I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Technology is constantly changing. Hardware that was considered top of the line last year, in many cases, would not be considered obsolete. Most of us utilize technology on a daily basis to help us organize our day, give us directions, stay in touch with friends and family, etc., etc., and everyone always gets excited to own the “newest” piece of hardware whether it’s a car, compute, cell phone, or appliance.
How many of us stop and consider, however, if the software running those devices is the most current?
Software also changes, sometimes faster than the hardware it runs. Using out of date software can create all kinds of security concerns in networks, PC’s, cell phones, and other devices, yet very few people even pause to consider this when using the devices that have become so interconnected with our daily lives.
Recently, a security seminar pointed out several potential issues regarding software that people use on a daily basis. Included in this presentation were a variety of software and applications that are commonly used by many people today, including:
Windows Operating Systems
PC and web tools
In this article, I want to go over some of the more popular common operating systems and applications, and also explain what the risks are and how to make sure you are using the most current version of the software or application.
1.) Windows Operating Systems
Many of you may already know that Microsoft ceased supporting the old and reliable Windows XP operating system back in April, 2014. What many may not realize, is that Microsoft also stopped its extended support for its Vista operating system in April of this year. While some updates are still available, beginning in 2018, Vista will go the same way as XP and cease being a supported software package.
What this means is that it will no longer receive the updates it needs to stay current with changing computer technology. This can lead to dangerous vulnerabilities to malware and other nefarious applications.
The most current Windows operating system is Windows 10, with Windows 7 also still being supported. If you use the old XP or Vista operating systems, now is a good time to look at upgrading.
2). Web Browsers
Most people have a preferred browser when they surf the internet, (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Explorer are the three most popular). These browsers also receive updates, just like your Windows Operating System, but very few people know this, or even know how to check which version they are on.
The current versions of the most popular browsers are:
Google Chrome: Version 61.0.3163.59
Mozilla Firefox: Version 55.0.2 (Version 56 currently in BETA)
Microsoft Edge (Windows 10): Version 40.16170.1000.0
Internet Explorer: Version 11.0.45
Apple Safari: Version 10.1.2
Apple Safari for Windows: Version 5.1.7
There are countless other browsers out there. If the one you use is not listed above, you can see a list of current browsers at https://www.webdevelopersnotes.com/latest-browser-versions .
So, how do you know if you are using the most up to date version of a browser? Each browser has its own way to check, but they all tend to follow a similar path, usually through a “Tools” or “Help” menu. Check these two places first and search for an “About <Browser Name>” option. This will usually list the current version of the browser in use, and in many cases, offer to an option to update the browser to the most current version. In some cases, if you have missed a large number of updates, attempting to update the browser may fail, in which case, you will probably have to reinstall the application.
If you are unsure about this process, contact a technology professional for assistance. In most cases, the process of re-installation can be completed in a matter of minutes.
3). Bluetooth and Cellular Operating Systems
We all use it to connect to our music libraries or to integrate wireless keyboards to tablets and cell phones. Bluetooth is even offered in newer PC’s, Laptops, and Netbooks. This technology was designed to allow for wireless communication across a wide variety of devices, but as such, it also created security risks that are addressed in each subsequent version of the application software. If the software in use is not the most current, you could be leaving yourself open to a security breach, and with the level of inter-connectivity between cellular devices and network computers, this could be devastating on both a corporate and/or personal level.
In most PC’s and laptops with this technology, the manufacturers usually have proprietary software that maintains and updates the BT software automatically, but there’s never any harm in double checking. Depending on the manufacturer, it could be as simple as opening an application, or it may take a quick call to the manufacturer support center for guidance.
For cellular devices, it can be a little more complicated. Most big carriers, (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T) will include auto updates on their phones for the extent of the contract, but some of the “secondary carriers” (Boost, Virgin Mobile, Cricket) may only allow updates for a certain period of time, up to a certain version, and then stop. (They do this to get you into the stores to buy new phones). In either event, these updates usually require that you restart your cellular device to complete, or initiate the updating process. Many times, the sales associates at the cellular store neglect to inform consumers of this fact, which can lead to outdated software on smart phones, and creating security vulnerabilities.
A good rule of thumb is to power off/restart your cellular device at least once a month to trigger potential updates. (When was the last time you restarted your cellphone?).
Again, most settings can be located in your cellular device, but the path to that information varies by device, so your best bet would be to contact the manufacturer, or cellular provider for step-by-step instructions on how to verify the version of applications.
The most current cellular Operating Systems are:
Android: Version 8.0 (Oreo)
Apple IOS: Version 11.0.1
Both of these operating systems have the most current version of the Bluetooth Application included in their support.
Now before you start to panic, understand that the cellular industry, like the computer industry provides updates and support for older versions of their operating systems, so if you are not running one of the two aforementioned operating systems on your smart phone, it does not necessarily put you at risk, these are simply the most current versions of these systems, available on the newest phones. Many previous versions of the Operating Systems are still supported for older devices. If in doubt, contact your cellular provider to see if your phone, and it's included software are still supported.
In the case of Bluetooth, if you are running version 1.18 (Android) or 9.3.5 (Apple), or newer, you’re okay. If you are unsure on how to check, contact or stop in at your cellular provider for assistance.
I’ve only touched on the primary Operating Systems, popular browsers, and Cellular Operating Systems/Bluetooth here, but as a general rule, it is always good to be running the most up to date version of any application on your computing device. Most applications have an option in their user interface to automatically check for these updates and users should make sure this option is enabled. For other applications that do not offer this automated option, it’s a good practice to check for updates at least once a month.
As with anything in the tech field, if you are unsure how to proceed, contact an expert for assistance.
The Holiday shopping season has officially arrived and that imminent tradition known as Black Friday is fast approaching. Over my lifetime, the concept of “Black Friday” has become almost as important as the holidays it precedes.
If you look at the all the add papers that come out this time of year, (and believe me, there are a LOT of them), inevitably, retailers will have electronics deals listed prominently within these adds. These pages will show the item and advertise it at a ridiculously low price. A $750 laptop for $299 – What a deal! But is it really?
If you’re like me, shopping for new expensive electronics is something that only happens when there’s a sale. If any of you know me from these articles, I am not one to pay full price for anything if I can help it. At the same time, I want things that are going to last, and in the world of electronics, that can be a difficult blend to accomplish, so, here is a list of five things to consider when shopping for electronics this Christmas.
1. Be pragmatic:
The “newest thing” is not always the best thing, and these new “Ultra HD, 4K, Super-duper, high definition doodads, while gorgeous to look at in the showroom, are not really all they’re hyped up to be. At least, not yet. For those of you old enough: Remember the $600 VCR?
I’m not saying the UHD/4K picture isn’t amazing, it is! But when you take into consideration the fact that less than 10% of all television is actually filmed in Ultra HD, and most blue-ray discs are not produced in UHD (yet), the additional expense isn’t really worth it yet. As far as shopping is concerned, you can get more screen for your dollar by staying with standard HD TV’s for the near future. Aside from the fact that a 40” UHD TV costs about as much as a 65” Standard HD. I don't know abhout you, but I want the bigger screen.
2. Do your research:
Everyone knows Toshiba, Sanyo, and JVC, but how many of you have heard of Kinyo, Onida, or Vizio? What’s really funny is that some, (not all, hence the “research” part) are actually subsidiaries of the well-known brands and use the same components as their “name brand” counterparts. Yet, these “off brands” sell virtually the same items at a substantial discount. Add that to the big Black Friday deals and you can get a real steal. Don’t shy away from a brand you’ve never seen before, look them up. For example: Kinyo is a subsidiary of Sanyo, and the two companies use the same components in things like personal stereos, clocks, and TV’s. Don’t pay for a label!
3. Smart TV's vs. "Dumb" TV's
Smart TV'sa are all over the place now, with various enhancements to connect you to various streaming services like Netflix, HULU, and countless other providers. Be sure you know what you have so you can be sure you know what to get and shop with confidence. In some cases, you can get something with fewer bells and whistles and more screen size for less money. Get only what you need and you'll get more bang for your buck!
4. Inspect the merchandise.
Wherever possible, you want to be able to closely look at the item in question. Yes, good images can help, but pictures can only tell you so much. Whether it’s Desktops, laptops, TV’s, Stereos, Car speakers, take the time to really look at what you’re buying. In the case of personal PC’s and laptops, this can be especially important. That $250 bargain may feel like a great deal in the beginning, but if it’s not built well, that great deal might become a frustrating paperweight if it breaks in the first week. Here are some things to look for:
A. How’s it built?
Inspect the casing that holds the components. Yes, I know, you want it to be aesthetically pleasing, but pick it up, hold it, does it feel flimsy? Can you hear anything rattling around in it? Hold it from the end and give it a gentle (EMPHASIS ON GENTLE!) twist. Does the case give easily? Do the optical drives or interfaces feel loose or "chintzy". Floor units are set out for just this purpose. If you pick up a display model and hear things rattling around inside, chances are you want to pass on it. If it can’t survive the showroom, chances are it won’t survive your second cousin, Herman, who is three years old and hyper.
B. Can it adapt?
Technology is constantly changing and current tech needs to be adaptable and change with the times. One thing to keep in mind when looking at TV's, Laptops, and PC’s. Many units are now “sealed” units which means they cannot be upgraded or repaired. What you get is what you get and that’s it. Some laptops, smart TV's and “All-In-One” PC units tend to fall in this category more-so than traditional "tower" desktops, but in an industry where the capabilities are constantly improving, this is like using a wheel chock at a drag race. Now, if you’re one of those consumers who likes to purchase a new PC every couple years or so, this probably wouldn’t big a big deal. Just remember, the goal of purchasing any computing device is to make sure you can get at least 5 good years of service out of it. If you’re like me, then the average lifespan is closer to 10 years, but that requires being able to upgrade, so, I need unsealed units I can upgrade.
C. What stats should I look for in a personal PC?
I get this one all the time. When I start shopping, I first look for my top three: Processor, Hard Drive, and RAM.
The processor is the heart of the PC and in most cases, there are only two major players, AMD and Intel, (I will not even discuss Apple products here).
Remember what I was saying about off brands? AMD and Intel use the same processes to create their product. They are, in essence, the same thing, but PC’s with AMD Processors tend to be around 10% less expensive than their Intel counterparts.
You’ve all seen the Intel adds for the Core i5 or Core i7 processors, and that means each processor has a unit, or ‘core’ within it. The more ‘Cores’, the better the performance. Think of it like lifting a heavy piece of furniture. The more people you have the easier it is to move it. Same for Core’s, so An AMD A-8 can process more than an AMD A-4.
Also, many times people see 2.8 mHz or 3.4 mHz. Again, higher is always better, but this doesn’t play as big a part in the process as other options. A good PC will have a multicore processor around the 2.5 – 3.5 mHz range.
How much stuff do you have? Do you surf the web a lot, but that’s it, or are you a media aficionado with a vast library of music, movies, and TV shows? Whatever your pleasure, all that data needs to go somewhere, and this is where. Most good laptops will come with a decent size hard drive, (Usually 500 Gigabytes or better). Problem is: How do you tell? Is 500 GB better than 1 TB? Here’s the best thing to keep in mind when deciding this: Most files sizes nowadays are measured in Megabytes (MB) or Gigabytes (GB). So for reference, look at it this way:
1000 Megabytes (MB) = 1 Gigabyte (GB)
1000 Gigabytes (GB) = 1 Terabyte (TB)
1000 Terabytes (TB) = 1 Petabyte (PB)
The bigger the capacity, the more you can store on it.
I saved this for last, but this is one of the most important aspects when choosing a PC. RAM (short for Random Access Memory) is the part of the PC that runs everything, so more is always better! Currently, a lot of manufacturers advertise bargain units with 2-4 Gigabytes of RAM. A PC/Laptop with 4 GB is alright, but if you like to surf, game, watch movies, then you may find a PC with only 4 GB lacking, however, (and this is where having an unsealed unit comes in handy), additional RAM is relatively inexpensive and can be installed with little hassle. For example: Two PC’s sit side by side, with all numbers matching, but the one with 8 GB of RAM is $150 more. Do you spend the extra $150? Heck no! You save the extra $150, then purchase additional RAM for around $60 and have a PC better than the one asking an additional $150 and you’ve saved $70!
Optional: Video/Graphics Card:
If, like me, you are an avid gamer, or you use your PC as a second entertainment center for music and video, then a graphics card is something you need to consider. Does the unit you are purchasing have a separate graphics card or GPU? Most PC’s come with “integrated graphics” which is fine for most uses, and is usually hard wired as a part of the motherboard on the PC, but the ability to add a stand-alone graphics card is another way people squeeze a few more years out of their computers or improve performance in this area.
This is one area where I tell people to really take a close look at how they use their computers. PC’s with high graphics/audio capability tend to be a little more on the pricy side, because they also tend to be more specialized units. Additionally, upgrades can also be costly, and sometimes the price of a graphics card can eliminate any benefit of selecting a less expensive unit to upgrade, so really consider carefully before purchasing.
If you decide to look for a PC with higher quality graphics, or you’re in the market for an upgrade, the same rule applies here as for processors. Take a look at the capacity of the unit, again, higher is better, and refer to the scale above when making the decision.
5. Ask Questions
By far the most common thing I get when I ask "Why did you buy this?" is a variation on "The salesmen said it was a good deal."
"Okay, fine, explain to me how this was a good deal?" is my standard response and then I get the same look as a deer in my headlights, just before, you know...
Many people are afraid that they will look or sound ignorant if they ask questions about the electronics they purchase. The suggestion that an individual is not "up to speed" in the latest technical jargon, available services, or the latest technologies, is somehow sub par with humanity is ridiculous.
I have been working with tech since the mid nineteen eighties and I can honestly tell you that I'm not always up to speed with everything out there. Ask questions, and don't settle for technobabble or geek speak. My favorite add-on to my opening question is this:
"In words of one syllable, that your grandmother will understand, please explain <inset question here>."
Don't worry about being stand-offish, or appearing difficult. You're spending your hard earned cash on this stuff, you have a right to be informed.
By the same token, for all of you tech sales people out there. You are not Tech Gods and even though its expected, it isn't possible for you to know everything about every product out there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying:
"I'm not sure, let's see if we can find out."
Unless you are a money grubbing commission sales shark, being willing to do this shouldn't be a problem.
Hopefully, this information will help you find a bargain for yourself or that special geeky someone this holiday season, and as I always say: If you are unsure of how to proceed, be sure to ask a professional for help.
Happy shopping, and have a safe and Happy Holidays!