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Consumer Guides and Recommendations October 28, 2011

Posted by twiznc in Services & Software Recommendations.
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Last updated January, 2018

Welcome to the Tech Wizards Blog.  In addition to general information and “tips and tricks” (see menu at left), this blog includes comprehensive consumer guides as well as hardware and software recommendations based on our experience as one of the leading tech support providers in our market. We cover all the basics including new computer purchase considerations, choosing an ISP and web browser, data backup solutions, email and SPAM tools, security and malware protection, and web surfing monitors and controls.

Click on a link below to see any of our consumer guides:

Computer Purchase Considerations

Which Version Of Windows Is Right For You?

Data Backup Solutions

Best Free Anti-Virus/Anti-Spyware Solution

Web Browsers, Tools & Utilities

Web Surfing Monitors & Controls

Office 365 vs Google Apps

Cloud Storage Services

Email and Instant Messaging (IM) Applications & Utilities

Email Encryption Solutions

Junk Email/SPAM Filters

Internet FAX Services


Donate, Recycle, or Responsibly Dispose of Computer Equipment January 11, 2018

Posted by twiznc in General, Tips & Tricks.
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Most computer equipment contains hazardous materials that should not be just thrown in the trash can or local landfill.  There are a few options for donating, recycling, or responsibly disposing of computer equipment in the Raleigh/Durham area.

  1. The Kramden Institute in Durham accepts most computer equipment (drop off at their location only).  The computers they refurbish are awarded to students and adults across North Carolina that lack access to a home computer. All items that they cannot use in their program are properly recycled with hard drives securely wiped of all data.  See https://kramden.org/donate-a-computer/.
  2. BlueSky Solutions in Raleigh offers free pickup of virtually any type of electronic equipment for responsible recycling and will also securely wipe data from hard drives.  See http://blueskysolutions.us/solutions-for-businesses.
  3. If you just want equipment responsibly disposed of, we can pick it up the next time we are in the area and take it to the Wake County Multi-Material Recycling Facility.  Or you can drop off equipment yourself at their two Wake County locations (North Raleigh and Apex).  See http://www.wakegov.com/recycling/division/facilities/Pages/mmrf.aspx.

Send Large Files That Are Too Big To Email October 12, 2016

Posted by twiznc in Email, Services & Software Recommendations.
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Most email services limit the size of outgoing messages, preventing you from emailing large attachments (images, large PDF documents, etc.).  Most FTP solutions are difficult to configure and present security challenges.  One good solution is to use a web-based third-party file transfer site.  These services allow you to upload your large file to the service provider’s server and then email a link to one or more recipients allowing them to download the file.  Some of these services are free but limit the size of files that can be uploaded, the frequency of uploads within a given period, and/or the expiration time of the download link.  Paid services will offer much greater flexibility with fewer limitations at a fairly low monthly subscription cost; some services offer unlimited uploads (size and frequency) with download link expirations of up to 90 days (or more).

The size limit of files that can be uploaded will vary by service, but generally speaking free services allow files of anywhere from 2GB up to about 30GB, and the download links remain active for anywhere from 2-3 days to a week or so.  Bear in mind that this may not be a good option for confidential files as the security precautions of these services can’t always be determined. Continue reading for our favorite free third-party service, as well as links to other services (both free and paid).  (more…)

Secure Password Guide August 15, 2016

Posted by twiznc in Security.
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At a minimum, Tech Wizards strongly urge you to utilize passphrases of at least 16 characters and change passwords at least every 3-6 months. The below information can make creating relatively easy-to-remember passphrases and changing them regularly fairly easy. At a minimum, create a passphrase of at least 16 letters such as lyrics from a song (allyouneedislove), a line from a nursery rhyme (hey diddle diddle), a line from a poem (andmilestogobeforeisleep), etc. Capitalizing one or more letters and adding special characters (even spaces) will improve the strength of any passphrase. There are also several free online tools that can generate long, secure passwords for you (see links below). Although it is preferable to come up with an entirely new password every time you change your password, adding the month and year as a four-digit addition at the end of your phrase (Allyouneedislove!0316) takes some of the pain out of changing your password (just update the month and year code at the end of your passphrase); if you do this every calendar quarter then the number becomes very easy to remember.


A Free Tool To Automatically Backup Outlook PST Files July 2, 2016

Posted by twiznc in Email, Services & Software Recommendations.
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Safe PST Backup provides a free tool (for personal use) to automatically backup Outlook PST files including email, contacts, calenders, tasks, and other folders and subfolders.  It is compatible with any Outlook version and can be used by other applications compatible with the PST format.  Manual or scheduled backups can be saved to your local hard drive or to a network location automatically, whether Outlook is running or not.

A (paid) Enterprise edition subscription is also available which eliminates the advertising included with the free version, will also back up Exchange OST files (and convert them to PST files if needed), allows custom backup schedules (rather than basic backup schedules with the free version), and add other enterprise features handy for network administrators.

Microsoft Outlook – Six Ways To Organize Your Inbox April 3, 2016

Posted by twiznc in Email, Tips & Tricks.
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PCWorld.com provides an excellent article on getting your Outlook email organzized using the free tools already built-in to Outlook by Microsoft.  These tools are powerful and very effective, even though most users are unaware of them.  Even though this article is from 2014, all of the tools described are still present in all versions of Outlook.  Click here to view the article.

One tool left out of the above article that is perhaps the most userful tool built-in to Outlook for managing your email messages is Outlook Rules.  If you use Office 2016 or Office 2013 click here for Microsoft’s guide for using rules in these versions of Outlook.  For those still using Outlook 2010 click here for the same guide for your version of Outlook.


Email Encryption Solutions March 7, 2016

Posted by twiznc in Email, Security, Services & Software Recommendations.
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Updated 07/17/2017

Email encryption can be very confusing and difficult to sort out.  Basically, there is “endpoint-to-server” encryption (which is what Gmail does) and there is “endpoint-to-endpoint” encryption (where messages are encrypted from the sender’s inbox to the recipient’s inbox).  Regulatory compliance requires “true” endpoint-to-endpoint encryption, which is only available from third parties that provide such a service, usually via a “hosted” encryption mail server.

Tech Wizards recommends four “point-to-point” encryption products that satisfy regulatory compliance requirements (including HIPAA):

Virtru offers a free version (marginally compliant), plus a paid version (fully compliant) with extra features and functionality – $60.00/user/year. Tech Wizards has tested this app and it seems easy to use at both ends (sender and recipient).  It provides an Outlook Plug-In which allows sending an encrypted message just by clicking a button in Outlook (although Outlook is not required to send encrypted messages; it works fine with Gmail, other email systems).  Recipients receive an email notification with a link to a website where they confirm their identity and then view (or download) the encrypted email message; there are no “keys” to exchange.

DataMotionSecureMail Desktop is priced at $99/user/year but they do offer a 14 day free trial for up to five users.  We have not tested this app but it appears to have similar features as the paid version of Virtru, plus some added-value features and options.

Enlocked pricing is $99/year or $9.99 per month per account for 100 sent messages per month (no storage limit), or $199/year or $19.99/month per account for 2,000 send messages per month (no storage limit).  Enlocked also offers a discount of 10% for more than 10 accounts and a 20% discount for more than 25 accounts.  They also offer a free plan for those users who only occasionally send encrypted messages that allow 10 sent encrypted emails per month.

ShareFile is priced at $192/year per account (or $20/month) for 100 GB of storage and 10 GB Maximum File Size, or $720/year or $75/month for five accounts (additional accounts are $8.00 each) with 1 TB of Storage and 10 GB Maximum File Size, or $1200/year or $125/month for five accounts (additional accounts are $10 each) with Unlimited Storage and 100GB Maximum File Size.

Office 365 vs Google Apps August 7, 2014

Posted by twiznc in Email, Services & Software Recommendations.
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Updated March 6, 2016

Trying to choose between Office 365 and Google Apps?  Both now provide powerful and flexible alternatives to a locally-installed software application like Microsoft Office Suite.  For a comprehensive comparison of these two online productivity suites click here.  Although both of these suites are good choices for small businesses who want to minimize capital investments (by “renting” rather than buying productivity suite software) and who want to always have the latest version of their productivity suite, we here at Tech Wizards find that Microsoft’s Office 365 is often a better choice primarily because it it’s almost universal compatibility with other apps and user’s familiarity with Microsoft products in general.

Bear in mind that both Office 365 and Google Apps provide generous cloud storage services as a part of the product offering, so if you go with one of these services then you probably will not need to consider a separate cloud storage service option.


Cloud Storage Services July 27, 2014

Posted by twiznc in Services & Software Recommendations.
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Updated March 6, 2016

Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box, and iDrive are the top players in the cloud storage field and all offer both free plans as well as paid/business plans that offer more features and/or more storage space. SugarSync is also a well-known brand that is feature-rich but does not offer a free plan (to compare SugarSync features with the other services click here).

If considering once of these services for personal use, click here for a good compaison article.  If for business use, click here for a good comparison slideshow.

In our experience, Microsoft OneDrive is a slight favorite due to it’s tight integration with Windows File Explorer and user’s familiarity with Microsoft products in general.

Bear in mind that both Office 365 and Google Apps provide generous cloud storage services as a part of the product offering, so if you go with one of these services then you probably will not need to consider a separate cloud storage service option.

Internet FAX Services July 27, 2014

Posted by twiznc in Services & Software Recommendations.
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Updated March 6, 2016

Click here for a good non-biased review of these services; beware of many “biased” review sites on the web that are put up by vendor but “appear” as legitimate review sites (RingCentral is famous for doing this).   eFax is by far the best known service, and they do provide a “free” service (limited to outgoing FAXing only), but you have to really search for it on their website (browse to http://www.efax.com/efax-free to access this page). The free service at http://www.gotfreefax.com/ is probably the best of the free services (quick and easy FAXing from their website), but again it is limited to outgoing FAXing only (but they don’t ad advertising to your cover page as most of the other free services do).  For an economical but feature-rich service that provides both outgoing and incoming FAX service I would recommend http://www.myfax.com/.  It offers a 30 day free trial and is only $10/month at the time this post was written.