Tech

10 best tech jobs in America

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Find out which tech jobs offer the most job satisfaction, average salaries and growth opportunity, according to data from Glassdoor.

The Best Tech Jobs in America
Glassdoor recently released its list of the best jobs in America and 10 of the top 25 jobs listed are in the technology sector. When you combine that with the fact that technology-related careers continue to have unemployment rates lower than national average and, according to BLS statistics, tech jobs are expected to grow 21.5 percent between now and 2022, it’s easy to see that the demand for highly skilled technology workers is exploding. It is one of the few areas in the job market that the BLS predicts double-digit growth. So whether you’re just entering the tech market or you’re looking to make a change, the jobs on this list highlight some of the best that this industry has to offer.

Methodology: The Glassdoor Best Jobs report identifies 25 jobs with the highest overall job score rating. They base this on a 5-point scale, where 5 equals the highest score. Glassdoor uses its data to determine the weight of the following three factors:

Earning potential (average annual base salary)
Career opportunities rating
Number of open job listings

The results in this list that follows represent job titles that rate highly among all three categories:
“For a job title to be considered, it must receive at least 75 salary reports and at least 75 career opportunity ratings shared by U.S.-based employees over the past year (from January 1, 2014 to January 9, 2015). The number of openings per job title represents the total number posted on Glassdoor over the past three months (October 21, 2014 to January 1, 2015): Note, this report takes into account job title normalization that groups similar job titles, according to Glassdoor representative, MaryJo Fitzgerald.

So here it is — the list of best tech jobs in America.

10. Sales Engineer
“A sales engineer has a technological and scientific understanding of the product being sold, “says Fitzgerald. These salespeople specialize, selling complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They need to take these multifaceted products and be able to explain to potential clients/customers the business value. Sales engineers need to be able to adjust their level of tech jargon and complexity to suit their audience; know their products/services inside and out, as well as the underlying technologies that support them and know the problems facing organizations that use their product or service.

9. Mobile Developer
If you’re a mobile developer, it’s your time to shine. The proliferation of responsive design, the explosion of new mobile devices and the apps that power them have sent competition for mobile development skills skyrocketing.

8. IT Project Manager
The project manager is a special breed; these individuals need to be steeped in technology with great time-management and communication skills. They ensure the project stays within guidelines, that deadlines are met and that everything stays within budget. To do that they have to allocate resources, know who is good at what and be able to talk to people from all walks of the business, i.e., customer, developer, accountant, etc.

7. Network Engineer
If your network goes down, your business comes to a halt. Network engineers work to make sure that doesn’t happen. These IT pros deal with all of the organization’s hardware and the computer networks that live within. Unlike network admins, network engineers focus mainly on top level design and planning as opposed to the daily operations and support of the network. Responsibilities range depending on the company size. In smaller companies network engineers might work with a small team or alone, wearing many different hats, like sysadmins, for example. Larger organizations may have an entire staff of network engineers, installing new hardware and wiring, adding hubs and switches and more.

6. QA Engineer
Whether your company offers products, services or both, QA engineers are a necessary part of technology execution. QA engineers oversee the entire development process from concept to final product/service ensuring whatever it is your organization creates is built to a standard with customer experience in mind. That customer might be someone who buys a piece of software or a product or a worker using a tool supplied by IT.

5. Solutions Architect
These tech workers are accountable for designing and organizing computer systems and custom applications used by their organization. While similar to an IT consultant, this role is more focused on the development and implementation of an interface that any employee can use to make their job easier and more efficient, according to MaryJo Fitzgerald, a public relations representative from Glassdoor.

From a technology standpoint, these workers must define current problems along with future goals to build a roadmap to get the business from point A to point B. This role has evolved over the years to become more of a technical role than it was originally.

4. Data Scientist
These IT workers delve into some of businesses most complex issues. Using often-times disparate sources of data, data scientists work to find insight and actionable data. Math, communication, business and statistics skills are all part of the data scientists skillset.

Josh Willis, a data scientist for Cloudera said a data scientist is a, “person who is better at statistics than any software engineer and better at software engineering than any statistician.”

3. Product Manager
Timing is everything in this role. These IT professionals work closely with engineering, sales and marketing teams to ensure a product meets the business’ overall strategy and goals. They take a product from concept to reality. In between they take input from stakeholders and customers and ensure that the product aligns with business objectives and work on things like maximizing business value and user experience.

Although it’s listed in the tech jobs category, the right person for this role needs a strategic mind and a strong understanding of the business needs.

2. Database Administrator
Organizations have lots of data and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, IDC reports that in 2012 the amount of data stored globally reached 2.8 zettabytes and they now forecast that organizations will generate 40 zettabytes (ZB) by the year 2020. That’s an astounding number.

Along with all that data comes job security for those skilled in the art of storing and organizing data. These individuals work to maintain the integrity of their respective data and make sure its deliverable to analysts when necessary. They maintain and create new database systems as well as make sure things like back-ups are performed, plan security and ensuring that data comes from reliable sources.

1. Software Engineer
Computer science, engineering and math skills are what it takes to rise to the top of the software engineer talent pool. These professionals design, develop, test, debug and evaluate the software and systems required to keep businesses both big and small moving forward.

These IT pros must be familiar with different OSes and middleware to make sure that when push comes to shove, the software “just works.” The process begins by evaluating user needs, then developing software and algorithms to support business needs.


 

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Twelve Industries That May Not Exist By 2020

Some of these industries, such as paper and home phones, you can guess. But some will surprise you.

The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Metropolitan Taxi Systems
The dual driving force of decentralized apps (Uber, Lyft) and self-driving technologies will cause the centralized taxi industry to disintegrate. In just a few short years, Uber has already made a sizable dent in their business and will continue to do so. On the other hand, automated taxis will spread like wildfire once viable. As an NYC resident, all I have to say is good riddance, yellow cabs!

2. The USPS
Almost all of the processes that used to require a mail response are completely online now, and the USPS today is essentially one big junk mail courier for companies wanting to advertise at a 1.4 percent conversion rate on average. The only spectacular aspect of the USPS is their Media Mail rate, but if the industry was privatized, the price would be just as competitive via the nature of private industry, e.g. UPS (UPS) and Fed-Ex (FDX) .

3. The Paper Industry
The paper industry won’t ever disappear completely, but it will be almost obsolete by 2020 as everything is digitized.

4. Home Phones
I believe home telephones will be obsolete by 2020, if not sooner. Smartphones have outpaced landlines as a far more convenient and necessary form of communication. It’s already very rare to meet someone without a cell phone. We even contemplated this year switching all our office phones to cell phones. (T, VZ, S, TMUS).

5. Mobile Phones
Years ago, mobile phones became portable computers; we just insisted on thinking of them as mobile phones. The industry dedicated to making and supporting phones is already in rapid decline in the U.S. Over the next five years, that will spread globally. All data will just be data, and no distinction will be made between phone data and Internet data. Companies caught on the wrong side will be gone.

6. Credit Cards
Just like music CDs and VCRs, the plastic card that we walk around with in our wallets could very well disappear. Sooner or later, they will be replaced with mobile payments. It’s awkward each time we have to type 16 numbers into a web page, swipe an overused card repeatedly, or have to wait for the machine to spit out that receipt. Even worse, having to sign it. Smartphones will disrupt this. Bad news for MasterCard (MA), Visa (V), American Express (AXP) and Discover (DFS).

7. Movie Theaters
Sales have been declining steadily and with good reason: for the price, seeing a movie in theaters just doesn’t deliver good value. The only benefit used to be the huge screen and great sound system, but with HDTV and a small investment at home, you can create an experience that’s much superior. As more movies become available for streaming and download, movie theaters will slowly fade away.

8. Storage Media
CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray Discs, External Hard Drives, Memory Cards, etc. With the increasing presence of cloud storage, the desire to remain connected to the digital world and the increasing presence of streaming media services, many forms of physical storage will become obsolete.

9. Retail Health Insurance Agencies
The Affordable Care Act has created marketplaces for individuals to purchase health insurance. The brokerage incentives to provide individual insurance coverage will continue to evaporate and health policies will no longer be promoted by your neighborhood insurance broker.

10. Cable TV
The Internet is changing the way we consume video. Millions have already ditched their cable subscriptions in favor of Netflix accounts. As high-speed Internet reaches more places, there will be less of a need to keep paying for your old cable service. You can already get almost everything you want on demand except live sports. When that fully switches to live streaming, it’s game over. (TWC, VZ).

11. Wallets
Mobile payment apps like LevelUp, Venmo, Google Wallet (GOOGL) and ApplePay (AAPL) make it fast, easy and convenient to pay for anything. As more retailers adopt alternative payment methods and new technologies, there will soon be no need to fish out the old leather wallet from the back pocket or pay a visit to the ATM for cash.

12. Fast Food Workers
Pay attention McDonald’s (MCD) and Burger King (BKW): in a restaurant atmosphere that’s all about low price and fast service, the workers themselves will quickly become expendable. This is because customers don’t care so much about service, but rather that they can get the right order in the same amount of time or less. With the push for higher wages, this could become reality sooner rather than later.

 


 

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7 critical things to cover in your disaster-recovery plan

As always, you never know when a disaster will strike, so better to have a checklist on hand so that panic doesn’t set in when the network goes down.

1. Creating a plan
Cloud services company Evolve IP has created a list of suggestions for executives to evaluate their current disaster avoidance plans or, should a plan not exist, provide directional measures to protect their information and communications systems.

2. Establish a disaster recovery functional team
Elect one spokesperson from the group for communication. In the event of a multi-location organization each location should have a core team or representative that works with the corporate entity.

3. Risk assessment
Identify risks in the following areas:

Information – What information and information systems are most vital to continue to run the business at an acceptable level?

Communication Infrastructure – What communications (email, toll free lines, call centers, VPNs, Terminal Services) are most vital to continue to run the business at an acceptable level?

Access and Authorization – Who needs to access the above systems and in what secure manner (VPN, SSL, DR Site) in the event of a disaster?

Physical Work Environment – What is necessary to conduct business in an emergency should the affected location not be available?

Internal and External Communication – Who do we need to contact in the event of an emergency and with what information?

4. Cloud-based data centers and applications
Create a written recovery plan that is hosted remotely in a secure and redundant data center. Schedule and test your plan at least once per year or in accordance with regulatory/compliance requirements. Ensure employees can access the hosted environment (both from within the business confines and remotely) during fail-over mode from the designated locations.

5. Premise-based data centers
Produce a written recovery plan that is stored remotely. Identify water entry areas throughout the building and have sandbags available. Install VESDA smoke detection and thermal detectors. Have a fail-safe alarm system. Place high-temperature sensors on fire sprinkler heads if non-water based fire-suppression is unavailable. Keep your data center above street level. If you are in a single-floor building, raise your racks from the floor. Employ multiple Internet service/data providers and test for failover regularly.

6. Data back-up
Tape back-ups should be removed daily and stored in a secure, easily accessed public building with at least 2-3 individuals having keys to the location. Back-up data to a geographically distant location, either electronically, or ensure physical media is in a diverse location.

7. Hosted telephony systems
Employ multiple Internet providers and test for failover regularly. Verify that critical phone numbers have the ability to call forward in an unreachable condition.

8. Call center
Identify key business applications required and how call center staff will access these applications from alternative locations. Identify critical call types that must be answered and determine mechanism to segregate those calls. Identify alternative locations to house the staff with the appropriate systems, phones, and work environment. Ensure administrative staff has the ability to remotely change call routing, messaging, and related call center functionality.


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10 alternative carriers that can save you serious cash on your smartphone bill

When it comes time to choose a wireless carrier, most Americans just go with AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon. Recently, more and more people have been tempted by T-Mobile’s cost-slashing “Uncarrier” moves, but that’s about where it ends: the four major carriers.

And that reluctance to look beyond the big guys could be costing you money.

Did you know there are a host of different carriers in the U.S. that use the same networks as the big companies but offer some serious discounts on your monthly bill? They’re called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and piggyback on the major carrier’s networks.

If you’ve never heard of MVNOs, you soon will. Google reportedly wants to get in on the MVNO game and offer its own cell plans using the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, paired with Wi-Fi. Beyond MVNOs, another report says Cablevision is planning a mobile carrier service called Freewheel that will depend entirely on Wi-Fi—including free access to the company’s more than one million public hotspots.

But you don’t have to wait for Cablevision and Google to get in the cell phone service game. There are already numerous MVNOs running on networks from all four major carriers, and some that also offer Wi-Fi only plans. Many of the more interesting carriers run on Sprint, but there are also a number of options that use T-Mobile for anyone looking to use a GSM-based phone.

In no particular order, here’s a look at 10 MVNOs that are well worth a look, at least on paper. We haven’t been able to test these networks ourselves so you’ll have to judge their quality on your own.

It should also go without saying, but if you plan to bring your own device (BYOD) to an MVNO—not all allow it—the device must be compatible with that MVNO’s underlying network, be it Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T.

1. Ting
Carrier: Sprint
BYOD: Yes (some restrictions)
Cost: $21 per month (monthly average)
LTE: Yes

Ting is one of the more interesting choices among MVNOs. The company offers what is more or less a pay-as-you-go model. Ting categorizes usage by buckets. The first 1-100 minutes, for example, cost $3, the next bucket $9, and the next $18. There are also buckets for SMS and MB of data usage, and you must pay a monthly per-device fee of $6 each. The company’s complete rates are on its site. Ting says the average monthly cost per device is $21.

A variety of phones are available with Ting, including the iPhone 5s, Nexus 5, and Galaxy S5. If you’re thinking of moving to Ting, the company says it will pay 25 percent of the early termination fee (ETF) from your current carrier, up to $75.

2. Republic Wireless

Carrier: Sprint
BYOD: No
Cost: $5-$40 per month
LTE: Yes

Republic Wireless is one of several carriers that integrates Wi-Fi, reverting to a cellular connection only when Wi-Fi isn’t available. In fact, if you live in an urban environment and are daring enough, you can pay just $5 per month for a Wi-Fi-only plan. The bad news is that if you aren’t connected to Wi-Fi your phone won’t work. Nevertheless, this might be an ideal plan for a university student who lives on campus.

After the Wi-Fi plan, how much you pay really depends on what you need. For $40 per month you can get unlimited talk, text, and data on 4G and Wi-Fi, though the data is throttled after 5GB/mo. There’s also a $10 plan that’s talk and text on cell and Wi-Fi, plus Wi-Fi only data. Whichever plan you choose, Republic phones default to Wi-Fi whenever possible.

3. FreedomPop

Carrier: Sprint
BYOD: Yes
Cost: Free to $80 per year
LTE: Yes

Another Wi-Fi centric carrier similar to Republic, FreedomPop offers a $5 Wi-Fi-only plan. You can also get unlimited voice, text, and 500MB of data for $11 per month, or you can pay $80 up-front for an entire year of the same plan. There’s also a $20 monthly plan that offers unlimited everything over Sprint’s 4G network, but data is downgraded to 3G speeds after the first gigabyte.

4. Scratch Wireless

Carrier: Sprint
BYOD: No
Cost: $2 to $4 per day, $25 to $40 per month
LTE: Yes

Scratch Wireless takes another interesting pay-as-you-go approach like Ting. Instead of buckets, Scratch uses a “passes” concept. You can get a daily pass for $2 offering unlimited voice, and pay another $2 for unlimited data for a day. If you need a monthly pass, Scratch offers $25 for unlimited data and another $15 gets you a month of unlimited voice. Scratch does not charge for SMS, which is free under all its plans.

5. MetroPCS
Carrier: T-Mobile
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $40-$60 per month
LTE: Yes

An actual part of T-Mobile, MetroPCS offers standard prepaid packages similar to the mainstream carriers. You can still save some money, however, as MetroPCS offers unlimited talk and text along with 2GB of LTE and unlimited data at “average MetroPCS network speeds” beyond that for $40 per month. Plans with 4GB of LTE and unlimited LTE cost $50 and $60 per month, respectively.

6. Brightspot

Carrier: T-Mobile
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $30-$55 per month
LTE: Yes

Target’s MVNO Brightspot offers a number of basic plans. If you’re not a big talker, you can get a $35 plan that includes unlimited text, up to 3GB of data at 4G speeds, and 300 minutes of voice.

7. UltraMobile

Carrier: T-Mobile
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $19-$59 per month
LTE: Yes

Ultra Mobile offers a number of standard plans that can meet your needs. The company also offers some international options for those who need to call overseas (as do a number of other MVNOs, including Brightspot). For $29 Ultra Mobile offers unlimited talk and text, and 1GB of LTE data.
5phones4
Michael Homnick

8. Net10

Carrier: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $25-$80 per month
LTE: Yes

Owned by TracFone, Net10 offers connections on all four networks depending on your preferences. For $40 per month you can get unlimited talk, text, and data. The downside is Net10 only offers the first 500MB of data at LTE speeds.

9. PTel

Carrier: T-Mobile
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $20-$65 per month
LTE: Yes

A T-Mobile-based MVNO, PTel is a little bit cheaper than Net10 with $35 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data. Like Net10, PTel only offers the first 500MB at LTE speeds.

10. RingPlus

Carrier: Sprint
BYOD: Yes
Cost: $2-$33 per month
LTE: Yes

If you can get past the cutesy names of its monthly plans (such as Kate, Hazel, and Bella,) RingPlus has a wide range of offerings. The most realistic plan for serious smartphone users is Data, priced at $30 per month. This plan gets you 300 voice minutes, unlimited text, 2GB of data, and unlimited Wi-Fi calling. RingPlus charges 6 cents extra per message for MMS.
Switch and save?

Switching to an MVNO is not for everybody, especially if you live somewhere with limited cellular connectivity options. But if you’re in an area where networks like Sprint and T-Mobile offer good service you could save yourself some serious cash.


 

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People don’t trust mobile wallets and apps

Worries over security and privacy hold back mobile phone users, survey finds

Trust is eroding among mobile device users when it comes to making purchases or app downloads.

A survey of 15,000 mobile users in 15 countries found that their trust level is degraded because they believe that payment systems aren’t secure or they don’t trust a service or online merchant. Mobile users are also worried about having to share too much personal information when downloading an app.

This lack of trust grew the most in the U.S. The lack of trust across all areas jumped from 26% in 2013 to 35% in 2014 among U.S. respondents. The latest survey was conducted in the third quarter of 2014, but was made public last week. Smartphone and feature phone users were sent an SMS to join the survey and completed the survey on their devices.

The implications of the survey could limit and possibly diminish the rollout of mobile payment and electronic wallet systems, such as Apple Pay, and the growth in app downloads, according to analysts.

Near half of the respondents said this overall lack of trust limits the the number of apps they download, while 72% said they were unhappy sharing location data or contact details.

The survey was commissioned by MEF, an international trade association focused on mobile content and commerce. MEF, based in London, includes hundreds of large companies as members, including Samsung, Microsoft, and MasterCard, with more than 35 companies from North America alone.

Andrew Bud, chairman of MEF, said the survey results should prompt companies offering mobile payments, content and services to consistently apply “high levels of transparency, security and privacy to every mobile transaction.”

The MEF launched a privacy policy initiative in 2014 to make it easy for app developers to integrate a line of code within an app that offers customers a short explanation of privacy in plain English. Details are on the MEF website at appprivacy.net.

One of the most dramatic findings in the survey shows that 72% of respondents said they were unhappy sharing personal information when using an app, an increase from 65% in 2013. In the U.S., the 2014 number was 79% who said they were not comfortable sharing personal information. And 69% said they had the right to own any data collected through their smart devices.

“These figures have significant consequences for those looking to develop the Internet of Things which seeks to connect billions of devices to the Internet and to each other,” the survey report said.

Because of a lack of trust over security, 36% in the overall survey said they hadn’t tried out a mobile wallet on a smartphone. Meanwhile, only 15% said they had already used a mobile wallet or were thinking of doing so. Mobile users are concerned their personal information might be used without their consent, including 22% who are concerned their financial data might be stolen.


 

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15 essential open source tools for Windows admins

Sure, Microsoft has a ton of useful admin tools, but terrific, complementary open source tools abound

15 essential open source tools for Windows admins
Microsoft admins seeking solid server-side tools know the mothership offers a mother lode of solutions for supporting Windows Server, Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint, and so on. But for those with an eye on the bottom line or looking to branch out in supporting their Microsoft-based server room, plenty of free, open source tools from both Microsoft, via CodePlex, and third-party providers are available. Given Microsoft’s ongoing shift toward hosted solutions like Azure and Office 365, there is more incentive for Microsoft admins to keep an eye on what’s evolving in the Windows admin tools ecosystem.

Following is a roundup of open source tools every Windows admin should be aware of. We last surveyed this territory three years ago, and while some tools have cemented their place in the Windows admin arsenal, Microsoft’s shift in focus toward the cloud is giving rise to a new set of essentials.

Don’t see your favorite tool(s)? Use the comments section to contribute to the list!

WinDirStat
WinDirStat, aka Windows Directory Statistics, is a disk usage tool that provides a variety of statistical views for analyzing how a system’s disk is being used. Every admin wrestles with disk space issues time and again, whether in support of user systems or when monitoring software generates an alert for a critical production server. Sometimes you can quickly see what is taking up all of the disk space on the troubled system, but for those times when it’s not so obvious or you are in a hurry, there is WinDirStat.

Wireshark
Network packet analysis and troubleshooting is a real art, one that requires solid training and years of hands-on experience. But a tool like Wireshark helps ease the learning curve, thanks to its many powerful features. One look at this free software-based protocol analyzer’s color-coding features and you’ll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile tool for any Microsoft shop.

Download: http://www.wireshark.org/

PuTTY
No list of open source tools used by system administrators would be complete without a mention of PuTTY, one of the most widely used terminal emulators. Whether you need to make a serial connection to a switch, telnet, SSH, SCP, or rlogin, PuTTY can handle it. It’s been around since the late ’90s and has spawned dozens of imitators, but none quite like the original.

Download: http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/download.html

AMANDA Network Backup
Admins looking to ease the pain of backing up Windows-based systems should check out AMANDA, aka Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver. AMANDA provides the ability for an administrator to set up a single master backup server that can support both Windows desktops and servers over the network to a variety of media, including tape drives, disks, or optical media with NTFS support.

ZMANDA maintains and supports the freely available AMANDA, as well as ZMANDA Recovery Manager for MySQL. It also provides network and cloud backup services it sells commercially.

Download: http://www.zmanda.com/download-amanda.php

Nmap
Nmap is a network mapping tool that is great for finding out what hosts and services are connected to a given network. While Nmap is often used in the context of security auditing, particularly for detecting open ports and vulnerabilities, many system administrators find it useful for simply keeping track of what is on their network, such as determining the operating system and hardware address of various hosts.

That’s merely scratching the surface. Nmap can be used in so many ways that it is very much worth exploring if you haven’t already. In addition to network inventory, Nmap can manage service upgrade schedules and monitor host or service uptime.

Download: http://nmap.org/

PowerGUI
If you’re looking for a more graphical means of tapping PowerShell (aside from PowerShell ISE), then you should check out PowerGUI. This free graphical user interface and script editor is valuable in its own right, but perhaps more valuable is the community built around PowerGUI, which offers a vast store of contributed scripts and libraries for administering your fleet.

This tool was originally kept up to date through Quest, which was acquired by Dell. Some worried it wouldn’t be improved on going forward, but Dell has indeed continued to work on it.

Download: http://www.powergui.org/

7-Zip
7-Zip is a free, open source archive utility for compressing files. It’s a great alternative to better-known shareware, which should help you avoid the headaches of registering software or clicking through a bunch of warnings about an expired trial period. It supports 256-bit AES encryption and a wide variety of archive formats, so you probably won’t have to resort to another archive solution any time soon. Combine all this with fast, effective compression, and 7-Zip is easily a tool that you will find useful for yourself and the users you support in your organization.

Download: http://www.7-zip.org/

Azure Storage Explorer
Although still in Beta, Azure Storage Explorer is swiftly progressing. It is a GUI tool for inspecting the data in your Azure cloud storage projects, including the logs of your cloud-hosted applications.

Keep in mind the variety of Azure storage “explorers” since folks often want to view their data easily. Jeff Irwin, program manager for Windows Azure Storage, put together a list of these storage explorers, and you can quickly see Azure Storage Explorer compares with other offerings. It is one of the few with the ability to work with block blob storage, page blob storage, tables, and queues.

Download: https://azurestorageexplorer.codeplex.com/

Notepad++
If you find yourself often jotting quick notes in Notepad, you might want to check out Notepad++. Though easy and lightweight, Notepad is sorely lacking in anything but the basics. Notepad++, as the name implies, is an even better take on the trusty, built-in Notepad application. It’s a source code editor and Notepad replacement.

This is no program for simply taking quick notes. It has a tabbed interface that allows you to switch quickly and easily between multiple open files, and it offers spell-check, auto-complete, and syntax highlighting — perfect for writing scripts.

That’s only scratching the surface of what Notepad++ has in store. There are many text editors, but Notepad++ is one to always have at the ready.

Download: http://notepad-plus-plus.org/

UltraDefrag
UltraDefrag is a tool for Windows that can defrag system files, registry hives, and the paging file. It can handle NTFS metafile defragmentation, MFT defragmentation, the defragging of hibernation files, and more. It also provides HTML readable reports. This valuable addition to any Windows environment is continually updated to ensure improvements in performance.

Download: http://ultradefrag.sourceforge.net/

VirtualBox
VirtualBox is a must-have open source virtualization solution for any admin seeking to run guest OSes on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, or Solaris machines. Familiarity with virtualization is fast becoming essential for all system administrators. VirtualBox is a quick and easy way to get started running your own virtual machines. Whether you want to test something out before running it in production or sharpen your skills on an OS you are less familiar with, VirtualBox is a great way to try out virtualization without having to invest in costly software.

Using VirtualBox, admins can run virtual instances of a wide array of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, OS/2, OpenBSD, and even DOS. It’s an open source community effort backed by Oracle.

Download: http://www.virtualbox.org/

Angry IP Scanner
Admins often need to quickly scan their network to find a particular workstation or device. There are lots of ways of doing this and plenty of tools to choose from, but when I need something quick and simple, I use Angry IP Scanner.

Angry IP Scanner offers loads of features and can be extended further with additional plug-ins, but I like it for the fact that it is lightweight, not even requiring an installation. Give it a try and I’m sure it will become an indispensable part of your toolkit as well.

Download: http://angryip.org/

Windows Azure Platform Management Tool (MMC)
The Windows Azure Platform Management Tool enables you to manage your Azure-hosted services and storage accounts through an installed MMC console GUI. You can perform a variety of administration and management operations through WAPMMC, including hosted service management, diagnostics, certificate management, storage services, blog storage management, and so on. Anyone moving to Microsoft’s cloud will find this tool indispensable.

Download: http://wapmmc.codeplex.com/

Google Analytics SharePoint 2013 / Office 365
This is an interesting solution for those folks who want to use the powerful and familiar Google Analytics tools within SharePoint and Office 365. It’s a sandbox solution that allows you to then paste the analytics code into Office 365 sites. It works with publishing sites and collaboration sites, so if your organization is hosting team sites, blogs, and the like, check it out.

Download: http://googleanalytics365.codeplex.com/

ClamWin
This free, open source antivirus solution is essential for security-minded admins. ClamWin supports Microsoft Windows versions ranging from Windows 98 to Windows 8, as well as Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003. It includes a scanning scheduler that you can use to configure appropriate scan times, automatic signature updates, Microsoft Outlook attachment scan/removal, and more.

Although it may not be 100 percent comparable to a commercial real-time option for virus scanning, ClamWin is certainly a worthwhile tool, especially for shops seeking a free solution. There are other free solutions, obviously, but this one is also open source, a definite plus.

Download: http://www.clamwin.com/


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2015 Unified Communications Predictions Part I

As has been our custom for over a decade, it’s time for our annual predictions on what will happen in the coming year for Unified Communications (UC). We’ll start with what is a clear 2014 trend that will continue in 2015: the growing adoption of cloud-based UC.

Most cloud providers have reported double-digit growth this year of their IP Telephony (IPT) and UC portfolios, while premise-based systems growth remains in the high single digits year-over-year. We attribute this to both to the adoption of stand-alone cloud services, plus the adoption of cloud-based UC as a hybrid solution that also includes premise-based components. We expect to see continued UC endpoint growth as organizations move beyond simple IPT, especially in hybrid solutions that integrate cloud-based UC with private IPT systems.

Both end users and IT organizations continue to become more comfortable with a mobile device or softphone as an IPT endpoint, and we expect that trend to continue, although many users will cling to their desktop phones for years to come.

Another 2014 trend that will accelerate is the proliferation of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) in the U. S. market. AT&T and Verizon network adoption of VoLTE will be especially noteworthy in 2015, as these two carriers move to eventually retire their 3G voice network—providing consumers and business customers with wideband (high-definition) voice and increased compatibility/interoperability with video and other collaboration media. VoLTE acceleration will also help as a prerequisite for replacing the legacy PSTN for carriers who maintain both wired and wireless networks.

The PSTN will continue a steady march toward retirement as AT&T and Verizon lay the groundwork to replace their legacy switching with an all-IP network. AT&T plans to retire its TDM and SS7 infrastructures by 2020. We expect that AT&T and Verizon will still need a host of gateways in 2020 to interconnect with other carriers that aren’t as aggressive with full-scale replacement within the next five years, so the network planners will be very busy with internal projects and interconnect proposals for an orderly transition.

Next time, we’ll cover some other UC news, and then return in 2015 after the holidays with part two of our predictions.


 

 

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Google’s 14 biggest hits and misses of 2014

A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

The best of times, the worst of times
A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

Hit: Android Lollipop’s new look
Android wasn’t exactly ugly in its previous incarnations, but it’s never looked as gorgeous as it does in Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new software combines flat design conventions with just a touch of depth and shadow, giving a sense that Android is built from layers of card stock. Now all we need is for OEMs not to mess it all up.

Miss: Finding a future for Google Glass
It’s been nearly two years since Google launched the prototype version of Google Glass, and its future looks murkier than ever. Instead of building hype, the Glass Explorer program merely exacerbated the stigmas and fears people had about Google’s high-tech specs. Recent reports suggest that a consumer launch is nowhere in sight. A possible pivot toward enterprise uses may help Google salvage the project, but it’s hardly looking like the revolution that Sergey Brin and his Google X labmates had in mind.

Hit: Chromecast beams past the competition
Google’s $35 TV dongle had its share of naysayers when it launched last year, but it’s clear now that Chromecast is a huge hit. A recent survey by Parks Associates found that Chromecast overtook Apple TV in U.S. sales, moving into second place behind Roku. Google also continued to build on Chromecast’s app library this year, with major additions such as MLB.TV, WatchESPN, Showtime Anytime, and Comedy Central. This isn’t rocket science, folks; Chromecast is a smart idea, executed well, at a price no other media streamer has been able to beat.

Miss: Android Silver slips away
Earlier this year, a slew of rumors suggested that Google was working on a white-glove service for high-end Android phones. Dubbed “Android Silver,” the plan was to offer fast upgrades and minimal bloatware on multiple phones from major wireless carriers. Ultimately, Silver may have replaced the Nexus program and helped bring pure Android to the mainstream. But according to The Information, this plan fell apart after receiving little interest from carriers and phone makers, followed by the departure of Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora. Long live the Nexus, then?

Hit: No more Kafkaesque Captchas
Copying jumbled letters into a web form stopped being an effective anti-spam measure years ago, as machines became better at the task than most people. Fortunately, Google is putting an end to the cruel joke. Its latest “No Captcha ReCaptcha” requires only the click of a button, as it picks up on subtle cursor movements to figure out who’s human.

Miss: Staying neutral on net neutrality
Google was once a major proponent of net neutrality, pushing the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against certain types of traffic. That was before Google forged a pact with Verizon in 2010 and essentially flip-flopped. With net neutrality becoming a hot topic again, Google had a chance to make things right. Instead, it has maintained a healthy distance, refusing to discuss its views with any substance. That’s a letdown regardless of which side of the debate you favor.

Hit: VR goes cheap with Cardboard
While Oculus and Samsung charge hundreds of dollars for their respective virtual reality headsets, Google proved that you can make compelling VR out of nothing but a pair of lenses and some cardboard. Just follow the online instructions (or order a cheap construction kit), download the Cardboard Android app, and enjoy some neat demos. Even if Cardboard never matures beyond its current state, it’s a welcome throwback to a time when Google liked to have fun.

Miss: Twitch today, Amazon tomorrow
It seemed like Google was this close to locking up its Internet video dominance with a billion-dollar acquisition of Twitch, a hugely-popular live video service focused on gaming. But while numerous publications claimed the deal was done, a last-minute arrangement with Amazon left Google empty-handed. The good news for consumers (which, in turn, is bad news for Google) is that Twitch now represents the closest thing to a competitive threat that YouTube has seen in years.

Hit: Google Voice’s new lease on life
Google Voice users had been understandably on edge since last year, as the call management service had been sorely lacking in major updates. Fortunately, 2014 brought substantive improvements, including MMS support and integration of many Voice features in Google’s slick new Hangouts app. While Google is known for putting niche services on the chopping block, longtime Voice users should be able to rest easier now.

Miss: Good grief, Google+
Google’s social network isn’t technically dead, but all signs indicate Google could de-emphasize its social network after the departure of Vic Gundotra in April. Google’s I/O conference came and went without any major Google+ news, and users may now create Google and Gmail accounts without a mandatory Google+ page. An unconfirmed report by TechCrunch also claimed that Google killed a policy requiring new products to have some Google+ element. While the single sign-in aspect of Google+ remains a success, the social networking angle is a failure—even according to one of its former engineers.

Hit: Bridging the Office-Drive divide
For lots of people, Google Drive and its Docs/Sheets/Slides suite have become a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office—until it’s time to deal with someone else’s Office documents. This year, Google updated its apps and added a Chrome extension to allow direct editing of Office documents, and added one-click document conversion from Gmail. There may still be other reasons to choose Office, but document formatting doesn’t have to be one of them anymore.

Miss: Take down that barge
It’s been more than a year since Google ‘fessed up to plans for “ interactive spaces” on a pair of floating barges in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. But now those plans seem to be adrift. Googledismantled the Portland barge in August amid fire safety concerns, while the Los Angeles barge shipped up to Stockton, Calif., near San Francisco, where it can “have a break,” according to Google. Strangely, Stockton’s tourism website has a page about the incomplete barge, but notes that it’s off-limits to the public and is best viewed from a nearby peninsula.

Hit: Peace in the patent war with Apple
While Steve Jobs made no secret of his disdain for Android, and even likened Apple’s patent battle to a “holy war” in company e-mails, Tim Cook seems more willing to let the patent spats slide under the bridge. Apple settled with Google’s Motorola in May, and settled all non-U.S. disputes with Samsung in August. Google also settled with Rockstar, a consortium that includes Apple, Blackberry and Microsoft, for a bundle of patents last month. Maybe now, everyone can get back to competing.

Miss: The right to be forgotten
Although Google doesn’t want to be in charge of erasing the past, that’s exactly what it must do according to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rules enacted this year. The issue is a knotty one: Crime victims and people who made stupid mistakes arguably deserve a second shot at web anonymity, but the rule also threatens press freedom and gives public figures a way to hide unsavory truths. Either way, it’s Google’s mess now, as the search giant must figure out how to reasonably maintain a memory hole for the Internet.


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In Silicon Valley, do the jerks always win?

We’ve seen a lot of bad-boy behavior out of Silicon Valley, but investors and customers just might say enough already

Do you need to be a jerk to succeed in Silicon Valley? The frequency with which bad-boy behavior crops up in the epicenter of tech culture can certainly make it seem that way.

The latest dustup involves the ride-sharing service Uber, whose senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, said he planned to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on journalists who he felt criticized the company. It sounded like a contemporary take on Nixon’s enemies list.

Michael is still with Uber. Company founder and CEO Travis Kalanick didn’t demote or fire him, opting to merely disavow the idea. And Michael’s transgression was hardly an isolated case of jerk behavior at Uber. A writer for San Francisco magazine has charged that she was told by people inside Uber that the company might monitor her rides on the service. There have been allegations that Uber has played dirty tricks on its competitor Lyft, it was revealed that Kalanick has privately called the service Boober because its success has made it easier for him to pick up women, the company has come out with blatantly sexist promotions, and more.

If you think all of that sounds like a company that is imploding, I have to inform you that Uber is valued at $18 billion.
And Uber is not an isolated case, but merely the latest manifestation of well-documented jerk culture among tech startups. The game company Zynga, for example, has faced lawsuits for illegally copying games of its competitors, has been charged with working with scam advertisers, and at one point forced four senior employees to either give up some of their non-vested stock or be fired. Zynga founder and one-time CEO Mark Pincus admitted in a speech at Startup@Berkeley, “I funded the company myself, but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”

Even established companies in Silicon Valley have exhibited jerk behavior. Apple founder Steve Jobs, thought by some to be almost saintlike, was not exactly a warm and fuzzy human being. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Jobs was both “Good Steve” and “Bad Steve,” and he included a variety of “Bad Steve” anecdotes in his biography of him: He denied paternity of his daughter for years (he ultimately accepted it), short-changed Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on a bonus, and more.

Do we have to just accept this as the way things work? No. In fact, it’s not uncommon for bad behavior to come back and bite the founders and their companies.

Take Zynga. It was a high-flying startup, whose stock price in the early days was near $15. Today it’s trading at about $2. Pincus had to step down as CEO and chief product officer in April of this year.

Uber still seems to be riding high, but bad publicity may well take its toll, with numerous high-profile people abandoning the service and deleting the app, according to The New York Times. Kelly Hoey, a New York-based angel investor, deleted her Uber account because of privacy concerns, telling the Times, “I don’t want them to have my information, my credit card or my name.” Lisa Abeyta, founder and CEO of the tech startup APPCityLife, did the same, adding, “There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty. It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that.” And Minnesota Senator Al Franken has written a scathing letter to Kalanick saying that Uber’s actions “suggest a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data.”

One of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Paul Graham, believes that investing in jerks (his term) is not just a kind of bad karma, but bad for business as well. Graham heads the prominent startup accelerator Y Combinator, which has helped launch countless successful startups, including Dropbox and Airbnb, and he won’t invest in companies run by people he considers jerks.

He told Business Insider, “The reason we tried not to invest in jerks initially was sheer self-indulgence. We were going to have to spend a lot of time with whoever we funded, and we didn’t want to have to spend time with people we couldn’t stand. Later we realized it had been a clever move to filter out jerks, because it made the alumni network really tight … based on what I’ve seen so far, the good people have the advantage over the jerks. Probably because to get really big, a company has to have a sense of mission, and the good people are more likely to have an authentic one, rather than just being motivated by money or power.”

So don’t think the bad buys always win. Sometimes they do get their comeuppance.


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Cool Yule Tools: Best techie gifts for 2014

The National Santa Agency has a handle on what everyone wants.

Our motto: “He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, He Knows When You’re Awake…”
After months of investigations, cups of coffee and several arm-twisting interrogation tactics, the Cool Yule Tools staff of writers and editors has discovered a shocking truth. The government group that has allegedly been spying on us, known as the “NSA”, is actually a cover group for a little-known organization with headquarters near the North Pole. Yes, we are speaking of the National Santa Agency. (See full writeups on these products.)

Thanks to our “Special Agents” who contributed reviews: Keith Shaw, Craig Mathias, Neal Weinberg, Abigail Weinberg, Ken Mingis and Tom Lupien.

Phones, computers and other mobile goodies
A large majority of the subjects we were monitoring were VERY interested in acquiring a new mobile device, whether it was a new laptop, phone or tablet. But we think they’ll be quite happy with these reviewed devices.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus
$299 for the 16GB model with 2-year contract; $749, contract-free

The iPhone 6 Plus represents the epitome of Apple’s phone line, but if you’re thinking of getting one as a gift, make sure your gift recipient can handle it. Literally. With a 5.5-in. “Retina HD” screen, this is one big phone — the biggest Apple’s ever made and its first foray into the phablet market.

As you’d expect from an Apple device, the design and engineering are top rate, and the screen is pixel packed, with 401 pixels per inch. That means everything is razor sharp, colorful and bright. It’s easily the best iPhone display Apple has produced.

Kyocera Brigadier smartphone
Price: $49.99 with two-year agreement, plus data plan

The Brigadier by Kyocera runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and can take any kind of abuse you can dish out. We dunked it in water, dropped it on a hardwood floor, scraped the screen with a sharp knife. And nothing, not even a scratch.

Lenovo Horizon 2 Tabletop PC
$1,500 (our test unit, available via Best Buy)
When you lay this giant 27-inch computer flat on a table, the first thing people may think is that you somehow got your hands on the iPhone 7 Plus (a really really really big phablet). But in reality, it’s still a Windows 8.1 PC, but one with a touchscreen that multiple people can interact with. The Aura interface that overlays the Windows PC to provide the tabletop mode lets multiple people pinch, expand, shrink and move objects around on the touchscreen. While you can collaborate with co-workers via this method (looking at photos, or watching videos, for example), the majority of your time spent with this machine will be spent playing games.

Logitech k480 Multi-Device Keyboard
$49.99
You’re most likely to need/want a Bluetooth external keyboard when you acquire a tablet, but plenty of other devices (such as your smartphone and notebook) have Bluetooth as well, so it’s nice to have a single keyboard that can connect to multiple devices.

Logitech achieves this with its k480, a small, portable keyboard that includes a dial that switches between up to three devices, across multiple operating systems. If you want to connect a Windows PC, Android smartphone and Apple iPad, just turn the dial associated with each of those devices (it’s up to you to remember which device goes with each setting on your dial). The keyboard quickly and easily makes the Bluetooth connection to those devices. (See full review here).

Lenovo Y50
Starts at $1,089
I’ve been in the Mac camp for about three years now, about the same amount of time that Windows 8 has been out. But if I were ever considering coming back to the world of Windows, it would definitely be with this machine – the Lenovo Y50. The latest systems include fourth-generation Intel Core processors, a brilliant 15.6-inch full HD displays (touch-enabled, too), JBL speakers and a very cool backlit keyboard. I’m even coming around on Windows 8.1, if only a little bit (the return of the Start menu and easier access to the desktop definitely helps). (See full review here).

Lenovo N20p Chromebook
$329.99 (as tested)
Chromebooks have been out for a few years now, so the rough edges from earlier models have smoothed out, and Google seems to be doing a pretty good job at filling in the blanks of things that were missing from the operating system (remember, Chromebooks don’t use a traditional operating system like Windows or MacOS). You have to be invested in the Google universe, which means email will be done through Gmail, your browser will be Google Chrome, your productivity applications will be done through Google Drive (Docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.), and your music will be located on Google Play Music, etc. In fact, you might want to ask your friend, family or co-worker how comfortable they are with all of these Google offerings – if so, then it’s a definite recommend. (See full review here.)

Macally Quick Switch Bluetooth Keyboard
$69.99
It may seem like overkill to think that you would need one keyboard that quickly switches for use with five different devices, but you could find yourself in a scenario with two computers, a phone, a tablet and then you’re already up to four right there. Even if you don’t need five devices, it’s still a very cool option to have this functionality. In fact, you can connect a sixth device via the included USB cable, which is like Spinal Tap going to 11.

The keyboard itself is a full-sized keyboard with a very light touch and feel – it’s so light that you could carry it with you if you had a big enough laptop bag (it’s the width, not the weight that would be limiting).

REPORT #2: Audio Entertainment (Headphones, Music, Speakers)
After mobile devices, the next most popular item on holiday wish lists focus around musical entertainment. Whether speakers or headphones, we think these items will look great under the tree (or on your head).

Blue Mo-Fi headphones
$350
At first glance, the Mo-Fi headphones from Blue appear to be so large you’d never want to be seen in public with them. The headphones are big – very big compared with other headphones we’ve seen. They’re heavier, too. But the reasons for that will likely cause you to veto any concerns you may have. The extra weight and design are due to a built in audiophile amplifier and “ultra-premium drivers”, which give high-fidelity sounds to multiple devices – whether you’re listening on your phone, tablet, computer or even higher end A/V systems. Sure, this adds some extra weight, and you might get some odd looks while wearing these on your flight. But deal with it, you’ll enjoy the awesome sound compared to your seatmates listening on other headphones.
(See a full writeup of this product.)


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