Friday, December 24, 2010

Getting Started with Verizon CaaS SMB

Verizon is using a VMware-hosted service by Terremark which enables you to set up virtual Windows and Linux servers with just a web browser. Fees are charged per resource used such as disk storage, RAM and Internet ports, and can cost about $100 per server per month.

Get more information and sign up here:

McAfee Firewall Profiler v2 offers new analysis features

McAfee's Firewall Enterprise v8 offers some impressive new features that can make analyzing your network applications traffic easier for IT staffs. In this video, I show you how to troubleshoot some common problems and using the Profiler graphical interface, zero in on how to fix them. You can download a free trial here:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Managing your network with Quest Foglight NMS

Foglight does real-time performance monitoring for a wide variety of network devices and can capture traffic data too. It is easy to install and setup. Pricing averages $25,000 for most enterprises, with additional cost modules available for distributed networks and Cisco VoIP monitoring.
Quest Software
(800) 306-9329

Using Symantec's VIP Authentication Service

VeriSign Identity Protection services provide a simple means of two-factor authentication for a wide variety of purposes such as email and Web logins and network remote access. They make use of both existing hardware credentials as well as newer software credentials that are available on a wide variety of smartphones.
Pricing is based on volume, typically around $7 to $12 per user per

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Running legacy apps on Windows 7 using InstallFree

InstallFree 7Bridge can virtualize and isolate applications from the rest of your desktop, so you can run older, legacy apps on more modern operating systems.

InstallFree 7Bridge
Pricing: $25 per endpoint with the first application included, additional applications are encapsulated by InstallFree at $5,000 per application plus an18% annual support/maintenance contract. There is also an enterprise edition that includes the ability to encapsulate your own applications. Volume discounts available.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Using applications whitelisting with CoreTrace Bouncer

CoreTrace has a new software-only version 6 that provides solid endpoint protection by only allowing vetted applications to run across your enterprise. There are agents for all 32-bit versions of Windows since 2000 and 64-bit Windows 7 and Server 2008.
CoreTrace Bouncer
Pricing begins at $35 per endpoint

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New features of Symantec Backup Exec 2010

Symantec has a new R2 version of its Backup Exec 2010 backup software that is easier to install, quicker to make backups, and a raft of new features that include better support for virtualization, archiving, and deduplication.

Symantec Corporation
Mountain View, Calif.
Pricing: $1174 for one media server, deduplication and archiving options extra

Thursday, August 12, 2010

PC Management with KACE Appliances

The Dell Kace appliances are used to manage, control and deploy desktop system images that contain user files and applications and to do PC inventory and audits.

Dell Kace 1000 Systems Management Appliance

Dell Kace 2000 Systems Deployment Appliance
$4500 for 100 nodes, additional nodes $13
$39,000 for unlimited nodes

Dell/Kace Systems Management Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Running IE v6 on Windows 7 with Symantec Workspace Virtualization

If you are looking for a way to run IE v6 on Windows 7 desktops, take a look at Symantec’s Endpoint Virtualization technologies. The software includes two different modules that are free of charge, including Workspace Virtualization administration and the Browser Selector tools. They are fairly simple to setup and flexible enough to isolate individual applications from the host Windows 7 OS.
Symantec Endpoint Virtualization
Entry level pricing starts at $45 per node

Friday, July 23, 2010

Three minutes to data loss protection with Blue Coat

Blue Coat DLP Appliance
410 N Mary Avenue
Sunnyvale CA 94085
Price: 250 users starts at $12,000 + $34 software licenses subscription per user

Data loss protection is still an evolving field, but Blue Coat brings a comprehensive solution that can be quickly configured to stop leaks of confidential data to unauthorized users. Is your data leaving with employees that are getting downsized? Is your customer list now the property of one of your competitor's? The Blue Coat DLP Appliance can detect when critical information is being copied from your network to a Web mail account, or placed inside a document that is emailed as an attachment, even over an encrypted connection or hidden inside a compressed file ZIP archive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The revolution will be televised

Those of us growing up in the 1960s might remember the song by Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not be Televised. If you read over his lyrics, you will see lots of cultural references to the era. Remember, Vietnam was our first televised war. Before we had the Internet, we all watched the evening network news and could see the daily battles, body counts, and see for ourselves what was happening half a world away. It was a transformative media moment.

While it wasn't live, it was very powerful TV. We had the full filtering and editing prowess of the network TV news organizations, with reporters on the ground and editors back in New York to package it neatly into 22-minute programs. We had Uncle Walter and Chet and David to tell us what was the significance of what we were seeing, and we had a simple us-versus-them war (which we lost big time, by the way). How simple those days seem now.

This week we witnessed another transformative moment, using the Internet and live streaming technology as another weapon. This time we are seeing events from the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as a group of boats were stopped by Israeli military on their way to try to break the Gaza blockade. The flotilla came well prepared, not with traditional weaponry but with TV cameras and Web uplinks to broadcast what was going on to the world at

The site is a tool that anyone with a Webcam and a broadband Internet connection can quickly become their own broadcaster, and the site carries thousands of live video feeds all day long.

Max Haot, Livestream’s co-founder said in the New York Times that he thought about whether to censor the live flotilla video but decided not to do so. He thought the Gaza flotilla was “a controversial but genuine humanitarian mission.” Still, he found himself thinking that his company needed policies in place to handle live videos of conflicts in the future. “After the events unfolded, I spent most of my Monday wondering if we had helped terrorists or a great humanitarian cause.”

Part of the issue was that we could watch the scene unfiltered, yet we still don't really know what happened. Were the flotilla organizers humanitarian aid workers or terrorists with a very clever propaganda agenda? Who attacked whom? Was the concrete and steel being carried by the flotilla going to be used in Gaza to protect civilians or store munitions? What we do know is that at least nine people were killed during the raid. What we don't know is how many Gazans and Israelis die every day because of the sad circumstances there. What we forget is that Gaza is run by a group that doesn't even want to acknowledge Israel's existence. The deeper that I and anyone else dug into this, the more unanswered questions I came away with.

Perhaps as the other journalists who were on the boats can tell their stories we can assemble a more complete picture. (The Israelis confiscated their equipment shortly after they boarded the boats.) But one thing is clear: Wars will be fought in real-time in the future, with world-wide audiences. In the words of Scott-Heron, "You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out."

"[Israel] may be a start up nation, but we are bricks and mortar communicators. Our adversaries have control-alt-deleted us," writes Amir Mizroch, the executive editor of The Jerusalem Post, in Wired:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making the move to Windows 7

If you are still running XP on your desktop, like me, you may be thinking about upgrading to Windows 7. XP is getting long in the tooth, many newer programs (especially those from Microsoft) aren't easy to run on it without a lot of effort, and you can't upgrade Internet Explorer if you are interested in sticking with Microsoft for your Web browsing.

Of course, you may just want to stick with XP until your aging PC emits its last dying gasp and then just buy a new PC with Win7 already on it. That can be fine for some people.

But if you do want to upgrade, Microsoft doesn't make it easy. The only way you can install Windows 7 is to wipe your disk clean and start with a fresh install. While this is appealing in a spring-cleaning sort of way, it may not be what you want to do. What they call an "in-place upgrade" – meaning that you can preserve your files, your applications, and your other customized settings – will only work if you are upgrading from Vista.

I have tested six different products that enable this migration directly from XP to Win7, and each has its good and bad points. Which product will work for you depend on a few different factors. Two of them are ideal for single PCs, or maybe up to ten individual PCs, but not for bulk migrations if you are planning on doing this across your entire corporation. These are Zinstall ($89) and Laplink's PCmover ($20 to $60). I was initially attracted to Zinstall because it offers a very elegant solution: you create an XP virtual machine that can be summoned at the push of a button while running Win7 on your desktop. Inside this VM, you can add new apps or do anything that you would do with your regular XP PC. The only problem is that instead of running two operating systems I ended up running a useless piece of metal with no operating systems, because of something that was wrong with Zinstall's install. Laplink's software converts things as you would expect, so you can't go back to XP once you have done the upgrade.

The other four tools are Microsoft's Windows Automated Installation Kit (free), the Dell/Kace Kbox 2100 hardware appliance ($4500 for 100 PCs), Viewfinity User Migration (free while in beta), and Prowess' SmartDeploy ($2000 per enterprise-wide license). Each of them has similar processes, because you aren't really keeping XP around, just the hardware it is running on. The trick is preserving enough of your user's footprints to make it feel like home. They work as follows:

• The tools start out with a fresh copy of Windows 7 as a master image.
• The entire machine is reimaged with Windows 7 -- just without you having to sit in front of it while the bits are put on the machine from a standard install DVD.
• Next, they stir in the particular applications that you want to deploy across your enterprise. This gives you the opportunity to clean house and create a more managed environment, which may not be what your end users want to hear, but gets back to that spring cleaning sentiment mentioned earlier.
• Each tool has ways to deal with the variety of hardware configurations that you place the image onto, and some make it easier to copy the user application settings and data files over to the new world of Windows 7.
• Finally, you send forth the image to your desktops and have them reboot with the new copy of Windows 7.

Sounds complicated? Yes, it is harder than jamming a DVD into your drive and letting it do its thing for an hour or so. But if you get the tool working properly, you can do a massive upgrade in a matter of a few hours, no matter how many PCs you need to touch.

What do I recommend if you have dozens of PCs to upgrade? I would start with either SmartDeploy or the Kbox. Both handle things somewhat differently, and you are going to want to read and watch my reviews to understand some of the issues.

If you are in Chicago next Thursday evening May 20th, you are welcome to come by the Chicago Windows User Group meeting where I will be speaking about this topic and showing how to use each product in a little more detail. Email me privately if you would like to meet up.

If you want to read more, go to a page where I have links to the various articles and video reviews that I have done for sites such as, and You can go to links on each of the reviews on all six products here:

Don't worry, the videos are just a couple of minutes long. Good luck with your own migration.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prowess SmartDeploy eases Windows 7 migration

SmartDeploy is a software tool that converts virtual machine disk files into Windows Image files that can be used to deploy new OSs, including Windows 7, across an enterprise. It is easier to use than WAIK [link], and Kbox, []
both of which we reviewed earlier.
Price: $1995 per technician, plus added fees for various support levels

Using Windows AIK to automate Windows 7 deployment

has updated its own tool sets for this purpose, called the Windows Automated Installation Kit or WAIK. It has got a lot of new features for both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

I recommend WAIK if you have already tried out earlier versions and
know your way around SYSPREP and Windows volume licenses. Be prepared for a somewhat steep learning curve, especially if you are going to try to automate everything for your deployments and have a large collection of diverse PC hardware.

While you can't beat the cost (it is free), Kbox or SmartDeploy might be a
better alternative for these more complex situations.

You can download the tool here:

Viewfinity can solve multiple user XP Migrations to Windows 7

Viewfinity User Migration is another XP to Windows 7 migration tool. It doesn't automatically move the applications, you have to reinstall them yourself or use another deployment tool. It does handle XP desktops that are used by multiple users quite elegantly.

See our other Windows Migration product reviews here:
PC Mover:

Migrating to Windows 7 using the Kace Kbox

Kbox is used to manage and control desktop system images that contain user files and applications and – with its Systems Management Appliance sold separately, to do PC inventory and audits. It also works with both virtual and physical machines too. Unlike the PC Mover and Zinstall approaches, they are designed for large-scale deployments of hundreds or more PCs. A more complete video that describes the process by one of Kace's techs can be found here.

KBOX 2100 Systems Deployment Appliance
$4500 for 100 nodes, additional nodes $13
$39,000 for unlimited nodes

Kace Systems Management Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.

Using McAfee TrustedSource to protect your network

The combination of McAfee’s TrustedSource reputation system and geo-location filtering can help to better protect your network when using McAfee Firewall v8, as you can see in this short video.

Using McAfee Firewall to block BitTorrent in three clicks

McAfee Firewall v8 has a lot of flexibility when it comes to blocking difficult applications like BitTorrent, and in this short video, we show you how to do so using a combination of features in the firewall.

How to use McAfee Firewall to prevent SSH tunneling

Network admins need more granular control over how Secure Shell (SSH) connections traverse their networks, and in this short video, we show how McAfee Firewall v8 can be used to allow SSH for file transfer and terminal connections but be used to block BitTorrent apps from tunneling through that protocol.

Controlling applications with McAfee Firewall’s AppPrism

We show in this short video an innovative method available in McAfee Firewall v8 that is called AppPrism. It can identify particular applications and control parts of their behavior, such as blocking Instant Messaging file transfer but allowing the actual IM chats themselves

How McAfee Firewall Enterprise can better secure your network

McAfee’s Firewall Enterprise version 8 has more protection that can be more easily configured than the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) 5500. We look at three distinguishing areas in this video:
• creating firewall rules
• protecting their network users and applications
• integrating other security features into their firewalls

We tested a beta of the McAfee Firewall Enterprise on a live network in April 2010, using its Windows-based client and also ran the Cisco ASDM client in its demo mode for comparison purposes.

3965 Freedom Circle
Santa Clara, CA 95054

Pricing: Starts at $1500 with higher prices for higher throughput and additional network interfaces

Friday, April 23, 2010

ITexpertVoice screencast: Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer Comes Up Short

Software inventory is one of the most important steps in migrating desktops to Windows 7. This video -- posted on -- shows you the promise — and limitations — of Microsoft’s Software Inventory Analyzer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How online relationships create trust

I was talking to Paul and Dana Gillin about their new book, called the Joy of Geocaching. I would urge you to buy this book, even if you aren't interested in the sport. You'll see why in a moment.

Today's column isn't about finding small objects hidden in plain sight across the landscape. (It is actually more interesting than I make it sound.) It is about how online relationships can fuel and shape how we interact with our colleagues in the real world. You know, that environment that exists outside our desktops?

Our newspapers and Web sites are filled with stories about how the nature of friendship has become devalued as we go about connecting on MyLinkFaceSpace et al. But what few have covered is how the online world creates new kinds of communities, and builds trusted relationships that carry on in the real world of face-to-face interaction. And that is where the Gillins' book comes into play. In it, they tell stories of geocachers and how they have come to enjoy finding and hiding these objects.

There is one story of a woman who travelled to Toronto on a business trip with several colleagues. She left them at the airport, and was picked up by a stranger – with the only thing in common being that both were cachers. How many of us would climb into a car in another country with nothing more than exchanging a few emails? That involves a certain level of trust and comfort that just doesn't happen in the real world.

Other examples are people that use the site to find people of similar circumstances. And of course there are the online dating sites, too. Crowdsourcing is another. I am sure you could think of other examples.

This use of online connections to prime the pump for a face-to-face meeting happens more and more frequently because we are doing more than just sending emails, or friend requests, or linking to others via online sites. We are sharing a common bond, a series of interests. We are building an authoritative source of content, context and identity. And along the way, we start shaping these micro-communities one person at a time.

Yes, there are people who pride themselves on having thousands of "friends" or who can connect with celebs and CEOs alike. But that isn't what today's Internets are all about.

Yes, it takes a village. But increasingly, our villages are formed online and with hyper-specific interests – not just because we share a common street block or elementary school classroom of our children. This is nothing new. The early bulletin board systems were great at this. But what is new is the potency of these relationships, and how quickly they can come to fruition.

Sure, I belong to lots of different communities, some based here in St. Louis, some that include people from all over the world. And my biggest community is you, the Web Informant reader. Or I hope so. Do share some of your own online/offline relationship stories with my readers on if you feel so inclined.

Self (and other) promos dep't

If you want to buy Paul and Dana's book, click here:

I will be on the Tim Taylor Digital Nation radio show this Saturday at 1pm Central, talking about Windows 7 migration tools and methods. This uses some of the research for articles and screencast videos that I have done for the Dell-sponsored site If you are interested in having me come speak at your next group meeting about this topic, email me.

Finally, if you are going to be in St. Louis next Tuesday, do stop by and say hello at the Gateway to Innovation Conference at the Chase Park Plaza. While I won't be speaking, I do think the conference organizers have put together a great program.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

ITExpertVoice screencast: Viewfinity Can Solve Multiple-User Windows XP Migrations to Windows 7'

Viewfinity User Migration is another XP to Windows 7 migration tool. It doesn't
automatically move the applications, you have to reinstall them yourself or use
another deployment tool. It does handle XP desktops that are used by multiple
users quite elegantly. This screencast shows you how it works.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Protect your virtual infrastructure with Hytrust Appliance v2.0

Looking to get control over your virtual infrastructure? Then consider the Hytrust Appliance, which allows you to set up policies, access rules, and other security measures to segregate your virtual infrastructure from your users. It comes with integration with Microsoft's Active Directory users and groups, and a newly designed user interface with the ability to handle extremely large virtual installations.

We tested the appliance on a network of eight VM ESXi and ESX hosts during March 2010.

Pricing: Download for free, limited to managing three hosts
Standard edition $1000 per typical host
Enterprise: $1500 per typical host including federation across multiple appliances

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ITexpertVoice: Prowess SmartDeploy Eases Windows 7 Migration

SmartDeploy is a software tool that converts virtual machine disk files into Windows Image files that can be used to deploy new OSs, including Windows 7, across an enterprise. This screencast demonstrates its features. SmartDeploy is easier to use than Microsoft’s WAIK, and Kbox, both of which we reviewed earlier on
You can watch the video here:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Warnings about Wifi-enabled air travel

I have been on a few planes in the past couple of weeks that are Wifi-enabled. American has created an entirely new opportunity for identity thieves here, and while the opportunity to surf and email at 30,000 feet is tempting, count me out for those that will become frequent users.

The problem is that most people get lost in the wonderfulness of the Web and tend to forget that their seatmates can watch every move, see every keystroke (it doesn't take much to follow along, especially at the speed that many people type), and collect all sorts of information. By the end of one flight I was on, I had Larry (not his real name) the HP sales rep's Amazon account, read several of his emails, got to see his new sales presentations that HP corporate sales office had sent him, figured out that he was a recent hire as he was checking HP's Intranet to understand some corporate travel policies, found out who his clients that he had just visited were, and more.

Now, I wasn't really paying that much attention. I was tired, and just wanted to be left by myself for the trip. And I think we exchanged maybe ten words between us all told. But if I really wanted to do some damage, I could be all over Larry's accounts by now (he had some nice taste from what I could see he was looking for on Amazon, too).

Yes, people have been using laptops on planes for years. I used to do it all the time, back when the middle seat was rarely occupied and you didn't have to almost disrobe to get to the gate. But those days are almost as much part of history as calling the people that worked on planes stews. The difference is now that we have Internet piped directly to the seat, people are free to go anywhere and everywhere, and where they go are places that are critical to their life. I wouldn't be surprised if someone was doing their online banking in-flight.

So people, if you are going online up in the air, get a privacy filter for your laptop so that no one else can see your screen. They cost about $30. This isn't complex technology: it has been available almost as long as Windows has been around. And while you are at it, dim your screens to save on power anyway (Larry had one of those nifty power-packs to boost his battery, too). Or better yet: don't work on anything important on a crowded plane – and these days, what other kinds of planes are there? Bring a book or watch a movie if you must be immersed in your electronic cocoon.

I am reminded of a story from my early days as a reporter for PC Week, back in the late 1980s. We were very scoop-oriented, and would always try to get information from the vendors through all sorts of means, some of them probably unethical or at least uncomfortable in the light of the present day. One of our reporters was having dinner with her boyfriend (now husband) at a quaint and cozy Cambridge Mass. restaurant, and overhead two businessmen at the next table gossiping about work. What was unusual was they were speaking rapid German, and both were working for Lotus Development, at the time a powerhouse spreadsheet player. They were in town to discuss the company's future product plans. Trouble was, my colleague spoke German fluently, and got a couple of scoops that were published the next week in the paper. No one knew who the source of the leak was.

Remember loose lips sink ships, the World War 2 posters put up by the government? We need something similar on Wifi-enabled planes. Be careful out there people. You never know whom you are sitting next to.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ITExpertVoice screencast: Using Windows AIK to Automate Windows 7 Deployment

If you are looking for a way to do massive Windows 7 migration, Microsoft has updated its own tool sets for this purpose, called the Windows Automated Installation Kit or WAIK. It has a lot of new features for both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. This screencast shows how it works:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Managing the multiplatform mess

I have been using Pandora's online stream music service off and on for several years. What got me more interested lately was it being one of the many services on my Roku video streaming box, which my wife and I use mostly for watching movies from Netflix's "watch instantly" queue.

As I investigated the service more, I came to understand exactly the challenge of what it takes to be truly multi-platform in the current era. It isn't just about having both Web and mobile phone versions of your service, but how you have to go deep into a lot of different devices to appeal to your customers.

The cool thing about Pandora isn't that you can create your own custom radio station that will try to find music based on a particular artist or genre. But that once you set up your account on one platform, you can access it in your car, in your home, and on the road in between. All with the same collection of stations and music. As you spend more time with the service, it tries to figure out your likes and dislikes.

Let's look at all the various places you can get your Pandora fix as an example of how hard it is to become this ubiquitous. First is the Web browser: you have to work in a bunch of them properly, so there is the usual testing in IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. Add Mac, Windows and Linux versions of each browser, and that's 15 regression tests right off the bat. But we have just gotten started. Add in the newer brower versions, like IE8, the fact that Linux isn't a single OS, and 64 bit Windows. Then stir in support for both Flash and HTML v5, and you can easily get more than 200 different environments if you want to support a wider base. Pandora, by the way, doesn't officially support much beyond Flash on Firefox, IE, and Safari on Mac and Windows.

Then we have separate apps for each of the five mobile phone platforms (Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, and Windows Mobile) and four cellular providers because their phones work differently on each network. Never mind that each phone's ecosystem has different rules on how an app can get posted for download and get itself updated. There are at least twenty different tests there. The phone apps have to be designed to work with the limited screen real estate available on each phone, and yet still connect to your account in a way that you can recognize without a lot of user training. Some of the phones have different screen and control button configurations, so just supporting the Blackberry line, for example, isn't so simple. You also need to get the development environment for the phone (typically these run on PCs with simulators that show you what your phone user will end us seeing) and probably a bunch of phones to test out too.

But wait, there is more. How about Facebook, My Space, and other social networks? Don't you want to integrate with them and leverage them to make your app viral? More code to write, more interfaces to learn, more tests to run to make sure you new versions don't break these links.

Then there is support for the home-based entertainment systems. While each of these have some embedded Web browser in them (like the Roku or the Samsung BluRay DVD players), you still have to test to make sure that the pages load properly and the music keeps on playing and your fancy navigation controls operate as intended. There are more than a dozen different devices, including the Ford Sync in-car service that will be available later this year, to test out. The trouble here is that these devices typically have older and less capable browsers that don't get updated, unlike the PC world where users are trying out new versions.

As you can see, it is easy to lose count of how many different platforms you want your app to run on. And then if you have to make choices and limit yourself, how do you do the triage? Do you drop Andoid in favor of Roku? Bring up the new Ford Sync API and leave the Pre to wither away? The user populations of each of these communities is constantly changing, as sales wax and wane.

It is enough to make many of us long for the simple days of the 1990s, when we just had to worry about Mac vs. Windows support.

I got the idea to look at Pandora from an article in today's NY Times. And while the service can wreck havoc on corporate networks (lots of folks start the audio stream and then walk away from their PCs), I think they are doing exactly the right kind of things when it comes to managing their multiplatform strategy.

Making better backups with Sepaton DeltaStor deduplication technology

Sepaton's S2100 is a virtual tape library backup appliance that can work to significantly reduce backup completion and restore times and cut down on storage requirements. It has a flexible capacity to hold from 3.5TB to 200TB and a wide collection of policies that can be crafted to particular applications and circumstances.

We tested a unit on a live network with actual production data with Firefox running on Windows XP in February 2010.

Price: starts at $110,500.
Backup products supported include Symantec's Netbackup and Backup Exec, CA ARCserve, IBM/Tivoli Storage Manager, and EMC.

400 Nickerson Road
Marlborough, MA 01752
508 490 7900

Monday, February 22, 2010

Taking credit card payments via the Internet

It all started when one of my clients wanted to pay me with a credit card. It is odd that I have been in business for 18 years and this is the first time that I have been paid in this way. It is doubly ironic in that I used to teach classes on eCommerce back in the early days of the Web and hadn't ever gotten around to getting a merchant account, which is what you need to take credit card payments.

If you want to accept credit cards, you enter a brave new world where there is an entire collection of jargon to use your secret decoder ring. For example, "discount rate" is the fee that the card issuer (like American Express or Visa) charges you per transaction. Typically these are anywhere from one to four percent, depending on a series of circumstances. Then there is the "virtual terminal" which is a series of Web-based services that allow you to enter the credit card number in your browser and have the transaction completed online. These replace the typical credit card swipe machines that you see in every retail shop.

Since my client wanted to use their American Express card, my first stop was to try my business bank, Bank of America, and see what they could offer me. Online had limited information but I tried the 800 number and got nowhere fast. They suggested that I talk to Amex and see what they could do for me. Within about 30 minutes I was setup with an Amex merchant ID and could start accepting their card via a telephone response number. The issue was that the transactions would take some time to clear and actually end up in my bank. They could also sell me their virtual terminal software, called Payment Express, which would be an extra charge of $20 a month. Amex has many different options that can easily get confusing – my recommendation is if you want to go this way, first sign up online to access your account and then read the various screens that describe Payflow, Payment Express and their physical card payment terminals.

In the interests of research, I pressed on to see what else is available.

Paypal was my next stop. While you can process some credit card payments, once you get beyond a few hundred dollars you need to have a Paypal business account. This means $30 a month, plus transaction fees of 2.4 to 3.1% to use their virtual terminal software. Here is a description of that process:

Intuit was next. Their merchant services are $13 a month, and it took about a day to set me up. They also have their own virtual terminal software and their home page takes something to get used to. They also charge less per transaction, with fees ranging from 1.9 to 2.9%. They have a great series of online demos here on their Web site:

So which do I recommend? If I had to start over knowing what I know now, I would go first to Inuit. They are geared towards their online product, they have a simple sign up process, and if you already use Quickbooks they can integrate with that too if you end up with lots of transactions. (I have been a happy Quickbooks user for nearly two decades, starting with the DOS version, can you believe it?) I would steer clear of Paypal, I just think they charge too much for too little.

There are dozens of other payment processors online, and this isn't meant to be a comprehensive review. And feel free to share your own experiences on my blog or via Twitter.

Outbound content compliance using Global Velocity

Looking to do a better job monitoring all of your network's applications portfolio? The GV-2010 is a unit designed to give you very granular control over how your end users use particular applications, and inspect all of your content leaving your network.

We tested the appliance on a small network in February 2010.

Global Velocity GV-2010
St. Louis MO
314 880 2900

Kace Kbox: Best Way to Massively Migrate Windows XP Desktops to Windows 7

Kbox (which recently was acquired by Dell) is used to manage and control desktop system images that contain user files and applications and — with its Systems Management Appliance, sold separately — to do PC inventory and audits. It also works with both virtual and physical machines too. Unlike the PC Mover and Zinstall approaches, they are designed for large-scale deployments of hundreds or more PCs.

You can watch my screencast review here at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Codeless Ajax Development with Alpha Five

Alpha Five is a powerful database and Web applications server and development environment that has been around for many years and continues to get more powerful but not at the expense of ease of use. There are numerous tutorials

You can watch my screencast video here:

We tested Alpha 5 v10 on a Windows XP running SP2 in February 2010.

Documentation, copious code examples and videos:

Alpha Five v10
70 Blanchard Road,
Burlington, MA 01803

Prices: Developer $349
Application Server $599, both for $799
Unlimited Runtime licenses $599
Windows XP or later required with at least IE v7 or Firefox 3.0

Monday, February 1, 2010

Searching for softphones

Remember when your office phone was a solidly built multi-line key system with push buttons for the different extensions? And you had a secretary who would answer all of your calls? It seems so quaint now, like something out of a Tracy/Hepburn movie like the "Desk Set." (Which for those of you that haven't seen it, features a plot about a room-sized computer that replaces human workers at the TV station. Amazingly, 50 years ago too.)

The biggest change for office telephony these days is the separating of incoming and outgoing calling plans and how we will use computers instead of an actual phone instrument. Maybe, if we all can get our softphones to work properly.

I am not talking about some Claes Oldenburg sculpture, but the software running on your PC that enables you to make and receive calls. Softphones aren't new – I recall writing about them in the early 1990s. Sadly, the quality of software development is still akin more to this era than the modern day.

Voice over IP has made calling almost too cheap to meter, to recall a phrase from the 1950s (then it was about nuclear power, and we know what happened to that). That's why many vendors currently offer unlimited monthly calling plans for their VOIP Service – Vonage ($25), Skype ($3), Google Voice (Free!). What is important to note is that these are all outgoing calling plans. Anyone can call you without any plan, you just need a phone number. Here is where things get tricky.

I have been a happy customer of Vonage since around 2002 or so, using their phone service in three different states and for both home and work. The best part about using Vonage (or any other VOIP phone with a reasonable feature set) is that I can set up what happens when someone calls my number. Right now I have it ring both office and cell numbers simultaneously. This way I just have to give you one number to call me, and I can change cell numbers, or add a new location if I am working someplace for an extended period of time. The next best part about Vonage is that I can do all of this with just a couple of mouse clicks, without having to wait on hold for a Bell business office service rep to try to upsell me with services that I don't want.

But I don't really get that many calls anymore, not that I am complaining. Most of the time when I am on the phone it is to interview someone for an article I am writing or to listen to a conference call briefing. Those are calls that I initiate and I don't really need a physical phone anyway – I much prefer to use a headset connected to my computer, to free my shoulder so I can type in my notes. (Yes, I could use a Bluetooth headset for my phone, too.)

I started thinking that perhaps I could eliminate my office phone line, and swap it for a Vonage softphone, and perhaps save some money in the process. That led me to searching for a softphone that will run on my Mac, connect to my Vonage account, and be reliable. Getting all three criteria has turned into A Project over the past week.

The softphone costs $10 a month. A call to Vonage customer support set up things, and moved my office number over to the softphone account. I thought I was doing well.

Alas, it wasn't so easy. First of all, while Vonage has its softphone app on both Windows and Mac, the Mac version is a poor cousin and I couldn't get it to work properly. After spending some time with Vonage tech support, I found out that there are "issues" with it running on Intel-based Macs (which are all recent Macs for the past several years).

Vonage does have a softphone for the iPhone (and Blackberry too), but you need to set up another $25 a month subscription plan. It really is designed to call internationally from your phone and save you on these charges. So it really isn't the softphone that I am looking for.

There are numerous softphone VOIP software companies, and some even have Mac clients. I have tried a few, and tried to get them configured for my Vonage account, but with no success. There is a lot of poor quality information online, and many of these are smaller companies with no tech support.

What about Skype? Yes, Skype can be considered a softphone (and more, since it does video calls too). The monthly unlimited calling plan is $3, but you also need to purchase an online number for another $3 a month if you want people to call you. All of a sudden, my expected savings are evaporating. I like Skype and have used it for years, mostly for the IM features, and the voice quality is terrific.

How about MagicJack? This is a pretty cool USB device that you can connect to both Macs and Windows PCs, and it will set up a softphone (or you can use a regular phone and wire it to the USB device directly). All for $40 for the first year, and $20 a year thereafter. My one problem with the Jack is that I keep getting people calling me who are calling wrong numbers. Not sure what that is all about. I do get the occasional Skype from someone I don't recognize but not as often.

And then there are Google Voice and eVoice, a new service from J2 Communications, the people that are behind eFax and jFax. These aren't quite softphones, but do offer some interesting communications features to manage your telephony, and if I didn't keep my Vonage number I would probably be more interested in them. Google has also purchased Gizmo Project, which had a really nice softphone that came with a built-in voice recorder, so who knows what will happen to that.

Not having a traditional land-line phone can be an issue, I will admit. But it isn't usually a problem. So as I transition to a phone-free desk, I think back to the days when I had one of the old Western Electric phones. Maybe I should buy one and just keep it on my desk for old time's sake while I keep fooling around with my softphones and headsets. If you are interested, check out this site which has all sorts of great info on the golden era when people had to rent, not own their phones, and they still had dials instead of buttons.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The new browser wars: Flash vs. Swipe

Pardon me for adding yet another iPad analysis (certainly, when a computer product launch makes it into Doonesbury, we have crossed a new threshold of hype), but one thing actually missing from the copious words and videos on yesterday's event at Moscone was the simple fact that we have a new browser war on our hands, and it isn't a pretty sight.

The browser wars of yesteryear between Microsoft and Netscape seem so quaint. (And look what happened to Netsacpe, too.) Today it is all about Adobe Flash versus the multi-touch swipe technology that is part of Apple's product lines.

Why is this a war? Apple's iPod, iTouch, and now iPad all share a lack of support for Adobe's Flash technology, the animation glue that binds Web pages to in-line video playback. When you bring up your Safari browser in these devices, you see a big blank nothing on the pages that have Flash content to play. And what that means to me is that Apple has made it clear: rewrite your sites to support our own technologies (including new apps that are certain to populate the iTunes Store soon), or be forever absent from this brave new world of cool devices that Steve is creating.

I come to the support of Flash most reluctantly, mind you. Flash is a necessarily evil, and for the most part we just don't even think of it when we merrily surf around the Internet, finding new video content to amuse and inform us. (Unless our plug-ins are outdated or messed up, that is.)

Flash will bring about the Internet TV revolution a lot sooner than the misinformed mainstream TV executives will like to admit, too: the more video that gets encoded in Flash, the fewer hours that 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings will spend in front of their living room TVs, if they even have living room TVs anymore. See what has happened to Leno et al. Their best bits are immediately uploaded to YouTube and watched the next morning. That is the power of Flash.

But Apple has its own idea about how to watch video, and it has nothing to do with standards that anyone else creates. It is about making Web content creators develop new iTunes Apps that can deliver their content customized for their devices. Anyone using an ordinary Web browser can be ignored. Granted, they have sold a lot of iPhones, so it isn't a market that has been marginalized like their share of the PC market – but still. Why do so many Web site owners want this? Because of the latest Steve reality distortion field. See the comment about Doonesbury above.

It is ironic, because in the early days, Apple was a big boost to Adobe's Postscript technology, the glue that made printing pretty pages from your PCs possible. But let's not rest on these accidents of history.

Is a multi-touch swipe worth starting a new war? Maybe. Swiping the glass for controlling the display is very intuitive. It is a wonder that more tablet PCs haven't incorporated it yet. In the mean time, we all will be watching and see how this shakes out, but (I can't believe I am saying this) my bet is on Flash.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's all about the jobs

Even Conan can't keep his job, although I am sure many of us would welcome a multi-million dollar payout as he got last week. But as our economy tries to re-start itself, I have seen first-hand how hard it is for people to get new jobs. Over the past seven months, I have been working with our local Regional Chamber and Growth Association in an effort called the St. Louis Job Angels, to help get information about new jobs quickly disseminated to the right people, and also provide self-help and peer networking to job seekers.

The effort was started nationally by consultant Mark Stelzner and has since become very successful here in St. Louis. We have more than 600 people on our LinkedIn group and a new job is posted almost daily. We also send out the postings via Twitter too, although trying to fit an entire job description into 100 or so characters is a challenge. Based on these efforts, I have some advice for employers and job seekers that I want to share.

First off, if you are going to post your opening online, make sure your Web jobs board is both search and Twitter-friendly. Try to have unique and simple URLs that people can email and Tweet to bring job seekers directly to the position at hand. Put all the information about the job on one page, including salary range, prerequisites, and reasonable experiences and skills required. Include a job number or some other identifying string that job applicants can use and reTweet so that others can quickly find the opening. And be specific about how to be contacted and with what information.

You would be surprised (well, maybe not) how many job openings I look at that don't have this basic information. This isn't rocket science (and we do have a few openings here in St. Louis for rocket scientists, believe me) and you would think that Al Gore still hasn't gotten around to inventing the Internet, what with some of the postings that I see.

Some online job boards that are part of individual companies are behind registration walls, so you have to provide all sorts of information about yourself before you can get to see the actual jobs themselves. Bad idea! You want people to browse your board, because they might see something else that they are more qualified or more interested in.

There is a reason not to skimp on descriptions. The more information you can provide the job seeker, the better and more of a match your applicants will be when it comes time to apply.

The unique URL per job makes it easier to reTweet the openings: you use a URL shortening service such as and you can send out the job post quickly without having to worry that Twitter will mangle the URL or that users won't be able to find it on the Internet someplace.

Some recruiters are told not to divulge the company name for fear that the company will be buried in resumes. Fair enough. But then provide more detail about the job so that applicants can understand what they are getting themselves into.

Also, be fair about telecommuting options. It is time to realize that many of us want to stay put for various reasons. If your management can deal with finding the best candidate in another city, then support this practice. I mean, we are in 2010, people!

Second, spend some time on LinkedIn. Yes, there are still plenty of places where you can post job openings, including Monster, Craigslist, and hundreds of other more specialized sites. And yes, employers should be promiscuous and post openings widely too. But the right use of LinkedIn by both employers and job seekers can be useful.

I keep adjusting my online LinkedIn profile all the time, even though I have had it for many years. I keep forgetting to add particular experiences, or to ask for references from previous bosses. So don't try to create your entire profile in one sitting, but come back to it frequently. I have some more tips on how to improve your LinkedIn presence here if you want to view my slides:

Most of the people I know are still new at using this service, and some are unaware about the more advanced features such as Groups and Answers that can help augment your job searching and make the service more valuable too. Answers can help build your expertise and demonstrate your knowledge of a topic or niche. Groups can be used, as we do for St. Louis Job Angels group, how to find others who share similar traits and can be quickly scanned for updated information.

LinkedIn can be both a blessing and a curse. Getting groups setup is a slow process, and you have to follow an arcane series of rules if you want to play in their sandbox: for example, as group Admin, I can send out exactly no more than one weekly email to the group. I try not to bury people in emails, but still, sometimes you want to get the word out if we have had a lot of postings or some with very short response times.

Third, become better at marketing yourself. One of my colleagues here and the supervisor of the MissouriCareerSource local office, Frank Alaniz, talks about how to develop a resume that will present your qualifications in a way that a job interviewer or HR screener can quickly see you online. Most employers spend less than three minutes reviewing resumes, which means you have to grab them at hello:

Good luck with your own job search, and maybe you too can host a late-night show in the near future.

Using Windows 7 Remote Server Administration Tools

RSAT makes it easier to manage your collection of Windows 2003 and 2008 servers remotely and securely from your Windows 7 desktop. This screencast shows how it works.

There’s plenty to learn, including setting up new file shares, managing the built-in Internet Information Server Web services, handling group policies and other sophisticated features. The installation is somewhat convoluted and you’ll want to spend some time reading the help files too.

See my screencast video at:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Using the Windows 7 PowerShell Scripting Environment

PowerShell ISE is a visual command-line editor that used to be called Graphical
PowerShell. In this video, we show you how to become familiar with its extensive
command set which can be used to automate common tasks.

You may view the latest post at ITExpertVoice here:

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.