Small-business computing Archive

Different kinds of cloud IT systems–what to be aware of

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

The iPad is seen as part of the cloud-based mobile computing idea that Silicon Valley promotes

Very often “cloud” is used as a Silicon-Valley-based buzzword when describing information-technology systems that have any sort of online data-handling abilities.

This is more so if the IT system is sold to the customer “as a service” where the customer pays a subscription to maintain use of the system. It also is used where the user’s data is stored at an online service with minimal data-processing and storage abilities at the user’s premises.

It is because small business users are being sold on these systems typically due to reduced capital expenditure or reduced involvement in maintaining the necessary software. It also allows the small business to be able to “think big” when it comes to their IT systems without paying a prince’s ransom.

What is strictly a cloud system

Single Server online system

Single Server online system

But, strictly speaking, a cloud-based system relies on multiple online locations to store and/or process data. Such a system would have multiple computers at multiple data centres processing or storing the data, whether in one geopolitical jurisdiction or many depending on the service contract.

This is compared to the single-server online IT system sold as a service that implements at least a Web-based “thin-client” where you work the data through a Web page and, perhaps, a mobile-platform native app to work your data on a smartphone or tablet. Typically, the data would be held on one system under the control of the service provider with this system existing at a data centre. It works in a similar vein to common Internet services like email or Web-hosting with the data held on a server provided by the Wehhost or ISP.

Hybrid cloud systems

Hybrid Cloud online system

Hybrid Cloud online system with primary data kept on premises

One type of cloud system is what could be best described as a “hybrid” system that works with data stored primarily on the user’s premises. This is typically to provide either a small private data cloud that replicates data across branches of a small business or to provide online and mobile functionality such as to allow you to manage the data on a Web page or native mobile-platform app anywhere around the world, or to provide messaging abilities through a mobile-messaging platform.

For example, a lot of NAS units are marketed as “cloud” NAS units but these devices keep the user’s data on their own storage media. Here, they use the “cloud” functionality to improve discovery of that device from the Internet when the user enables remote access functionality or data-syncing between two NAS devices via the Internet. It is due to the reality that most residential and some small-business Internet connections use outside IP addresses that change frequently.

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS press image courtesy of Western Digital

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – one of the kind of NAS units that uses cloud functionality for online access

Or a small medical practice who keeps their data on-premises is sold a “cloud-based” messaging and self-service appointment-management add-on to their IT system. Here, the core data is based on what is held on-premises but the messaging functionality or Web-based user interface and necessary “hooks” enabling the mobile-platform native app for the self-service booking function are hosted on a cloud service built up by the add-on’s vendor. When a patient uses the mobile-platform app or Web-front to book or change an appointment, they alter the data on the on-premises system through the cloud-hosted service.

It may also be used with something like an on-premises accounting system to give business functionality like point-of-sale abilities to a mobile-platform device like an iPad through the use of a cloud-based framework. But the core data in the on-premises system is altered by the cloud-based mobile-platform setup as each transaction is completed.

Full-cloud systems

Full Cloud online system

Full Cloud online system with data processing and storage across multiple different computers

On the other hand, a full-cloud system has the user’s primary data held online across one or more server computers with minimum local hardware or software to work the user’s data. There may be some on-premises data-caching to support offline operation such as to provide transaction-capture if the link is down or simply to improve the system’s performance.

The IT infrastructure for a full-cloud system will have some measure of scalability to allow for an increasing customer base, typically with the service provider annexing more computer power as the customer base increases. Such a service will have tiered pricing where you pay more for increased capacity.

Client software types

The user-interface for an online or cloud IT system would primarily be Web-driven where you work the data with a Web browser. On the other hand, it could use native client software that works tightly with the client computer’s operating system whether as a “thick” client with a significant amount of local data-processing or storage on the endpoint computing device or a “thin” client which just has a window to the data such as simply using a Web browser.

Public vs private cloud

Another concept regarding cloud-based IT is the difference between a public cloud and a private cloud. The public cloud has the computing power managed by another firm like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services while the private cloud has all its computing power managed by the service provider or client company and effectively isolated from public access through a separate private network.

This can be a regular server-grade computer installed at each of the business’s branches, described as an internal cloud, Or it can be multiple high-grade server computers installed at data centres managed by someone else but available exclusively for the business, known as a hosted private cloud.

Data Privacy, Security and Sovereignty

Another factor that comes in to question regarding cloud and online computing is the issue of data privacy, security and sovereignty.

This covers how the data is handled to assure privacy relating to end-users whom the data is about; and assurance of security over data confidential to the IT system’s customer and its end-users. It will call out issues like encryption of data “in transit” (while moved between systems) and “at rest” (while stored on the systems) along with policies and procedures regarding who has access to the data when and for what reason.

It is becoming a key issue with online services thanks to the European GDPR directive and similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions which are about protecting end-users’ privacy in a data-driven world.

The issue of data sovereignty includes who has effective legal control over the data created and managed by the end-user of the online service along with which geopolitical area’s rules the data is subject to. Some users pay attention to this thanks to countries like the continental-European countries who value end-user privacy and similar goals heavily.

There is also the issue of what happens to this data if the user wants to move to a service that suits their needs better or if the online service collapses or is taken over by another business.

Cloudlets, Fog Computing and Edge Computing

Edge Computing setup

Edge computing setup where local computing power is used for some of the data handling and storage

This leads me to the concept of “edge computing”, which uses terminology like “fog computing” or “cloudlets”. This involves computing devices relatively local to the data-creation or data-consumption endpoints that store or process data for the benefit of these endpoints.

An example can be about a small desktop NAS, especially a high-end unit, on a business premises that handles data coming in to or going out to a cloud-based online service from endpoint devices installed on that premises. Or it could be a server installed in the equipment rack at a telephone exchange that works as part of a content-delivery system for customers who live in the neighbourhood served by that exchange.

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

Qarnot Q.Rad room heater that is a server computer for edge-computing setups

Similarly, the Qarnot approach which uses servers that put their waste heat towards heating rooms or creating domestic hot water implements the principle of edge computing. Even the idea of a sensor drone or intelligent videosurveillance camera that processes the data it collects before it is uploaded to a cloud-based system is also about edge computing.

It is being touted due to the concept of decentralised data processing as a way to overcome throughput latency associated with the public Internet links. As well, this concept is being underscored with the Internet of Things as a way to quickly handle data created by sensors and turn it in to a form able to be used anywhere.

Conclusion

Here, the issue is for those of us who buy service-based IT whether for our own needs or for a workplace is to know what kind of system we are dealing with. This includes whether the data is to exist in multiple locations, at the premises or at one location.

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Lenovo starts the Thinkbook line of small-business laptops

Articles

Lenovo’s new ThinkBook line offers ThinkPad-level features at a lower price point | The Verge

Lenovo’s new ThinkBook laptop line is built for slimness and security | Engadget

Lenovo launches less-expensive ThinkBook laptops | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Thinkbook Series (product page)

Meet the New ThinkBook: Built for Business, Designed for Generation Next (Press Release)

Product Tour Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s small-business notebook computer

HP and Dell have, for a long time, created a separate range of regular computers that stand between the consumer-class and enterprise-class product lineups. These product lineups known as ProBook in the case of HP or Vostro in the case of Dell were effectively targeted at small-to-medium business / community-organisation users or self-employed / freelance professionals.

Lenovo, Acer and some other computer manufacturers didn’t target this kind of user class effectively with a product lineup that answered their particular needs without adding to much extra functionality. Typically, the computers offered by these manufacturers wore the lower-tier models of the enterprise product range or the premium consumer products in their product lineup.

Lenovo ThinkBook 14S press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkBook 14s small-business notebook computer

But Lenovo have answered the small-to-medium-size organisation’s or freelancer’s needs by launching the ThinkBook product lineup targeted at these user classes. Here, they removed all the extra management features associated with enterprise-class computers, added the kind of multimedia features associated with consumer-grade products and presented them with a stylish look.

This satisfies the reality that this user class doesn’t run or contract an IT management and support team. Rather they have their solutions provider or an independent computer store provide the necessary after-sales support.

Similarly, this user class tends to work these computers as a “work-home” computer system which has to perform well in an all-round multimedia context as well as looking stylish for the home. It includes the fact that a significant amount of the small/medium business or freelance / self-employed user class places emphasis on doing at least some of their work from home.

Lenovo answered this situation by integrating an essential subset of security features in the form of a discrete TPM security chip along with a fingerprint reader that is integrated in the computer’s power switch. These work together to provide authentication for local or Web resources according the the “open-frame” FIDO2 standards. The camera also supports the end-user’s privacy through the use of a mechanical shutter over the lens that the user can slide back when they want to use the camera with Lenovo marketing it as the ThinkShutter.

There is also the business-class durability associated with the ThinkPad business product range built in to the new ThinkBook product range. This means that the small-organisation or freelancer user isn’t treated as a second-class citizen in this respect.

But the ThinkBook 13s and 14s which are clamshell laptops implement multimedia features like Dolby Audio and Harman sound tuning for the sound output and Dolby Vision colour management for the Full HD display. Both these laptops were also designed to have the stylish looks and are finished in a sliver housing rather than a black or charcoal-grey housing associated with business-grade computer equipment.

The ThinkBook 13s (13” screen) has the integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics whereas the ThinkBook 14s (14” screen) has AMD Radeon discrete graphics with AMD Dynamic Switchable Graphics operation. Both of them support Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) dual-stream for wireless operation along with a USB-C port and one of the two standard USB 3 ports supporting “Plug and Charge” operation when the computer is closed up.

The keyboard layout will be similar to most laptops on the market and it will use a normal touchpad and not have the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick associated with the ThinkPad. There are dedicated function keys for managing voice / video calls with Skype or other softphone / videophone software that responds to standard call-control function keys.

The ThinkBook laptop range are expected to appear at least in the North-American market by the end of May. But I would see this as a chance for Lenovo to build out a regular-computer product range dedicated to the small organisations and self-employed or freelancing professionals of this world.

It will also be a chance for more of the computer vendors to build up and identify out their “prosumer” products that fill the gap between consumer-focused and business-focused or professional-focused markets. This is through practices like designing products with the essential security, durability and reliability features but presented in a stylish form and capable of satisfying multimedia work and play activity.

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The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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Product Review–Brother HL-L3230CDW Colour LED Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L3230CDW which is their latest iteration of a colour LED-based xerographic printer. These xerographic printers works in a similar manner to a laser printer but uses a row of LEDs rather than a laser steered by moving mirrors to light the imaging drum with what you are printing as part of the printing process.

Brother is positioning the HL-L3230CDW as a follow-on model to their HL-3170CDW colour LED printer and its stablemates. But they are also running this model as a baseline printer for their new colour LED xerographic printing engine. The higher-priced pureplay stablemates based on the new engine also have a colour LCD touchscreen and offer more in the way of walk-up printing options such as working with Brother’s Web Connect online printing subsystem. There are also some colour LED multifunction printers with the fax-equipped models supporting this same Web Connect as well.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour 1 A4 tray(standard) USB 2.0
LED xerographic 1 sheet multi-purpose tray Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Own-access-point Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Auto-Duplex IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support

 

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$329

Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$146 2500
Cyan AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Magenta AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Yellow AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit – per colour AUD$299 18000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers) AUD$194.50 50000
Waste Toner Bin AUD$43 50000

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer control panel

The control panel on the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

The Brother HL-L3230CDW is able to connect to your computer directly via USB or via your home network using Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n) or Ethernet. This review will be the first product review on HomeNetworking01.info to implement the new Wi-Fi Alliance “generation mumbering” scheme that has just been set in stone when it comes to what kind of connectivity to expect from a Wi-Fi wireless-network device.

There is a small LCD display as well as a D-pad for basic machine setup functionality so you are not expecting much from this printer beyond a baseline print device.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer toners in place

Toner cartridges and drum units in the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

You have to open a lid to gain access to the toner cartridges. drum units and belt unit. Here, each colour toner cartridge is installed in its drum unit but you separately replace the toner cartridge and the drum unit unlike what happens with HP LaserJet printers.

Here, each of the parts are easy to remove and reinstall which can be of benefit when dealing with paper jams. If you are dealing with a paper jam that occurred around the back of the printer, the fuser rollers are exposed when you open the back panel and release another black plastic panel to rectify the paper jam. This is a risky situation due to these rollers being hot after a print job.

Brother DR-253CL drum and TN-253Y toner cartridge

Toner cartridge and drum unit as separate pieces – installed in a similar manner to Brother monochrome laser printers

A security issue that will always come up regarding dedicated-function devices that connect to your network and the Internet is making sure these devices are kept up-to-date with the latest firmware. This is something I will be paying attention to regarding these devices and writing up about in these product reviews.

Brother integrates in to their print monitor software installed on your computer a software-update monitoring function. If there are new versions of the driver or printer firmware, this program will let you know so you can update this software, whereupon you can update this software. It will lead to the installation of a printer-firmware update tool to install newer firmware.

Paper Handling

The Brother HL-L3230CDW has a standard paper tray for ordinary document paper. But like most of the popularly-priced Brother printers. it has a single-sheet multipurpose feed slot which can be annoying if you are doing things like run a batch of labels or print on special media.

Walk-up functions

Due to its position in the market for its product type as an economy “bare-bones” printer, this printer doesn’t offer walk-up printing from USB, network or online resources.

Computer functions

I have installed the driver software on to my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s official support Website and this installation went according to plan.

As for printing from mobile devices, the Brother HL-L3230CDW can print using Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app. But it supports driver-free printing in the form of Apple’s AirPrint and the Mopria platform as well as supporting Google Cloud Print.

There is support for code-based secure job release but it requires you to enter the pre-determined release code using a “pick-and-choose” method not dissimilar to text entry on a Smart TV or video peripheral using its remote control.

Print speed and quality

If the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer hasn’t been used for a significant amount of time, it would take around 20 seconds to yield the first page of the document from when you send the print job from your computer. If it was recently used, the printer would take around 10 seconds to turn out the first page of the print job. This is something that would be expected for most economy laser printers.

This printer would yield sharp crisp document output even for colour work thus making it suitable for basic office printing including printing of desktop publishing work.

I printed two test photos using Windows 10 Photos app along using the best printing-quality setting available and they came out slightly pale compared with Brother’s recent premium colour laser printer – the HL-L8350CDW. Most of the colours still come out vibrant although it doesn’t handle the flesh tones really well.

Even though I haven’t had the chance to personally test the Brother HL-3170CDW or its stablemates that are based on the second-generation LED xerographic print engine, I had noticed a significant improvement on photo output quality over the generations compared to when I tested the HL-3075CW which used Brother’s first-generation LED xerographic print engine.  What is showing up with the Brother HL-L3230CDW is that it is capable of yielding photo output that is good for ordinary use but not fully presentation-grade.

The Brother HL-L3230CDW’s LED print engine is the second colour LED print engine that Brother designed to implement an automatic duplexer across all of the models. But I have paid some attention to registration shift between the front and back of the same sheet of paper during a double-sided print run. Here, I had noticed a slight vertical shift where the back page was slightly shifted down from the front by a few millimetres. This is something that may be common with most desktop printers equipped with this feature but may be of concern with turning out print jobs like doorknob hangers, luggage tags or the like where you need to cut out a particular shape.

Unlike the premium Brother colour laser printers, the Brother HL-L3230 doesn’t implement a “quick turnaround” approach to automatic duplexing. Rather it seems to work one sheet of paper at a time while doing a double-sided print run.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One feature that Brother could work on with the economy colour LED printers is the registration shift for auto-duplexing. Here, they could make sure that there isn’t any drift between the front and back of the printed page, which can be of benefit for printing special-shaped work. It can also lead towards designing automatic duplexer mechanisms for printers that are paper-agile such as being able to work with smaller paper sizes or thicker paper.

The manual bypass tray could be able to support multiple sheets of paper, which can be of benefit if you are turning out a significant quantity of labels, printed envelopes or other special documents.

Another issue that will be of concern is the cost to replace the drum units when they come up for replacement. This can cause one to consider buying a new printer from the same range rather than replacing the necessary parts. It is more so where the drum units are being rated for fewer pages than the other components.

Another improvement I would like to see regarding this printer is the option to start a firmware update for a network-connected printer from its control panel through the “Machine Info” menu. This could be augmented through a message on the printer’s display to say that new firmware is available like I have seen with some of the multifunction units they offer.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Personally, I would see the Brother HL-L3230CDW as an entry-level casual-use option for a xerographic-based colour printer that is suited for small jobs. This could be something that is a home office or a private “document-preview” printer.

An issue that will be of concern is that if at least one drum unit or the belt unit comes up for replacement at the same time as a toner replacement, it could make us think that this printer is worth replacing rather than the necessary parts. This is a problem that I see being endemic with economy-positioned printers.

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Product Review–Brother QL-1110NWB label printer

I am reviewing the Brother QL-1110NWB wide-format network label printer which is the premium model for Brother’s QL-1100 series of wide-format label printers. It is seen as something that can work with applications where barcodes, graphics or extra details like weights and use-by dates are to be placed on a label like with packaging or commercial-kitchen food management.

There are two machines that are part of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printer lineup – the QL-1110 and the QL-1110NWB. The QL-1110 can only connect to the host computing device via USB and also supports USB-host connectivity for HID-class USB barcode readers. Android users can use USB OTG or USB Type-C adaptor cables to connect their devices to this printer and print using the Brother apps.

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer

The QL-1110NWB supports the abovementioned USB connections but also supports network connectivity via Wi-Fi or Ethernet along with support for wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or direct (own access point) Wi-Fi connectivity,

Both of these machines run from AC power using an integrated power supply where you are not dealing with a “wall-wart” or “power brick” to supply power to them. Rather you are simply using the same kind of AC cord that you would use to power a portable radio and that leads towards a cable you can easily replace if the original one goes missing.

Connection to your computer or network

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections - USB to host computer, USB for peripherals, Ethernet

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections – USB for direct to host connection, USB for barcode readers and Ethernet

The Brother QL-1110NWB can connect to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless as well as being able to print from mobile devices using either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct connections. But if you are setting up this machine for Wi-Fi-based network connectivity, you have to connect it to a regular computer running Windows via USB and run the supplied Printer Setting Tool to configure it. This doesn’t apply if you use WPS “push-to-connect” Wi-Fi setup or Ethernet connectivity on a small network.

I had found that the Printer Setting Tool was not surefire in its approach for Wi-Fi network setup and couldn’t even get it connected to my home network. But I could simply plug it in to the Ethernet connection which can be of use for setups where your premises is wired for Ethernet or you use a HomePlug powerline setup.

There is support for Web-based configuration but this only applies if you have it connected to your network.

It also supports Apple’s AirPrint driver-free printing standard so it can work with iOS and MacOS hosts without needing driver software.

Personally, I had found that the Brother QL-1110NWB label printer yielded a surefire connection when I used it with an Ethernet connection or a USB direct-to-host connection.

The label printers also have an integrated guillotine which makes it simpler and more elegant to manage the labels. This works under programmatic control or you can cut the labels manually through a push-button on the machine’s control panel.

Loading label stock in the label printer

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer loaded with standard label tape

Loading the label tape in the Brother QL-1110 Network Label Printer

The Brother QL-1110 Series label printers can take the same standard-width label stock as the rest of the QL series reel-feed label printers. But they can take label stock that is wider than normal thus allowing for the creation of larger labels including the possibility of printing out standard name-badge or address labels in landscape form.

Loading any of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printers is a relatively simple chore no matter whether you are using the wide label stock or the narrow label stock. These label printers use a clamshell design and you release the lid by operating two latches at the same time, which doesn’t require much pressure. Then you drop the label reel in, making sure it engages with the ridge on the right hand side of the compartment.

Then you thread the label paper through the machine taking care to make sure the paper is under a black sensor box on the right side of the compartment while it emerges through the front. Here, there is very little effort needed to make sure that the paper is threaded properly.

The Brother label printer uses microswitches that sense mouldings and holes on the reel along with other microswitches that sense the width of the reel to determine what kind of label tape is in the printer including whether it is a wide-format label tape. Here, you would have to be careful that the correct label tape is on the correct reel if you want this unit to work properly.

System-integration support

A systems integrator or yourself could upload label template designs created using P-Touch Editor and set up a “computer-free” label-creation arrangement for data read from barcodes. This can work with an HID-compliant barcode reader connected to the USB host port (both models) or linked via Bluetooth (QL-1110NWB only). That setup would then appeal to stock-control and similar applications.

There is also support for ESC/P printing codes so that these label printers can work with other third-party labelling or similar software that implements this kind of output control.

Supplied software

All the Brother label machines including these units support the P-Touch Editor software which works as a quick way to turn out labels. If you use a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet, the Brother iPrint&Label app works in the same vein for turning out labels from these devices.

If you use P-Touch Editor, you could set it that way by selecting “Vertical” in the Orientation setting under the Paper tab. This means that it will print out parallel to the printer. Here, I would recommend this if you want to exploit the wide-format label tape for turning out address labels or name badges.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Brother could make sure these label printers support any and all device classes to do with printing for POS, gaming and allied applications no matter the connection type as well as supporting other driver-free printing standards like Mopria Alliance and IPP Everywhere,

Similarly, Brother could look towards the use of other USB or Bluetooth input devices like keyboards or digital scales as a way to enter data for use with stored label templates. Here, it could work well with environments where you can’t use a smartphone or regular computer to enter data for a labelling environment.

I have always called on Brother to add a “measuring-tape” creation function to their P-Touch Editor software. Such a function would allow someone to use a label printer loaded with continuous-tape label stock to create a measuring tape that could be stuck to something like a worktop edge or door frame thus making that surface something to measure length or height with. This feature would appeal to laboratories, the medical profession, child care, education or a whole host of other professions who are always measuring things like people’s height for example.

As well, the P-Touch Address Book software could support country-specific addressing better by using nation-specific address layouts or omitting the ZIP Code barcode for non-USA addresses. It could be taken further through the implementation of machine-readable barcoding techniques that other countries may use to improve mail delivery.

Conclusion

The Brother QL-1100 Series label printers have become an example of legitimising wide-format thermal-based label printing for small businesses. This would be of importance for logistics and inventory-management applications where there is requirement for more detail on the label or to make heavy use of large barcodes.

But I would recommend the Brother QL-1110NWB specifically for those setups where you expect the printer to be located away from a regular computer.

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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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