Small-business computing Archive

Should I buy a laptop with integral mobile-broadband modem?

Article

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

Is it worth it to consider integrated mobile-broadband modems in your next laptop purchase

Why you might (and might not) want a PC with LTE | Windows Central

My Comments

A trend that will be affecting portable computers will be the rise of laptops and notebooks that are equipped with an integrated mobile-broadband modem.

Previously this was a feature associated with premium business-grade laptops as an extra-cost option, but this is being encouraged as a product differentiator for a larger range of portable computers targeted at consumers and small businesses. The key feature callout will be that the computer is equipped with LTE connectivity and this feature has been brought along thanks to Windows 10 and the “Always Connected PC” vision.

Initially such computers will authenticate to the mobile network with a standard SIM card installed in a reader somewhere on the computer’s chassis. But newer designs will move towards an eSIM module integrated in the computer which provides for “over-the-air” provisioning by the telco or their agent.

Why this trend?

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

No need to use a Mi-Fi to obtain Internet on the road with your laptop if you have an integrated mobile-broadband modem but some situations may be better served with these devices

There is the feasibility of a secure connection anywhere within reach of mobile networks. It is something you may not benefit from when using a lot of legacy-configured public-access Wi-Fi networks.

As well, you avoid the need to set up Wi-Fi or USB tethering on your smartphone or tablet, or to use a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router. Similarly, you shouldn’t need to worry about draining your battery in your “Mi-Fi” router or smartphone to keep the connection alive.

You also benefit from a faster link between the modem and the computer which is important for setups implementing LTE, because a lot of USB mobile-broadband modems don’t implement the newer variants of the USB standard. There is also the fact that an integral mobile-broadband modem design allows for a larger mobile-broadband antenna to be integrated in the laptop computer, rather than having to design a small mobile-broadband antenna to keep a relatively-compact product design for that “Mi-Fi”, USB modem stick or smartphone.

The laptop’s battery shouldn’t be affected in this case thanks to Windows 10 implementing “data-saver” and battery-management logic. There is also the fact that Windows 10 will implement a class driver and authentication software within the operating system’s code so you don’t need to run any extra software to get on board with mobile broadband.

There are some disadvantages with this approach

One of these is that the host computer may be fixed with the “current” technology and may not be able to take advantages of newer technologies or wavebands that the telco you subscribe to offers.

This can be an issue with the pending 5G mobile-broadband standards or Australian telcos like Telstra exploiting lower wavebands in the mobile spectrum with the goal to assure greater coverage in Australia’s larger rural areas but yield high data throughput. But if the mobile-broadband modem operates on a “software-defined” approach where it can work with extra subsequently-available firmware that can adapt to these situations, it may not be an issue.

Old caravan outside a house

They may not work optimumly in one of these metal-clad caravans

Another factor is the integrated-modem approach may not work properly in some usage scenarios where you have a strong signal in certain areas but a weak signal in other areas. This can be of concern for those of us who want to use our computing equipment in a post-1950s caravan or a campervan / motorhome with the vehicle’s housing being predominantly metal which can reduce radio throughput.

In these situations, you may have to use a USB modem on a long USB cable run or use a “Mi-Fi” router with some situations calling for the “two-piece” approach put forward by Solwise.

Another situation you may need to think of is whether you are intending to use multiple mobile devices on the road with the one mobile-hroadband service. Here, you may find that a “Mi-Fi” router set up as the hub of a mobile local-area network may be a better answer to your needs. This is more so if you are running many devices like mobile NAS units, Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers or Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras along with tablets that may not be equipped with mobile broadband.

Of course you will need to use a pre-paid or post-paid mobile broadband service that is provisioned in a manner compatible with your computer. In these cases, such services would be offered as a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” package where you aren’t buying a device under any form of subsidy.

Telcos can easily answer this through the provision of starter prepaid plans offered as part of the package when you buy your computer or by allowing the Windows Store that is part of Windows 10 to work as their agent. Of course you can front up to their bricks-and-mortar outlet to buy a “SIM-only” or “existing-device” prepaid plan for your computer.

On the other hand, most of the telcos will allow you to annex your new integrated modem to your post-paid mobile plan. This will be an important approach for those telcos who are offering a “shared-data” or “family” plan or underscore value for money with these plans.

What to look for

SIM card

Make sure that the SIM card fits your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop or that your service provider supports an eSIM for suitably-equipped laptops

You may have to be sure that your mobile-broadband-equipped laptop is able to connect with the mobile-broadband service that you want to use. Firstly you will have to pay attention to whatever SIM type your computer uses for authentication to the service that you choose.  That will be the kind of information you will have to supply to your mobile-broadband carrier when you are buying mobile-broadband service, or wish to buy other mobile-broadband devices which are “SIM-compatible” with your laptop with a view to moving our service amongst these devices.

As well, you would need to make sure your laptop does work “across the board” with all of the mobile-broadband services that you intend to yous. For example, if you wish to use a service like Telstra that prides itself on extensive coverage in rural areas, you may need to be sure that the mobile broadband modem can cover the lower ends of the spectrum used by this carrier. Another example would be to use it in a range of countries which work on different mobile-broadband frequencies.

People who run a post-paid mobile account should look towards being able to annex the data service used by the laptop’s integrated modem with their account. This can assure them of “many eggs in one basket” with the advantages such as paying through one bill and benefiting from deals that exploit this fact. As well, some providers may operate a deal with multiple SIMs for one number and underscore this for eSIM setups.

Conclusion

Here, it depends on your needs whether paying the extra expense for a laptop configuration with an integral mobile-broadband modem is worth it for you.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-L2713DW multifunction laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing Brother’s latest approach at a light-duty monochrome laser multifunction printer in the form of the MFC-L2713DW. It is one of these machines that you could use for a small office or shop, especially if you are intending to replace a light-duty fax machine. Some of you also may see this machine or its peers as a routine document printer for your home office.

It may also appeal to professionals and the like who want to have a light-duty document-focused printer or fax-capable multifunction in their office as a “private” machine while their workplace has a heavy-duty multifunction in the common areas.

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction laser printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W A4 x 1(standard) USB 2.0
Laser xerographic 1200 dpi ID Copy Multi-purpose tray capacity Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Fax via phone
Email-based Scan-to-email TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support
Brother Print Service plugin support
Online Services Print From Scan To
Multiple Users for Online Services N/A
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services N/A

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$81.00 1200 AUD$141.50 3000

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$150.00 12000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers)
Waste Toner Bin

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction monochrome laser printer

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

I had connected the printer to the home network via Ethernet and this meant that I could effectively be “on board” very quickly. As far as I am concerned, I really wouldn’t use the Wi-Fi ability on these printers to connect to an existing network because you may have Wi-Fi issues in your home or small-business location, rather I would connect via Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline.

This printer, like the other small monochrome laser printers that Brother offers, uses a separate user-replaceable drum unit along with the toner cartridge rather than following HP’s path of an integrated print cartridge that has the drum unit. But if you have to add toner to the printer, you have to remove the drum unit from the machine before you detach the spent toner cartridge from the drum unit.

Here the installation process was simple enough to do. But I also like the way Brother offers a higher-yield toner cartridge for these printers, a feature I definitely applaud for people who want to choose the right yield to suit their needs and budget.

Paper Handling

Like with most of Brother’s budget-priced and value-priced printer models, this printer uses a single-page bypass feed which would be limiting if you are running multiple-page print jobs that use special media. This would also be used if you are dealing with pre-printed forms such as when a doctor is turning out prescriptions or test / treatment referrals.

Personally, I would like to move away from the single-page approach towards having a five-page approach to cater for jobs where a handful of pre-printed forms or label sheets are being turned out.

The A4 paper tray worked properly and didn’t feel flimsy to the touch, making it a machine that can satisfy most users.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-L2713DW has an on-machine with a bright text-based LCD display and rubber-feel keys. Here, the text-based LCD display is a high-contrast “black-on-white” type which makes it very readable under many different lighting scenarios. But I would like to improve on the D-pad’s design by using illuminated arrow legends that come alive when you are using the menu options.

The copying process for a single page fed through the automatic document feeder came through as being very quick even when the machine wasn’t used for a while. Here, by the time the document left the ADF, the printer was turning out the copy.

The quality of the copies came out good for documents printed on plain paper but I wouldn’t expect a high-quality copy for photos or similar material. It also holds true for material printed on glossy paper such as ID or business cards whereupon you may find that the copy comes out paler than the original.

There is a one-touch “duplex copy” function that allows you to copy both sides of an original on to both sides of the copy’s paper, but you have to turn over the original to copy the other side. The ID copy functionality works as expected although there is the issue of not scanning “to the edge”. Brother answers this issue by a scrolling text message to tell users to put the original 1/4″ from the edge

The Brother MFC-L2713DW can serve as a basic monochrome phone-based fax machine with a limited-capacity “fax vault” function suitable for overnight / weekend use.

Here it omits the T.37 email-based store-and-forward fax functionality which may be an approach for some of us who want to move towards IP fax. Most likely, when you move towards an IP-based telephony service and use an analogue-telephony-adaptor with machines like this one, you may be also setting up for T.38 real-time Internet fax.

Like with all of the Brother MFC-series fax-capable multifunction printers that have duplex printing, you can set this machine up to print the faxes it receives on both sides of the paper as a way to save on paper.

Computer functions

I had installed the drivers on my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s Website and they were in place very quickly. Here, you would have to install the full software set to enable printing, scanning and fax management including “print-to-fax” functionality.

The ControlCenter4 scan monitor does take time to come in to action when you start a scan-to-computer job from the printer’s control surface. This is a continual problem with most of the scanner software offered by most scanner and MFC manufacturers and, personally, I would like to see the host computer’s operating system look after this functionality for both direct and network setups.

As far as mobile devices were concerned, the Brother MFC-L2713DW worked properly with the Android print-service plugin that I installed on my Samsung Android phone. Here, the app was quick to recognise the printer’s capabilities and have the document turned out quickly. Of course it does support Apple AirPrint for those of you who run your business from an iPad.

Print / scan speed and quality

The Brother MFC-L2713DW came alive and started printing documents very quickly, whether from the computer or a mobile phone. It also led to a quick turnout of the document, something very similar to most of the small monochrome laser printers.

The printer was able to handle a double-sided print job but it doesn’t turn them out as quickly as a simplex print job. This is something you would notice more with light-duty monochrome lasers that have this functionality. It turned out these documents without jamming or dropping pages.

The Brother MFC-L2713DW does satisfy the output-quality requirements for a small entry-level monochrome laser printer. Here, it would yield clear easy-to-read text that would be part of an office document.

But I wouldn’t expect it to yield high-quality output when it comes to photos and similar presentation-grade work. Here I noticed banding along the narrow edge of the sheet when I printed out a picture of a landscape, but it was able to maintain proper fidelity when it came to the image’s contrast.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature I would like to see continual improvement on for the Brother small laser printers is to have auto-duplex printing with a speed similar to simplex printing jobs. Similarly, I would like to see Brother move away from the “single-sheet” approach for the manual bypass function on these printers so as to cater for multiple-sheet print runs using special stationery.

A feature that could benefit this class of light-duty monochrome laser multifunction would to permit “two-machine” copying across the network. This is where you could scan a document on a multifunction like this one and it is then printed out on a colour printer or multifunction connected to the same network. This would also allow for other applications like enlarging documents to A3 / Ledger with the A4 / Letter or smaller original on a machine like this and the large A3 copy emerging from an A3-capable printer or multifunction. This feature could make use of setups where you have multiple document machines with complementary capabilites whether in page size, printing type or colour / monochrome printing.

As well, the Brother MFC-L2713DW and its peers could benefit from at least SDXC card storage to provide enhanced fax-storage functionality such as to cater to busy workloads, large documents and the like. Brother could also work towards creating a T.38 IP-fax endpoint functionality in their fax-capable multifunction printers and push the telecoms industry to lead towards simplified provisioning for this technology.

Similarly, Brother could exploit the separately-replaceable drum unit approach that applies to their laser printers by providing heavy-duty variants of these parts as an upgrade option. This would please users who buy laser printers suited for their current duty levels but install heavier-duty parts in them if they are faced with a heavier workload.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would position the Brother MFC-L2713DW monochrome laser multifunction printer as an economy-priced office printer for workplaces that don’t have a heavy document throughput. This would also include it serving as a “private” document printer / copier for a professional’s or manager’s office or simply as a document-focused multifunction for a home office.

Here, it would earn its keep as a replacement for a small inkjet multifunction that is used just for turning out documents or a small plain-paper fax that uses thermal-transfer printing. I would also see it as a direct upgrade for an economy laser printer or multifunction that isn’t able to do duplex printing.

I have also compared the price for the Brother MFC-L2713DW against the price of replacing its drum unit with the genuine replacement part and found that it is worth buying that part rather than replacing the machine with one of the same standard and functionality level when it comes up for replacement.

Update: I have updated the prices to the manufacturer’s recommended retail prices for the consumables.

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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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