting. World-changing? Probably not yet.

 

For IT Support and expertise, please contact out team today.


Securing the NHS C19 Contact Tracing App

The combined NHS Digital Taskforce, NHSX, recently beta tested the new UK Covid-19 contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, and have released code to the cyber security community to review.

The app logs interactions with other bluetooth-enabled smartphones each day, and allows the NHS to notify users who have been in contact with self-reporting Covid-19 cases that they should re-enter isolation as a precaution.

A recent blog post by the UK National Cyber Security Centre identified a number of areas for improvement, with the contact tracing app itself expected to be officially released in June 2020.

 

The Pairing Problem

NHS servers ping the app every 8 seconds to confirm active connections, and the app itself records received signal strength indicators (RSSI) via Bluetooth to gauge where users have been in contact with each other. Users then upload their records if they experience symptoms.

Any attacker with access to this upload traffic, (which does not include the user ID but is unencrypted) could begin comparing submissions via start/end times and signal strength readings, and would theoretically be able to pair these users together.

This problem of uniquely identifiable pairs potentially compromises the identity of the individuals using the app, as well as their location history relative to each other.

The NCSC have confirmed that in the release version, even ‘anonymised’ RSSI data will itself be encrypted, to stop any third-parties attempting to ‘re-identify’ either or both of the users.

 

Intercepting the Public Key

In beta testing, the Authority’s Public Key was not transferred to the user’s phone via TLS encryption (like a secured web-page) raising the possibility that although the app could be downloaded successfully, this important piece of information used for submitting data could be compromised.

This would be akin to a kind of ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, where a user’s encrypted uploads could be (even if not unencrypted) sabotaged or withheld during transmission back to NHS systems.

Security researchers have suggested that since this key is not secret, it should be wrapped into the installation of the app itself.

The NCSC have since confirmed that intermediate certificate pinning has been used to reduce the risk of this happening, and that this limitation will be fixed once the Isle of Wight trial ends.

 

Bluetooth Broadcast Values

The app operates via broadcast values with change every 24 hours to prevent a device being tracked by Bluetooth over longer periods of time. This is significantly longer than the industry standard 15 minutes.

However, more controversially, a predictable ‘KeepAlive’ counter is used to connect old and new broadcast values, raising the potential for an attacker to re-identify the user beyond the 24-hour limit.

The NCSC defends the longer-term tracing as necessary to establish social interactions more accurately, but has resolved to randomise the counter to stop broadcast values being easily matched or the user re-identified endlessly.

 

Whistleblowing

Under beta testing, the app’s original policy documentation contained the line: “You may not publicly disclose any details of the vulnerability [that you’re reporting] without consent from NHSX.”

This would have run counter to the NCSC’s own vulnerability disclosure policy, which suggests that members of the technology community should be encouraged to highlight system weaknesses (particularly during public consultation beta-tests) for correction.

This line is to be removed from the public release version.

 

For cybersecurity support & IT expertise, please contact our team today.


Crowdfunding Launched to Pay Eagles’ Roaming Bill

An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched to pay the mobile roaming bill of migrating eagles being tracked the Russian Wild Animal Rehabilitation Team at the Siberian Environmental Centre.

The thirteen tagged Steppe Eagles, being tracked via bi-hourly SMS messages containing GPS coordinates, ran up a hefty data roaming bill after migrating across countries as far afield as Egypt, Georgia and India.

One eagle, named ‘Min’ by researchers, unexpectedly flew from Kazakhstan via Iran, initially losing signal but then sending a backlog of messages at high rates, before crossing into Saudi Arabia and reaching as far South as the Yemen.

At a cost of 7,000 roubles (£85 per day), Min quickly used up the programme’s entire budget for tracking all 13 Eagles, forcing the Russian team of environmentalists to turn to social media for financial support.

Considered endangered by the IUCN, the Steppe Eagle once commonly reached as far afield the Ukraine, but researchers were unprepared for expensive data charges across the Middle East, which can be three-times higher than those in the Russian Federation.

The centre’s crowdfunding campaign has raised more than 250,000 roubles (roughly £3,000), although Russian telecoms provider MegaFon has since agreed to write-off the wayward Eagles’ data roaming bill debt as a gesture of goodwill.

Modern business mobile packages offer in-built policies to support data roaming limits across multiple countries worldwide, and to allow data ‘pooling’ across an entire organisation to offer some protection against any one individual breaking their data limit. Even if you migrate South for the Winter.

 

For Business Mobile expertise, please contact our team today.


Lineal Shortlisted for Tech Company of the Year

Lineal Software Solutions Ltd. have been shortlisted for Tech Company of the Year (Revenue under £5m category) in the Tech South West Awards 2019.

The Tech SW Awards recognise the work of the region’s best technology firms, from Bristol to Land’s End and beyond, in making the Westcountry the home of a vibrant, skilled and thriving tech sector.

Mike Matthews, Lineal’s Managing Director explained: “We’re delighted to be shortlisted for the Tech South West awards – it’s a real recognition of our team’s hard work, creativity and dedication to be ranked among the best in the region.”

“2018-19 has been really quite something for Lineal. We’ve opened new premises, taken on bigger projects than ever before, expanded our product offering to new areas, and signed a diverse range of new clients.”

“It’s fantastic to make it through to the final round of this prestigious award.”

Tech South West exists to champion excellence among tech companies, and make the South West a hub for technology and innovation.

The awards will be presented in a special ceremony at Exeter Castle on Wednesday 27th November – a full shortlist of nominees and categories has been published on Tech South West’s website, here.

 

awards


Office 365 Dark Mode Announced

Microsoft have announced dark mode for Microsoft Office 365.

Dark mode will extend muted and low-light colour schemes across Microsoft’s suite of Office 365 apps, and across Office.com, beyond the Outlook dark theme introduced last Summer. The improvement comes just in time for the newest releases of iOS and Android smartphone operating systems.

Adding low-light themes has become a popular addition for the major tech players in recent years – with Apple and Microsoft making significant strides in adapting their operating systems to be easier to use after-hours.

Office 365’s development team point to the changing nature of work: that office users increasingly use battery-dependent devices (such as laptops, tablets and smartphones) that need to conserve power, over desktop PCs with fixed power connections.

Today’s workforce is much more mobile, often working from home at night, in shared office spaces or even darkened aeroplanes – and are more aware of the health dangers of eye-strain and sleep deprivation that can be caused by unnaturally bright screens.

Instead the focus is on a more ‘relaxed’ viewing of Office 365, with Outlook even able to automatically able to switch to dark-mode depending on the hour and date dynamically, or when the user has enabled battery-saver.

Dark Mode is expected to roll-out to Office 365’s 200-million users in coming weeks.

 

Lineal are certified Microsoft Gold Partner – for Office 365 expertise, licensing and support, please contact us today.


Are passwords doomed?

Reports of the death of the password may have been greatly exaggerated in the media: from the suggestion that passwords are the ‘weakest link’ in the cybersecurity chain, to the notion that humans are so bad at using them, that it’s time the technology industry saved us from ourselves.

But is it true; are passwords doomed? Enter the FIDO2 Project – a fascinating effort to ‘Move the World Beyond Passwords’ led by the FIDO Alliance industry association and World Wide Web Consortium.

Headlines aside, FIDO2’s aims are ambitious: to replace passwords with a flexible device-based authentication standard that allows users to log in via biometrics or temporary security keys.

Unique to each website, not stored centrally and not transmitted, FIDO2 argue this standard naturally scuppers phishing, password theft and replay attacks – and introduces some privacy advantages sure to woo even ardent digital rights activists: such as the inability to track users between sites.

While still technically possible, cheating biometrics requires the kind of preparation not common to everyday opportunistic cyber-criminals.

The big players are taking note: Google plans to ‘begin’ retiring passwords for Google services accessed via biometric enabled smartphones (such as those with fingerprint scanners) and Microsoft is planning similar changes to apps in Windows 10; even talking of a ‘passwordless world‘ via Windows Hello that extends facial recognition. Apple have been publicly heading down this road for a while now – with ‘FaceID’ facial recognition introduced for recent generations of iPhone and iPad, as well as Apple Watch device-led unlocking for your Mac.

Apple’s efforts to prove that the iPhone stores only a ‘mathematical representation’ of the user’s face also suggests that they’re preparing to defend a policy of extending FaceID further at the expense of passwords, even in an increasingly privacy-conscious World.

Users may of course find the a world without passwords a little disorientating to begin with – although not forever, if the replacement technology proves more convenient.

Password keeper apps (such as the excellent 1Password) have become an interesting half-way house to a more secure password future – where the password manager retains a set of passwords behind a strong keycode, in an encrypted form. The password manager may also perform other useful functions, such as warning the user where passwords overlap, allocating different password access permissions to different people within a business or organisation, or auto-filling in common web browsers.

The adoption of password managers may reflect a coming time where users continue to ‘use’ passwords, but without engaging in the process of recalling or typing the password. It may not be passwords that are doomed, but the user’s traditional interaction with passwords.

Are passwords doomed? A few potential futures emerge: one where passwords exist but are used less directly by users, where passwords are relegated to a secondary security measure of questionable usefulness, or most radically, where passwords are replaced entirely.

 

For cybersecurity and IT expertise, please contact our team today.


Huawei Announces Harmony OS to rival Android

Chinese technology giant Huawei have announced the development of Harmony OS, a smartphone operating system designed to replace its reliance on Google’s Android platform.

The news, which was announced at the 2019 Huawei Developer Conference, is the latest twist in a series of events which saw Google’s official suspension of Huawei’s Android license in May 2019, in response to a security warning from the US Government.

Much like its rivals, Harmony OS is designed to run across a wide range of devices beyond smartphones, including tablets, wearables and smart screens. Built from scratch, Huawei also claims developers will be able to develop and deploy new apps across multiple device-types and screen sizes much more easily.

Huawei’s focus on developers may seem a little niche, but may be shrewder than first thought – in light of the difficulty Microsoft experienced seeking to establish Windows Mobile as a rival to Android and iOS, and the declining spiral of app availability, hardware sales and popularity.

Harmony OS may be at an early stage (concept images were noticeably absent from Huawei’s media release) although the move may signal a realignment of the smartphone world into the 2020s – with three operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Huawei’s Harmony going head to head.

 

For Business Mobile expertise and support, please contact our team today.


iOS 13 Rumours hint at big changes for iPad

Online rumours about the release of iOS 13 have suggested Apple may be about to add a number of ‘Mac’ style features to their touchscreen-based operating system.

Among the improvements hinted at exclusively by 9to5Mac for release at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June, iOS 13 looks set to include system-wide dark-mode and high-contract display versions, a less intrusive volume control, new font management, desktop-version website priority and new ‘Undo’ controls.

Most importantly, iOS 13 is rumoured to include a kind of panel-based app container system, allowing users to more easily control screen space and switch between applications smoothly.

If true, the move will be seen by many as the first confirmation of a long suspected plan by Apple to begin merging their two main operating systems, iOS (for iPhone and iPad) and MacOS (for MacBook, iMac and Mac mini ranges) for a more common experience across Apple’s range of devices.

Numerous concept images of what the proposed iOS might to look like have appeared online, although Apple aficionados may note that dark-mode would display very differently on OLED devices to non-OLED ones.

Recent iPad Pro advertising, which asks ‘What’s a computer?’ suggests that much like Microsoft, Apple is preparing for more capable tablets to increasingly replace traditional laptops for work computing.

 

For Apple equipment and expertise, contact our team today.


Samsung unveils folding smartphone

Samsung have unveiled Galaxy Fold – a folding smartphone with a large (7.3” 2152×1536) internal display.

Designing a folding phone presents challenges, not least how close to exact the fold can run without breaking the internal display.

The benefits? A larger screen inside looks a smart choice for certain app formats – such as Google Maps, or split-screen use between apps. Samsung have cleverly ensured the display switches as the hinge is opened, seamlessly connecting the ‘outside’ display to the ‘inside’ without a delay that might interrupt use of the phone.

But there are some quirks too – the impressive internal screen is 6% less bright than the external, and drains the battery significant faster than the external 4.58 inch display that acts as the more traditional phone keypad.

The South Korean electronics conglomerate is not the first to trial a folding smartphone, nor even the first to announce – with Chinese rivals Huawei and Xiaomi both previewing rival models with different folding styles.

The Galaxy Fold will cost a wallet-emptying $2000 – but does at least demonstrate a level of innovation that has been sorely lacking in the smartphone market in recent years. Studies suggest gadget-lovers are increasingly holding on to their devices for longer, with risk-averse manufacturers adding only incremental changes.

Folding smartphones have disrupted the market before, so perhaps if the design can be perfected, there may be new use cases that soon demand folding technology.

 

For IT support and expertise, contact Lineal today.


Apple debuts iPhone XS

Apple have announced the iPhone XS, iPhone XR and fourth series of Apple Watch as part of 2018’s Apple Keynote Address at the Steve Jobs Theatre.

The iPhone XS, currently available for £999 pre-order for the 5.8” version, or as a ‘Max’ 6.5″ version at an eye-watering £1,099, will include an A12 Bionic chip powered by longer life batteries and driving the highest quality screen currently available on a smartphone.

Interestingly, Apple will also be debuting a more mid-range iPhone XR, with a range of colours, a new liquid retina screen positioned in a similar corner-to-corner style, and the same headline A12 Bionic chip specification. Updated 12MP camera technology allows each iPhone to introduce accurate depth of field in portrait mode,  and Apple have continued their glass-first theme to ensure all three versions of the latest flagship iPhones are waterproof.

iPhone XS

For Apple Watch Series 4, Apple’s design team have rounded the edges to create a less square device, and re-oriented the more customisable watch face to make better use of the screen corners. The re-designed device will also include some new tricks: including electrodes able to take an electrocardiogram, and fall-detection should the wearer suffer an accident.

Each new product also corresponds to a drop in price of previous generations of Apple technology – including the Apple Watch Series 3 being reduced to a more affordable £279.

While the quality of Apple’s touchscreen products never fails to impress, Team Lineal were left wondering whether the Mac range will ever receive a new release. Predictions of a new Mac Mini, a new Mac Pro, and even the widely rumored new Macbook Air, were revealed to be unfounded.

Apple’s reliance on new iPhone sales is well-documented, with the popularity of the high-quality public-oriented product line pushing the tech giant to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company over the Summer. For at least another year, Apple’s focus has remained ‘business as usual.’


Dell Technologies goes Public (again)

Dell is once again going to public market, in a stock trading deal that will see new Dell shares on the open market for the first time since 2013.

The computing giant, which went private at a cost of $25 billion, has been held in ownership by Michael Dell and Silver Lake private equity since 2013.

At the time, Dell argued the pace of change required to meet the age of cloud-computing and a mobile-first world would have been too much for shareholders to stomach. Urgent change was needed – and the death of the PC might be just around the corner.

Except the the death of the PC never truly arrived. With extra control, Dell made all kinds of internal changes to the company itself. Now the complex transaction sees Dell and Silver Lake buy back tracking stock in owned-subsidiary and virtualisation specialist VMware, acquired at arms-length when Dell purchased EMC in 2016.

Dell’s move offers the chance to reduce the company’s debt burden, while ironically bringing VMware (itself independently successful) under closer control.

For consumers of Dell’s high-quality systems, expect to see Dell technology that is once again tied more closely to shorter-term market opinion, popular appeal and customer feedback.


Lineal Reviews: Plantronics Calisto 7200

Conference phones have traditionally had image problem. Costly, serious pieces of equipment, which often retail north of £350 for even a basic model, they feel inconvenient. Used infrequently, they’re sometimes more complicated than a telephone should be.

Worst of all, for all but the most established of businesses, a conference phone is a little… heavy-duty. Wired-in, with a large footprint, tangle of cables and strange satellite microphones – conference phones are an invasive species in the meeting room.

Enter Plantronics’ Calisto series – a curious pocket-sized invention (pictured) designed to bridge the gap between speakerphone and a true conference phone setup.

Four directional microphones (which can focus on sound from whomever is speaking) give 360 degree meeting-room coverage and efficient noise-cancellation to the Calisto range, which in a novel twist: is battery powered.

Plantronics, whose reputation for high build-quality audio equipment (particularly headsets) has been well-earned in the air-traffic control sector and moon landings, are increasingly reaching out with more accessible desktop telecoms hardware – even acquiring another successful Lineal communications partner: Polycom, back in March.

There’s a pleasing practicality to the Plantronics Calisto range: both USB wired and bluetooth connections are available to connect to either laptop, PC, tablet or your smartphone (in addition to USB wireless on other models.)

At only 270g, and just 11cm square, it’s small enough to be truly portable – tidied away into a desk drawer or moved to ‘create’ new meeting room spaces whenever needed. In the real world, where meeting rooms need to be swapped at a moment’s notice, why not just pick your conference phone up and carry it down the corridor?

For smaller and medium sized businesses where workspace might be limited, the Calisto’s ease-of-use helps present both a professional image, and finally makes conference calling into something within reach of everyone.

Previous models of Plantronics Calisto (including the 600 series) have been well received, and Plantronics has judged the small business market well. Expect great things.

 

For communications and IT expertise, contact Lineal today.


ASUS previews dual-screen laptops

Two new models of ASUS dual-screen laptops have been previewed at the computing company’s annual Computex convention.

The Zenbook Pro 15 (released this month) includes a secondary ‘ScreenPad’ in place of the touchpad, which acts as an additional HD touchscreen for controlling basic functions on popular apps, or can be turned off to function as on other laptops.

‘ProjectPrCog’ is ASUS’ more experimental offering: a promising futuristic laptop where the keyboard is replaced entirely by a second touchscreen which can be software driven for both typing and alternative displays, depending on whether typing is required.

The idea of dual-screen laptops has a troubled history, having spawned some curious inventions that never quite caught on. Some of these have been low-key, smartly implemented, but a little underwhelming (think Apple’s MacBook Pro Touch Bar) or very obvious, completely whacky and unpopular – like Lenovo’s W700ds monstrosity.

Firstly, it’s not entirely clear what the purpose of a second screen is: a segregated extra screen-space simply isn’t as useful as extra shared space on the main screen. If 15.6” is not sufficient, why not purchase a 17” laptop? On MacOS, Android and Windows, smart screen clipping tools are available for more efficiently dual-running apps side by side, making the actual re-arrangement of windows less necessary.

Secondly, if pressing a keyboard shortcut (F6) is required to activate the ASUS ScreenPad, many users will surely leave it off permanently, rendering the eyebrow-raising  $2299 price tag of the Pro 15 largely unjustified.

However, ASUS’ second suggestion probably carries better longer-term potential, and is not the first attempt at a touchscreen keyboard from a mainstream PC provider – Lenovo have attempted to float something similar as a primarily creative tool with their Yogabook range. Successfully reclaiming the lower half of the laptop for additional screen-space would allow ASUS to be first in developing a huge variety of innovative potential uses.

The notion of software keyboards on a variable display have failed in the past because of a lack of keyboard ‘feedback’. Users do not experience the true sensation of a key being ‘pressed’ – the same problem that makes typing feel less intuitive on tablets and mobiles to all but the most habitual device users.

Whether the unreleased ASUS ‘ProjectPreCog’ will finally solve this control problem is likely to determine the dual-screen laptops true viability.

 

For hardware provisioning, IT advice and support, contact Lineal’s team today.


Why USB drives are terrifying

USB drives are a security nightmare. From losing files, to sharing them inadvertently, or accidentally installing something malicious, these tiny handheld digital storage grenades are a data-protection disaster waiting to happen.

Many people can’t help themselves. Sometimes it’s just so useful to be able to move a file to a separate computer, or carry a copy of that file on a handy keyring.

It’s true that too many operating systems auto-run memory sticks. As users we could perhaps be more careful though – find a USB and it’s tempting to plug it in… a 2016 University study suggested roughly half of those who find a memory stick on the ground will plug it in without thinking.

In particularly data-sensitive environments options are available to either disable PC USB ports, or remove them from a PC entirely. At the very least, businesses preparing for this summer’s new GDPR regulations need to take some sensible USB security precautions:

 

1. Be strict.

Ask yourself whether it’s entirely necessary to put this file on a memory stick, and be harsh about what files you copy. Memory sticks now hold terabytes of data, and are too easy to drop, or leave on the train.

GDPR is naturally concerned with sensitive personal data, and not your supermarket shopping list. Nobody ever intends to lose a file full of personal data, so you should think twice before putting the former on a USB drive, while the latter is probably OK.

 

2. Don’t allow easy access to your network.

USB based viruses come in a variety of forms – from cheap foreign spyware purchased online, to the fascinatingly complex (and probably Western-sponsored) ‘Stuxnet’ worm which famously sabotaged the Iranian nuclear program with planted USB drives in 2011.

The best antivirus softwares (for example Lineal’s recommended ESET antivirus) automatically offer to scan a newly connected memory stick for malicious software, before the user accesses the files. This only takes a few seconds, but it’s strongly advised to let your antivirus act as gatekeeper for a USB stick, as you would your emails or web browsing.

usb drive security

 

3. Sharing is not caring

Sharing files via memory sticks is not sensible, not least because you’re forced to share the whole contents, including the ability to duplicate files.

You can’t be certain what any given person will do with the USB drive or its data, or what the person giving you a memory stick might have done with it previously, so it’s safer to confine USB drives to a specific individual.

 

4. Get something better

The world of IT is full of better solutions, including Apple’s useful ‘Airdrop’ function which allows direct, localised file sharing over WiFi. For company-wide systems, numerous excellent cloud-based file storage and sharing platforms are available. Microsoft’s excellent OneDrive platform is easy to use from any device, and allows businesses to share files online via the cloud, with customisable permissions to control who has access to the data at any time.

A USB drive should not be necessary to complete routine IT tasks. Thank goodness.


$100,000 top prize pledged for 2018 Imagine Cup

Microsoft is seeking student UK technology developers to enter the 2018 Imagine Cup – with a chance to win $100,000.

The prestigious technology trophy, awarded every year to a team of three young people who develop a groundbreaking technology idea, are currently accepting entries for 2018’s Imagine Cup UK finals.

UK finalists are expected to be chosen in March (top prize $5000) with global finalists travelling to Redmond, Virginia (the home of Microsoft) for 2018’s worldwide finals, and a chance at a grand prize of $100,000.

The winning entry must be an original technology project, created from an initial idea to implementation and run from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Entries can be on any theme, although recent competitions have been dominated by inventions designed to not only demonstrate innovation, but contribute to human well-being.

Entries from the UK will be judged by an expert panel, including Clare Barclay Chief Operating Office of Microsoft UK; Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research; Michael Wignall, National Technology Office at Microsoft UK; and Rob Fraser, Commercial Software Engineering Lead at Microsoft UK.

Microsoft’s insistence on the final solution operating via Microsoft Azure no doubt reflects their ‘cloud-first’ business approach, in addition to a recognition that the ‘global’ finalist’s winning idea should be a truly global possibility.

Winning Imagine Cup entries from previous years include a solution to help those with diabetes manage symptoms, a charity donation app that embeds into news articles, and the ‘Emma Watch’ – recently featured on the BBC for assisting those with Parkinson’s in reducing limb tremors.

Teams can learn more, and enter the competition, here.

 

Lineal are a certified Microsoft Gold Partner – learn more.


New Microsoft Surface range coming to UK

New Surface range devices, including Surface Laptop and Surface Studio, will be available to UK customers very soon according to a recent announcement from Microsoft.

The company’s pledge to make the premium devices available in 17 new countries comes with the announcement of the new Surface Laptop, completing the range of high-end touchscreen with both detachable and non-detachable options.

Lower end models of the new fixed screen ‘Laptop’ version appear to be underpowered with only 4GB RAM, although higher-end models (which will set you back over £2,000) boast an impressive 16GB RAM and 512GB Solid State Drive.

It’s currently unclear whether Microsoft’s enticing North American trade-in scheme, whereby customers can effectively part-exchange qualifying devices (including Apple MacBooks or iPads) for significant discounts towards the cost of a new Surface device, will also be made available in other regions.

Users will be restricted to Windows 10 S as their operating system, which defaults to certain Microsoft products – such as apps downloaded from Windows Store, Edge browser and Bing search.

In addition, the flagship ‘Surface Studio’ and it’s futuristic accessories will also be coming to UK markets, and is likely to quickly become a crowd-pleaser amongst designers and others in the creative industries.

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and Expertise: contact us today.


iPhone: too big to fail?

Apple’s recent financial results show record iPhone sales for the final quarter of 2016 – and that could be a problem.

More than 78 million iPhones were sold during the final 3 months of 2016 and it’s easy to see why. Exceptionally high build quality, ease of use and Apple’s range of strong supporting services make the iPhone a popular choice for both personal and business customers alike. In the case of the iPhone 7, bad press stories regarding the Samsung Note 7 battery disaster no doubt helped win over premium smartphone buyers for another year.

Globally speaking, Android may dominate the smartphone market, but the user base is split between dozens of manufacturers – whilst the Apple’s iPhone stands alone as a cultural icon of the decade.

But a very troubling trend is emerging for Apple. As industry analysts have noted in recent years – Apple is becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones for its sales.

 

iPhone in Numbers:

As of December, nearly 70% of Apple’s entire revenue is generated by smartphone sales. $54 billion each financial quarter. And this is before considering the proportion of sales attributable to services that support the iOS ecosystem.

iphone

 

That’s a lot: the iPhone generates more than twice the revenue of every other Apple product and service added together.

Not all Apple products were created equal. iPad sales continue to fall (as customers hold on to premium devices for longer periods.) Despite a massive advertising push, fewer than 1 in 10 iPad’s sold (less than 1% of Apple’s entire revenue) were iPad Pros.

True Mac fans could easily be wondering if Apple will one day become disinterested in their conventional desktop hardware range.

 

Too big to Fail?

So has Apple’s signature product become too big to fail? If rumours of a radically updated iPhone 8 are to be believed, the iPhone may become even more of a success, and Apple may be gambling ever more on each new model’s popularity.

Apple’s reputation and heritage gives the impression that they are a successful computer manufacturer, like Dell, when in fact Apple is now arguably even more like Nokia or Blackberry.

Not too much like Blackberry hopefully, because if this trend continues, any failure for the iPhone ‘brand’ could one day spell serious trouble for Apple itself.

 

For Apple support, repairs and expertise – contact Lineal today.


Lineal achieves Gold Microsoft Partner Status

Microsoft Partner

Lineal has been certified as a Gold Microsoft Partner with immediate effect, becoming the only such Gold Partner in the North of the region.

Our official Microsoft Partner status was upgraded from Silver to Gold after Lineal’s team qualified for Microsoft’s Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions competency – the result of several month’s efforts by the team comprising training, outstanding performance in our deployments and a large number of highly satisfied customers.

Head of Technical Services, Matt Norris, praised the team on all their hard work: “Lineal’s Gold award shows our commitment to providing our customers with only the highest quality Microsoft Cloud Services and Support – and to the continued development of our team’s expertise. I cannot be more proud of our team and the dedication to excellence they have shown which has been recognised in this award.”

The award is Lineal’s latest achievement following a string of Silver Microsoft awards, including Silver Authorised Education Partner (AEP), Silver Midmarket Solution provider, Silver Application Integration and Silver Hosting.

Microsoft certified partners must undergo a rigorous program of technical assessments and examinations via the Microsoft Partner University, as well as demonstrating real-world proficiency in undertaking complex Microsoft deployments for customers, in order to qualify for the prestigious ‘Gold’ status.

In addition, and pivotal to Lineal’s commitment to exceptional knowledge and expertise in the South West region, each Gold Partner must employ a number of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) whose skills match the requirements of each award. MCP is the global standard for measuring expertise in Microsoft products and technologies with each of our team being required to hold multiple MCP Certifications which are regularly renewed. MCP examinations are widely recognised to be among the hardest professional qualifications to attain in the IT industry.

Lineal’s team are now working towards additional Microsoft Gold awards covering new Microsoft specialisms and products.

 

For expert Microsoft Services and Support, contact Lineal today by clicking here

 


Microsoft ‘trick’ schedules automatic Windows 10 upgrade

automatic windows 10 upgrade

Edit – 14:15 25.05.16: Following customer feedback, Microsoft have now added an additional pop-up which confirms update scheduling time to give users an additional chance to opt-out of the update.


A Microsoft ‘trick’ which prompts an automatic upgrade to Windows 10 has been condemned as misleading by PC users.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 update prompt was recently changed so that the ‘X’ close button, instead of closing the prompt, schedules an automatic update. PC World declared the change a ‘trick’ and Windows users who preferred older operating systems took to social media to complain.

Instead, users must specify to cancel the scheduled upgrade by clicking a small link in the fourth line of text which reads “Click here to change upgrade schedule or cancel scheduled upgrade.”

This is likely to catch out many users who have ignored the ‘GWX app’ so far, who until recently would have used the close button as their only way to close the updater and avoiding an automatic Windows 10 upgrade. Once upgraded by mistake, PC users must use Microsoft’s rollback service to return to Windows 7 or 8.1.

Escalating measures to push users towards upgrading demonstrate Microsoft’s drive to reach its stated target of one billion users running Windows 10 by the start of its 2018 fiscal year (beginning around October 2017).

The controversy surrounding a automatic Windows 10 upgrade is likely to only draw more attention to Microsoft’s Windows 10 upcoming upgrade deadline – the free Windows 10 upgrade will cease to be available to PC users after the 29th of July.

For Windows IT support and expertise, contact Lineal today.


Chromebooks to run Android Apps

Chromebooks

Chromebooks will soon run Android apps, after Google announced their Chrome and Android operating systems are to become fully compatible.

The minimal hardware, low cost, web-access laptops will now mirror existing Android smartphones and tablets. Apps available through Google Play on Android will operate fully on Chrome OS, granting many third-party software developers access to the rapidly growing numbers of Chromebook users out there.

The announcement itself comes at a fascinating time for Chromebooks, which with over 2 million devices purchased according to data from IDC analysts, outsold Macs in the United States for the first time during Q1 of 2016.

The popularity of Chromebooks, especially in sectors where cost-effective, limited capability devices are favoured (such as in education, or to equip remote workers) have been a surprise hit – which could have some interesting consequences for the industry.

Will the new capabilities spook Microsoft and Apple? Entirely possible: with most of the big brand hardware manufacturers releasing Chromebook models of their own, it’s clear that both the hardware has become widely available and the concept itself has taken flight.

More importantly, the traditional argument for buying a Windows PC was the use of Windows exclusive desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office. Office 365 and similar apps has been fully mobile on portable Android devices for a while now, but many users still prefer a larger screen with a keyboard for document processing – forcing them to buy a traditional desktop PC at traditional costs.

With a wide range of these ‘PC’ type apps becoming available on your Chromebook, that’s about to change.

 

For IT hardware products, advice and support – contact Lineal today: 01271 375999


Apple unveil rose gold MacBook

rose gold macbook

Apple’s Macbook will now be available in rose-gold, in a move sure to be welcomed by fans of Apple’s pink(ish) iPhones.

Behind the headline, Apple are also updating the specifications of their Macbook range, to include the latest Intel Core M processors, faster graphics chips and an estimated 10% longer battery life.

Although we’ve been impressed with the portability of the MacBook range, this normally comes at a performance cost. Fortunately, as Lineal have long recommended to customers, 8GB of memory will also officially become Apple’s new baseline memory (including for the ultra-portable but typically less powerful Macbook Air.)

The new colour sees Apple attempting to offer similar product options for their laptops as their incredibly successful iPhone range, which represents more than 60% of Apple’s total revenue.

How about a rose gold Macbook Pro? or a rose gold iMac? Go on Apple – you know you want to.

 

For Apple support and advice: contact Lineal today.


WhatsApp Encryption Launches

 

Popular messaging app WhatsApp have launched end-to-end WhatsApp encryption for over one billion users.

The new security capabilities introduced by the Facebook owned company ensures that every message remains encrypted during transmission, preventing even WhatsApp from reading user data.

With encryption and technological privacy issues regularly appearing in recent news headlines, the WhatsApp encryption upgrade comes at just the right moment for the security concerned, after more than two years of delays in development across multiple platforms.

Much like during Apple’s recent legal dispute with the FBI, the move would also prevent the release of confidential user data following a court order. According to reports from the New York Times, the technology provider have been reported to already be in a longstanding dispute with the US Department of Justice over user data.

WhatsApp are making it clear they support absolute user privacy, with “not even WhatsApp” able to read the encrypted data, and users able to verify their connections are secure via a 60 digit or QR code swap.

From today, the WhatsApp conversation screen will now display an official notification to all users – confirming that their messages are encrypted successfully.

 

For hardware and software security advice – contact Lineal today.


Dodgy USB-C cables removed by Amazon

 

Poor quality USB-C cables which can destroy a smartphone or laptop in spectacular (and dangerous) fashion have been blocked from sale by Amazon.

The online retailer has faced criticism in recent months for permitting third-party dealers to sell cut-priced USB-C cables, with often faulty power distribution, to early adopters of the technology.

The latest version of the USB standard is both reversible and can deliver large quantities of both power and data to a wide range of devices. This introduces a new danger, as a substandards cables can draw too much power from a laptop when charging another device, doing serious damage to circuitry.

The move comes as more and more laptop manufacturers introduce USB-C to reduce device size, ports and weight – for example Apple’s latest MacBook, which includes virtually no other physical ports.

USB-C cables have been added to Amazon’s prohibited products list (along side GPS jammers, laser pointers and radar shifters) and can not be sold unless compliant with standards set by the USB Implementers Forum.

 

Find out more about IT hardware supplies, support, and expertise from Lineal.

 


£2.50 Freedom 251 Smartphone Launches

 

Smartphone manufacturer Ringing Bells has launched a £2.50 Smartphone, the Freedom 251, aimed at bringing mobile access to rural parts of India.

The Freedom 251, which costs only 251 rupees, runs on Android and features a 1.3Ghz quad-core processor, 8GB of memory, with front and rear facing cameras.

As the second largest mobile phone market in the world, India is already estimated to have around 236 million mobile users – but this is expected to grow to a staggering 317 million during 2017.

Part of that growth includes tailoring the system to the needs of users in rural India – the Freedom 251 will include software aimed at farmers and fishermen, elderly users needing medical assistance, and even includes an app for ‘women safety’.

Wider connectivity is not only expected to bring economic benefits for Indian consumers, but also to third parties – with the £2.50 price reflecting an already heavy subsidy from interested companies looking to be the first to reach India’s newest smartphone customer base

A smartphone for less than the cost of a cup of tea? Welcome to the future.

 

For business IT Support, contact Lineal IT today: 01271 375999 or email: [email protected]


Don’t fall for it: how 1970 will destroy your iPhone

 

An unfortunate hoax is catching out iPhone users this week, Lineal have learned, after many users discovered resetting the date will completely destroy their iPhone.

Despite what a website may promise you – DO NOT reset the clock on any iOS device to January 1st 1970 under any circumstances. This will permanently break (or ‘brick’) your device.

A device broken in this way will simply display the Apple iOS loading screen forever, permanently stuck. The bug, which prevents the phone counting Unix time (a count of seconds since 00:00 01.01.1970) if the clock is set ‘before’ this using local time (UTC-1), is impossible to fix without hardware support from Apple to remove the battery.

You have been warned!

 

For expert apple support from Lineal, contact us today: 01271 375999 or click here.


Apple invests in LearnSprout for Education

 

Education tracking software LearnSprout has been bought by Apple, in a purchase expected to extend the computing giant’s reach into the education sector.

American software platform LearnSprout, already used across 42 states in over 2500 schools, is an analytics dashboard that allows teachers to monitor pupil’s performance and results, attendance, student health and more.

LearnSprout’s developers argue that by aggregating data, schools can help study trends for promoting better teaching, improving readiness for higher education and ensure a more efficient use of resources.

This is the second announcement in recent weeks about Apple investing heavily in technology for the education sector, following the January launch of Apple’s Education package and iPad modifications designed for classroom use. It’s unlikely to be the last.

 

For education sector IT support – talk to Lineal today: 01271 375999


Touchpad draw ‘Ink’ added to Office 365

 

Ever wish you could add handwritten notes to documents in Microsoft Office? Now you can – as Microsoft have unlocked the ‘Draw’ tab for Office 365.

The new tools come with a range of pen shapes and bright colours, and have been designed particularly with touchscreens and tablets in mind. Accessible across all Office 2016 documents, spreadsheets, presentations and notes, the ‘Draw’ tab follows the recent releases of Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro. Those with clumsy fingers may prefer to use a stylus.

It’s undoubtedly a pretty and relevant addition to Microsoft’s historically bland Microsoft Office – the simple colour wheel can be used for highlighting text or adding freeform annotations in various ‘ink’ colours.

Behind the new sketchpad fun is some intelligent software, which includes shape recognition that allows users to ‘rough’ draw polygons for conversion to regular shapes for use in diagrams or flowcharts .

The possibilities for working collaboratively, marking homework, sketching designs, reviewing reports or simply saving paper are endless and enjoyable – and show just how practical Office 365 has already become.

 

Explore Office 365 with Lineal today: click here or call 01271 375999


Teachers Rejoice! Apple Education Package Launched

 

Apple have finally announced that iOS 9.3 will included special support for schools and colleges.

Using iOS 9.3, each student can be given a unique Apple ID that is compatible with any iPad in a classroom, allowing for the use of any device from a pool of shared school iPads. The Apple education package ID’s themselves are maintained through Apple School Manager, a web based control panel giving admins control over the system.

Apple’s new ‘Classroom’ App allows teachers to launch any app on every shared device in a room at once, and guide students through educational materials. A ‘Screen View’ function keeps an eye on what’s on every student’s screen, allowing teachers to prevent distractions from learning.

For students assigned the same tablet each day, a caching system holds work and resources, and gives a photo login procedure so that each child can find their usual device easily.

More than 70% of UK primary and secondary schools now use tablet computers as part of their ICT tools – including ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) schemes. So far however, schools have had to find a good reason to justify the extra expense for Apple’s high-quality iPad devices over cheaper rivals.

By offering cleverly designed software support for the classroom environment, Apple may have just provided that justification.

 

Learn more about IT support for the education sector – contact Lineal today: 01271 375999.


Has Microsoft been tracking your Computer?

 

Almost certainly – but don’t panic. Details of anonymous data gathered from Windows 10 users were released this week, with Microsoft publishing more usage information surrounding Windows 10 tracking.

In a blog post, Microsoft explained that the data is gathered for “Standard diagnostic, anonymous analytics that enables us to deliver the best Windows 10 experience possible.”

Via Windows 10 tracking, Microsoft have now measured more than 200 million active devices running the new operating system, 2.4 billion search questions asked of Virtual Assistant Cortana, and more than 44.5 billion minutes spent using the new Microsoft ‘Edge’ browser.

Routine data collection is unlikely to concern most users – and has clearly been announced to show Windows 10’s success. Microsoft also casually notes that the new operating system, released in the summer of 2015, has been “Outpacing… Windows 8 by nearly 400%.”

The accelerating adoption of Windows 10, including among 22 million Enterprise and Education customers, offers Microsoft renewed hope for growing the user base of associated products, such as Azure cloud computing, Windows Phone and the impressive Office365.

If concerned, users can ‘turn off’ all feedback (aside from error reports) by setting the feedback option to ‘Basic’ in their settings.

Taking a more nuanced view, this admission illustrates an industry ever more capable (and willing) to be flexible with privacy concerns of customers in the quest for the perfect user experience.

 

Need Windows IT support and advice? Contact Lineal today: www.lineal.co.uk or 01271 375999


The Windows 10 update you didn’t notice

 

Windows 10.1 updates security

With ‘Windows 10.1’ now barely a month old, and the Microsoft operating system already running on over 12 million business PCs, how fares Microsoft’s free updates strategy?

Windows 10.1 update was released with relatively little fanfare (be honest, you didn’t notice) adds features that, understandably with hindsight, might have been a distraction at the main Windows 10 release back in July.

Packaged within were mainly performance and security upgrades – Windows 10.1 will now boot almost 30% faster than an old Windows 7 system on the same device, the Cortana virtual assistant has some new handwriting recognition skills and there are new enterprise tools for mobile devices. Microsoft Edge runs smoother too, offering previews of tabs before viewing and syncing favourites across devices.

Most importantly, after recent corporate data breaches in the news, Microsoft have added a range of new security safeguards. These including ‘Windows Hello’, supporting enterprise grade biometrics including fingerprint and facial recognition – sadly currently only available for US users.

Aside from controversy surrounding user privacy then (if you didn’t notice your Windows 10.1 update, that’s maybe because Microsoft installed it automatically on your device without asking you) the first free update went ahead with relevant additions and limited fuss.

Starting free updates officially moves Microsoft into line with Apple’s OS X business model that has become the industry standard. Yet limited promotion of Windows 10’s ongoing development risks downplaying Microsoft’s progress.

Which would be unfair, because Microsoft is plainly taking extra care to develop the business security of their product range, including the excellent Office365, Microsoft Azure and now Windows 10.1. Microsoft is clearly listening to business’ fears, and businesses should welcome it.

 

For help and support with Microsoft enterprise IT, contact Lineal today.


Why your AirDrop isn’t working (and how to fix it)

Airdrop

AirDrop must be prompted to recognise older Apple devices

Apple’s AirDrop tool has been a much praised addition to Apple’s software lineup – allowing Mac users to wirelessly transfer files from one Apple device to another in close proximity.

However users often report that their new Mac is unable to ‘see’ adjacent Mac devices, preventing them from using AirDrop.

The solution is surprisingly simple: look to the bottom of the AirDrop window on the newest manufactured device, where a small link reads “Don’t see who you’re looking for?” clicking this opens a new option “Search for an older Mac”, which widens the search to older devices running OS X or iOS.

There’s been no explanation from Apple as to why Airdrop is set up in this way, but enabling ‘Search for an older Mac’ allows a 2015 Macbook to find a previously invisible 2011 Macbook with ease, allowing you to begin transferring files.

Happy AirDropping!

 

Lineal have over 20 years of Apple expertise: contact us today via 01271 375999 or email [email protected]


Bloxx announces discontinuation of products

bloxx

Bloxx to become part of Akamai Technologies

Web filtering provider Bloxx have announced that they will be ceasing support for their products and services, following a shock email from the company’s Chief Executive.

The move comes as part of a cash deal takeover bid by cloud services firm Akamai Technologies, announced on 2nd November 2015, and will see an end to the sale of all Bloxx products.

Bloxx has a good reputation in the UK and beyond for delivering a strong feature set in their appliances that are used to filter online content delivered in sensitive environments. Their products are commonly implemented by educators, healthcare providers, local authorities and businesses.

Although existing contracts will be honoured, those who have invested in physical Bloxx hardware may well find the lifespans are now limited, with little indication of whether Akamai will offer suitable replacements.

Bloxx’s impressive record has drawn the attention of national media before, with the Edinburgh based-company receiving hate mail from teenagers unable to access restricted websites on school computers even with a range of proxies.

With online security stories dominating the news in recent weeks, wider awareness of the need for web, social media and email monitoring is likely to only increase demand for such products. It remains to be seen whether interested parties will consider a cloud-based offering from Akamai to be sufficient, especially when it comes to security and bandwidth management.

Need help with online content filtering and network security for your organisation? Speak to Lineal today: call 01271 375999 or email [email protected]


Personal Computing with Mac just became less personal

iMac

Here at Lineal we’ve generally been impressed with the release of OS X El Capitan – but the release of Apple’s latest operating system has not come entirely without pitfalls.

Some of our own staff experienced printing problems for the Mac version of Microsoft Office 2016 – these have fortunately already been rectified in update version 10.11.1 by a humbly apologetic Apple.

One of the most notable surprises however was the outright removal of functionality that long-time Mac users have had from the earlier days of personal computing.

Apple’s Disk Utility app update has removed the ability to verify and repair disk permissions on your Mac, leaving users with no way to verify incorrectly installed programs with the correct disk permissions to read/write to their hard drive.

At Lineal we’ve always advised users to verify and repair disk permissions after major updates, and even some Apple software regularly flags up as in need of verification.

Apple has made two sweeping generalisations: firstly, that Mac users only need to run software that immediately cooperates with their hardware (a big assumption) and secondly that users will be content to let Apple worry about the details of their computer maintenance.

Personal computing today feels a little less personal. Mac users have become used to the idea that Mac updates are very reliable, and worthwhile installing promptly – yet the sudden removal of longstanding features puts this in doubt for the first time.

Should we all trust manufacturers? A question for Volkswagen.

Lineal can offer Tech Support for a range of Apple devices: get in touch with us today via 01271 375999 or contact us online. 

Flickr: M Dreibelbis

Punching above its weight – how ShoreTel helps SMBs outclass the competition.

sobs

SMBs & ShoreTel

Presenting a professional face to the world relies upon efficient customer service, but if you’re just one small business starting out, how do you keep up?

ShoreTel’s Cloud Phone systems are a perfect example of how technology can be a force multiplier for SMBs allowing your small team to take on much bigger competition – and win.

Your goal should be to make dealing with your business stress-free and more convenient than bigger rivals. It’s no surprise that the UK Which? ‘Worst Customer Service’ Survey 2015 is topped by utility and telecoms companies – those with typically slow, large scale, poor quality interaction with customers over the phone.

A cloud-based phone system allows users to cleverly route incoming calls to the right place, by any method you choose – service level, skill matching, customer identity, caller location or simple priority. By deploying a smart call routing system to direct calls to the right person you can ensure that the customer spends as little time as possible holding on the line and gets their query answered.

In order to better serve customers when they call, ShoreTel’s unified communications platform can be configured to give members of your team the relevant details at their fingertips – such as simple screen pop-up containing a customer’s information. This helps your customer service team deal with queries faster, and in a more informed manner.

Being away from the phone need not be a barrier to SMBs either: voicemail and fax can also be routed onwards into transcribed email, so mobile working won’t hold you back from interacting with customers promptly. ShoreTel’s data also integrates with common CRM systems, seamlessly stitching the different strands of your business’ existing work flow together. Operating a business with a small staff, on the move, or across multiple locations? ShoreTel is made for you.

ShoreTel Connect’s Contact Centre is based around a monthly subscription service rather than a big hardware investment – a much more cost effective option for smaller businesses and ensuring a faster return on investment (ROI). Yet the true investment is in your reputation as a company – as a trusted business that is efficient and responsive to your customers’ needs.

Don’t get stuck holding: explore ShoreTel today.

To learn more, speak to somebody from Lineal today – call us on 01271 375999

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Cyber Crime hits the headlines

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Cyber crime is finally set to become the UK’s most common crime type, following inclusion in the latest crime figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This re-classification comes only days after news headlines emerged that an Eastern European crime group successfully used ‘Dridex’ malware to steal over £20m from UK bank accounts via thousands of infected PCs in the UK.

Cyber criminals are increasingly mounting more organised attacks on businesses, small and large – last year even U.S banking giant J.P Morgan suffered unfortunate press and a sudden plunge in its share price when digital thieves stole the personal information and contact details of more than 76 million customers.

The 2015 National Strategic Assessment from the National Crime Agency estimates that losses due to cyber crime in the UK now amount to a staggering £16 billion annually. The NCA also asserted that the theft of large amounts of private companies’ data still faces ‘considerable under reporting.’

Nowhere is this more threatening than for those in the financial services industry, where both reputations for reliability and access to funds make IT security of paramount importance, requiring compliance with the strictest procedures for identity validation, network safety and fraud detection.

All businesses need to be prepared for the future, where cyber crime is likely to become more sophisticated and UK companies may be expected to demonstrate greater data protection measures. This week Microsoft promoted it’s Financial Services Compliance program in connection with Office 365 – making assurances (aimed squarely at businesses in the financial sector) of direct access to staff and resources to ensure that Microsoft Office cloud services comply with financial security regulations.

Greater awareness of cyber crime amongst Government figures, the media and the public can only be a good thing, but ultimately it still remains very much up to the individual to ensure their IT systems are secure – before the worst happens.

 

More than 70% of businesses fail after significant data loss. Lineal can install a range of security measures to safeguard your business IT systems and data – enquire today via: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 

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Flickr: GotCredit

View from the top: Lineal Reviews OS X El Capitan

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 17.19.12

Apple launched the new OS X 10.11 El Capitan to Mac users yesterday, in the latest free update of its trademark operating system.

The new offering is not a revolution, but an evolution of Apple’s OS X Yosemite released last year, with the newest version including a host of tweaks to improve performance and ease of use.

Having test-driven the software, Lineal staff had the following initial verdicts on El Capitan:

  1. Immediate downloads are for die hard fans – even with 60+ Mbps download speeds, it took us several hours to download the full version today, less than one day after release. Conversely, some of our team managed to download it hours after release in under 20 minutes. Early download performance seems very inconsistent, presumably due to global load on Apple’s servers. For a more user-friendly experience, be patient and download over the weekend.
  1. We liked the new multitasking tools, including the Split View window management system highly reminiscent of Microsoft Windows 10, but even more useful on Apple’s smaller screen MacBooks.
  1. El Capitan improves performance behind the scenes, loading a test PDF file around 50% faster, and improving battery life in the process. Finder also shows a greater initiative, intelligently understanding ‘edited yesterday’ and similar phrases to speed up searching for your files.
  1. Safari finally gets a refresh that includes pinned tabs, allowing for a more efficient way to keep persistent information open. This has been possible in Chrome and Firefox for some time so it’s good to see improvements to Safari to complete the user experience compared to the rivals.
  1. Several of Apple’s most basic apps have received an overdue refresh – for example Notes, where users will find they can now add hitherto excluded images and video if needed, along with a few basic formatting options. Shake your mouse cursor and it will swell in size so that you can find it easily. Apple hasn’t changed – these are thoughtful touches.

Overall OS X El Capitan is a solid, if somewhat modest, revision to Apple’s software range, which clearly has not been rushed to release. The new features have been developed with care and the real draw is increased performance. Both are worth waiting a day or two for though, giving other users time to test the new system, and yourself a less stressful update.

Lineal can offer support and expertise for a range of systems, including various Mac devices – get in touch with us today via: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Smarter working: why you need Office 2016

10.-Office-365-Planner-Charts-View

Microsoft Office 2016 is here: the staple of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation work everywhere is now available for single purchase on Windows 10 and Mac OS X.

Office 2016’s apps will look very familiar to existing customers – but Office 2016 is undoubtedly ‘smarter’ than any previous version of Office, with its most impressive new features aimed at boosting productivity for both home and business customers.

Take Microsoft’s new ‘Smart Lookup’ function for example – click a single word in a document and Office will web search that term (via Bing) within the window, allowing instant research.

Cleverly, Office 2016 will even infer from the context of the surrounding paragraph the exact meaning of the word being searched for, preventing irrelevant homonyms clouding your search results. A neat trick certainly, but also an important one for certain sectors – for instance helping children do school work with protection against loading inappropriate search results based on words with double-meanings.

It is a similar case with 2016’s new ‘Tell me’ function. Gone are the clunky help menus or cartoon paperclips – ‘Tell’ Word for a tool like ‘mail merge’ or ‘footnotes’ and the Office 2016 apps will not load search results, but immediately take you to the exact menu and function needed.

The latest version allows for collaborative working (finally catching up with rival Google Drive) with multiple users able to edit documents in real time with a visible tracked changes function, from remote locations if needed. As an added bonus, Office is integrated with Skype, aimed at making the process of collaborative working more easily communicated.

Part of productivity is personal though, so Office 2016 also introduces ‘Office 365 Planner’, an app aimed at time and project management. Even Outlook will attempt to shave a few minutes off your day by linking attachments from cloud-based OneDrive and introducing ‘Clutter’, an automated email filtering service which avoids distractions by pushing less relevant emails into a separate folder, helping you to best utilise your time. Office 2016 knows that time is worth money, and for some may be a very smart investment indeed.

 

Need advice on software for your business, or help migrating to Microsoft Office 365 services? Lineal can help – contact us today: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Hot stuff: Amazon releases £50 Fire Tablet

AmazonFire

Online shopping giant Amazon have announced they will sell a budget tablet computer, the Fire Tablet, at an advertised price of just £50 from the end of September.

In possibly a promotional world first, Amazon will sell the Fire Tablet in a ‘six-pack’ for the cost of five tablets. Take note education sector; for under £1500 an entire class of 30 children could have personal access to this basic tablet computer.

Nor are there any indications that the Fire Tablet will be poor quality. Like many tablets the Fire will burn on a standard Android system, with the technical specs boasting a 1.3Ghz processor, 8GB of storage space, a 7-inch (171 ppi / 1024 x 600) screen and 7 hours of battery life, all fairly standard for the lower end of the tablet market.

Of course Amazon’s pitch is more strategic than it may first appear – the bargain handheld device allows the massive retail conglomerate another way to promote Amazon video streaming services, Amazon Prime, Kindle Books and other online shopping services.

But commercial clients too could benefit from working with low-cost handheld and mobile devices like the Fire Tablet – here at Lineal we’ve long argued that technology needs to suit your business, not vice versa. Portable access and low outlay means that these tablets allow your digital information to spread into less static or safe working environments – out of private offices and studios, into public places, onto construction sites, factory floors, classrooms, or the remotest of small businesses.

The cost of the device may even ignite interest among some users reluctant to risk moving to a tablet, encouraging them to finally give it a try.

Lineal can help match your tech needs to your business. Learn more here: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

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Keeping your business IT secure – What’s the perfect password?

IT-Security

How to keep your IT Secure

Data breaches can lead to a massive loss of trust among customers, so how do you ensure your IT remains secure?

Despite what many online sign-up forms would suggest, the ‘strongest’ password is not necessarily long and complicated. Whilst complexity makes a password harder to guess or crack with a ‘brute force’ testing of combinations, most security breaches occur from stolen passwords, either physically or by malware attacks.

Very complex passwords do not help in this respect: users still need other IT security, such as antivirus software, errors are more common when typing (particularly on handheld devices) and employees may find complex passwords harder to remember – undermining data security by writing down their login details. The ubiquitous sticky note attached to the monitor is still a trusted solution to working with complex password policies in some organisations!

Routine password changes are a sensible precaution for most businesses, but can make it harder for employees to remember their passwords, leading to the same problem in which users are locked out of work accounts, copy passwords across accounts, or write passwords down at risk of theft.

Phrases can help avoid this problem by making passwords easier to recall: ‘Lineal15theB3st’ is preferable to a 15-digit numeral because a touch of personality adds memorability. Beware profanity though – just imagine trying to explain it to technical support later on!

Here at Lineal we’d also advise against ‘Remember Me’ automated sign-in functions, as well as Windows 10’s new Wi-Fi password sharing ‘Wi-Fi Sense’ Feature, as these make your chosen password redundant.

If you want to see where the future of online security is going, follow the money: most online banking incorporates a two-stage authentication process, requiring both a password and a unique alert code texted to the customer’s mobile phone for identification. This is already a free optional setting for Google, Facebook, Twitter and other popular websites.

Lineal’s advice is to stick to the following basics:

Avoid physical theft:

  • Don’t write your passwords down on a post-it note on your desk! Microsoft has a practical tip: if you absolutely must write a password down, do so in a safe place, without labeling it as a password or to which account it refers. Substitute words should also be used to hide the true password, for example writing ‘Fruit8£’ could refer to a password of ‘Apple8£’.
  • Don’t use an easily guessed word, such as your name, your company’s name, 1234, the name of something on your desk, the word ‘password’, or anything similarly obvious.
  • Never tell anyone your password, and change your password if you suspect it has been compromised.

Ease of Access:

  • If you struggle to remember your passwords, use a password storage program to store some of them. Remember to use a secure password for the program.
  • Mitigate against your own forgetfulness by setting up alternate password recovery options, allowing you to choose more varied, difficult passwords.
  • Consider where users will need to log in from – take full advantage of using numbers and special characters ( ! , £, %, * etc.) for keyboard users.

Preventing digital theft:

  • Use different passwords for your most important accounts, such as online banking.
  • Use two-stage authentication.
  • Maintain up to date anti-virus security software and firewalls on your work desktops, and don’t download untrusted software or open suspicious emails which could be phishing or contain password stealing malware.
  • Consult IT specialists to ensure office networks are protected from outside attacks.

Your security should always be strong enough to give peace of mind. Lineal can provide expert advice and support for securing your IT systems: why not get in contact with us here?

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Flikr: Jason Baker

iPhone 6S, 6S Plus and iPad Pro Release: Apple stays ahead of the pack

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This week saw the hotly anticipated release of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Apple Inc’s flagship smartphone announced in their annual product release that has become as inevitable as the tides.

With the iPhone now accounting for something close to 70% of Apple’s revenue, the 6S and 6S Plus were the main attraction. The new design fixes old durability problems with a stronger case and tougher screen, but added features include the obligatory faster processor, a new rose gold colour choice, and an upgraded 12MP camera – all aimed at keeping ahead of the competition, at least when it comes to performance.

‘3D Touch’ is Apple’s newest technical innovation, making the screen of the company’s newest devices pressure sensitive. This gives users the illusion of screen depth by accurately judging the strength of the screen press, allowing for new capabilities like a ‘peek’ at an app with a gentle touch, and giving Apple another technical edge with which to play the long game.

Not that Apple’s thinking hasn’t been questioned: commercial clients may find the power to shoot high resolution 4k video enticing, but will likely be sceptical at how practical it is to save such high-quality video files on a smartphone.

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iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle2-PRINTIndeed, for a company whose founder’s dislike of the stylus is well documented, releasing a large tablet with a stylus appears an open invitation for criticism. Nevertheless this is exactly what Apple have now done, introducing the new iPad Pro, a 12.9 inch tablet, ostensibly optimised for creative use by designers, illustrators and other editors needing a larger screen.

The demonstration of the iPad Pro included the new $99 (£65) stylus, the Apple ‘Pencil’ effortlessly photoshopping a woman’s smile on screen, an illustrative but perhaps ill-chosen example that somehow made it through Apple’s press office without ringing media alarm bells. Appropriate use aside, the technology is nevertheless impressive: the Apple pencil combined with 3D Touch allows pressure sensitive brush strokes on screen drawn with great precision.

This year’s releases represent Apple maturing a little, yet still relying on groundbreaking technical features to stay ahead of the curve.  Apple Inc. shares actually slid two percent to close lower on Wednesday, with investors holding their breath to see whether the new products were enough to really ‘impress’ customers. The tech giant has arguably sacrificed some of the flamboyance of previous years’ releases to concentrate on the innovation needed to outpace rivals, and open more important doors for its own future, including in the form of its renewed invasion into our living rooms with the new Apple TV and tvOS complete with the long heralded AppStore.

Lineal has over 20 years of business experience with Apple Mac, including connecting your mobile devices for working on the move – why not get in touch with us today? http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Facebook 'Pages' Function opens up shop to the World

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Facebook have announced that Facebook Pages will soon allow online sales, in a move expected to be welcomed by online businesses.

The popular social media website could potentially offer organisations access to the largest marketplace in the world, after Facebook recently made headlines for over 1 billion active users in the space of 24 hours. The competition is also likely to be fierce however, with over 45 million pages already in existence vying for attention.

Facebook pages currently include an option for a ‘Call to Action’ button like this one, allowing visitors to ‘Contact Us’, ‘Sign Up’, with similar ‘Donate’ options for non-profits, which will all receive a redesign.

Over the next month however, Pages will be granted access to new ‘Shopping’ and ‘Services’ sections, allowing a business to showcase their products for purchase or a range of professional services for hire. Additionally, Facebook are understood to be testing a voice-activated AI ‘assistant’ service, ‘M’, for both Facebook and the Facebook Messenger App, keeping pace with similar offerings from other giants of the tech world.

It would be a brave business which moved to Facebook sales alone, although some startups may attempt just that, eventually processing all payments through social media as a replacement for a traditional website.

But as the old saying goes: ‘Where there’s crowds, there’s business.’ A conventional internet banner advert is clicked-on merely 0.1% of the time, or one in a thousand views, perhaps tempting internet savvy companies to move more of their efforts to Facebook, a website millions of users log into (willingly) each day.

If you need technology to drive sales for your business, why not get in touch with Lineal? Contact us here: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/


Why your next desktop computer will fit in your wallet

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ASUS have announced their latest new desktop computer, the tiny ASUS Vivo Stick: a PC little bigger than a pocket highlighter.

Smaller businesses take note: it’s easy to imagine commercial clients making good use of such practical technology. At under 14cm long, the tiny Vivo stick resembles a USB memory stick and can be easily moved between hot-desks by mobile employees, or into premises too small for even the smallest of small-form desktop PC towers.

The Vivo Stick will run Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system via an Intel Cherry Trail Atom Processor, and can be plugged directly into any screen with an HDMI port. In addition to a micro USB port for power, Wi-fi and Bluetooth are combined with 2 spare USB ports and an audio socket to give the Stick the basic connections needed for everyday external devices: a mouse, keyboard and speakers.

Don’t expect performance miracles at this stage. Marginally superior to Intel’s lacklustre ‘ComputeStick’ offering back in April – the Vivo Stick incorporates only 2GB of memory and 32GB eMMC flash storage, although both Asus and Intel must correctly suspect that many users will find this more than sufficient for ordinary work tasks – email, word processing and other admin.

The low price will also help ensure market interest. Retailing at around only $129 in the US (around £85) ASUS’ Vivo Stick will likely be a cost-effective and portable option for entry-level personal computing, new startups, small businesses, and even presents a competitively priced alternative for computer labs and classrooms in the education market – any sector needing to equip users without ‘fixed’ workstations for basic IT needs.

If your business has some unconventional IT challenges – Lineal can help. Why not get in touch with us by clicking here: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Skylake processors begin new era for Intel

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Intel have announced the release of their new Skylake processors – their sixth generation of processor chips using multiple cores to combine greater processing power with lower energy consumption.

The new chips will boast around a 60% performance increase for a standard PC, with overclocking capabilities and other features clearly aimed at capturing the higher end of the gaming market and similar. There are also more rudimentary improvements behind the scenes: for example supporting multiple 4k displays, and optimising for new connections expected on the next generation of laptops, including USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3.

Skylake’s greatest asset however will be remarkably more efficient power-use. Intel believe superior energy efficiency (and less overheating) will allow more devices to operate without the need for internal fans, saving device weight, size, manufacturing costs, environmental costs, maintenance on moving parts, and prices for consumers. Their smaller models, Core m3, m5 and m7, will also help corner the market on more portable devices, saving weight and critical battery life in the tablets and smartphones of the future.

Intel must realise their market is changing and that it will be harder to keep selling new processors. Both Microsoft and Apple now offer constant upgrades to their Windows 10 and OS X Yosemite operating systems via free downloads – such that users are no longer forced to buy a new computer or package when they wish to upgrade. The IDC estimated last November that new tablet sales were also slower than the industry expected, as users hold on to older, well-built devices longer than expected rather than purchasing newer models. Hard drive capacities, in devices of all sizes, will only increase.

This all leaves Intel with a sales challenge – how to sell computer hardware to a world that doesn’t necessarily need or covet new devices as regularly? Skylake must provide new opportunities to manufacturers to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with a better chip to drive fresh sales across the industry.

Expect to see Skylake processors become available by the end of 2015, with the PC market picking up the range fully in the New Year.

If you’d like to take advantage of Lineal’s advice and expertise, you can contact us online easily by clicking here: http://www.Lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Protptype AeroMobil 3.0 flying car has its maiden flight

A prototype of the world’s most advanced flying car has taken to the skies. AeroMobil 3.0 which features a high-tech cockpit and wings that can fold in behind the cabin, was unveiled at an innovations conference in Vienna.  AeroMobil’s chief executive Juraj Vaculik said it could “change personal transport on a global scale”.

The AeroMobil 3.0 is pictured during its world premiere at Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Continue reading…


Lineal Director escorts PM David Cameron around FSB show tent

FSB Chairman for North Devon, Mike Matthews, spent 25 minutes with Prime Minister David Cameron, Agricultural Minister Owen Patterson and PPC Peter Heaton-Jones, guiding them around the FSB tent at the North Devon Show on Wednesday 7th August.  They discussed problems for small business owners and the role of the Federation of Small Businesses.

David Cameron and Mike Matthews can be seen talking to Grace Rodgers at her table displaying products from her Bideford company – On The Horizon.

The FSB show tent was one of 2 chosen by the Prime Minister at the North Devon show yesterday.  Mike Matthews, who is Managing Director of IT company Lineal Software Solutions, had organised the tent to showcase a variety of North Devon Businesses and their products / services.  Mike took the PM and other VIPs around the displays, introducing them to the FSB members and highlighting the problems faced by small businesses in North Devon today.

Mike Matthews said “It has been 25 years since I first set up Lineal so that I could concentrate on the development of my business software SQLWorks.  The rural location of North Devon has its benefits, but manufacturing problems, increasing employment issues and the slow roll out of superfast broadband have all been seen as barriers to growth by the FSB members.”

At his party’s spring conference, David Cameron said “There’s only one strategy for growth we can have now and that is rolling up our sleeves and doing everything possible to make it easier for businesses to grow, to invest, to take people on….Back small firms. Boost enterprise. Be on the side of everyone in this country who wants to create jobs, and wealth and opportunity.”

Agricultural Minister, Owen Patterson, also accompanied David Cameron and Mike Matthews.  His interest was in the rural location and nature of many local businesses.  They discussed the obstacles presented to them, and how they are overcome with help from organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses.