6 Yearly PC Maintenance Tips

A little simple maintenance now can help prevent many headaches throughout the year. Regular maintenance is the key to creating a safe, secure, productive environment, protecting your technology, and getting your greatest return on your investment.  This is a customized list of tasks for monthly, quarterly, and yearly maintenance that everyone should minimally perform.

1.      Remove the Junk
At a minimum, run Disk Cleanup: You’ll find this utility on the Start Menu submenu: Start > (All) Programs > Accessories > System Tools.  With less junk files on your computer you will gain back valuable disk space and your computer will run quicker as well.

2.      Patch And Update
Start with Windows Update, and ensure that your operating system is fully up to date with all necessary patches, fixes, and updates.  Do likewise for all your software, especially your antivirus, antispyware, and other security tools, visiting the vendor sites to download any and all updates and patches for your applications and utilities.  Finally, check your hardware vendors’ Web sites for driver and other updates for your video card, audio system, motherboard components, etc.

3.      Reorganize
The end of the year is a great time to reorganize the files and folders on your hard drive.  Some users like to organize first by topics, then by chronology; others do it the other way, first by year, then by topic.

The organizing principle doesn’t matter as long as you end up with an organized “tree” of data files that you can traverse with ease to locate whatever files you may later need.  You want to avoid the too-common syndrome where every data file on the PC ends up in an undifferentiated mass in “My Documents” or in similar, uselessly cluttered, generic folders.

4.      Simplify
While you’re reorganizing your hard drive, keep an eye out for files and software that you no longer use or need.  These can be moved to long-term storage (via backup; or perhaps by moving to an unused disk or partition) or you can simply delete/uninstall them from your system.

Removing unused files and software saves space, avoids clutter, and can actually improve system speed and responsiveness.  For example, keeping large numbers of unneeded files on the system can bog down searches and slow the indexing of the rest of the drive’s contents.  Carrying unneeded software clutters the Registry and may delay system startup and shut down as unnecessary components are loaded or unloaded.

5.      Reorder
Once your hard drive is as organized, cleaned, and simplified as you can make it, reorder the files for fastest access, and to make most-efficient use of the disk space.  This “defragmentation” of the system’s files is best done on a regular basis, but at the very least should be done after a major cleanup.  You’ll find this utility on the Start Menu submenu: Start > (All) Programs > Accessories > System Tools.

6.      Backup
Having come this far, you should backup your files in your newly organized file structure with an external USB hard drive such as the Seagate FreeAgent.  You can also use the built-in backup program that comes with your operating system.  This can be invoked through the menus, or by typing “backup” on the Run line.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow preserve your PC’s current lean, clean, fully-updated and defragged setup so that, should you ever need to in the future, you can restore your PC to its current perfected state in just minutes?  Try a disk cloning product such as Acronis Backup & Recovery.

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5 Great Apps for Your Android Phone

I don’t know about you, but I love my new Android 2.1 based smartphone (HTC Incredible if any of you are wondering). I recently made the jump to Android from an old Windows Mobile 6.1 device and have not once looked back…talk about night and day. Today I will be going through a few of the interesting apps I have found so far while perusing the Android Marketplace. Also, note that the programs that I have chosen today are all free or have free trials, but they usually have a pay for version that removes advertisements or adds some extra bells and whistles to the basic package. Just a quick disclaimer, these apps are all “use at your own risk”; I have them on my phone and haven’t had any issues, but again, your mileage may vary.

1. I know that multitasking is the rage these days, but it can eat up your battery like you wouldn’t believe. It also uses up your phone’s RAM and could lead to the interface slowing down. I found numerous apps that help manage your running tasks, but the one that I have settled on is called “Advanced Task Killer” by ReChild. It has both a free version and a pay for version that removes the advertisement bar from the app’s main screen. I love this app because it has a ton of features to automate the management of the running tasks.

The two features I use the most are the Ignore List and the home screen widget. The Ignore List is exactly what it sounds like; it allows you to choose tasks that don’t get terminated when the program is run. The Home Screen Widget automatically kills all tasks not in the Ignore List with a quick press of the icon. This is quite useful because it allows you to kill all the unnecessary running processes right before you put the phone back down, allowing you to conserve battery time while the phone is in your pocket. It also has an Auto Kill feature that will try to keep the running tasks down to a minimum, but I prefer having manual control over what’s running on my phone.

2. Speaking of battery time, I looked through and tried tons of battery indicators and widgets until I found a widget called “Battery Left” by Preinvent. First, some background, after the first few days of using the phone without an aftermarket battery meter, I found that the built in battery indicator just didn’t cut it for me. It didn’t give me any sort of feedback on what percent of battery power was left or even a general approximation of how much time remained on the battery. “Battery Left” runs on your home screen and provides you two different widget sizes. After a few charge/discharge cycles, it figures out your approximate usage profile and gives you a reasonable approximation on how long your battery will last based on your usage. It took the program a few days to get acclimated to my usage, but so far it has been fairly accurate.

3. I recently ran across an Android App review site where I saw a whole bunch of funny looking things like these at the end of the articles:

Now at first I wondered who got hold of their website code and inserted all the funny looking abstract art. Then, after some research, I found that these were called QR Codes. This is a type of barcode that has the capability for holding a myriad of information. It can contain a hyperlink to a website, personal contact information, a bunch of text, or any other sort of information (in case you are wondering, the three I put there are, in order top to bottom; a link to a barcode reader app’s website, a link to, and my basic contact info).

To read these you are going to need a program that can scan and decode them. The one that I found works very well, has a very simple interface, and is simply called “Barcode Scanner” by ZXing Team. If you download the app through the app store and scan the first code above, it will take you to their website which has a page where you can create your own! It also allows you to scan any barcode, search for the item online, and receive competitive prices and store locations. It makes shopping for products that much easier. There are also apps from online resellers that will scan barcodes while you are in a store and give you the internet prices. However, these often will not scan the QR codes, so it is useful to have them as a secondary app.

4. In our company we use instant messaging to communicate all the time. It is simple to leave it open while at our desks and fire off quick questions to each other. When I’m out at a customer’s site or away from my desk, I still like to keep in touch. I found that “Meebo IM” by meebo works very well across all the popular networks (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Facebook chat, MySpace, Google Talk, Jabber, and ICQ) and can use both your Wi-Fi and cell carrier’s data network. It certainly beats opening up your laptop just to send a quick IM.

I can only speak for the AIM, MSN, and Yahoo services as those are the three I use, but I will say that the program works as advertised, and I do use it extensively. It keeps each conversation in its own container so that you don’t end up with a multitude of things all going on simultaneously. It also uses the notification bar to show you incoming chat messages which is useful if you are using another application when a message comes in; you can see the message without switching apps.

5. Finally, I’m going to highlight a small app I just ran across recently called “Document Scanner” by Pwn with Your Phone. I am using the trial version which is a full featured fifteen day trial, but the full version is $3.98. This little app allows you to take pictures of pretty much anything and quickly create a .pdf of it. It then allows you to quickly email it, save it to a memory card, or upload it directly to Google Docs.

This is quite handy for all sorts of interesting uses. If you need to quickly email something that you have in hard copy and are out of the office, this little app allows you to do that. Another possible application is using it to keep track of expenses while away or to electronically file your receipts when you don’t have access to a flatbed scanner. You can easily take snapshots of the receipts and email them to yourself, then file the .pdf’s in your computer.

These are just a few of the apps I’ve come across in my time with Android. I’m sure there are many more useful and fun apps out there in the store that I haven’t found yet. Just a quick reality check though, there have been some malicious programs making the rounds in the app store. Make sure you investigate the apps you plan on using before installing them. Go to the developer’s website, read the app reviews, and go through the requested permissions before installing. If anything doesn’t look right, reevaluate use of the program or find an alternate that can do the same things that meets your standard. These three steps can help prevent installing a malicious program that could steal your data or take advantage of your phone. So be safe, have fun, and happy app store surfing!

For more information or to discuss how a smart phone can save your business time and money, please contact John Kalli at 732-780-8615.

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6 Ways Low Cost Computing Can Save Your Small Business Money

Most small business owners see information technology as another expense. But what if IT could save your small business money-particularly when it comes to sales and marketing efforts?

Research shows the most popular strategies to saving money include:

  • Allowing employees to telecommute (26%)
  • Upgrading server infrastructure with the most energy-efficient technology available (16 %)
  • Using mobile technology (15 %)
  • Conducting live meetings that share resources over the Web such, as presentations (14 %)

“You have to take a hard look at your processes,” says Dave Minker, president of CMIT Solutions, an IT consulting firm. “That helps you design a solution that works for you, and helps you realize greater efficiency and organization.” Can smarter IT really do that? Yes.

Here are six ways that low-cost computing can give your small business a lift:

1. Use what you’ve got. Chances are, the resources you need to start saving money with your technology are right in front of you. “For example, most businesses have Microsoft Office installed,” says Neil Moodley, a managing director at FourThirds, a U.K. business consultancy. “That’s a good start. Most, however, could use it much more effectively.”

If users took the time to learn how to build a simple database in Access that tracks customers and orders or to learn how to export data from Access or Excel into Word for a mail merge or to understanding the features of Outlook to organize time and tasks, they could save lots of time and money. “These all need an hour of effort to learn, but once they are understood, huge piles of paper and binders full of orders can be archived away and processes big and small streamlined,” he says.

2. Turn your PCs into phones. Nico McLane, a broadcast media consultant, says she turns to free Web-based services such as Skype or Free Conference to bring clients together and show off her products. “I target ROI on everything I do for myself and my clients,” she says. “I use several tools in concert to achieve the exact type of virtual meeting I need to deliver, to educate potential clients on the power of these tools.”

How much does all of this cost? Usually, nothing, since many of the products offer free trials. This can also save money on travel expenses, since virtual conferences often eliminate the need for in-person meetings. Travel and entertainment costs are typically the second- or third-biggest business expense.

3. Automate processes. Are you still doing invoicing, receiving, purchasing and inventory control the old-fashioned way-by hand? IT can help you automate those processes and save money. Automate your processes as much as possible and trim unnecessary overhead,” says Loren Peterson, the vice president of global solutions for MCNi, which develops automation software that works with accounting applications used by small businesses. “The upfront costs are generally recouped with a few months of purchase.”

4. Outsource when it makes sense. In most small organizations, there’s usually an employee who is responsible for IT, including office machines, copiers and interactions with the phone company. “The problem is, this person usually has another primary responsibility-the job they were actually hired for,” says Brian Rosenfelt of CT Consulting of Independence, a firm that handles outsourcing for small businesses. “As the economy continues to tighten, companies are searching for ways to get more out of their existing employees, but we’ve found that these jack-of-all-trades are spending anywhere from 25% to 75% of their time dealing with [IT related] problems. By shifting resources, allowing your employees to do what they were meant to-and outsourcing the rest to a third party-you can save lots of money.”

5. Get rid of obsolete technology. Perhaps the only thing that’s worse than not using IT to help your business save money is trying to use obsolete technology. Take a fax machine, for example. “Get rid of it,” says Edith Yeung, who organizes the San Francisco Entrepreneur Meetup, a networking group for Bay Area entrepreneurs. Instead of using the traditional fax machine, check out You can save costs for faxing long distance, and you will also save money on paper and save the environment.

The same thing goes for other obsolete technologies such as computer screens that use cathode ray tubes, or old software. These vintage technologies slow down your business and cost money in the form of higher energy bills. Get rid of them and it won’t just speed up your processes; it will save your company serious money.

6. Shift more of your business to the Web. Many small retailers have realized they can target incremental revenues by establishing a Web site to sell from, in addition to their brick-and-mortar store, says Les Cowie, the director of business development for Worldwide Brands, a company that online retailers directly with qualified wholesale suppliers.

But why stop there? Using nothing more than a PC and a broadband connection, your small business can leverage the marketing power of the Internet. Social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter let you push sales at virtually no cost to your business.

For small businesses, IT isn’t a problem. It’s a solution. By taking advantage of the technology you already have, outsourcing what you shouldn’t be doing, upgrading and rethinking the way your small business uses technology, you can harness the power of low-cost computing for your company.

For more information or if you would like to see how your business can implement low cost computing to save money, please contact John Kalli at 732-780-8615.

Content By: Christopher Elliott who writes about business travel and mobile computing, and publishes a weekly travel newsletter.

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