Get Rid of Faxes!

There are at least 10 good reasons to get rid of faxes.

1. They’re slow: Typical faxes transmit at 14.4 kbps, we’re talking up to 1 minute per page! Your typical “high-speed lite” package at home transmits at 1 Mpbs that’s 1,000 kbps. That’s almost seventy times (70x) faster! You can transmit a 1,000 page document in just a few minutes.  Think about how fast you can do it at work with a really fast connection?

2. They’re unreliable:  I’m told an industry standard acceptable error rate is about 5%.  That means 1 in 20 faxes will fail (either be cut off completely or be blurred or have solid black boxes blocking big chunks of the page). 5% error rate!  Think about it, you have a 30-page document you need to fax.  It takes say 20 minutes to send, but fails. So you have to start over and stand at the fax machine for another 20 minutes!

3. They’re 50 year-old technology for goodness sake! The first fax machine that plugged into a standard phone jack was introduced in 1966,  “…a unit that would truly set the standard for fax machines for years to come.”  The principals and the technology haven’t changed much in that time. And to be honest the transmissions speeds haven’t increased in 20+ years either!

4. They waste paper:  How many times have you typed up a Word doc, printed it, faxed it, then thrown the printout in the shredder?  Couldn’t you have just sent the original Word doc?  Not to mention the person on the other end is still likely getting a printed version.

5. Email attachment anyone?  Think about how long it takes to just send an email with an attachment, word doc, photo, PDF any combination?  Not long at all, and the recipient gets the docs in their inbox at their desk – or their mobile device these days. Seconds usually.  You can add delivery and read receipts to get confirmation that the docs arrived.

6. Telephony has moved on – so should fax:  We now have VOIP (Voice Over IP)! Phone providers and business are moving their old analog and “digital” phone systems over to VOIP. one down side – you can’t plug an ordinary fax machine into a VOIP line. Another down-side?  FOIP (Fax Over IP) is difficult to configure at the best of times and completely unreliable at the worst. The standards have not kept up with the underlying technologies and why should it?  I can email the doc way faster!

7. An electronic document is just as acceptable in a court as a printed fax:  People used to be concerned that in a court of law, only a real pen signature on a real paper document is acceptable proof of a binding contract etc.  We’ll in Canada and many other countries around the world, there is case-law to show that an electronic version of a document is perfectly acceptable.

8. They’re not secure:  While more secure than a plain unencrypted email, faxes aren’t perfect, they’re not encrypted and anyone with a fax machine and a couple alligator clips could tap your line and get the data. The only reason it’s more secure is because I have to have physical access to that phone line (I can’t snoop it from across the world over the internet).

9. They waste. A lot:  I print the document, I fax the document, your fax machine prints it, you sign it, you fax it back my fax machine prints the document. we now have 3 copies of the document printed.  That’s triple the paper and triple the toner needed. But don’t forget the power wasted on the fax machine running 24×7. What about the extra phone line(s) needed to connect that old fax hog up?

10.They’re expensive:  This goes back to the waste. Paper, Toner, Scanner bulbs, Fuser assembly, phone line monthly fees, power consumption. What did I miss?

I can show you a half-dozen ways that you can exchange documents, yes even critical and private ones, with your business partners that cost less, are more secure, are traceable, are faster, and are easier to use.

Resolved: Office 365 and Active Sync for Mobile Devices

Quick recap:

You’ll recall some time ago we had a client who was experiencing issues with Office 365 and Active Sync.  Well the issue did get worse, eventually it was affecting our own users, but less often and less severely.

The quick fixes we previously posted, were quick, but only temporary.

It took several weeks of back-and-forth, mostly because the issue was intermittent. I had to do much logging with devices and sending those logs to MS operations team for review.  Eventually they did find a reason and issued a patch to the application.  My understanding is this was a global issue and the patch was applied to everyone.

A key takeaway for us at WorkAround in this situation is communication.  We often recommend Office 365 to our clients as a robust, powerful office solution, but it’s important to remember that when the service is down, or throwing bugs, we the admins, have deferred control over the problem resolution to the upstream provider (in this case Microsoft). That said, we have less sway to achieving resolution to the problem, it’s certainly not in our direct control.  So we must communicate with the client before hand that this will be the case. Furthermore during an outage we must keep the client abreast of all we are doing, and ensure communications channels with the upstream provider are strong.

Thanks to Microsoft for working to a satisfactory resolution on this issue.

Server monitoring

WorkAround hosts several mission critical client/server systems and web sites. As a hosting provider, we need to know immediately if those sites are unavailable so that we can determine if a server issue is causing the problem. How do we do this?

We currently use Pingdom to remotely monitor our servers. Pingdom offers several critical features:

  1. Protocol based ping tests to verify a server is responding
  2. Storage of response time for each ping

Using this information, WorkAround administrators can be notified quickly if a server fails to respond and we can determine if performance degradation is occurring over time to see if emergency maintenance might be required (before a terminal failure occurs).

Another useful thing that a big cloud service like Pingdom can do is to geographically test your site from various points around the world. If you roll your own ping tester, this is more difficult to accomplish. It may be very important to your web site operations if it’s not accessible from a specific geography.

If you’re not hosting with us, you can still use Pingdom to monitor your own web sites. Don’t let your clients tell you your web site is down: monitor it yourself using the power of the Cloud.

Office 365 and Active Sync for Mobile Devices

Some clients have been having issues (especially on their Blackberry’s) with getting their emails from Office 365.

The Problem

Randomly, but fairly frequently, email stops flowing to your mobile device from your Exchange Active Sync account on Office 365.  Your device will prompt you to re-enter your password.  It’s a minor nuisance to re-enter your password every couple days but as long as you get prompted it’s not a horrible issue.

The worse problem is that on BB10 devices, the prompt could take hours to come!  At the time of this writing my Android device prompted for my new password about 8 hours ago, my BB10 device has not prompted me yet!

The (Potential) Solution

I found this quick fix on a blackberry message board which seems to be working so far, but it only applies to BB10 devices.

If your mail server setting defaulted to m.outlook.com when BB ‘set up” the account,

  1. go into the email account settings (from the settings icon) open your email account,
  2. select the advanced set up icon at the bottom of the screen (beside the trash icon)
  3. scroll down to server address change it to outlook.office365.com

In early testing this seems to be causing fewer drops in connectivity.

Let me know if this works for you, and let me know if you have any other insight on these nuisance dropsies.

Note: on my  Android device the server was correctly set to outlook.office355.com and that account still drops, however my other O365 account it set to pod12345.outlook.com (where 12345 is a 5-digit number I didn’t feel like going to look up again right now) and it has not been affected with the dropsies.  I don’t recommend you change your server setting to the pod server because this is an old setting and I don’t believe it’s supported any longer.

How I Got Phished

Yes, it’s true, it happened to me.  I got phished.  In my defense, it was late at night and I wasn’t paying close attention to what I was doing. And in that moment of carelessness my password was compromised.

Wikipedia defines phishing as:

Phishing is attempting to acquire information (and sometimes, indirectly, money) such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing emails may contain links to websites that are infected with malware.

Phishing scams are extremely common, and in fact spam filters stop the majority of them from even getting to our inbox.

So I took the bait late one night in the following fashion: I was online, socializing, surfing. I got an email which appeared to come from a legitimate photo sharing website (on which I have an account as do several of my friends and family) that said “someone” had shared some photos with me. Here’s clue # 1: it didn’t say who just “someone” the real site is specific about who is sharing the photos in order to prevent spam. So I clicked on the link to see the photos.  Clue #2: the log in page was very similar to the normal log in page for this website – but it was just a little different.  I actually thought to myself “hmm, I wonder why the log in page is different than usual?”

Clue #3: I proceed to enter my username and password and they failed (no biggie, sometimes late at night my fingers can’t keep up with my brain and I mistype stuff) so I tried again and the password still failed.  Now I check for Clue #4:  the website I’m on is not actually “www.photosharingsite.com” but “www.photosharingsite.com.you.are.being.phished” (actual URLs changed to protect the innocent  – but you get the picture).  So you can see how on first glance it looks like I’m on “photosharingsite.com” but I’m really not.

How to recover from a phishing attempt

So how is it I survived to write this cautionary tale for you?  So after two failed log in attempts it took me about 2.3 seconds to realize that I’d been phished.  So I closed my browser to leave that page and make sure it’s not doing more naughty things (such as collecting cookies or keystrokes), cleared my cache, including cookies, opened a new browser and went directly to the legitimate “photosharingsite.com” logged in and changed my password.  Then for the next couple of days I tested that log in and my activity to make sure the breach wasn’t exploited.

If you have been phished immediately do the following:

  1. If your password was compromised, then log in to the legitimate site and change the password right away.
  2. If you use the same password in multiple places, then change them in all those places.
  3. If you gave up financial information, notify your bank, the government and credit bureaus right away.  There are several tools that they use to prevent identity theft and fraud that will help protect you.
  4. If you gave up health info then notify your health insurance provider and your local health authority in order to prevent identity theft or medical fraud.

What did I learn from this exciting adventure?

  1. Never, never, never open a link you receive in email!  If you think that’s a bit excessive, talk to any security expert and the majority will tell you they never open a link they receive in their email (or Instant Messages for that matter).
  2. Use different passwords for all your accounts. I know this sounds crazy because I have several dozen accounts all over the web. But luckily for me the password I used at this photo sharing site was unique, so I only needed to change it once.  If it was the same password I use everywhere, then I’d have to change my password at dozens of sites.
  3. Never, never, never, give up personal information (especially health or financial information) online.  Your bank, your doctor and the government already have all that info, they don’t need it again and they won’t ask for it. So if you’re being asked, it’s likely a phishing scam.
  4. If you’re going to ignore rule #1, (but don’t because that’s how you get viruses too!)  firstly be extra sure you trust the sender (an email with your banks logo is not enough to trust).  Then, before you click, hover over the link to see the true address it links to: most browsers and mail clients it comes up at the bottom of the window.  Make sure that link goes to where it says it does.  Finally Triple check the link you end up at before entering any info.  That is, check the address bar of your browser, not just the link in the email message.

One moment of carelessness caused me about 2 hours of grief and that was just over a simple photo sharing site.  If I had given away personally identifiable information, especially financial info, I could have been in for months of grief to ensure my identity and my finances were intact.

Server Maintenance This Weekend

We have a planned server maintenance occurring this weekend. From Friday March 15 10:00 PM to Saturday March 16, 2:00 am one of our servers will be undergoing service updates to improve stability and performance.

Due to the maintenance some of our customer’s servers may be inaccessible for up to 30 minutes during this window. Impacted customers have been notified by email. If for any reason this will be pose a problem for your business please notify us immediately so we can take measures to mitigate any impact this may have.

Thanks

Office 365 – Ask Us How

 

Collaboration in the cloud

  • Be more professional…
  • Be more productive
  • Be more efficient…
  • Save money…
  • Ensure Security…
office365

COLLABORATE BETTER

In many organizations, employees send documents as email attachments and then save and edit them on their local drive.  Keeping track of which computer holds the most recent version of a document can be a nightmare.  Information gets lost and changes are not tracked.  Information sharing in Office 365 is simplified across your organization with Microsoft SharePoint®.

WorkAround will help create a readily accessible team space for sharing and editing files by many people in different locations, by designing and deploying a custom online SharePoint site for your organization, based on your business structure.

In addition to sharing documents online, virtual meetings are easy with shared calendaring and audio, video, and onscreen sharing, allowing everyone to communicate more effectively with colleagues, partners, and customers.

LOOK PROFESSIONAL

Small businesses and professionals need a strong web presence that is easy to maintain.

WorkAround can assist you in designing a professional looking website. Using Office 365 tools we will help you create a site that better represents your company.   We will teach you how to maintain your website and keep it up-to-date with information to prevent your website from becoming stale.

In the past, smaller organizations have been limited by generic web-based email.  You can strengthen your company image with domain-based email that reflects your organization.  We will handle all the DNS registration and configuration to get you started.

WORK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW

You will be more productive using the tools you’ve grown accustomed to using. Work with all the full-featured functionality of the programs you’re already familiar with and use most often—including Microsoft Outlook®, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel®, and Microsoft PowerPoint®. Stay efficient with convenient access to your email, calendar, and contacts across multiple platforms and devices whether in the office or on the go.

WORK FROM VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE

Your employees are working remotely and they need important information that is readily available to them when working outside of the office environment.  They need consistent and easy access to the productivity tools and documents that are required to stay ahead of the competition.  With Office 365, they can view and edit documents using a PC or Mac across a broad range of browsers, or from a mobile device, including Windows® Phone, Symbian, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android.

SAVE MONEY

All these services are available in the cloud.  You no longer need to purchase new servers, update software and renew licenses.  For a low monthly fee, you remain up-to-date with the latest versions in a secure and easily accessible environment.

SECURITY

Office 365 invests in state-of-the-art security, reliability, and recovery technology to ensure that your files and messages are secure, your data is safe, and you are always able to access and work with your information. Office 365 offers

  • A guaranteed 99.9% uptime Service Level Agreement
  • Data centers with SAS 70 and ISO 27001 certification
  • Geo-redundant, enterprise-grade reliability and disaster recovery
  • Multiple data centers and automatic failovers to ensure your data is safeguarded
  • Up-to-date antivirus and anti-spam protection

 

We use Office 365

Contact us to get a free trial!

 

Domino Server 8.5 Tip

After having done several Domino Server 8.5.2/.3 installs/upgrades there is one fascinating little bug that comes up each and every time that I find myself having to search the web or Notes.net to find (each and every time).

The bug is this: you do the install all is working fine, then some time later either after system upgrades or some other routine restart (usually unmanned) the Domino server refuses to restart automatically.  You can start it manually usually with no  problem, but it doesn’t want to start automatically

The Official fix for it can be found on the IBM website.  But trust me, try this first:

  • open your notes.ini file
  • go to a new line at the end of the file
  • add these two entries (making sure they are not duplicates):

ServerController=1

TCPIP_ControllerTcpIpAddress=10.10.10.5:2050

  • Replace 10.10.10.5 with your server’s IP address
  • Do a full server restart to ensure Domino starts automatically

If that didn’t work, then follow the link above to ensure IP and firewall settings are all correct on your server.

Hope that was a helpful little tip.

Read about Michael G.

DNS Ownership

The Domain Name System (or DNS for short) is a simple technology that we use every day, but most people probably have little idea how it functions. Like any good infrastructure technology, it is invisible when it is working smoothly. Its main purpose is to translate simple names like www.workaround.ca into a lower level numeric address like 67.226.157.50.  DNS is a lot like associating a name with a street address. If I want to go to the CN Tower, I’m going to use the name (CN Tower) and not the address (301 Front St. W). Without this service, we would need to remember low level IP addresses and the usability of the world wide web would disappear.

One of the few times that you might need to worry about DNS is when registering your domain name for use on the Internet. Like any directory service, DNS works by requiring end users to register and maintain their own directory entries. There are two parts to managing a DNS entry:

  • Registering the name
  • Hosting the name

Registration of domain names is handled by large organizations such as ICANN and CIRA. In general, you will interface with these organizations through a second-tier organization that will handle the registration for you.

Hosting the domain name refers to actually having a server on the Internet that responds to requests for name translations. This can be done by a third-party company, or you can host a DNS server within your own infrastructure. For most small to medium companies, the additional overhead of managing an external DNS server and having to deal with security and denial of service issues isn’t cost effective. You will almost certainly use an external DNS hosting provider and that provider will amost certainly handle the registration for you.

One of the complications that can arise when working with an external web design firm, especially if they also host your web site, can come in the form of implicit DNS registration. In these cases, the web design firm may register your domain for you and essentially own that domain. You can determine if this is the case by doing a whois search on your own domain names. Someone from your organization must be the administrative contact for the domain, even if the technical contact is from an external company. This will allow you to control the administration and transfer of the domain, if necessary.

While outsourcing domain ownership can seem like less of a headache when you’re trying to get a new site onto the Internet quickly, it can be a major problem if you need to part ways with your provider down the road. One of the issues with DNS hosting is that your domain name system is responsible for more than your web site. DNS services are also potentially used for e-mail delivery, server auto-discovery, or SMB services offered by Google or Microsoft. In addition, domain control is usually required if you need to obtain security certificates for secure access to your web servers. If another company has control of your domain registration and hosting, it can cause problems or delays if you need to make changes to these settings.

For this reason, we recommend our clients always register and host their own DNS entries through a trusted DNS hosting company that is not tied to a specific web design partner. This gives them maximum flexibility if they need to switch design firms or hosting companies.

If your web design partner currently owns your domains, you should have them transferred to a third-party DNS hosting company to avoid future problems with domain control and ownership. This is usually a painless process and your current provider should not obstruct this move. Your domains are your property and possession is nine tenths of the law. Due to built-in protections for domain ownership and to prevent fraud and domain hijacking, it can be a long process to get control of your own domains without co-operation from the current owner.

Once you do have control over your own DNS registrations and hosting, ensure:

  • You maintain your own passwords and access to DNS modifications. If your DNS provider allows you delegate access to your domains, that’s great. Otherwise, don’t give up your credentials to a third party.
  • Make sure you renew your domains when they are up for expiry. This means you should always make sure the contact information in your whois record is up to date and accurate. You should receive notification e-mails when your domains are up for renewal.

DNS is largely invisible if it is set up properly and maintained on an annual basis. With some small upfront effort, you can ensure that your domains operate smoothly when changes are required.

Upgrading to Domino 8.5.3

If you’re currently running domino 8.5.x, you may not be surprised to know that 8.5.3 was made available in October.  What may be surprising is the number of fixes in this version: 1,227!  IBM has been diligently working to improve the stability and performance of the 8.5.x platform. Also note, if you installed 8.5.2 and did not do any fix-pack updates, there have been several released with a total of 537 fixes among them.  So between the first version of 8.5.2 and 8.5.3 there have been a total of 1,764 fixes published.  Chances are we have all run into a least a few of these problems.

From what I’ve seen at most of my client sites, the Notes Client 8.5.2 is relatively stable in most cases. However, like most software, it is still prone to occasional hangs, crashes or performance issues.  I’ll give you a quick synopsis of the enhancements in 8.5.3, but you can always get a full list of fixes and enhancements from IBM.

iNotes

A large number of stability and performance improvements were made around iNotes. For those shops that are using iNotes on 8.5.2, you will definitely want to upgrade as soon as possible to take advantage of a faster, more stable environment on both the server and clients.

Mail and Calendar

A large number of usability and stability issues addressed in the Notes mail and calendar functions. Most of them are small UI tweaks to improve usability or fixes to what I would call very specific (read: uncommon) issues, but there are still several fixes that will impact all users.  There are fixes to the recipient type-ahead feature, especially where it would come up with no matches or too many matches incorrectly.

Server/HTTP Server

Most importantly, in my opinion are the host of fixes to the server and HTTP server to address a wide range of scenarios that can cause the server to hang or crash (as developers, these tend to affect us more often, but nobody likes to see lost work due to a crash).  The stability fixes for the web server focus on rich-text and image processing on the web (especially user-fields) which in some cases would cause server crashes or loss of data for the affected user.

Developers

If you’re a Notes/Domino developer like me, you’ll be happy to know that the new designer has many improvements to usability and performance.  My personal pet-peeve has been the dreaded “Compiling Workspace” when I’m working on a remote server.  I’ve had that lovely process churn for an hour plus while my developer and client are locked up.  Sadly, there was no specific fix to this issue, but there were a number of other “performance” related issues that were addressed and should improve overall performance and usability in the Domino Designer (especially the eclipse IDE).

Conclusion

We recommend our clients move up to 8.5.3 in the short term as everyone will see performance and stability improvements across the board.  We especially recommend the upgrade to our clients with iNotes, and heavy web integration (user forms with rich text, images), or who have been experiencing performance issues in mail/calendar/contacts.

To help you decide how soon you want to upgrade take stock of the following:

  •          Is your office using iNotes?
  •          Do you have significant web integration with user forms (especially with rich-text and images to upload/download)?
  •          Do you hear a lot of “Notes just crashed again”, or “hang on a sec, I’m rebooting”?
  •          Mail, calendaring and scheduling and contacts are just plain buggy in your current version?

Every install is different but in most cases we can perform a backup, install and base testing in just a matter of a few hours. A few hours which, long-term, can save hours of productivity for you and your team.  Contact us now and we will be happy to prepare your quote to upgrade to Notes/Domino 8.5.3.