Surface Hub and Hololense

Hot on the heels of all the Windows 10 announcements come 2 very cool new products from Microsoft. First is the Surface Hub, a smart board on a TV that runs Windows 10. The Surface Hub harkens back to a failed Microsoft product, which was the first to sport the Surface name — an interactive Windows based table filled with sensors that allowed you to do very cool things with the items you sat on it. Now, this table is mounted on a wall and runs a suite of software focused on making meetings better. The new Surface Hub has cameras, microphones, multi-touch sensors, and other “advanced” sensors that help you get your meeting completed. The Surface Hub’s first trick is to become a smart board. Surface Hub runs OneNote and comes with some special pens for writing on the screen just like you would on a whiteboard. Skype is also included and can be used to bring in other people to share and access the whiteboard. The camera and microphones in the Surface Hub allow you to have a full 2 way video conference call in addition to sharing what is on the screen. You can share files from nearby Windows 10 devices, allowing them to be opened, viewed, and shared with everyone in the meeting. Then once the meeting is over you can have the Surface Hub email all the files and whiteboard images automatically to all the meeting participants. Then with a tap, the Surface Hub is reset and ready for the next meeting.

While the Surface Hub was interesting, the HoloLense really stole the show. A new feature of Windows 10 is support for holographic computing. So Microsoft built a set of glasses that can make use of this new holographic computing feature. This isn’t virtual reality though and Microsoft isn’t competing with the likes of the Oculus Rift. The HoloLense glasses project digital items in 3D onto the real world. Microsoft demoed the glasses live, showing someone using a 3D modeling tool to put together a 3d model using their gaze and hand gestures to interact with the holograms. Now this is not like Star Wars where a 3D image is floating in space, but from what I could tell watching the demo wearing the glasses makes it look like these images are right there in front of you, real enough to grab. Microsoft has been working with NASA on this project, allowing scientists to virtually step onto Mars and examine 3D images of the landscape the Mars Rover has sent back. The promo video Microsoft ran showed using the HoloLense to play games that jumped around on your furniture, virtual notes on your refrigerator, Netflix on any open wall, and working in 3D on a concept model of a motorcycle gas tank in 3d superimposed over the real thing. The technology is really amazing, but for all the interaction it brings when using them to communicate they still cut you off from other people who are physically around you. Much like the Google Glass, I think the isolation using this device in a group setting will be a stumbling block for broad consumer adoption. People want to be able to interact together with technology in the same room more than they want to interact with people who are a world away. Devices more like the Surface Hub are likely to have a greater chance at both business and consumer adoption.

The types of technology and innovation that are happening every day astound and thrill me on a regular basis. I look forward to the next new innovation no matter how strange or confusing and try to imagine how it could be used in the real world. These inventions spark the imagination and give others the opportunity to improve on the ideas, leading to new discoveries until we arrive at a point where nothing in science fiction is fiction any more.

Windows 10 Security Features

For many years, Microsoft has touted their commitment to security and trusted computing. With each new iteration of Windows, Microsoft introduces a new set of strategies to foil the unyielding efforts of cyber-attackers. Microsoft has identified several key areas to focus on securing in their latest operating system.

The password is the bane of today’s user as well as the security professionals tasked with protecting the devices and data you use. One of today’s most common methods of breaking into a computer system is by using stolen passwords. Why is it so popular? Well, because it is so easy. Microsoft aims to make this much more difficult though in Windows 10 by including multi-factor authentication directly into the operating system. Let’s talk about the ways you can authenticate so this becomes clearer. First, you can provide something you know like a password to prove you are who you are. You can provide something you have like a smartcard or a code from a key generator like an RSA key. Finally, you can provide something you are…this sounds a little weird, but what we are talking about is biometrics like a finger- print. Most systems will let you use one of these methods and to a certain degree stealing any one of these authentication methods can be accomplished easily, and an attacker then has the keys to the kingdom. If you start mixing and matching them say by using biometrics and an RSA key it becomes much harder to get both when trying to compromise a system. Windows 10 includes everything you need to set this type of authentication up out of the box with no additional software needed. Another feature of this built-in, multi-factor authentication is the ability to enroll devices as the something you have. For example, you can enroll your laptop and add fingerprint scanning as your two forms of authentication. In this example, anyone trying to access your network account would need to be physically using the laptop you enrolled and have your fingerprint in order to be authenticated. The device enrollment can be implemented a few ways. You can enroll a single device or multiple devices you use to access the network with or you can enroll a Windows 10 phone and use it like a secure key that communicates with whatever device you are using via Bluetooth, like a smart card. Multi-factor authentication is not a new concept but it is the first time Microsoft has built the ability to use multi-factor authentication into the Windows operating system rather than just handing it off to a third party vendor. This shift could eventually spell the end of the password…I hope.

Another area Microsoft is focusing on is securing data. Microsoft does a fine job securing data on your network and local machine using technologies like permissions and encryption like BitLocker, but what about when it leaves like in an email or is shared and someone makes a copy and suddenly your data is out in the wild and you have no control over who can see it. With the latest round of security that is being baked into Windows 10, Office 365, and the rest of Microsoft’s suite of products you will be able to control everything. You will be able to classify data and apply rules that scan documents and files for those data classifications, and if the rule says it can’t be emailed the file will not go out over an email. If you are accessing a classified contract on a Word application on a phone and the rules for that type of file say that you can take a screen capture or copy the text in any way all those features are disabled on the device even if it is an Android or iPhone. And it all works seamlessly behind the scenes. The corporate data is always kept separated from personal data on mobile devices, but transition between the two is undetectable by the user.

Lastly, Trusted Apps. When it comes to employee computers, the unapproved software that gets installed either on purpose or by accident can have an effect on the performance and security of the system. With Windows 10 you can lock the system down so that it can only install apps that have been digitally signed by a Microsoft authorized signing service, similar to the way applications in the Microsoft App Store are vetted and signed to make sure they contain no malware. You can even go so far as to create a white list of trusted software, and any application not on the list will not be installed.

While these are not the only new security related features Windows 10 has to offer these are the ones that are most directly geared at blocking some of the most common attacks and data breaches of the last year or so.

Windows 10 is Coming

Last September Microsoft announced that Windows 10 was on its way. Since then they have been doing something very few tech companies have done — they asked the world what it wanted in the next Windows operating system. Since then they have been working to build out the look, feel, and features Windows users want. If the January 21st announcement is any indication of what is to come, I think they are doing just that, building the Windows users want. The Windows Insider program which is free and open to anyone willing to test and provide feedback seems to have been a smashing success, and Microsoft is thrilled. Now I know you are thinking, “Another operating system! I just upgraded to Windows 7!” It isn’t as bad as it sounds though. When the new operating system is released later this year (I am guessing August-September time frame) it is going to be a free upgrade for all Windows 8.1 users and amazingly enough for Windows 7 users, too. This is a limited time upgrade offer. This free upgrade will only be available for 1 year from the release of Windows 10. Windows 10 is, under the hood, the same core operating system as Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. It has many of the same user interface features Windows 8.1 users have grown accustomed to but also better implements a fusion of the Windows 7 style interface, making it much friendlier for Windows 7 users and folks using traditional mice and keyboards to use. Standard Windows applications that run on Windows 7 and 8.1 should be just as happy running on Windows 10.

The free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is an interesting move for Microsoft that I think is going to pay off. Microsoft is betting this will be incentive enough to get everyone to upgrade to Windows 10, creating a user base that is standardized on the latest version of Windows. Microsoft’s vision for Windows is to no longer have major releases and tie licenses to versions but to provide the operating system as a service, much like Office. Smaller more rapid releases called flights will come out like updates to the operating system, providing improvements and new features as the software giant continues to work with the user community to fulfill their dream of making this version of Windows the Windows you love. Microsoft is taking the stance that Windows will no longer be an operating system that is release centered but provided as a service. An operating system as a service. This tracks directly with the cloud first vision of Microsoft. I don’t yet know what this will mean for licensing, but I am hopeful that it will simplify Microsoft licensing and lower the cost of maintaining releases of Windows going forward by removing the need for upgrade licenses.

Among the features demoed during the keynote was a new version of Internet Explorer code named Spartan that allows you to mark up and write on the web then save it or share it with friends or team members via social media. Improved reading features make perusing the Internet easier. You can even take items in your reading list offline and read them when you are not connected to the web. Of course Microsoft promises this latest version of IE to ship with Windows 10 will be more secure and more standards compliant for HTML5. That doesn’t mean however we will not be facing the same compatibility issues we have come to expect with many of our favorite web sites when a new version of IE is thrust upon us.

Many of the key features Microsoft touted were centered on the user interface, which has been the biggest pain point new Windows 8.1 users have complained about. Windows 10 looks a lot more like Windows 7 in that you start with a familiar desktop and have a start menu with your programs in. This start menu is really just the start screen compressed back into a fly-out menu. If you want, you can expand the start menu back into the touch friendly start screen. The new continuum feature allows Windows to modify the user interface based on the device that is being used. For example, a 2-in-1 tablet will have many of the touch features disabled or hidden when you are using it as a laptop, but then being used in a tablet mode Windows 10 will automatically adjust to a more touch centric interface. Many of the tools and features users expected to find were split between the modern and the classic user interfaces. For example, the Control Panel had 2 interfaces that exposed different sets of tools. This became very confusing when needing to access settings on the system. Windows 10 has merged these interfaces and tools back into a more familiar interface.

Some of you may be familiar with Siri on Apple iPhones and iPads, or you may have already met Cortana on Microsoft phones. As a new feature and improvement, Cortana has a new home on Windows 10 PCs. Cortana is an impressive natural speech recognition engine and in the demos seems to be able to provide very helpful and intuitive responses to natural speech requests. Rounding off the “that’s nifty” category of updates is the new integration with Xbox One. The Xbox Live apps give you full access to the library of Xbox Live games. You can stream a game from your Xbox One console and play it on a Windows 10 PC. You can DVR gameplay without additional software. The operating system has an updated graphics engine DirectX 12 which greatly enhances the graphics abilities of Windows 10, allowing it to provide the rich Xbox gameplay experience.

Worth mentioning briefly are universal apps. This new category of apps allows developers to create applications that scale and run across any device running Windows 10. It doesn’t matter if it is a phone, tablet, laptop, or PC the application will run providing a write once, run everywhere feature for software developers so they can get their applications installed on larger numbers of devices quickly and easily.

Windows 10 looks great and is now in public beta which means I am ready to get my hands on it and begin testing it. I expect that Windows 10 will be in full release by the end of summer. If it holds up to testing I will most likely be recommending all of my clients running Windows 7 or 8.1 to take full advantage of the free upgrade while it is available.

CES 2015

The Consumer Electronics Show never fails to bring out the coolest devices and gadgets, and CES 2015 was no exception. While nothing truly earth shattering was unveiled this year there was certainly some cool tech. Last year the 4K TV was introduced, bringing even sharper picture than the HD TV in your living room today. These TVs were big news last year and they continued to impress this year by getting larger, lighter, and thinner. None of the new TVs really stood out to me. I did notice in my research that the crowd seemed to have gotten bigger this year. Speaking of TVs, most of us are still tied to cable or satellite services, but there are more ways to enjoy the content you love on these giant 4K monsters. I am talking about streaming media services, and even some of the traditional providers are getting in on the act. Dish announced a streaming media service called Sling TV that will launch with a bundle of around 20 channels streamed on demand and live over the internet. Sony is still rolling out its streaming service with its lineup of Viacom channels that Suddenlink dropped this past year. TV continues to move into the cloud, and the content producers that continue to tie themselves to traditional carriers and delivery methods are going to be left behind.

Wearable technology continues to grow and has even found a home in high fashion in the form of 3D printed IoT enabled interactive apparel. More down to earth wearables include a new round of more fashionable looking smart watches and fitness bands. Some of the fitness sensor wielding devices even disguise themselves as beautiful jewelry. More wearable treatment devices have even popped up like one unit that delivers electrical stimulus to manage pain. While the smart watch revolution continues to move forward, I am still looking forward to the Apple iWatch which should be on sale before the end of March. If having a watch, shirt, dress, or belt that is smart isn’t your thing how about another smart device for your home. Google’s Nest is looking to become the hive mind that controls all of the smart devices in your home. New electrical outlets that let you control appliances really isn’t news, but how about one that knows if something wrong is put into it — for example, a finger? One line of smart outlets is able to sense what is plugged into it and if it isn’t a proper item like a light bulb or plug it doesn’t pass electricity, rendering it safe to the touch. More new smart cameras and smart home security devices like smart locks were present this year, signaling a shift from appliance automation to security automation. Security automation uses apps and devices like cellphones to allow doors to be unlocked and garages to open as you approach as well as monitoring your home for problems like carbon monoxide or fire and alerting you via your mobile device.

3D printing has continued to evolve, bringing us lower cost printers that cost under $1000. New printing materials are being introduced, such as carbon fiber and resin, allowing for the printing of very strong finished pieces. These 3D printers are being used to print parts and pieces for everything, even designer clothing. My favorite thing that they are being used to print though are DRONES! Drones of the quad-copter variety were all over the place at CES. Many media outlets reported on the fascinating drones that danced together or were able to run a gauntlet of obstacles in order to navigate between two points. I was most impressed with the camera drones that follow you. Some use GPS on a phone and others use custom hardware as an electronic leash, causing the drone to follow you like a pet. If these folks could get together with Apple and Microsoft and merge their research on programmability, object avoidance, stabilization and then inject a little Siri or Cortana the ultimate robotic digital assistant might be born.

I love CES. It always gets my hopes up for the future of technology and my imagination going. Science fiction gets closer to science fact every year. Do any of you have any plans on buying a 3D printer for your workshops? How about using one of these drones to film your next outdoor adventure? The technology of the future is here today — how do you plan to use it in your daily life?

Care and Feeding of Your Network

Your network is the nerve center of all of your IT and like that new puppy or kitten under the Christmas tree it requires regular care and feeding to keep it healthy and happy. The network infrastructure consists of several parts: switches, wireless access points, routers, and firewalls are the most common. These devices have the job of connecting all of your devices like computers, servers, printers, and tablets so they can communicate and share data. When these devices fail that communication you depend on to connect your employees to your data and to the internet is disrupted. Proper care and maintenance can improve the life span of this equipment and ensure optimum performance throughout the life of these devices.

A neat clean installation is the first step to properly caring for your network equipment. Routers, switches, and firewalls should be mounted in a rack or on a shelf that allows for good airflow and ventilation. This shelf or rack should also provide a route for network cables to neatly reach the ports on the device while providing support for the cables so they are not strained when hanging from the ports. Bundles of network cables plugged into the ports of a network switch can become very heavy and this weight can cause connections to become loose or damage the cables and device ports over time. A patch panel can help provide organization and a clean termination for all the wire coming into the network closet or server room. Shorter patch cables from the panel to the network device can be easier to route through strain relief tracks that can be added to a network rack. Properly bundling cables together helps keep the airflow going in a rack and prevents heat from being trapped around the network devices. Heat is probably one of the biggest threats to your equipment. If the room or closet is warm you should install a standalone cooling unit or an exhaust system that will draw in cooler air and vent the warm air created by the equipment.

All of this equipment consumes electricity and the better the power you feed it the better it will perform. Fluctuations in the power coming from the wall can cause routers to do very strange things…the more technical term here might be weird. The power coming out of an outlet can fluctuate wildly like water pressure it can go high or it can go low giving you an average. Most of the devices you plug into an outlet can handle some variation but network equipment can have major performance issues that can be traced directly to minor fluctuations in power. Major fluctuations like a surge or a brown-out can even destroy electronic components. Installing a good battery backup or UPS will smooth out any fluctuation in the power and will protect the equipment from surges and brown-outs. The backup battery will also keep your network up in the event of a total power failure giving you time to save your work to the server or for backup power systems to kick in.

Many of the devices on your network have gotten smarter which means they have an operating system like your computer. Like your computer patches and updates that improve performance, reliability, and security. Regularly checking for updates for these updates is an important part of maintaining your network equipment throughout its life.

A well cared for switch should last a good 6-7 years at which time you should plan on retiring and replacing it. In this time frame the technology generally has improved substantially since your last purchase so an increase in performance and speed is usually your reward when it comes time to refresh your switches. I tend to recommend replacing routers and firewalls on a slightly shorter cycle because these devices typically provide security. Keeping these devices longer than the manufacturer intends to support them opens your network up to security risk. Replacing routers and firewalls about every 5 years will generally keep you within the manufacturer’s extended support period during which they continue to provide security updates.

In order to get the most out of your network devices you can’t just set it and forget it. Proper maintenance and care will ensure that your equipment is performing at the top of its capability. Having a retirement and replacement plan in place will help ensure you are always improving the speed of your network and reduce the risk of having older equipment fail unexpectedly leaving you unable to use the resources on your network your business needs. Open your network closet today and get a plan in place today for better management of your network equipment.

BitLocker Drive Encryption Tutorial

Last month we talked about whole disk encryption and I promised a walk-through on how to turn on BitLocker drive encryption on your Windows computer. Before we dive in I want to remind you about some of the requirements for BitLocker. BitLocker is only available on certain versions of Windows, and these are: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 8.1 Pro, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise. BitLocker also defaults to requiring a Trusted Platform Module or TPM chip inside the device. There are ways around this final requirement that might actually provide better security but we won’t get into that right now.

So we need to head for the Control Panel first. In Windows 7 click start and then on the right hand column of the start menu click Control Panel. There you will find the BitLocker applet which you can double click to open. In Windows 8.1 the easiest way to get here is to click the search icon at the top right of the Start Screen and type BitLocker. The same search can also be done from the Start Menu of Windows 7. Now that we have the BitLocker applet open we can get started.

You should see your drives listed on the main page of the applet. Under each drive grouping you should see a link to turn on BitLocker. Clicking that link will start the wizard that will prepare the machine to encrypt the drive. The wizard will first check to see if BitLocker can run on the device. It is looking for that TPM I mentioned earlier. Assuming you have the requisite TPM the wizard asks you how you would like to unlock your drive. Unlocking the drive basically decrypts the data for you to use while the device is on. You have 2 options: Insert a USB Flash Drive or Enter a Password. This is an important decision because you will need either the password you enter or the USB flash drive every time you turn on the device. If you choose a password this is separate from the login password you use to get into Windows and should be a different password. If you choose the USB flash drive you will have to have it with you to plug into the device whenever you turn it on.

Now that you have chosen how you want to unlock the drive I am sure you want to know what happens if you forget your password or lose your USB flash drive. Microsoft has you covered in this next step. The BitLocker Wizard creates a recovery key you can use to decrypt the drive in case you can’t unlock the drive. There are several options including saving the key to your Microsoft Account. If you have full faith in Microsoft choose this option but not knowing who else might be able to access this data at Microsoft I would caution against this option. I would recommend however choosing at least 2 of the other options before clicking next and moving on. My personal favorites are printing and storing the print in a secure location at your office and saving to a USB Key and storing it in another separate secure location like a safe at home.

The final step is to choose if you want to encrypt the entire drive or just the used space. Choosing to encrypt the used space leaves the empty portion alone and encrypts new data as it is added to the drive. This is ok if you are encrypting a new device. If you have been using a device for a while previously deleted items may still be located on the hard drive just invisible because that space is now marked as unused so new data can be written over top of it. Choosing to only encrypt the used space leaves this “invisible” data vulnerable to a savvy thief. So if you have been using the device you are encrypting for a while going ahead and choosing to encrypt the entire drive is your best bet. Make your choice and finish up the wizard. A restart is in your very near future. The encryption process takes time and a lot of system resources which slows down the machine. It can also take a good bit of time. I recommend doing this when you will not be needing to use the computer for a few hours while it does its work. Maybe before bed or at the end of the day before you leave the office?

You can encrypt other drives in your computer with BitLocker as well as portable drives with what is called BitLocker To Go. This way you can copy files onto a flash drive or an external hard drive that has been encrypted and rest easy knowing if the drive is lost your data is still safe.

Moving My TV To The Cloud

I got a text the other day from my wife with 3 small words I thought would never come from her, “Cancel the cable.” All I could say in return was “Wait, what?” I was shocked and a little confused because she had been so resistant in the past but she was finally fed up with our cable TV service. We had recently talked about switching our TV service to satellite but couldn’t really see any cost benefit or value for the money we would be paying. The recent loss of several channels we watch, especially channels my 3 kids watch started the ball rolling forward that led my wife to the ultimate conclusion that we should cancel the cable. This poses a special problem that falls to me to solve. How do I “cut the cable” and still keep the remaining programming my family enjoys? The Cloud, it is nearly all out there in the cloud.

Ahh research, boy have I done a lot of it in the last few days. I almost immediately began looking at trying to get our local broadcast channels over the air…then I realized the content we watch from those stations isn’t the local news content it is the national content. ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW they all provide their content online or through an app. I found apps for all of these stations available on both Android and Apple mobile devices. Even some of my favorite cable channels are in on the act like TNT and Syfy. There are some sticky issues with some content providers, take TNT for example. I discovered their app — it was great but watching required me to log in with my username and password from my cable provider. This is not uncommon. Several channels require you to have a pay TV subscription to watch. Well that may be a problem when I drop the pay TV portion of my cable service. This is not the only sticky issue I have discovered. CBS for example only has certain episodes available to stream, unless you subscribe to their service to unlock additional content. They aren’t the only content provider using this model either. Subscribing to particular content providers seems to cost in the $5-$7 range per month. Disney has even gone a step further. They require a pay TV subscription to stream content, but if you are a Star Wars fan like my kids and I are Star Wars Rebels is available on YouTube for $1.99 per episode or you can get the entire season for $15.75. It is also available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. The point of all this is that new services and ways to access the content you want to watch are popping up every day in the cloud and the industry is trying to figure out how people are willing to pay or not for the content they want when they want it.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Vudu which are kind of like the cable companies of the internet. Netflix is developing its own fantastic original content and working with companies like Marvel Studios to bring original content like a live action DareDevil series to their streaming media service. Hulu has movies and recently aired TV shows available usually within a week of their air date to stream as part of their service. Vudu allows you to rent or purchase streaming movies and seasons of popular TV series individually much like iTunes or Amazon. We already have a Netflix account and the kids love it.

It will certainly be an adjustment to how my wife and I think about TV and how we watch it. My kids are growing up with streaming media so I doubt they will fight the transition that much. With devices like Roku and Apple TV the content they are streaming to their devices can also be enjoyed on their TV using wireless video streaming technologies like Airplay and Miracast. So with minimal gnashing of teeth we will be “cutting the cable.” How about you?

Display Surface Pro Anywhere

The Surface Pro 3 never ceases to amaze me with everything packed into its slim form. This nifty little trick up the Surface’s sleeve is no different. The surface can stream video wirelessly to monitors, media devices, and TVs that support Miracast. I know Apple does this with Apple TV and their latest Macs and displays but Miracast is one of 2 competing technologies that allows the rest of us to stream our displays WIRELESSLY! Sorry I got a little carried away there. Ok so what do we need to perform this magic of over-the-air video? A display that supports Miracast. I want to use my TV…It doesn’t support Miracast, but that Roku box I have been eying does and it is a lot less than a new TV, SCORE. Maybe a Roku isn’t the right solution. Microsoft has a wireless display adapter that is USB powered and is compatible with Android devices that support Miracast. Plug this little baby into your HDMI port and the USB in to a powered USB port on the display and you are ready to go. This would be great in a conference room or for a projector. There is a plethora of Miracast receivers out there so Google away until you find one you like. Check out this review of the Best and Worst Miracast adapters of 2014 to get you started (,review-2284.html).

Ok so we know what extra hardware we need to get our display from the Surface wirelessly to an external monitor or TV. The next question is how do we do it? Well it is really simple. From the Start Screen swipe left from the right edge of the screen. Now tap Devices then tap Project. Windows will have detected nearby wireless displays so now tap Add wireless display in order to pair with one. Now you can choose how you want to display on the second screen. You can choose to have it duplicate what is on the Surface display, Extend the display like at your desk when you have multiple monitors, or to just use the external display making the tablet display go off. The third option doesn’t make a lot of sense with a tablet so I think sticking to Extend and Duplicate are our best bets in most cases.

So why am I so excited about wireless displays? Think about what you can do with your tablet if the screen was 60″ and not trapped in your hands. You could easily share pictures and videos with guests and family all at once without playing a rousing game of pass the tablet. You know what I am talking about. You play a video for Aunt June and she tells Nana you have to see this, and then Uncle Jed and all his kids want to see and suddenly it’s been an hour and you have no clue where your Surface went. I usually find mine in one of my kids’ hands hiding under a table playing games. Speaking of games how about trying to play your favorite game on a much bigger screen. Then there are the obvious work related uses. Displaying a document or presentation on the TV in the conference room quickly comes to mind.

This is a really cool feature that is really built into Windows 8.1 but is much more useful when paired with a device like a tablet. Wireless display isn’t great for really high quality video playback or fast-paced gaming because the refresh rate is still a bit on the slow side but for most applications and other display applications this is a great feature to find hiding away in the Surface Pro 3.

Hands On Review of Surface Pro 3

I have had several opportunities to set up Surface Pros up for clients since the first Surface was released 3 years ago. I have finally been able to get my hands on my very own and I have to say I am just as impressed with this one as I was with the ones I set up. The Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 which for many is a turn off but I love it. Once I got used to a few navigational quirks I was off to the races. But getting started was easy all my apps where presented to me on the start screen and I was able to quickly move between the desktop interface and the Modern UI of Windows 8.1. I highly recommend Windows 8.1 for your next Windows device (desktop, laptop, or tablet). This is not a Windows 8.1 review even though much of the tablet’s functionality is due to the operating system.

Then first thing I did when I turned on the Surface was to complete the set up wizard which was simple and straight forward. I was asked to choose a language and to join my wireless network. Towards the end of the process I was asked to supply my Microsoft ID and password. This is an important step because your Microsoft ID is what links your device to the world of Microsoft cloud services, much like an Apple ID for iPad. If you don’t have an ID you can create one, they are free. You also have the option of creating a local account though I don’t recommend this option.

Once I finished the setup wizard I logged into my Office 365 account and installed Office 2013. My favorite Office application has quickly become OneNote. With the stylus I can take natural handwritten notes, sketch out ideas, and convert handwritten notes to typed text automatically. The stylus works perfectly with the palm blocking technology allowing me to lay my hand on the screen as if I was writing on paper. OneNote comes with the Surface so even if you don’t have office you can enjoy this powerful application.

I have played video from services like YouTube and Netflix as well as run some graphics editing software on the tablet and it has performed flawlessly so far. I have not experienced any lag or lockups. As for Office I am writing this article on the Surface in Office 2013 saving directly to my OneDrive and the experience has been great. I take that back… one thing would true,y make this tablet a laptop replacement and that is a type cover. I have been using the onscreen keyboard however in writing this article just like when one I wrote on the iPad a few months ago an external keyboard is needed for prolonged typing tasks.

The Surface Pro 3 offers the best of both worlds a full Windows 8 Pro experience in a light portable tablet form factor. The smooth response and large crisp display are a joy to use and I would recommend this device to anyone who is looking to upgrade or replace the laptop they carry today with a sleek modern tablet. Be prepared for a slight learning curve with Windows 8.1 but don’t be afraid of it. Microsoft provides plenty of short 2-5 minute video tutorials to help you get started quickly.

Implementing Digital Signatures

Every business wants to be paperless. We spend an exceptional amount of time and money to get to that point where our forms and files are all generated and stored electronically then we print out a contract or other document that needs signed and suddenly we have paper again. Paper that needs to be scanned and filed both electronically and in a paper file. Sometimes even multiple copies of the signed document are made, further increasing the paper that has to be filed and maintained. This entirely defeats the benefits of “going digital.” When thinking about your paperless process it is important to also consider what processes might force a document to go from digital to physical. Signing documents is one of those processes. With a little planning you can implement digital signatures across your entire organization for internal documents as well as for agreements with clients and other 3rd parties with whom you do business.

Let’s look at an internal document for example such as an expense report that needs to be signed by both the employee and someone authorized to approve the expenses. The simplest way I can think of to sign this document would be to just insert an image of your signature and place it over the line saved for your signature if you had printed the report. This method also works well for letters and email signatures. What about for more important documents like a contract for example? Digital signatures created using a digital certificate add a number of features that ensure the security and integrity of a document. PDF documents are in my opinion the best type of document for this type of signature; however, Microsoft documents all support digital certificate signing. Here is how signing works with a PDF. Your chosen PDF reader has a tool for creating a digital signature also sometimes called a digital ID. There are a few steps involved that include selecting the digital certificate you want to use, adding text, and/or an image to your signature. Once your digital signature is created you can use it to sign almost any PDF document. After you sign the document the document is secured. Information about the certificate and how it can be verified are stored inside the document as well as when the signature was attached. From this point forward if there are any changes to the document the signature becomes invalidated and informs anyone who opens the file of that fact. PDF documents support multiple signatures without invalidating the other signatures on the document.

I mentioned a digital certificate. A digital certificate is a file that is stored on your computer or mobile device that uses a public and private key to encrypt data and verify the validity of the certificate. You can create self-signed certificates for testing using applications downloaded from the internet. Windows even has a server role you can install to set up your own certificate authority for creating these digital certificates. I recommend however that if you need a digital certificate you go to a company like VeriSign, Symantec, or Comodo and purchase one. When you purchase a certificate from one of these providers you go through a verification process to ensure that you are…well…you. This also provides a level of security for other parties to the contract who want to make sure you are the one signing.

While setting up your own digital identity and obtaining your own personal digital certificate is a great way to sign and secure documents, I highly recommend you set this up. Requiring that your clients get digital signatures might however provide a barrier to them doing business with you digitally. Happily, there is a solution — as a matter of fact there are multiple solutions in the form of cloud services that simplify the process for all parties involved. My personal favorite is DocuSign, but there are at least a dozen others from which to choose. With these services you just upload your document and set it up for digital signatures using their web interface. Then the service sends links to all parties involved who need to sign the document. Once everyone has signed another link is sent to allow everyone to download the fully signed and executed documents for their records. But that’s not all. The document is signed with a digital certificate securing it from future changes. The certificate is given a serial number that links back to DocuSign’s database that provides a complete audit trail of the entire process that can be admitted as evidence in court if the contract is ever disputed. Using a service like this requires no special tools, software, or certificates, removing the barriers to adopting digital signing to almost any signature process.

Electronically captured images of signatures and certificates are not the only way to digitally sign something. A record in a data base that includes some personally identifiable information and a field that attests true to your intent to sign an agreement is also considered a valid digital signature. For example, when you signed up for that iTunes account when you got your first I phone you had to enter information about yourself and click a button or check a check box saying you agreed to their terms of service. Apple recorded that personal information in a database along with a checkmark in a column that says you agreed to their terms of service. You might not have realized it but you signed a digital contract when you agreed to those terms and conditions by just clicking a button.

Digital signatures have been recognized by the federal government for nearly 15 years as valid and have since been proven time and again to hold up in court. It is time to take your business to the next level and begin implementing digital signatures into your paperless workflow so that you can stop printing and filing all that paper.