Windows 10 Is Here!

If you haven’t heard, Windows 10 was released June 29.  Microsoft has been rolling out updates to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users who reserved their download times for the free upgrade with what seems to be great success.  Some of my clients have already begun the conversion process and so far the majority of them have been happy with the process.  As with most software though the upgrade process has not gone as planned, resulting in some machines not behaving as expected.  Most of the problem comes from older hardware that does not have a compatible driver.  In many cases, downloading an updated driver for the device that seems to be causing the trouble has rectified the problems.  The “interwebs” also seem to agree that this latest version of Windows is pretty good…high praise for Microsoft as they aren’t known for stirring quite the same hype and excitement as their rival Apple.

Here is the scoop on what you need to successfully run Windows 10.  From a hardware perspective the requirements are pretty low so, provided your hardware has compatible drivers, even some comparatively old machines should run Windows 10.  Here are the base hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display: 800×600

Of course I don’t recommend running the minimum hardware requirements.  I would recommend at least 4 GB of RAM to cover all the multitasking you will be doing since Windows 10 allows you to snap up to 4 open apps to a single screen as opposed to the only 2 Windows 8 supported.

Another cool new feature that isn’t really all that new to other operating systems is having multiple virtual desktops.  We love our desktops.  We stack everything we can on the desktop; documents, shortcuts, applications, you name it it’s on the desktop.  What if you could organize all those things into projects or some other grouping and just flip to that desktop whenever you were working on a task or project.  Virtual desktops make that a possibility.  Of course you could just keep filling up desktops with icons with no sense of organization…the power is yours.  Speaking of power, Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, is now available on pretty much every Windows 10 device.  I use Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, a lot, but by many accounts Cortana wins hands down when it comes to helpfulness.  Cortana hangs out happily on your taskbar taking note of the things you like, what is on your calendar, and numerous other things and presents you with news, information and reminders that are relevant to you.  Helpful tips like you have a meeting across town in 20 minutes but you should take an alternate route because traffic is heavy on the beltway. This is one of the new features I am really going to enjoy.

Windows 10 also has a lot of security features built in like Windows Hello.  Windows Hello is built in support for biometric security.  You can use Windows Hello to allow you to log in to your machine with a fingerprint, facial recognition, or if you are feeling like a super spy, iris scanning.  The one catch is each of these requires special hardware, but since the support is baked right into Windows now I expect we will see prices drop on this hardware as adoption grows. In addition to biometric security, Windows 10 also supports 2 factor authentication. This means that for example to log into the computer you might need a card key AND a fingerprint or an iris scan and a password.  Admit it, you are thinking about Mission Impossible right now, aren’t you?  I know I am.

Like Windows 8.1, Windows 10 comes with device encryption.  This means that out of the box your system drive and any other fixed drives are encrypted.  If you are running Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise you also get access to Bitlocker and Bitlocker-2-Go.  I have talked about Bitlocker before, but if you don’t know Bitlocker is an encryption tool used to encrypt data on hard drives.  Bitlocker-2-Go takes that an extra step and allows you to encrypt files on a portable device and decrypt them on another computer as long as you have password.

If you intend to do the upgrade to Windows 10 check first with your PC manufacturer to see if the hardware has Windows 10 driver support, or have your IT pro check it out for you. Here is a table that shows the upgrades to the different versions of Windows 7 and 8.1.

Windows 7 & 8.1 Versions Windows 10 Versions
7 Starter, Home, Home Premium Windows 10 Home
Windows 7 Pro, Ultimate Windows 10 Pro
Windows 8.1 Phone Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 8.1 Windows 10 Home
Windows 8.1 Pro & Pro for Students Windows 10 Pro


As you can see, Microsoft has consolidated the number of Windows versions down even further since Windows 8.  This makes buying and licensing Windows so much easier.  For Windows Enterprise users the upgrade is covered by your Software Assurance License if you have one and the upgrade path takes you from Windows 7 or 8.1 Enterprise to windows 10 Enterprise.

I am really looking forward to my turn to update to Windows 10 and begin checking out all the new features.  I am really excited to get the update on my Surface Pro 3 which I think is about the best tablet on the market today, competing directly with the iPad.

Rise Of The Voice Activated Digital Assistant

I have been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember.  I would watch syndicated re-runs of the original series whenever I could find them.  To be honest, what clenched it for me was Wrath of Kahn. It is my favorite Star Trek movie.  I also fell in love with the futuristic technology.  The sheer level of automation always set my imagination ablaze.  Between Siri, Cortana, and IoT I almost feel like I am living the fantasy.

When Siri was first announced and subsequently released I was extremely excited.  That excitement was short-lived as the first iteration of Siri.  She was little more than a novelty.  As Apple continued to improve the iOS devices and connect Siri to more resources and information she became far more helpful.  I hop in my car and plug my iPhone into the charger so I can speak to Siri hands free.  I ask Siri for directions for my destination and we are off.  I use Siri to find restaurants and make appointments.  I ask her to remind me to do things.  It amazes me how often I actually use the little gal.  She is virtually trapped though living only in my iOS device.  Some of my information will follow me to other iOS devices and even my PC, but what Siri knows about me seems to be lost.  This is a 1 up Cortana has on Siri.  Cortana learns about you and saves that information in your cloud and whatever device you are connected to she remembers you.  Just like Siri, I can ask Cortana to perform tasks for me.  Make appointments, take notes, find information, and much more.  By many accounts Cortana’s speech recognition and natural language recognition also out performs Siri.  I can attest that Siri does still stumble frequently when I am talking to her, which can be frustrating sometimes.  She is getting better though.

Apple extended the potential of Siri not too long ago by releasing a new API called Home Kit.  Home Kit allows software developers to leverage Siri for interaction with their iOS apps.  I recently came across a new smart plug from iHome that allows you to use Siri to turn on or off a device like a lamp that is plugged into the Smart Plug.  Say “Hey Siri, turn on the Living room Lamp,” and on pops the lamp.  Cool, huh.  Cortana isn’t one to be left out of the party.  Microsoft has always supported developers by allowing them to leverage Microsoft technology, and Cortana is no different.  The commands Cortana understands can be extended to add voice automation to Windows 10 apps opening up the same potential Home Kit has opened up for Siri.

What makes this so exciting is the new era of connected devices known as the Internet of Things or IoT.  Imagine your oven is connected to this internet of things.  The developer has leveraged your personal cloud along with Siri or Cortana.  You are driving home and you need to get some chicken nuggets in the oven before the kids go to soccer practice.  There is no time to waste waiting for the oven to preheat so you tell Siri to heat the oven to 350°.  The oven is ready for you to pop the nuggets right in when you walk in the door.  What about security? Doors can be smart and connect to the IoT as well.  Little Billy walked home from school, but he forgot his key to get in the house so he rings the doorbell.  You are stuck in the office when you get a notification that someone is at the door.  The notification comes with a snap shot from a camera on the porch, and there’s Billy looking dismayed that he can’t get in the house.  Ask Cortana to unlock the front door for you.  You watch Billy go inside from the live internet stream from the “porch cam” and tell Cortana to lock the front door once Billy is safely inside.

There are limitless applications for interacting with IoT devices because literally anything can be connected.  All of these actions could have also been accomplished through the use of an app with screens and buttons, but speech is a more natural way of interacting and in most cases much faster to learn.  As these digital assistants are given access to more types of information and the software is trained to better understand more commands in the context of natural speech they will become far more ubiquitous in our daily life.  Soon I will be able to walk into my kitchen and say, “Cortana, tea, Earl Grey, hot” and have a fresh hot cup of tea dispensed on the spot just like Capt. Piccard.  If only Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was still around to lend her voice to my favorite digital assistant I would be one happy geek!  Live long and prosper…Cortana, end transmission.

What Should You Really Be Protecting Your Network From?

My family went to the beach this year for vacation.  Yes I know, I saw all the media about all of the shark attacks on the east coast, but we went anyway.  As I kept a watchful if not unnecessarily paranoid eye on the water and my boys, I began to think about how a lot of the same types of things I try and protect my kids from  I also try and protect networks from as well.  Some of these things are more likely to threaten a network than others, but nonetheless an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Let’s start with environmental threats.  Storms and other natural disasters are usually the first things to come to mind.  These threats cause power outages or surges that can prevent access to the system.  Temperature can be a major player on the environmental threats’ team.  Cold can slow down hardware, but heat can really do some damage causing equipment to become damaged and fail.  It is important to be sure all of the equipment used in a network is housed in a nice cool, dry place.  We all know what water can do to electronics…everyone has had that one friend who dropped their phone in the toilet. Here in Charleston, WV storms have caused all kinds of power issues, but by and large earthquakes and raging fires are fairly unlikely compared to other parts of the country. They do happen though, so at least having an idea of how you plan to protect your network from these disasters is a good idea.

Make no bones about it natural wear and tear is a threat to your network.  Parts fail. We have talked about this before.  You take your car in for maintenance, and you should plan for the same with your network!  Regular checkups and preventative measures like taking your children to the dentist or the pediatrician are some of the things we do to protect our kids from problems.  Doing regular checkups and making sure everything is up- to- date and running smoothly can help to protect your network from problems before they start.  Upgrading parts like hard drives and memory as well as fans at a set time in a server’s lifecycle can breathe new life in to the device as well as head off any potential failures along the way.  Staying proactive can save you money when compared with the cost associated with down- time associated with a failure.  Recovery from failure in general takes far more time than proactive maintenance.  You also have the lost productivity and potential loss of customers with which to deal.  In most cases, the type of proactive maintenance can be done without any downtime whatsoever.

People…oh wow, people are a huge threat to your network, in reality probably the single greatest threat your network faces.  “People” as a group should be extremely limited in how they can interact with the network.  Employees should not have any more rights or privileges on any device on the network than absolutely necessary.  Physical access as well as remote access should be limited.  Employees can bring your entire network down by accident or through malicious intent.  Of course we want to trust our employees and from experience only a very small portion of these people problems are malicious in nature.  Maintaining a principle of least privilege for everyone on your network is a simple, effective way of deterring many security breaches and failures.

Sometimes it is other people outside your organization that can be the weak link in a chain.  Say for example you send a document with confidential information inside to a contractor.  Imagine it is a spreadsheet with your client’s personal information and credit card numbers.  Imagine that contractor accidentally sent this file to an unauthorized party.  This would constitute a major security breach outside of your office.  Even though this data left your office you are still obligated to protect it for your clients.  Encrypting these files is a great first step.  Another tool that you may not have heard of is Document Rights Management (DRM) or Information Rights Management (IRM).  This technology extends the document you sent out with a set of explicit permissions as to who is allowed to open it and what they can do once it is opened.  You can disable printing, copying, and even saving the document, to name a few.  DRM or IRM is an extremely powerful tool for protecting your data outside your network’s borders.  What about keeping information from leaving your network all together.  Microsoft has some interesting new tools as part of Azure and IRM that can check a document in a number of ways to determine if the file meets all the requirements for being able to be sent via email or on OneDrive share before it ever leaves the network.

Of course viruses are still a very real threat, so keep your firewalls locked down and your software up to date.  Backing up your data is critical to the recovery if something does go wrong.  While these 2 items could technically be considered preventive maintenance, they are so fundamental to protecting your network and your data I feel they warrant being called out separately.  Do your updates on ALL the software on ALL the devices in the network.  Make sure antivirus is installed EVERYWHERE.  When setting up your backups remember the 3-2-1 rule.  3 copies of your data, 2 on site, and 1 off site.

Follow best practices and continue to test and iteratively build your security and you will be in a much better position to protect yourself and your client’s data.  Diligently working to maintain the highest level of security you can has become even more important now that the FTC can also take you to court if they believe you failed to make reasonable efforts to protect consumer information under a 1914 law that gives the FTC broad powers to protect consumers from companies that engage in unfair or deceptive business practices.  According to a US District Judge last year, unfair and deceptive business practices now encompass businesses cyber security practices, basically saying customers trust that you will protect their data and failure to follow solid cybersecurity practices is like deceiving your customers with a false sense of security.  Make sure you talk to your IT and risk management teams about implementing and enforcing security best practices, because there is no such thing as a small breach.

Office Is Now On Android!

Everything we do today is in bite-sized chunks, from sharing quick status updates to entertainment like short videos on YouTube and Vine.  The short and sweet little bits of entertainment and information are delivered to us on demand to a myriad of devices from phones and tablets to laptops and desktops.  The way we work is changing, too.  More and more work is being done in bites and clips on the go and on demand.  While smaller devices are not great for extended data entry sessions they are perfect for taking notes or developing an outline of a document on the go or perhaps roughing out some paragraphs or dropping some new numbers into a spread sheet to see how it changes the bottom line.

Most of this kind of work has kept us tethered to a desk shackled to desktops and laptops using the Microsoft Office Suite.  Microsoft brought the ability to view and edit Office documents on Windows Phone devices what seems ages ago.  More recently, the ability was granted to Apple iOS devices.  While this mobile version leaves a lot to be desired as far as features go, new features are being added to this mobile version at a breakneck pace.  Now, as promised, Microsoft has released Office apps for the Android operating system.  As an added bonus, the apps are free!

Android users can now download and install Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Lync, OneDrive, Skype, and Yammer for their Android phone or tablet.  Now there are a few minimum requirements with which many of you Android users will already be familiar.  Compatible devices must have an ARM-based processor or an Intel x86 processor.  In addition to the hardware requirement, the device must be running Android KitKat 4.4 or newer in order for the new Office applications to run.

The apps support cloud storage like Google Drive and Box.  Microsoft Office has added word count and proofing capability.  Excel supports formulas, tables, and charts.  The best thing about the Excel Android app is its ability to render a sheet exactly or nearly exactly like the sheet is laid out on a desktop monitor with advanced visualizations like spark lines or other charts.

With this latest platform Microsoft has covered all of its bases.  IOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Windows, or OSX. No matter what device you have handy you will be able to work on almost any type of document from spreadsheets to novels.  Have some downtime at the Dr.’s office? Pull out your device and make some last minute edits to that contract you have been working on.  Halftime at the little league game? Pop some new numbers you were just emailed into the financial analysis for an investor you are trying to win over.  We are a mobile workforce, and using these tools to their fullest can help us all live life while still “getting it done.”

Go to the Google Play store to find out more about these apps and install them or you can head over to to see what else Microsoft has to say about these new apps.