Marketing Basics – Thanks to Celebrity Apprentice

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

Do you watch Celebrity Apprentice? if not, you really are missing out. Sure, the show is filled with a lot of hype and drama, but it is also full of great little golden nuggets of business and marketing information.

For example, in a recent episode where the competitors had to create a four-page ad spread for Trump’s luxury hotel chain (which both teams ultimately failed at, by the way), one team created an ad that the client referred to as looking like an ad for sleazy nightclubs you’d find on the dash of your car. The other team also had an epic fail in not including any contact information (or, Call to Action) on their ads.

While watching, it suddenly dawned on me that these mistakes that seemed obvious (to me anyways) were not immediately apparent to those who are involved in marketing. So, I’ve decided to include some quick pointers to help people avoid making the same mistakes in their marketing materials.

I can’t stress this point enough. Just because you know how to ad Clip Art to a Word document does not make you a designer. It takes years of education, (and more importantly experience) to get graphic and layout design down pat, and if you don’t have that expertise you run a high risk of making your marketing materials look cheap and cheesy. And the result of that? your company looks cheap and cheesy.

In fact, even if you have some design experience, I recommend you still hire an outside source who is not so closely involved in the project – they can help provide an outsider’s perspective which will ultimately help convey your marketing message more effectively and efficiently.

2. Editing is crucial.

Not a great writer and/or speller? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. while hiring a Writer and/or Editor would be the best choice, we realize that’s not always a possibility. So if you’re going to DIY, here are some quick editing tips to help your company’s marketing copy look professional:

Spell Check is a great starting point to help minimize spelling errors (and even some grammatical ones). So make it a point to add a quick Spell Check to all documents before doing anything else.

Read, re-read, and read it again.

Like we said above, Spell Check can be a great starting tool, but it is not the end all and be all of editing. if it were, Editors would no longer exist. Spell Check may catch the big mistakes, but wrong words can still be left in the copy (e.g., He instead of The). And because Word is an American program that has still neglected to add the Canadian spelling choice to its program, you will end up with the American spelling of numerous words (e.g. Theater vs. Theatre). This is enough to drive any cold-blooded Canadian absolutely nuts.

So once you’ve done your Spell Check, be sure to read your copy over and over and over again (three times at least). also, here’s a great tip – read it out loud. This really helps to not only point out spelling mistakes but also fix grammatical errors and improve the overall flow of the copy.

Pass it along.

Once you’ve poured over the copy until your eyes have blurred over and you know you are no longer useful in your editing role, pass the copy along to someone else who is capable of making any spelling, grammar or content edits it may need. if you have more than one person who can fill this role, then pass it to them person as well – the more eyes the better.

Sometimes mistakes are inevitable.

Even Editors know that mistakes can still get through the editing process, so if you’ve taken all these steps and your copy goes out and there are still mistakes, don’t beat yourself up about it. Editing is a skill that is learned over time, and during your journey you will pinpoint your own editing strengths and weaknesses and be able to fine-tune your editing skills as you go.

3. never, ever, ever forget to add contact information.

This one should be a given, but apparently it wasn’t to the players on Celebrity Apprentice- ALWAYS include the website, phone number and any other crucial contact information on your ads. The point of advertising is to get the attention of potential clients and to get them to use your product and/or service, so be sure to lead them to where they can do so.

Phenom Harper shows youth, brilliance in major league debut

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

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LOS ANGELES — Bryce Harper was born two days after Sid Bream beat Barry Bonds’ throw home and advanced the Braves to the 1992 World Series. On Saturday night, the boy who came into the world in a Las Vegas hospital that week made it to where everyone knew he would end up since he was, oh, 14.

The big league debut of Harper, the Nationals’ first overall pick in 2010 and for now their starting left fielder, did not have the buzz of expectation as much as the awe of the preordained coming to pass.

Just don’t tell Harper.

"I was sitting in the dugout right before the game thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I’m in the big leagues.’"

"I think he did great tonight," said fellow phenom Stephen Strasburg, sullen after a hard-luck no decision in the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in 10 innings. "It’s not easy to come out here and have to back up all the expectations."

Under what Vin Scully called a "magnificent blue sky," Harper jogged out for the bottom of the first having eschewed the full-face, NFL-style eye black he often wore in the minors, but still rocking a grown-out Mohawk — evidence of the child in man-child.

How did Chavez Ravine at twilight compare to the rainy doubleheader he played Thursday in Rochester? "Ah, man, this is beautiful," he said after the game. "This is unbelievable coming out here. … It’s hard playing in Syracuse [home of the Nationals’ AA affiliate] in 25-degree weather."

Saturday offered no clues as to which of the labels tossed at Harper since he became a legend in high school will stick: entitled brat, or humble old-schooler. Here was Harper slamming his helmet into a cubby and spiking a water cup after a fifth-inning fly out. Here he was a minute later walking Rick Ankiel’s glove and cap out to him at the end of the inning, looking afraid to approach the cleanup hitter who has seen everything baseball has to offer, including his own glossy debut — as a pitcher — when Harper was six.

The highlights will show us (and show us) the liner Harper ripped to the wall in center in the seventh, but they will not grant us access to the hiss it emitted, audible from behind the backstop, or the "passion and the fire" he says he felt rounding first at full tilt, flicking his helmet off with his hand, looking like he wanted third.

"I’m always thinking triple when I hit one like that. That’s what our organization preaches," said Harper, who also had a ninth-inning sacrifice fly that briefly put the Nationals ahead 2-1.

At 19, he’s the youngest active player in the major leagues — by more than a year — and as he neared second the teenager in him, remembering that there were two outs and this wasn’t the International League, hit the brakes like the jet that had brought him to LAX. It’s that battle between man and boy that stood out most on Saturday night.

"nothing is preordained," said Scott Boras, agent to both Harper and Strasburg. "there is nothing mundane about times like this, no matter what others predicted for him. When things go the way they did tonight, it lets you get past the story of how his big league career began and allows him to just be a baseball player again."

Harper’s afternoon batting practice session had his teammates leaning on their bat knobs and chuckling as Harper sprayed moonshots to outfield seats at every point on the compass. but the greatest awe came in the bottom of the seventh, when Harper, seeing Jerry Hairston round third on a base hit to left, unleashed a screamer from his right arm that rivaled the one that leapt off his bat in the top of the inning.

"Before that situation happened I was standing out there thinking that if he hits a base hit to me I just gotta keep the ball down and not let it go and put it five rows into the seats," Harper said. "That would be bad."

His throw could not have been stronger or more accurate, but Hairston, who has seen nearly as much as Ankiel, slapped it out of catcher Wilson Ramos’s mitt and slapped the plate to tie the game. That run would prove valuable.

A calm, showered Harper fielded questions in the dugout a half-hour after Matt Kemp’s 10th-inning home run won the game for L.a. It obviously wasn’t Harper’s first media crush.

How was big league pitching? "It’s only one game," he said respectfully. "maybe I can answer that question in four or five days."

Harper on watching Kemp’s homer float over the wall: "That sucked, y’know what I’m saying?"

A media relations man intervened a beat later, and away walked the teenager. to the stands to hug his agent Boras, his father, Ron, and his mother, Sheri, in that order, his rat tail trickling down his neck, feet squeaking in his sandals, a boy admittedly still growing.

Information about computers Websites

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

Hi, I’m Mads Polsen and I’ve created this website because I think that sometimes it’s very hard to find good trusted websites.

NO Spam or Irrelevant Websites

All websites have been manually reviewed and my editors have manually checked the sites for spam/virus and other “bad things”. this makes my site unique and trusted.

User’s Votes

It’s unique since it’s YOU (my users) that decides all the ratings on the website, and it’s trusted since there is no incentive to manipulate the rankings in any way

Contact me

If you want to know a bit more about me please go to the about page.

If you have any questions or just want to chat a bit, please contact me with the contact form.

Spelling & grammar

Since I’m born and raised in Denmark you’ll probably find a “few” spelling and grammar mistakes on the website. Feel free to contact me about this – use the contact form :-)

Update: I’ve now launched Trendlists in Sweden. It’s a really cool site and you can visit the site here: TOPPEN.nu – Det bästa på Nätet.

Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin upgrading computer technology

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

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Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin Inc. is investing $1 million for new computer technology to improve connections with customers and donors at its growing number of retail stores.

Among the expected benefits: faster transactions in the checkout lanes, fewer mailings to regular customers, collection of customer data and automatic storage of information on donations so donors will have a record to access online at tax time.

The software, along with professional services help, is being purchased from Epicor Software Corp. of Dublin, Calif. it is expected to be operating by the end of this year.

"We’re looking for it to improve efficiency at the checkout process for our shoppers. But we’re also looking to add a component of a customer relationship management system to integrate with the point of sale to try and give our shoppers and our donors a better experience," said Billie Torrentt, vice president of retail stores for the area Goodwill unit, which covers metro Chicago as well as southeastern Wisconsin.

The area Goodwill has 46 stores, 20 of which are in southeastern Wisconsin. A store is planned for Grafton this summer, along with two more in Illinois.

"We are looking to add about five stores a year for the next several years," Torrentt said.

The new software is expected to enhance the current frequent shopper program, Club Goodwill, which offers perks such as 5% off any purchase of $20 or more, a 25%-off birthday coupon and advance notification of sales and promotions.

The new program will keep a record of loyalty rewards a customer is eligible for, so an employee won’t have to look it up when a customer is checking out.

It also is expected to cut down on the expense and materials for mailings, Torrentt said.

"Currently, we’re mailing birthday coupons to our customer base, our rewards customers," she said. "So we’d be able to have that information stored online for us. if they had a birthday that month, we’d be able to automatically know it, so it would take the burden off the shopper to have to carry as much paper."

Donors will benefit as well, according to Pat Boelter, vice president of marketing.

"Donors are the lifeblood of our business," Boelter said. "We want to make it as convenient and hassle-free for them as possible. We’ll be able to sign donors up right on the spot at the drop-off location. We’ll scan their card, and they will receive an electronic receipt for their donation."

According to the most recent statistics, more than 5.7 million customers shop at Goodwill Industries of Wisconsin Inc.’s retail stores, and the organization receives donations from about 2.3 million donors.

Goodwill’s mission is to provide training, employment and supportive services for people with disabilities or disadvantages who want greater independence. Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin, based in Milwaukee, employs 5,367 people, 3,149 of them in Wisconsin.

Top Computer Software

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

Have a look at Amazon’s list of the top computer software, deals of the week, reviews, the latest software, gift certificates and customer discussions on the products. You will also find links to international sites.

You will find products like Windows Vista, Movie Converter, Mr Site, Adobe Photoshop and Norton’s internet security. You will also find a list of the latest software products, and you can get personalised recommendations.

Search for the top operating system, home, lifestyle, design, multi media, business, utility, education, communications and programming software. Or search by brand or price range on Epinions’ web site. You’ll also find unbiased reviews by real people.

On Computer Software South Africa, you will find the top accounting, anti virus, internet security, graphics, office suits, video editing, web development, web master software in South Africa. You will also find a list of the latest software products.

Why not have a look at CNet’s top 100 software products? You will find products from leading vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe, Intuit, Norton, McAfee and Apple Mac Tiger OS. You will also find reviews and news on best buy computer software.

Microsoft has blended its popular Office suite with its enterprise system to create what it now calls Microsoft Office System. but while the name is different and Outlook has gotten a face-lift, Microsoft hasn’t done much to the other apps in the suite. So the burning question remains: should you upgrade?

A straightforward and effective all-in-one firewall/privacy/antivirus/antispam/antispyware product, ZoneAlarm Internet Security from Zone Labs is worthy of consideration in any home or SOHO situation. It offers the best software firewall, antivirus, and privacy protection available to PC users today.

It’s clean and simple tab-based interface is blissfully intuitive to navigate, making ZoneAlarm far less imposing than Norton Internet Security 2005 and easier to operate than McAfee Internet Security Suite 2005.

Hacker-Proofing 101: Computer Security Tips

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

The term ‘Hacker’ has been rampant around the internet recently. actually, it has been the dirty word of the internet since the 80’s and the classic hacker movies of the early 90’s. It’s not a word you want to throw around loosely; it scares people and causes panic because the path of destruction can be crippling.

Whether your 15 year old opened a scam email and infected your family computer, or a virus has taken down your entire system at the office – most people have witnessed the effects of an online security breach.

While the term Hacker has seen resurgence (particularly in the social media channels) with the handywork of LulzSec, and the recent attacks in Syria and Hong Kong; now might be a good time to review a few tips to reduce your computer security risks.

Computer Safety Tips:

  • Run an updated virus protection: viruses change on a daily basis, make sure you have the right protection and that it isn’t out of date or expired.
  • Change your password regularly: even a slight adjustment every few months will help, and keep it a secret
  • Read and pay attention to the terms and copyrights of downloaded files: Don’t just click ‘OK’. do a little bit of reading into what the file contains and where it will end up on your computer.
  • Make sure your OS (Operating System) is patched: You can be left vulnerable without proper and up-to-date patches. if you are unsure about the staus of your patches, talk to your IT team (or infrastructure host) regularly about updates.
  • Run backups on all your files It’s simple, but too often underused. just like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, you will be happy you did.
  • Be conscious of how you are transmitting personal or sensitive information: don’t send credit card info or passwords in the body of an email, it’s just not safe. if you need to send information, attach it as a file or even better – pick up the phone and communicate it verbally.
  • Lock your computer when it is unattended: this will save you from pranks and information stealing. It’s like leaving your baggage unattended at airports.
  • Be careful of resource-intensive software/streaming files and media. be proactive, set rules and limits at home and at the office. make sure all media is downloaded from a reputable source.
  • Choose a reputable host: Ask questions about security methods/systems, read customer testimonials, get what you pay for

Some of these tips seem simple, routine and come second-nature. But incorporating all of these suggestions into your regular computer habits can save you a lot of devastation, recovery time and money at the hands of a hacker or a virus.

Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ Should Be Windows RT

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

Microsoft has a lot going on in 2012 with a variety of major products and platform rollouts. Windows 8 and the accompanying Windows RT are expected to launch this fall, and many suspect that Microsoft will also introduce Windows Phone 8 around the same time. Instead of making Windows Phone 8 available, though, Microsoft should move its smartphones to Windows RT.

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There has been a tremendous amount of chaos and confusion lately about Windows Phone 8 and what it means for existing Windows Phone customers. will current Windows Phone models like the recently launched Nokia Lumia 900 be upgraded to the new version? There are mixed reports, and the answer seems to be leaning toward “no”.

Microsoft doesn’t need two mobile platforms–just consolidate on Windows RT.If that’s true, Microsoft will be shooting itself in the foot…with a shotgun. It’s bad enough that Android users with cutting edge smartphones or tablets often have to wait months to get the latest update. but, at least most eventually get it. It’s not good practice to sell “cutting edge” hardware that is obsolete before it’s unboxed.

It may not change the reality of whether or not existing Windows Phone smartphones get upgraded, but Microsoft could remove some of the confusion and build a stronger mobile platform in general if it got rid of Windows Phone altogether. Just move Windows Phone devices to Windows RT.

There are differences in features and capabilities between an iPhone and an iPad–but they both run iOS. There are differences in features and capabilities between a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and a Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet–but they both run Android.

As it stands now, Microsoft smartphones will ostensibly run Windows Phone 8, and Microsoft tablets will run Windows RT. but, both are variations of a Microsoft Windows theme using a Metro interface, and designed to run on ARM-based hardware architecture. why bother developing and maintaining both?

Onuora Amobi, editor of Windows8Update, agrees that consolidating Windows RT with the upcoming Windows Phone 8 “Apollo” OS makes sense in theory. however, Amobi thinks it’s a Herculean strategic shift that Microsoft isn’t prepared for. “I have to assume that a successful dual OS (RT and Apollo) would require a lot of internal reorganization within the Microsoft Windows development team structure. I don’t see any signs of that happening anytime soon.”

Wes Miller from Directions on Microsoft, says that it has been widely predicted that Windows Phone 8 will switch from Windows CE to the Windows NT kernel. He points out some tactical hurdles Microsoft might face trying to consolidate Windows Phone with Windows RT, though. For example, Metro on Windows Phone is strictly portrait, while Metro on Windows RT is strictly landscape. Also, Microsoft has announced that Windows RT will include versions of the key Microsoft Office apps, but the smaller display on a smartphone is too small to run those adequately.

Miller is correct. but those are the same sort of differences in features and capabilities that exist between iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. There are better ways to handle the variations in hardware capabilities than creating entirely separate mobile platforms for each.

Maintaining both Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 simultaneously seems like a redundant waste of resources for Microsoft, a burden for developers to create separate apps for both platforms, and a confusing disconnect for users that could hinder the success Microsoft smartphones and tablets.

Report: The Mac family, whats next? – Patrick Quinn’s blog….

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

With the June Apple announcement at WWDC 2012 fast approaching, many are speculating the introduction of the next generation of MacBook Pro. the current crop of desktop computers which Apple offer are probably the best in their respective classes (personal opinion) but after 5 years or more without a major refresh, they are past due an overhaul. but what changes could apple possibly make to their next-gen MacBook lineup? 

Apple claim that each of their products is ‘revolutionary’ in some way or another and while most are, a few definitely fit that description better than others. One of which is the MacBook Air, originally introduced in 2008, this device had consumers and designers alike salivating at its Über-slim form profile and sleek curves, but its price and lack of grunt (amongst a few other niggles, like battery life for instance) put a serious dampener on its overall popularity. Fast forward to 2010 and Apple once again tried their hand with the Air re-introducting it in 2 screen sizes, 11 and 13 inch longer battery life, higher resolution displays,  SSD on chip and i5 and i7 processors respectively. this move sparked a backlash in the industry with everyone trying to mimic (none successfully) even spawning an entire sub-genre  in the PC market, the intel subsidized ultrabook initiative. when compared to the Air, the  13inch Pro model looks mighty beefy indeed. Maybe it’s time it was put it on a diet and introduce a sleeker, more refined profile.

Another Apple innovation which caused a stir upon arrival was the introduction of Apple’s Retina display technology (courtesy of Sharp) with the iPhone 4 making individual pixels virtually indistinguishable to the human eye (hence Retina) and proving the highest screen screen density of any mobile device on the market, at that time. 

The current  MacBook Pro display isn’t bad by anyones definition of the word, but after using an iPhone any significant amount of time you begin to notice the comparatively low quality and pixel density. if apple where to bump their 13inch offering up to 1080p i would be happy, however in order to truly ‘wow’ the masses, they are going to need to go big, go retina or go home.

The HDD (or Hard Drive Disk) has sat atop the pile when it comes to storage for many years but with the widespread adoption of the, faster, quieter and more energy efficient SSD (Solid State Disk) magnetic hard drive technology is beginning to look more and more like a relic from those bygone days when moving parts where all the rage. now with the decline of manufacturing costs high capacity solid state memory looks more viable as a first class citizen in the MacBook’s hardware lineup in stead of that of an optional extra.

Noise pollution generated by the whirling of magnetic storage disk isn’t something most would  consider a huge problem but once you have gone solid state and bared witness to the difference first hand it becomes evident that the hard-drive’s days are numbered and that number is fast approaching. Which takes me to my next point.

Seeing as we are removing moving components here, why not go whole hog?

I have been the happy owner of a mid-2011 MacBook Air for around 2 months now and in that time i have not once missed the use of the DVD disc drive that i had on my previous machine (A MacBook Pro as it where). I had often thought about replacing the Disc drive in my Pro with a secondary HDD or SSD while the Pro was my primary machine and using the extracted Super Drive externally if ever it was needed.

Every iteration of Apple’s MacBook has inevitably brought with it a spec bump in terms of graphical prowess. but what would it take to really up the ante? 

Nvidia’s latest family of graphics processors (cutely named Kepler) have demonstrated remarkable performance to power ratio.

A mid range Kepler GPU would be more than enough to push the MacBook Pro into some serious graphically intensive games and applications without breaking too much of a sweat or turning it into a lifeless brick in under and hour. Regardless of what Apple decide to do here, it will be interesting to see what they have up their selves.

Now, I love the look and feel of the aluminum/magnesium composite which makes up the MacBook line’s unibody shell, but, good jumping jesus, does it dent with the midst knock.

A more durable composite ( Perhaps replacing that ultra soft with something equally light yet more dense, like titanium would be a start) would be a *very* welcome addition. Maybe then i can stop treating my Apple gear like newborn children and get on with using them, eh Apple? 

With the retirement of the black and white, non-Pro MacBooks, Apple left a distinct lack of options when it comes to individuality. Deep black, Cinnamon red and Titanium gold would be great, anodized alternatives to that brushed metal which is currently on offer. when the poly-carbonate (fancy plastic to you and me) MacBooks where removed from apples product line, prospective Mac-cultists where left without a slice of the apple pie unless they were willing to fork out over a grand for the up-range Pro models. You would think with the world in economic ruin, it would be a good time time to see the re-introduction of the poly-carbonate MacBook as a low cost option. almost a gateway drug into Cult of Mac, if you will.

Since the switch away from the use of the PowerPC architecture, Apple have relied on intel to provide them with their desktop computing power. As un-lightly it may be, Apple could consider supplanting the current x86 with Apple’s own ARM (arm.com/) based ‘A.x’  family of processor akin to those found in their range of mobile devices. this would serve to reduce production costs, reduce weight, heat reduction (potentially allowing for the removal of the final moving part in the MacBook, the fan) and allow further freedom from external partnerships with the often manipulative and underhanded intel. but a change as big as this would undoubtably spark, yet another upheaval amongst developers who have only just come to terms with the switch to x86 in the first place.  

It is possible that none of the aforementioned will see the light of day with the next generation of Apple’s iconic Mac family, but i have a gut feeling that even if they don’t the next MacBook will be, truly revolutionary.

Laptop Or Desktop, Which One is Better

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

This is an age old question that doesn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer. Both laptop and desktop computers can be better than the other depending on the given situation and the individual needs of the person using each respective machine, but let’s go over some of the advantages and disadvantages of each and try and draw some conclusion from this debate.

What do you get with a desktop computer?

Obviously a desktop computer is larger than a laptop computer, but does that necessarily mean that it’s better? in some ways it does.

It’s easier for a desktop computer to have a bigger memory and to hold more RAM than a laptop computer simply because there is more space available for the storage.

The space in a desktop computer will often allow the user to choose almost unlimited accessories and options that a laptop computer just may not have the space to hold. things like a top speed processor, the latest state of the art sound and graphics cards, extra ports for external linking and more than enough storage space for all of the programs, music and video clips that you’ll ever need.

The extra space also comes with one more big benefit that you don’t often find with a laptop – the ability to easily upgrade. this means that you can keep your machine from becoming obsolete for much longer by continually adding the latest programs, components and accessories.

The advantages of the laptop computer

The one glaring advantage a laptop computer holds over its desktop counter part is portability. If you have a job that requires you to travel, or if you’re a student living in a closet sized dormitory with three others students, a laptop computer is practically a necessity. no matter how powerful or fast your desktop computer is, you can’t unplug it, take it to the subway and finish writing your report while you travel.

Despite the common misconception that all desktop computers are more powerful than all laptops, the laptop computers of today have much better technology in them than the laptops of yesterday. You will pay more for a supper powerful laptop than you will for the same caliber desktop, but then again, the lower price of the desktop won’t help you on the go.

So, how do you choose?

I think the above illustrations tell you that both types of computer can be the best, depending on situation. the key isn’t between choosing one over the other, it’s in choosing the best computer of the type that you choose.

You need to get online and do some research on the different brands of computers to find what the best and most reliable machines are. there are a slew of different manufacturers producing computers today, you need to find which manufacturer is producing the best reviewed computers of the type that you have determined that you need and base your decision on those facts.

Buying a computer from a reputable and reliable manufacturer will ensure that you get a high quality machine. this is a piece of equipment that will be a big part of your life, hopefully, for years to come; you shouldn’t look to get the cheapest price if it will mean that you are sacrificing quality. Never spend your hard earned money on a machine that has gotten a host of unfavorable reviews, or on a machine that you’ve never heard of.

You may end up paying a little bit more for a Samsung or Dell computers than you would for a lesser known brand, but with a Samsung or Dell you will know that you are getting a top quality computer that will last – with a lesser known brand, you never know what you’ll get.

How to Establish a Process for Patch Management

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

Patch management is a crucial element of any organization’s security initiative. Identifying hot fixes, and testing and applying patches to client and server operating systems can pose significant challenges.

The following are some tips to ease the process and minimize the risks involved in updating mission-critical systems.

Keeping Windows Up to Date

Using an automated tool is the easiest way to ensure that your servers and PCs have all the latest patches installed. Built-in functionality in Windows can be used for this purpose; also, some free tools are available from Microsoft. Windows Update is a consumer technology that’s integrated into Vista and Windows 7, and it can be set to automatically scan and deploy missing security patches for Windows and other Microsoft software. But it doesn’t provide the control and reporting features needed by most businesses.

The Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) is a free download that scans PCs and servers on a network for configuration anomalies and missing security patches.

Figure 1 – Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer in Action

Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) builds on the technology used in Windows Update to provide a local server where system administrators can centralize patch management and download, approve and report on the status of systems across the network. WSUS can be downloaded for Windows Server 2003 or installed as a server role on Windows Server 2008 R2, and either installed on a single server or as part of a tiered infrastructure. WSUS allows sysadmins to target groups of machines, which is useful for applying updates to a limited set of devices for testing purposes.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is designed for large organizations that need more control and, again, builds on the technology WSUS provides for better reporting, targeting and deploying software, among a host of other useful features.

Risk Assessment

Microsoft releases patches monthly and categorizes them as either “critical” or “important.” you can sign up for the Microsoft Security Bulletin, which is published a week before patch day and provides information about the nature of the vulnerabilities to be patched, the affected software and whether it’s necessary to reboot after installation, which is especially relevant for servers.

Figure 2 – Microsoft Advance Security Bulletin April 2012

The risk associated with each vulnerability must be established and a decision made on whether to patch systems; if so, the level of urgency also must be determined. It’s worth bearing in mind that the window for patching is becoming shorter as exploits are sometimes developed within hours of vulnerability information being made public. It’s generally considered that critical systems should be patched within 72 hours, but don’t discount the importance of keeping desktop PCs up to date.

Test, Test and Test Again

It’s vital to test patches in a lab or pre-production environment to determine if they might cause an outage on production servers. A test lab should mirror your production servers as closely as possible, and should be used to check that functionality isn’t affected after a patch is installed. (At the most basic level, make sure that servers reboot after patch installation.) Testing is easier if you’ve already established a baseline configuration for your servers; for example, documenting how they should be configured.

IT staff can test patches on their own PCs. while this is adequate for basic testing, don’t forget to test patches on a variety of devices, including notebooks. Conduct this testing in different departments because operating systems and software will vary, and the impact of a patch can only be fully assessed if distributed to a wide sample of users.

A comprehensive testing procedure will involve more than just installing a patch and making sure a system still boots. Scripts can be run on servers to perform a series of tests that confirm vital functionality hasn’t been affected by the update. PowerShell or VBscripts can run through the tests automatically to accelerate the process and generate reports. for instance, which Windows services should run in your baseline configuration? after a patch is installed and the server rebooted, are all of the required services still running? Do you have basic network connectivity?

Use PowerShell to get a list of running services and compare the output to your baseline:

GET-SERVICE | WHERE-OBJECT {$_.STATUS -EQ “RUNNING”} | OUT-GRIDVIEW

The OUT-GRIDVIEW commandlet is optional, but it can be useful as it pipes the results of GET-SERVICE to a separate window where additional filtering and display options are easily accessible via the graphical interface.

Figure 3 – Running Services Enumerated by PowerShell

Check the TCP/IP stack using the TEST-CONNECTION commandlet:

TEST-CONNECTION –COMPUTERNAME 127.0.0.1

You can create a PowerShell script to perform more sophisticated network checks, such as pinging known server names and DNS name servers specified in the network adapter settings. Microsoft Exchange comes with a useful set of PowerShell commandlets for testing basic functionality, including:

TEST-MAPICONNECTIVITY TEST-EXCHANGESEARCH TEST-OWACONNECTIVITY TEST-WEBSERVICESCONNECTIVITY TEST-POPCONNECTIVITY TEST-IMAPCONNECTIVITY

Checks can also be run against Microsoft SQL server using PowerShell; for example, pinging the host and testing a SQL connection.

A preproduction or lab environment is a luxury for some organizations, so a tiered rollout can also be part of the testing phase, in which a patch is deployed to a limited number of users (or servers) before being installed across an entire company. Remember that in the testing phase, you are not only attempting to determine any detrimental effects that a patch might have on your production environment, but also testing your chosen patch distribution technology.

Deploying Updates

To deploy updates, back up all your servers before patches are installed and ensure that a restore operation has been successfully tested. Install updates on least critical servers first, and check thoroughly that there are no problems by observing event logs and help desk calls and by running the scripts used in the testing phase. Once you’re sure the patches aren’t causing any problems on these devices, continue to deploy patches to critical servers. Continue monitoring the environment for problems after all patches have been successfully deployed.

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