December 2011 – iCloud to the rescue

Moving to iCloud

iCloud from Apple - connects everything!

What is iCloud — check out the Apple site for info here?  It’s a tool from Apple that allows you to wirelessly synchronize your contact and calendar information on the web.

We got our induction into the class of people moving to iCloud.  The primary benefit we are seeing so far is wireless access to our contacts and calendars — no longer are you connecting with a cable to synchronize your data.

We have been through the following so far with great guidance from Danny Sullivan’s blog.  The blog entry on iCloud has lots of useful information and experiences.

My office

The computer items involved:
  • iMac updated to Mac OS X Lion
  • Macbook update to Mac OS X Lion (a requirement)
  • iPhone updated to IOS 5 (a requirement)
  • Windows 7 Pro, HP desktop with iCloud control panel

I performed the setup from my iMac (my ‘primary’ source of information) and everything synchronized easily.  In Outlook 2010, I just needed to know to look at the iCloud calendar rather than the default calendar.  Also had to change the location of my contacts.  Otherwise, updates flow quickly and wirelessly.

My first client moving to iCloud

The computer items involved:
  • Windows 7 Pro Laptop
  • iPhone with IOS 5 (a requirement)
  • iPad 2

My first client experience with using iCloud occurred under duress (for lack of a better description) and not according to a ‘normal’ path.  In essence, her laptop drive failed while she was traveling.  During that trip, since she needed to view information on the internet, she purchased an iPad.  Somehow, I’m not clear on this yet, the iPad was loaded at the Apple store with her contacts and calendar.  I can only suppose that this occurred when she had previously converted her iPhone to IOS 5 and, possibly, enabled iCloud for her data.

The next step, when I finally got her home, was to setup her laptop.  I’ve used Outlook long enough to know now that any time I work on it that I should backup everything first.  Thus, before embarking on this adventure, I backed up the Contacts and Calendar information.

In this case, since the data on the phone was sourced from the computer, it would have seemed logical that we should simply setup the laptop with the iCloud control panel for Windows and synchronize the data.  Not!  When we did this step, everything was duplicated — everywhere.  Not to mention the fact that the contacts and calendar information were blank in Outlook — not blank, just moved to iCloud.

What we’ve seen so far

Calendar in Outlook – as many are discussing, iCloud grabs your data and moves it from Outlook to the iCloud calendar.  We saw duplication of all calendar information on my client system and this appears to have occurred because the computer perceived them as new entries rather than a synchronization of prior information.

Contacts in Outlook – they got moved to iCloud also and completely removed from the Outlook data file.  Simply updating Outlook to use the correct address book resolved that problem.  No duplication was seen here.

Information flows nicely – updates to calendar and contact information flows across the air quickly.

Mac iCal – if you are the type that needs automatic updates (I do!), ensure you set your iCal preferences to automatically update you calendar on a timed interval basis — you’ll see when you look.

To consider

Privacy – your contact and calendar information, through this tool, are now in the cloud and stored somewhere other than on your personal system.  Be aware of storing passwords or other personal information in this format to ensure you’re not exposed.

Large volume of data – if your contact list or calendar are enormous, you may experience slow loading time at the initial pass and afterwards.  For this, we are looking for more data to see how it works.



Battery Backup

Do I need battery backup for my computer?

Vail Computer Support and Repair - Backup UPS, Power Protection

APC Back UPS - Inexpensive and rather cool to look at too!

Many people probably feel that they never have power surges or outages.  Most likely, you do have them, and just don’t notice — your computer is on, right?  I personally had my iMac fail after a power surge in my area.  There was an auto accident where some unfortunate soul slammed into a power transformer and everyone’s power was immediately dropped.  I presume a surge or the like occurred with it and my iMac hard drive was broken.

The result?  I had to pack my iMac in my car and drive 2 hours to the local Apple store for repair.  Had to leave it there and got it back 10 days later.  All because I thought I would play the odds and get a UPS ‘later’.

Timing got me in this case.  Had my iMac all setup and purchasing a UPS in the future was on my list.  The power issue occurred prior to the installation of the UPS.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Since this point, I’ve been using and APC Back-UPS unit and it has saved me on numerous occasions — you know, the famous BEEP BEEP.  There has been roadway construction and the like that has caused power outages in our area randomly.  No problems for me though with my power protection in place.

If your system investment matters, install a UPS.  Easy to do and it is cheap insurance.

Clean your computer

Although you may be nervous about cleaning your computer, it needs to occur.  A standard home vacuum cleaner works in most cases if you use a dust attachment.

Computer Cleaning and maintenance - Vail Colorado

Dust accumulation around a cooling fan.

Guidelines to cleaning your computer

  1. Turn the equipment off – turn off our computer or television and ensure that it is not connected to power.  This helps to ensure you don’t get shocked or cause an issue with electrical discharge.
  2. Be gentle – take it easy if you vacuum your system or keyboard.  Do not vacuum your monitor as you may accidentally scratch it.
  3. Use correct cleaning solution – only use a cleaning solution that is labelled appropriately and that your computer retail outlet recommends.
Many of you might use ‘canned air’ for dust removal.  We find that if you’re not careful, you might accidentally dispense the liquid component of the material.  We have not see any issues from such, but wanted to mention that the vacuum approach seems to do a better job of REMOVAL while ‘canned air’ seems to send the dust further into the system which you are actually trying to clean.

Nov 2011 – Buying a Computer

Purchasing a computer – A road frequently travelled

Sometimes it’s best to take the approach ‘out with the old and in with the new!’.  Not always — especially if it’s less expensive to simply repair your computer.  Surprisingly it can sometimes be less expensive to purchase a new system than to repair and aged one.

There are so many reasons to purchase a new computer.  There are many reasons to repair a computer.  Many times, the situation is forced upon you due to a horrible virus or something less intrusive — like dropping your laptop off the kitchen counter.  The guys authoring viruses these days are tough.  They destroy the system to the point where it costs less to simply purchase a new system.

Whatever the reason, we talk to clients often about how to make the best decision when considering the options for a purchase.

Mac? Thin and lightweight? Dell? HP? Costco? Office Depot?  The local computer shack?

Dell computer - Support and Repair - Vail Colorado

Retiree on the left and replacement on the right

In the end, it seems a matter of finance that helps the client make the decision.  Also, some clients prefer to purchase at one place or another.  Many just hate certain vendors and love others.

Understanding the full breadth of the issue at hand though is where we find people going down the ‘road frequently travelled’.  This may not, however,be the best road mind you.

We happen to operate in a mountain community in Colorado.  In our area there are all manner of options for purchasing a computer.  Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Costco and local computer shacks are present.

The questions and areas of consideration are plentiful.  Consider these (and this list is not inclusive):

  • How much time are you going to spend shopping in a store for your system.
  • How much effort are you going to expend dealing with a local shack that may not last another year — longevity does matter you know.
  • How is the system supported after the purchase?
  • How long does the warranty last?
  • What is the track record of the company where you are purchasing your computer?
  • If you have an issue, how do you obtain repair service?  Mail the system to the vendor?
So far, our best option for purchase, repair, warranty and support has been with Dell.  Yes, many of our pupils dislike the behemoth, for whatever reason, but we must say that the overall system just works.  Why?

What are the reasons Dell is such a compelling argument?

  • Dell has computer systems that work well — as good as any other vendor.  The product lines, generally speaking, work well.
  • Dell has phenomenal warranty support and repair.  We’ve seen all manner of parts replaced without issue.
  • They have field technicians that will come to your house to repair your computer — providing you keep your warranty intact.  Keep in mind though, this is for issues with PARTS, not software.  Virus corruption and otherwise is your issue to deal with.
  • Their support systems — those that help your computer person — are simply incredible.  The online support through chat and otherwise is second to none.  Support for systems that are 10 years old (through driver availability) is simply fantastic.
Have we tried other systems?

Of course!  We actively use an iMac and a Macbook for site development, blogging and other manner of creative endeavors.  We have HP and Nobilis systems in our pile of trash computers too that are almost impossible to support.  Our Dell systems just keep purring providing we have ample ventilation and manage the systems (software updates, backups, etc).

It’s ultimately up to you!

In the end, it’s your decision.  Many computer support businesses love that it is overly difficult to support a system because they make more money in the end.  We are of the opinion that it is simply NO FUN (and fun is part of our business model) to inform a client that we are adding 2 hours of labor to a system recovery simply to locate system software and parts.  They hate that information and so do we.

We are happy to consult with you on any purchase because we simply want your computers to operate as well as ours do.