Category: Small-business computing

Creating your own electronic signage for your organisation

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

One use you can put flat-panel displays (including TVs) and projectors to is as an electronic signboard for your business or organisation. This can be alongside a computer that you set aside for that task or a having the display itself or a video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player do the task of showing the signage.

Here, you can use common computer software to create the signage that you can keep revised and updated as your needs change and either show them using this software or create JPEG files of the signage to show using your display or video peripheral.

Create the signage material

Microsoft PowerPoint - useful for creating electronic signage

Microsoft PowerPoint – useful for creating electronic signage

Use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress or Apple Keynote to create your slides. Here, make sure you have the page layout set up for a 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 screen when you set up your presentation with the aspect ration dependent on what most of your equipment can work with natively.

Sometimes, you may find that the DL paper size may be able to provide that “wide expansive look” for your signage on a 4:3 or 16:9 display. Other layout sizes that can also work include the “business-card” size or the classic 3:2 layout associated with still images taken on 35mm film.

Some of you may base your signage on other printable collateral that you have created like handbills, flyers or business cards. The best formats for the collateral that you want to use would be most of the common paper sizes with the document set in landscape format. In this case, you simply make a high-resolution JPEG or PNG bitmap from the PDF master file for the printed collateral.

You may decide to implement animation in your signage using the presentation program if it supports that feature but the program must be able to export these signs as a video file that most devices can understand. Here, you may want a particular sign to have an animated effect for the duration of that message, including an effect that happens when it appears and another when it disappears.

If you are using an electronic picture frame or a tablet purposed as one and you have this set up in a vertical (portrait) manner, you may find that you could use a vertical page layout here.

How should it look

You may find that your electronic signage may work really well if you use bright features like text or graphics set against a darker background. This will effectively make the text and graphics “pop” against the background and is also more flexible for use with video projectors.

As well the text is best set up using sans-serif fonts like the Helvetica or Comic Sans font families rather than serif fonts like the Times Roman or Courier font families. This is more so where you are using a projector or a large display that is likely to be viewed at a distance. Here, such text becomes easier to read from a distance. But you can make use of mixed-case lettering to make best use of the space as well as allowing for improved legibility.

Learn from example

Presentation shown on retractable screen

These presentations can be a good example of what you can do for electronic signage

If you are looking for good examples to work from, pay attention to some of the work others have done in this field, especially if this is your first effort at visual merchandising.

For example, look at the slides that are shown before the main film when you are watching a movie at the cinema, or the slides shown at business presentations during any conference or expo you attend. Similarly, when you are loafing on that couch watching TV, look at the announcement or advisory slides that are shown before or after the TV shows or any of the menus and warning notices shown before DVD or Blu-Ray video content.

Here, you observe things like text pitch and layout along with how the text and other highlights look against the background. Similarly, it may be worth noticing different colour combinations that are used in this material.

Export your slides to high-resolution picture or video files

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

Once you have finished with creating your masterpiece slides and you are satisfied with them, export a PDF copy of the presentation. Then you use a PDF-to-JPEG export site to export your PDF-based presentation to high-resolution JPEG files that work with most TV screens. I have highlighted this process in my article and SlideShare presentation about how you can create better high-resolution JPEG output form PowerPoint.

This process is important if you aren’t using the same or compatible presentation tool to show the electronic signage or are using consumer-electronics devices as the display tools.

If you create a highly-animated screenshow using your presentation tool, export it as an MP4 (H.264) or other common video file which your displays will support. Here, you don’t have to add any sound to the file because this will come alive with just the vision. If you have to convert the animation file, you may find that most video-editing or video-conversion utilities can do this job very adequately. Here, you may find that you could make video files for each slide rather than for the whole presentation so as to allow for devices to randomly show the slides or to allow a mix of animated and still signage.

Showing them on the screen

Using your network and UPnP AV / DLNA technologies

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

If you have a NAS or file server that is running DLNA media server software, (most of these would be), you can use UPnP AV / DLNA as a way to show the electronic signage. Here, you use a TV that has DLNA functionality integrated in it like most, if not all, of the smart TVs; or have a TV, monitor or projector connected to a DLNA-capable video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, network media player or games console.

Here, you use the remote control on the TV or video peripheral to “pull up” the images that are in a folder shared by the server device’s media-server software. Or an increasing number of devices can respond to DLNA-standard media-controller software like the “Play To”/ “Cast To Device” function offered in Microsoft Windows operating systems since Windows 7, allowing you to “throw” the pictures up on the screen using your regular computer or mobile device.

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player – can enable a cheap flat-screen TV, monitor or projector to be used for electronic signage

But you have to have all of the “signage” slides in a folder that is accessible to and shared by the DLNA media server software. On some NAS units, you may be able to add an option for a shared-folder tree anywhere on the NAS to be indexed and shared by the DLNA media server; or you may be required to keep your media content under a certain shared-folder tree. Then you maintain sub-folders that relate to particular occasions or campaigns and put the relevant electronic-signage JPEG files there.

Removable Media

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Just about all flat-screen TVs could work with USB memory keys to show electronic-signage images

Most of the large-screen TVs, Blu-Ray or DVD players, network media players or similar devices are providing the ability to show still images held on a USB memory key or SD card. Similarly, you could burn a CD or DVD full of digital images and show these on most, if not all, recent-issue DVD and Blu-Ray players  As well, an increasing number of the portable video projectors are even offering as a differentiating feature the ability to allow you to show pictures or videos from a USB memory key or SD card.

Here, you can upload a campaign’s worth of images to a USB memory key and plug it directly in to your display device or video peripheral. To the same extent, you could put these images on an optical disc and show them using most recent DVD and Blu-Ray players.

Using removable media works best if you are working with one or two display devices to show your signage material. Similarly, it can work very well if you are not likely to change the material very frequently.

You may also find that some of these display devices or video peripherals will run the images at the sharpest resolution that the display can support. Here, the playout hardware integrated in the display is working directly with the display rather than at an “agreed” resolution.

A computer connected to a large display

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Desktop or laptop computers when used with external displays can earn their keep for electronic signage

Some of you may customarily hook up a computer to a large display like a projector and will want to use it for showing the electronic signage. It would be of importance for churches and other houses of worship where a computer is used to show worship material; or cinemas and theatres where a computer is used to show the program material.

Here, you could use a presentation program to do the job especially if you used the same presentation program or a compatible piece of software to create those slides; or just get by with a photo-viewing or media-playout tool like even Windows Photo Viewer to do this job without installing extra software. I have written up some instructions on how to press this program in to service with a larger display when you have a dual-display setup like a laptop connected to a large screen or a desktop with a monitor and a projector for showing to the audience.

Sometimes you may find that the one presentation tool doesn’t answer all of your needs with your computer or some of these tasks may be difficult to perform with that tool. For example, you, as a church AV manager, may find that a worship-lyrics program of the EasiSlides ilk can cut it just fine for the song lyrics that are part of your worship service while a program like Windows Photo Viewer can cut it for showing many JPEG images. On the other hand, you may come across that presentation tool that can satisfy main-program applications as well as the electronic signage applications.

An iPad or similar tablet

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

Most tablets have a screenshow application but you would have to upload the signage in to the tablet whether via Dropbox or similar cloud storage; connecting the tablet to your computer to transfer the files; or plugging in a microSD card or USB thumbdrive in to an Android tablet that supports USB OTG or removable media. You may also find that a DLNA media client running on your tablet can also fulfil this task effectively if your tablet and NAS are part of the same network.

It can be taken further with an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device that purposes your TV screen as the external screen for your tablet. Similarly, running a DLNA media-controller client on that tablet to “throw” the signage to DLNA MediaRender-capable devices like Smart TVs could answer your needs. But these situations may not allow you to use the tablet’s screen and the external screen simultaneously.

These would work well when you want to have this signage on a bar or reception desk for your visitors to see up close.

Conclusion

Once you know how to use your favourite presentation program to create electronic signage and that you can use cost-effective equipment to display it, you can then have a digital display that you can always have updated regularly with new information.

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Avoiding a mess-up with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Make sure you know where you stand with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT software and services

A very common situation that can come about with a small business that is starting out or a community organisation that is running with a handful of core volunteers is that you can end up with a messy information-technology situation.

Typically this happens because the people who are behind the organisation typically buy the hardware, software and services out of their own pocket, assuming that the organisation is running on the “smell of an oily rag” with very minimal funds. This situation affects organisations in the religious, charitable or voluntary sector where they want to spend as little on office-related or capital expenses as possible so the money that comes in is focused on the organisation’s raison d’etre.

What can happen especially with software is that the it ends up being licensed in the name of the contributor or volunteer while a service like Web-site hosting and domain-name renewal is paid out of a member’s or volunteer’s personal funds and managed in the name of that member. In the case of operating systems or other software that are furnished with donated computer hardware, the software can also be licensed in the name of the donor rather than the beneficiary and no procedure takes place to technically and legally transfer this ownership.

Then you can end up with issues like software piracy and non-compliance or a service being paid for by someone who has left the organisation then you don’t know where that service is going or whom the computer software should be in the name of. You also have the issue of where the organisation legally stands when it come to using the service and this can also place the continuity of that service in doubt.

Do you know the organisation’s legal entity?

Here, you have to know how the business or organisation is legally referred to and represented. This includes a business, company or other legal name that represents the organisation as well as its trading or other “public-facing” name. Typically, the organisation’s legal name may be written out in any stationery associated with its bank account.

Software

Make sure that any software that the organisation uses is bought in the name of the organisation, If someone wants to donate a program to the organisation, they need to either donate the program’s value to the organisation as cash through the normal paths like a church’s offering plate or basket. Or they could buy the software as an unencumbered package using their funds and hand the software package over to the organisation.

Some “buy and download” software providers may allow you to register a copy of the software in one name while allowing you to pay using a credit card or PayPal account in a different name. This measure is typically provided to allow one to give the software as a personal gift.

Services

Increasingly business IT is being focused towards the purchasing of services like Web hosting, domain names and the like, with a an increasing amount of IT functions like software suites being sold “as a service”. Typically this involves someone having to pay for the service on a regular basis.

Payment for the services

What these organisations can do is to maintain a business debit card based on a major payment-card platform and drawing from the organisation’s funds. The organisation adopts strict usage and accounting procedures with establishing payments using this card and uses it primarily for paying for business services that can only be paid with a major payment card. On the other hand, they could make sure that the service they want to engage can accept a standing direct-debit order as the payment method. Anyone who wishes to donate the cost of a service could do so through a cash payment to the organisation in the usual payment path.

Whose name is the service under?

As for these services, make sure that they are registered or set up in the name of the organisation. For example, a domain name’s WHOIS data must reflect the name of the organisation and whoever is in executive position. For organisations who have a home as their office, it may be better to supply a mailing address like a PO box or a mail-drop; or use the shopfront’s address as a mailing address if they do operate a long-term physical shopfront.

Login details and user accounts

All login details like usernames and passwords associated with these services have to be known to authorised personnel currently in that organisation. This could be achieved through either a paper document or electronic-form document file that is on a USB memory key which has to be kept in safe storage on the organisation’s premises like a safe. Here, you could use a “secure” USB memory key which uses encryption and password security for this purpose and keep the password for that in a separate envelope. This list of passwords needs to be updated every time these passwords are changed and they should be changed regularly such as whenever people leave the organisation.

You may find that it is better to use multiple user accounts for these services so you can add and remove users easily and allow these users to determine their login parameters. The multiple-user-account setup also gives you the benefit of limiting what privileges a user’s account has, so that the privileges reflect the expected job function for the account-holder But the administrator password for these services needs to be kept on the above-mentioned organisational password list that is to be kept in safe storage.

Similarly, you may find that the multiple-user-account setup that a service uses may work with single-sign-on so that the credentials are verified with a third-party platform like Microsoft.com, Google or Facebook with the service receiving the “all-clear” in the form of a token. This may be OK to pursue if the employee or volunteer agrees to using the account associated with one of these platforms as part of single sign-on.

Conclusion

Once your small business or community organisation has their software and services properly under their own umbrella, they can make sure that they know where it stands through the life of the software and services rather than dealing with a dog’s breakfast.

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Product Review – Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Previously, I reviewed the Brother PDS-6000 sheet-fed document scanner which scans both sides of a document at once very quickly. This model connects directly to a host computer and would work with most document-management software. Now Brother have released the ADS-2800W which is a network-capable sheet-fed document scanner that allows you to direct a scanning job to a computer or a file server / NAS, and this is the machine that I am reviewing now.

RRP AUD$899

There are some more expensive variants of this network document scanner that can scan at higher speeds but I am reviewing the entry-level model.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Scan Scan to Connection
Sheet-fed

600 dpi

Single-pass Auto-duplex

USB Mass-Storage

CIFS/FTP/HTTP network storage

Online Services

SMTP E-mail

USB 3.0

Ethernet

802.11g/n Wi-Fi

The scanner itself

Setup

Brother ADS-2800W document scanner document path

Single-pass document scan, easy to service if anything goes wrong

Brother have avoided the tendency to create a separate setup regime for the ADS-2800W network document scanner, which will be a bonus if you have stuck with this brand for your multifunction printer. Here, the software interface both at the scanner and at the computer are very similar and you can even use the ControlCenter 4 software to process your documents.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner Wi-Fi connectivity

Wi-Fi connectivity

It was simple to connect this scanner to the home network although I used the Ethernet connection which is what I would prefer for normally-sessile devices. Here, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi wireless network segment or a wired Ethernet network segment (which also works with a HomePlug network segment) with the former network type working properly if nearer the wireless router. Personally, I would recommend that you use the wired network (Ethernet or HomePlug) at your home or office as I would recommend for sessile equipment.

Walk-up and mobile operation

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner - Web services

It scans directly to Dropbox

There is the ability to use a Web-based interface to set the Brother ADS-2800W network scanner to be able to scan to a computer, file server or NAS without the need to run a scan monitor on that computer. Here, the unit deposits the files to a known directory on the destination device in a predetermined form. As well, it can be set up to “scan and send” where it can send a document via SMTP-based email.

It also exploits the Brother Web Connect infrastructure to allow you to enrol it with Evernote, OneDrive, Dropbox, Facebook and other online services so you can use them as a destination for your scanned documents. You can also scan documents and images to your mobile device as long as you run the Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app, which is how I scanned some snapshots to be destined to Dropbox. An improvement I would like to have would be to see the scanned picture appear on the scanner’s screen so you can have the picture or document the correct way up.

Computer-based operation

The fact that this scanner makes use of Brother’s ControlCenter 4 software and uses the same scan monitor if you are running a Brother MFC alongside it means that you are not having to install extra software on your computer. When I ran the CD to install the drivers because I had issues with the Website, the installer detected the existence of the driver software associated with Brother printers and effectively updated the scan monitor to work with this scanner.

I even had the software set up so that blank pages were skipped even though the Brother scanner scanned both sides of the document when I was handling regular documents. This allowed for a single-side document to be worked on yet be ready to scan double-sided documents when dealing with “print-sign-scan-send” documents.

Scanning results

The Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner, like its stablemate the PDS-6000 implements a straight-through document feed which makes the scanning job quick but is kind to the documents because there is no curved path involved.

A job that I have been putting the Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner to over the past week is to scan a collection of snapshots due to the passing of someone whom I knew well. Here, I had set the Brother scanner to scan at the normal-for-35mm-snapshots “10x15cm” size with a resolution of 600dpi and fed the minilab prints in vertically. The document scanner had turned out the high-quality images while it was able to handle small batches of prints at a time like as though I was handling a multiple-page document. But I would like to see a “photo-optimised” scanning profile that copes with the glossy snapshots and works at a high resolution. As well, there could be the ability to determine whether a photo has a landscape or portrait orientation.

I had found that a bit of dust had ruined a scan of a photo and it was a cinch to remove that bit of dust from the scan head simply by opening up the scanner so I can see the scan heads. Then I was able to blow off the dust from the scan heads.

When I scanned a regular “print-sign-scan-send” document, the Brother ADS-2800W scanner made light work of this job and turned out the right number of pages based on what was marked. This avoided the creation of a 2-page PDF for a document that was written on one side only.

Limitations and points of improvement

A feature that would benefit the Brother sheet-fed document scanners, especially the network-capable units, would be to have functionality that gains the best out of photo scanning. This could be in the form of a “photo-optimised” high-resolution scan mode for scanning snapshots and / or a transparent-media scan mode with negative conversion for scanning film strips such as negatives.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother ADS-2800W network sheet-fed document scanner as a network-focused high-speed document-scanning solution especially if you want a high-speed dedicated-purpose scanner that can work independent of a regular computer.

For example, this could work well if you destine documents to the like of Evernote or Dropbox or to a NAS. Similarly, if you are wanting to get that hard copy document to be able to be viewed on something like an iPad, the Brother ADS-2800W and its peers can do the job properly.

But these devices would earn their keep if you scan many documents rather than the occasional few documents that have few pages and I would see it perform well with most businesses including tax agents who scan the receipts that are part of their clients’ “shoeboxes”.

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Spear-phishing doesn’t necessarily involve links or attachments

Article

Snapchat, Seagate among companies duped in tax-fraud scam | Mashable

My Comments

Compose Email or New Email form

Spear-phishing email doesn’t necessarily have to have links or attachments

An issue that has come to highlight lately is spear-phishing where an email is sent to particular departments within a business to extort critical financial or other information from that business.

This recently happened to a number of American businesses including Snapchat and Seagate where the human-resources departments were told in an “official manner purporting to be from the CEO” to turn out W-2 tax forms about their employees.

For those of you in countries other than the USA, this is a statement provided by your employer which states what you earned including the taxes that are withheld and would be known as a P60 in the UK and Ireland or a Group Certificate in Australia. When in the wrong hands, these statements can be a goldmine of data that can be useful for identity theft and tax fraud.

But this may be different from a garden-variety spear-phish attack because there isn’t a requirement to visit a Website via a link or open an attachment that comes with the email. Rather this is to prepare the information in a specified computer-file format to be sent as an attachment with the email’s reply.

What was highlighted was that the spear-phish email used the look of official company correspondence such as use of the company’s trade dress (logos, colour scheme, typography) and disclaimers associated with such correspondence. As well, such emails appear to come from someone high up in the business. The spear-phishers were able to identify “who’s the boss” by performing Google or LinkedIn searches and this data could simply be found on “About Us”, shareholder-information or similar pages on a company’s public-facing Website. Such correspondence also can surface at certain seasons like holiday seasons, tax-filing seasons or special events.

This is a classic form of social engineering in the business and the staff were caving in to human error and weren’t vigilant. Here, if they see an email with an important request coming from their boss, they would follow up on this request forthwith as expected for business life. This is similar to the classic distraction-burglary or burglary-artifice scam where a householder is under pressure to let people who look like officials in to their home and these bogus officials commit crimes against the household. It can also affect small businesses as well as larger businesses and organisations, because such a request could also come from the business’s owner, a franchisor (in the case of franchised businesses) or someone who is higher up in the business’s food chain.

A similar scam which is known as “whaling”, targets business owners, managers and other known organisational figureheads with email purporting to come from partners, suppliers / service-providers like your landlord or officials such as the taxman or the Trading-Standards officials. It has the same effect as spear-phishing where you are subject to trickery to divulge sensitive information. This situation can affect businesses and organisations of all sizes from the small pizza shop on the corner to the large business in town.

The red flags to be aware of with spear-phishing or whaling are: is the request out of the ordinary whether for your business or for normal business practice; whether the domains for “reply” or “origin” email addresses match the known domains for the business;  or whether the writing style reflects the purported sender’s style or the accepted norms for business correspondence in the locale.

But most importantly, verify the facts from the horse’s mouth. This means sending a separate email to the proper source at the address you know them to be at or, preferably, making a phone call to check those facts. It is more important if the request happens to come “out of the blue”.

As well, be wary of out-of-the-ordinary correspondence you receive by email around the critical occasions like tax time.

Once you know what is in the norm for your organisation and industry, you should then rely on your “sixth sense” to identify if something is suspicious and report it straightaway.

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A code of conduct is now called for advertising bandwidth on UK small-business Internet services

Article

Ofcom extends speed code of practice to business broadband | ThinkBroadband

My Comments

Pantiles - Royal Tunbridge Wells picture courtesy of Chris Whippet [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pantiles at Royal Tunbridge Wells – representative of a shopping strip with small businesses

Previously, I wrote an article about the main UK ISPs working on a code of practice for selling Internet service to small businesses. This is mainly about calling a minimum service quality for these Internet services.

But BT Business, Daisy Communications, KCOM, Talk Talk Business, Virgin Media, XLN and Zen Internet have agreed to a code of practice for selling business Internet service, which will come in to effect from 20 September 2016.

This code of service primarily affects the bandwidth and service quality concerning the business Internet service.

It calls for transparent accurate information on broadband speeds at the point of sale. This covers providing knowledge of estimated download and upload line-level speeds and, where available, the “real” throughput speeds as early as possible through the sale process. There will also be detailed information about the bandwidth of the service after the sale and on the ISP’s Website. The service speed that is disclosed has to be as accurate as possible and the ISP has to deliver this information to their resellers and solution providers who onsell the service.

If there are issues with the business Internet service not “hitting the mark” when it comes to throughput, the ISP has to manage these issues and help the business customer when that problem is raised by the customer.

The code of practice also include a “walk-out” right where the business custome can leave the Internet-service contract without penalty if the dowload speed falls below and is consistently below the agreed speed even after the ISP and business customer have had an opportunity to rectify the issue. Of course, the business would have to return any customer-premises equipment leased to them by the ISP.

A question that was called out in the article was whether a business customer on a multi-year contract could walk out due to substandard performance encountered during a time where the Internet service is overloaded at a time where residential users are placing intense demand on that service.

But there are a few gaps missing that may affect small businesses.

One of these is that the code of practice doesn’t apply to fixed-line-speed services like cable-modem services or fibre-to-the-premises services. Nor will it apply to “dedicated-line” business services like leased-line services, Ethernet-First-Mile services and Ethernet-over-FTTC services.

The Ethernet-over-FTTC service was called out in the article’s comment trail because it is offered as an entry-level dedicated-line service for small and medium businesses. Here, it is known to exhibit performance traits where the core-network bandwidth is predictable but the access-network bandwidth isn’t predictable.

But the commenters raised the possibility that a business could sign up to an Internet service that has a service-level-agreement which would cover situations and services beyond the code-of-practice’s scope. Similarly, could it be feasible for an ISP or telco to strike a service-level-agreement that is modelled on this code of practice and uses it as a fallback measure?

There is another issue that wasn’t addressed in this code of practice which can affect many small businesses and community organisations. It is where a business cannot see out a contract due to events in the business’s or organisation’s life-cycle such as when the business changes hands or the worst comes to the worst. Similarly, it doesn’t address a situation where a business changes location and the dynamics of the Internet service can be affected by that change.

At least a few steps are taking place to provide the same level of customer protection for small-business owners that consumers would enjoy when they sign up to Internet service.

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QNAP announces a 10GbE-capable 5-bay NAS

Article QNAP logo courtesy of QNAP

QNAP Announces 10GbE Ready AMD NAS | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

QNAP

TS-563 Turbo NAS – Product Page

My Comments

QNAP have raised the bar when it comes to defining the a business-ready premium network-attached-storage unit. This is in the form of the TS-563 Turbo NAS which is a 5-bay desktop unit capable of a RAID 5 with “hot-spare” disk and hot-swapping.

But the NAS uses an AMD quad-core processor fit for a regular computer as its brain and can support RAM of up to 16Gb. As well, the unit has a PCIe expansion slot so it can be connected to a 10GbE Ethernet network connection once you purchase and install a PCIe 10GbE interface card. It is highlighting the fact that the premium small-business NAS units are approaching the same kind of power that was expected out of a dedicated tower-style computer that was used as a small business’s server but are the same size as a traditional kitchen breadbox.

This NAS has 5 USB ports with one being on the front for “walk-up” connectivity. This isn’t just to connect a backup disk, a printer or a UPS to permit orderly and safe shutdown during a blackout. Rather, it is also to allow you to connect up to two of QNAP’s UX-series expansion enclosures for increased disk capacity. These enclosure could allow you to create larger multi-disk storage setups with varying levels of capacity and fault-tolerance.

Even though this is a NAS unit pitched at the business market, the QNAP TS-563 Turbo NAS still runs the QTS 4.1 operating system which has all the expectations and software to have it become either a branch-office file server, small-business NAS or home media server.

This is a sign of things to come for small-business computing where you can have a small NAS working as a data hub for these businesses yet you still have the performance and power of a traditional “tower-style” PC-based server.

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At last Australian small business buying new IT equipment benefits from a tax break

Articles Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

Fringe Benefits Tax on all portable devices used for work abolished | SmartCompany

Federal budget 2015: Fringe benefits tax abolished on tablets, laptops and mobile phones | Australian Financial Review

From the horse’s mouth

The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, Treasurer Of The Commonwealth Of Australia

Growing Jobs and Small Business Package Press Release

Relevant Material

Small Business Technology page

Buyers’ Guides

Product Reviews: Laptop, Notebook And Netbook Computers

My Comments

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

A 15″ work-home laptop that is now eligible to be paired with a..

As part of Australian tax law since the late 1980s, companies were required to pay a fringe-benefits tax on non-cash supplementary benefits they gave to their employees. The same situation also ensnared sole-traders who chose to run their businesses as a company and buy capital equipment like vehicles or computers in the company’s name but use it for business and personal / community purposes.

This has caused various tax-compliance quagmires for all businesses but there has been some special treatment for small businesses in relationship to them buying portable computer equipment. Previously, it was seen under fringe-benefits-tax law that if a company gave an employee two computers like a “work-home” laptop and a tablet computer or ultraportable, they could only see one of these devices as FBT-exempt because they did the same function.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

.. tablet computer, “2-in-1” or other ultraportable without FBT risks for small buisness

Now, as part of the 2015 Federal Budget, the Australian Government have installed a tax break for small businesses with an annual turnover of under AUD$2 million by making the supply of all work-related portable electronic device not subject to FBT. This measure, which applies from April 1 2016, would allow for the supply of a regular 15”-17” laptop as a “work-home” computer along with a tablet, “2-in-1” or ultraportable, and a smartphone to an employee and the technology can be used for personal use without dealing with any further red tape.

This, along with a tax deduction for newly-purchased individual assets less than AUD$20,000, has been part of a series of measures that Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has had small-business experience through his family life, that make things easier for start-ups and small businesses.

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Thecus to offer a NAS with integrated uninterruptable power supply

Article

Thecus Adds NAS With UPS Inside | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Thecus

Press Release

N5810PRO 5-bay NAS Product Page

My Comments

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of ThecusA common issue with running a network-attached storage is making sure that the data is intact even if things go wrong with the AC power. This is something that can easily go wrong in regional and rural areas where there is a combination of overhead power lines and overgrowing trees and it just takes a tree or branch to fall down for the power to go out, or if your premises has ageing electrical infrastructure.

Typically this will involve the use of an uninterruptable power supply which effectively is a battery bank for your computer device, giving it a bit of time to properly shut down if the power fails. These are separate devices that you have to buy and plug your NAS into and most of them have the ability to signal to the NAS to appropriately write back the data and properly shut down when the power is out.

But Thecus has solved this problem with the N5810PRO which is a 5-bay small-business NAS that has an integrated uninterruptable power supply. This battery bank provides enough power to cause the NAS to write back all of data to its five disks and properly shut down, but you don’t have to have a separate device to achieve this.

It also has the other expectations of a small-business desktop NAS such as server functionality for a wide variety of tasks alongside even a server-side implementation of McAfee’s anti-virus software. As well, there are the 5 Ethernet ports which allow for serving 5 different physical networks or providing a “fat-pipe” from a suitably-equipped switch. Oh yeah, it also supports SMB/CIFS, DLNA, iTunes for the file transfer and can run multiple RAID volumes across the five disks.

But could I see the integration of a battery backup / UPS function in a NAS become a product differentiator? This could be more so with “small-business” models and the battery capacity could be a product differentiator in itself especially if the goal is to provide long-run failsafe operation.

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Samsung releases an Android tablet for business and trades

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 8" business tablet press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 8″ business tablet

Article

First business-specific Samsung Galaxy tablet goes on sale | PC World

Samsung launches the Galaxy Tab Active for business and enterprise | AusDroid

Samsung means business with new tablet for work | Geelong Advertiser

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Galaxy Tab Active (Product Page)

My Comments

Samsung have released an Android tablet that has for the first time been pitched at business users including tradesmen. This tablet, known as the Galaxy Tab Active has been designed from knowledge Samsung gleaned from their interaction with the US’s Fortune-500 companies about the kind of tablets they require.

Personally, I see this as a small-form 8” tablet that could answer Apple’s iPad as a workplace tablet that is based on a mobile operating system. It is designed to IP67 rugged-use specifications which would make it even useful for outdoor work including as a workhorse for tradespeople who are effectively working out of the back of their vans.

The Android 4.4 KitKat tablet is security-hardened courtesy of Samsung’s KNOX security platform for business Android devices. It can link to an 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi network and mobile-broadband variants can work with the 4G LTE mobile-broadband services. It has 16Gb memory on board and the ability to work with “infinitely swappable” microSD cards like most other Android devices.

Of course the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active is pitched for business users and may not be easily available through the big-box consumer-technology stores, but would be available through some carrier outlets and business-technology specialists including independent computer / technology stores. The durability aspect could also appeal to those of us who want an Android tablet that “bridges” between the smaller coat-pocket personal tablets and the 10” tablets of the iPad ilk.

There is also the billion-dollar question about whether Android 5.1 Lollipop will be offered to this tablet rather than it being stuck with the Android 4.4 Kitkat software.

Personally I would like to see Samsung offer a 10” variant of this model to the business community for applications where such a screen size can play in handy. As well, if a unit has done its business tour of duty, it could earn its keep as a cost-effective alternative to equipment like the iPad.

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HDMI for your small organisation’s video display needs

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player connections

Most video peripherals like the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player nowadays have an HDMI connector on them

I have been assisting a small church in their purchase of a newer projector for use through their worship services. Here, I have been steering them towards using equipment that uses HDMI connectivity rather than the 15-pin “VGA” cables. But why am I steering them towards this?

Video peripherals use HDMI as a standard connector

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE15129CG Left-hand-side connections - Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5mm microphone jack, 3.5mm audio output jack and SD and MemoryStick card readers

… as do an increasing number of laptop comptuers

Increasingly every video peripheral ranging from Blu-Ray players and network-media receivers to cable boxes and digital-TV tuners implements HDMI as a “best-case” connector. If the video peripheral had analogue component video connections, it would come with RCA-based YCC connections as that “best-case” analogue connection.

Most of the economy-class data projectors that are in circulation would implement as their best connector an RGB connector in the form of the 15-pin screw-on “VGA” connector that is intended as a baseline connection for computers because a lot of computer monitors use this connection. This is although most computers and monitors are moving towards DVI-D or HDMI connections.

If we are chasing the idea of connecting a laptop for presentations, a Blu-Ray / DVD player for movies or a DVB-T digital-TV tuner for the big news or sports broadcast, we would have to switch between different connection types for the application which can cause a lot of confusion. This is more so with people who haven’t had much experience or can get flustered easily with connecting different AV equipment.

Increased installation flexibility

New desktop comptuer at church

New desktop comptuer at church – something that could benefit from an all-HDMI connection for the projector

One main advantage of an HDMI setup for your video display needs is increased installation flexibility. This is brought on by the audio signal carried in a digital form on the same cable. It is typically to allow the one-cable setup between a video peripheral and a TV with even a surround-sound setup having one cable from the video peripheral to the surround-sound amplifier which can be capable of being a video switcher, then another cable from that surround-sound amplifier going to the TV.

HDMI offers a maximum length of 25 feet / 7.62 metres between two pieces of equipment but there are solutions to cover larger installations. For example, you could use a line-powered active HDMI splitter as a repeater for a length up to 30 metres. Some devices in their own right, like HDMI-capable digital-analogue converters or amplifiers can be repeaters. Or you could use a “Category-5” HDMI balun pair along with Category-5 Ethernet cable for a distance of 330 feet / 100.58 metres between the pieces of equipment.

In these setups, you are running just one cable which passes along the digital representation of high-resolution images and sound between the source device and the display.

Audio setups

HDMI also uses the same cable to pass along a digital representation of the sound along with the high-resolution video signal. This can be a 7.1 surround-sound Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream or a simpler stereo PCM bitstream,

HDIM audio-extractor box setup

What an HDMI audio-extractor box is all about

In a video-presentation setup where you are using a projector, you will also find that the sound system is located either near the video source device like a computer or near the projector. The device that is handy for these situations is an HDMI audio adaptor, known as an HDMI audio extractor or HDMI digital-analogue converter.

Here, these devices connect the HDMI video source to the audio equipment either via an SP/DIF or AES/EBU digital connection; or a stereo line-level analogue connection and pass the sound signal from the video peripheral to the sound system. There is an HDMI output on these devices to connect the device to the display for the “final leg” of the signal’s journey.

Some projectors even have an HDMI audio-adaptor function typically to feed an integrated mono speaker for “quick-setup” arrangements. These will also have a line-out connection in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack so they can be connected to an external sound system that is located up front and can put up a stronger sound.

Here, you could locate this device close to the sound system irrespective of where the display device is located and be able to hear good-quality noise-free sound. One main advantage of this is to be able to keep any unbalanced analogue audio connections as short as possible thus reducing the possibility of unwanted noise getting in to the amplifier which can happen easily with longer unbalanced analogue connections.

Another point of flexibility is HDMI Audio Return Channel. This is relevant to TVs with integrated tuners, multiple HDMI inputs and/or smart-TV functionality where a digital sound stream is sent back from the TV’s own sources to the amplifier to feed the speakers associated with that amplifier.  Here, this also leads to a high-quality sound path between that wall-mounted TV and a more powerful home-theatre setup that is located in a position for easier control.

HDMI-CEC

Yet another point of flexibility that HDMI offers is Consumer Electronics Control. This uses the same HDMI cable as a control cable and, as I have observed, has reduced the need to juggle remote controls to operate a Blu-Ray player for example. For example, it allows the TV to “light up” and select the appropriate input when you are loading a disc in the Blu-Ray player. Similarly, you use the TV’s remote to navigate the disc menu and get the movie underway. When used with a projector and computer that supports it, it could be feasible to use the projector’s remote to page through a presentation or start and stop video content, being seen as a presenter’s dream come true.

This is implemented mainly on higher-end big-name TVs, and most home-theatre amplifiers pitched to the residential-use market along with nearly all home-theatre video peripherals especially Blu-Ray players. Most manufacturers market this feature under their own marketing names like AnyNet (Samsung) or VIERA Link (Panasonic) but will cast a reference to HDMI-CEC in the device’s operating instructions or setup menu. An increasing number of premium-grade HDIM-equipped projectors pitched for home-theatre use also offer this function. Toshiba implements this function in their latest computers “out-of-the-box” and there is an RCAware add-on black box which allows this to work with other computers.

Moving your existing video display setup to HDMI

I would recommend that you move your video-display setup towards HDMI as part of your equipment replacement cycle.

Make sure your equipment has HDMI when you are purchasing or specifying newer projectors and other display equipment. If possible, prefer that the equipment works at 1080p if you are running a lot of video content as more video is captured or mastered in this resolution. Examples of this include Blu-Ray discs, console and PC games, along with consumer and semi-pro still and video cameras that can record in 1080p.

When you improve your playout computer equipment, upgrade the video cards to those that have HDMI outputs or, for portables, use USB DisplayLink adaptors that have HDMI outputs or specify newer equipment with these outputs. This is easy to achieve if you are purchasing current-generation laptop computers as they come with HDMI or DisplayPort connections whether “standard” or of a smaller form-factor. Similarly, current-issue display cards for desktop computers will be expected to have HDMI or DisplayPort connections. In the case of DisplayPort connectors, you would need to use a DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor cable to connect them to HDMI display devices.

As well, it could be a chance to replace DVD players with Blu-Ray players because these have the HDMI output and can show high-resolution video that the connection is known for. Similarly, digital-TV tuners and set-top boxes that you use to receive broadcast TV in your installation should have HDMI connections. If you are wanting to show legacy sources like VHS tapes through your video system, a composite-HDMI adaptor may come in handy. These devices convert the analogue signals from the legacy source such as the video recorder to a digital signal and even upscale them to a higher resolution before passing them along an HDMI cable.

When you revise the installation, make sure you are pulling HDMI cable or, if you use Cat5 or Cat6 cable for the extended cable runs, replace the baluns that you use with other technologies like VGA with those that work with HDMI. As well, the equipment should be connected via HDMI cables. For that matter, the HDMI baluns can be purchased from dedicated electronics stores like Radio Parts, Jaycar or Maplin.

What can be done here?

Integrating HDMI-CEC in more equipment

A projector that is equipped with HDMI-CEC could allow for the use of the remote control as a control surface for connected video peripherals. It can also allow a computer, for example, to cause the projector to be switched on and off as needed. The command set for HDMI-CEC could be extended to exchange status details that are of concern to projector operation like lamp condition and runtime.

As computers are being used as playout equipment in the business location, they could benefit from being HDMI-CEC control-target or control-source equipment. This could be facilitated through hardware and software additions that are provided by more computer and display-subsystem manufacturers. The software could support “page-through” on presentation software or use of the D-toggle on the remote as a virtual mouse. Similarly, a playout computer with HDMI-CEC “control-source” functionality can be able to turn on and turn off display or amplification equipment or provide “master volume” control over the system.

Conclusion

Moving your small business’s or community organisation’s display technology to HDMI can provide for increased flexibility when managing how this equipment acts when playing video material. It would also become simpler to achieve a “best-quality” setup so that your customers, patrons or congregation can see sharper images on the screen.

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