Windows Server 2003’s End of Support Date is Fast-Approaching

Last year, Microsoft pulled the plug on Windows XP’s support. Now, one year later, Windows Server 2003 is scheduled to meet its demise. If your servers are still running Windows Server 2003 as their operating system, it’s important to upgrade before the end of support date of July 14th. Otherwise, you could be running a server operating system without necessary patches and security updates.

As the owner of a small or medium-sized business, you know how important technology is to your success. However, technology that’s outdated can hold your business back from its full potential. Therefore, it’s imperative that you always upgrade your server’s operating system when upgrades are possible. A big reason for this is to keep the competitive edge over companies running legacy software, also security is a primary concern. The latest patches and security updates are only available to supported operating systems, and Windows Server 2003 will be joining the list of unsupported systems in only a few short months.

Of course, nobody is stopping you from keeping Windows Server 2003. If you want to keep using it, you either have to go unsupported or shell out massive amounts of cash. According to Processor magazine, Microsoft is offering custom support for Windows Server 2003 for around $200,000 annually, which will certainly break your IT maintenance budget. This in particular should emphasize the importance of upgrading to a more recent server operating system, especially if you need to comply with strict security standards put into place by HIPAA and other industry-specific ordinances.

While upgrading away from Windows Server 2003 is a simple enough process, you need to be aware of what kinds of applications your business utilizes. After all, some of your older applications might have trouble moving from a 32-bit operating system to a more recent one. This kind of project requires the skills and knowledge of trained professionals, so this must be taken into account when upgrading to a new OS. Approach this project knowing what you need and how to go about integrating these changes into your infrastructure. This will prevent expensive downtime by keeping your server online as long as possible.

Michell Consulting Group knows how to carry out this procedure in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. We can put together a time-saving plan that takes into account minor discrepancies and larger problems which might arise from the process. We’ll migrate your data to a temporary server so your business can set up your new server, meaning minimum downtime for your business. Productivity can continue without a hitch.

Of course, you also have the option of virtualizing your server units and adjusting for growth that way. Your old server units likely experience a lot of wear and tear over the years, so this is a good way to eliminate the need for physical maintenance associated with the server’s hardware. A cloud server is just as efficient, and it’s easier on your operating costs.

Michell Consulting Group can help you understand the best course of action for your business. Give us a call at 305.592.5433 Ext.2601 for more information about server maintenance, upgrades, and more.

Will You Make Microsoft’s Spartan Your Default Web-browsing Warrior?

In addition to Microsoft’s upcoming new operating system, Windows 10, the software company has released that there is a new web browser in production. This new browser, code-named “Spartan,” is expected to have similar functionality to Mozilla’s Firefox and Google Chrome, and will be released alongside Windows 10.

In Microsoft’s golden days of yore, its current web browser, Internet Explorer, was an unstoppable juggernaut, holding over 90 percent of the browser market share at one time. Now, the age-old web browser has fallen from grace, and younger, more-robust have overtaken it in terms of overall usage. Here are some recent browser usage statistics provided by W3Schools from 2014:

  • Google Chrome: 60.1 percent.
  • Mozilla Firefox: 23.4 percent.
  • Internet Explorer: 9.8 percent.
  • Apple Safari: 3.7 percent.
  • Opera: 1.6 percent.

recycleAdditionally, Internet Explorer isn’t compatible outside the Windows Phone operating system. This is an issue, especially considering that Android and iOS make up such a significant portion of the market share (47.06 percent and 43.86 percent, respectively). The fact that Internet Explorer isn’t being considered by consumers wanting a more versatile mobile web browser, plus IE’s dwindling desktop usage, has forced Microsoft to reconsider their browser strategy.

As ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reports, Spartan is a versatile web browser which will operate in a similar manner to Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Additionally, Foley’s sources (which remain anonymous) have informed her that Spartan is a completely separate browser from Internet Explorer, and that it will take advantage of extensions just like Chrome and Firefox. This can potentially add a whole new level to the web-browsing experience for the end user.

spartan

According to the preliminary details released about Windows 10, it will be available on several different devices. Therefore, it’s fairly likely that Spartan will be available on a number of different devices and desktops. There are also rumors floating around that Spartan will be an app available through the Windows Store, allowing for faster updates from Microsoft. This means that it will likely be downloadable on any device running Windows 10, including phones, tablets, and desktops.

Microsoft’s recent decisions have been in favor of expanding its once-exclusive software to other operating systems and devices, so Spartan working on other operating systems doesn’t sound so farfetched. For example, Microsoft made a version of Office available for Apple’s iPad just last March, and they later released versions of the apps for the iPhone. It’s quite possible that Spartan and Windows 10 will be the fresh start that Microsoft so desperately needs.

Other details have also been leaked concerning the new web browser. As previously reported, Spartan will not be killing Internet Explorer; however, Spartan might replace the metro-style Internet Explorer used by the Windows 8 operating system. Users will be able to split their work and personal tabs into groups. Foley explains how this might work:

Spartan may allow users to open multiple sites in grouped tabs together, which would allow users to do things like compare prices of a new phone without having to switch between tabs, my source said.

Web developers will also be happy to hear that Spartan is still utilizing Trident, the same engine which Internet Explorer is built upon. This helps considerably with site compatibility, and will allow Spartan to display websites the same way Internet Explorer would, if the site was designed to work in an older version.

More information concerning both Windows 10 and Spartan will be revealed at the Windows 10 preview event in Redmond, Washington on January 21st. What are your thoughts on Spartan and Windows 10? What kind of features are you looking forward to see in the new web browser? Let us know in the comments.

Why Did Microsoft Skip Windows 9? Because Seven Eight Nine! (Get it?)

The news is out; what was previously thought to be Windows 9, codenamed “Threshold,” has been revealed to be Windows 10. While leaks have already shown us quite a bit of what the latest installment of Windows can do, the official reveal goes into more detail about the nature of Windows 10 for enterprises and even common users. First, let’s go over what we already know about the enigmatic new operating system, then we’ll get into the juicy new details.

 

Through various leaks and videos, we have seen a sleek design which seems to meld the Metro user interface of Windows 8 with the desktop functionality of Windows 7. In addition to a drastic graphical revamp, there are several new features that have gotten the hype train chugging along.

Much of the gripe over Windows 8 was due to how difficult the Metro UI was to use for desktop users, as well as the noticeable absence of the classic Start menu which Windows users grew to know and love. While the Metro UI is still available in Windows 10, it is optional to what degree users would like to utilize it. The Start menu also makes its triumphant comeback, sporting a sleek new design using customizable Metro shortcuts.

Also shown was the return of the task bar, which includes a couple of new features: a Search function and virtual desktops. These virtual desktops can be customized for whatever tasks you set them to, be it for work or casual use. Additionally, the Charms bar will be made more user-friendly.

Now, onto the new stuff. Windows 10 aims at building an operating system which is the “threshold” for a new era of Windows operating systems. It is described as the last of the big Windows operating systems, and Windows 9 was skipped to signify the change. According to the official Microsoft blog:

This new Windows must be built from the ground-up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. This new Windows must help our customers be productive in both their digital work and their digital life. This new Windows must empower people and organizations to do great things.

Windows 10 will be uniquely designed to work on all devices, hence the “One product family. One platform. One store,” mindset Microsoft has adopted. More changes include the ability for all applications to run in windows, which can be resized, moved around, maximized, minimized, you name it. The Snap features, which allow you to quickly access open applications, have been enhanced, allowing users easier access to them.

In a bizarre twist of fate, technology news website InfoWorld predicted the concept of Windows 10 one year ago with an incredibly well-crafted (and slightly humorous) April Fool’s Joke in 2013. They managed to convince some people that Windows 9 was “too good” to be released to the public, and that Microsoft would keep the exceptional operating system as an internal perk of sorts while skipping ahead to Windows 10. In regards to the fabled Windows 9, InfoWorld states:

Details about Windows 9 are sketchy, but according to internal Microsoft communications obtained by InfoWorld, the OS was fast, intuitive, bug-free, and equally adept with both the Windows Desktop and Metro-style interfaces. “And who would’ve thought to put the Start button there?!? Genius!” marveled one engineer, though it’s unclear where “there” is exactly.

Another engineer likened the OS to the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Power Glove accessory, saying, “It’s that good a melding of man and machine.”

As of October 1st 2014, enterprises can download the technical preview from preview.windows.com. This preview allows enterprises to try out the new operating system before it is released, keeping in mind that it can (and most likely will) change before the release date in mid-2015. Microsoft is encouraging feedback from users about what can be done to make the new Windows the best Windows.

What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s approach to their newest Windows operating system? Will you be downloading the technical preview of Windows 10? Let us know in the comments.

Create Dynamic Infographics with Microsoft PowerPoint

Not only can Microsoft PowerPoint make great slideshows, it can also make engaging infographics. The latest trend in marketing is fairly simple: Visual content sells. Images and videos are the most popular way to take advantage of this. Infographics can offer your marketing campaign a combination of text and image, allowing your marketing content to be both engaging and informative.

Unfortunately, some businesses find it difficult to integrate infographics into their marketing strategy. Even if you have someone who is a dedicated graphic designer, you still need the expensive software to put together a quality infographic. To make things harder, this specific software generally has a high learning curve which can be difficult to learn effectively when under pressure. With a little ingenuity, you can bypass all of these problems by making professional infographics with Microsoft PowerPoint.

There are three key elements you must understand in order to make the most out of your PowerPoint infographic: Text, Picture, and Shape. Additionally, there are four tools that must be used to make a quality infographic:

  • Fill: The primary color of the object or text. Choose this option by clicking the bucket-type icon.
  • Line: This determines what color the outline of an object is.
  • Effects: You don’t need to make your own effects. There are several pre-built options that you can use to give your objects outlines, shadows, and much more.
  • Style: There are pre-built styles that you can take advantage of to make professional-looking infographics with minimum training on your part.

The Proper Color Scheme Goes a Long Way
If you want the most effective infographic, be sure to use a fairly specific color scheme: Four colors at the most. Any more than four could distract the reader from what really matters – the content. You can include shapes, fonts, clipart images, and more through Microsoft PowerPoint itself, but if those don’t suit your fancy, you can upload your own photos. Just make sure you keep it simple.

If you can’t find anything you want to use in PowerPoint, try combining custom shapes and images to drive the point home. With several basic images at your disposal, you can essentially make anything you want. Altering the fill and line styles of these images is as easy as double-clicking the shapes, or using the toolbar that appears near the object. If you want to section off parts of the infographic into ideas, change the style to let the reader know that a shift in focus is occurring.

Text and Font Size Matter
The best infographics know how to utilize the power of different fonts and sizes. After all, what makes you look at statistics in an infographic? The font style and the size. When displaying lots of information, you want to use an interesting (but not overly complicated) font style. Only use around three colors maximum for your font. Avoid white space when you can, as an empty infographic isn’t what the reader is looking for. Try these text and font tips on for size:

  • Alternating colors can put emphasis on what’s really important. Your readers should be able to tell important information when they see it.
  • Custom graphics can easily be made in PowerPoint. Use several different shapes – you’ll never know what you can make until you try.
  • Font size is important for statistics. For example, large numbers work well with larger font sizes.
  • Don’t use graphs. People don’t find them appealing, or even engaging. Use images to explain the point better.

If you can master the art of making infographics in PowerPoint, you can make powerful marketing tools that appeal to your audience. For more information, tips, and tricks about how to take full advantage of Microsoft Office 365, give Michell Consulting Group a call at 305.592.5433 ext 2601.

Microsoft Set to Release Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft has changed its tune recently. They have made a serious push to take advantage in the mobile computing explosion by creating software that is designed specifically for the mobile device user, Windows Phone 8.1. When the software giant released Windows Phone 8 in the fourth quarter of 2012, many thought it was only a matter of time before the software would resonate with mobile users. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the smartphone market hasn’t been as friendly as the home and business computing market. Windows Phone 8 has been a thorough disappointment.

Later this month, Microsoft will update their Windows Phone 8 offering with their first large-scale update, Windows Phone 8.1 (codename Blue). With it, they hope to begin improving their miniscule smartphone market share and if the early reviews are any indication, they are well on their way. After finishing the acquisition of Nokia earlier in 2014, Microsoft hopes that the Windows Phone 8.1 upgrade is the catalyst they need to compete in the smartphone market.

Main Features
For Windows Phone 8 users who have appreciated the live-tile design and the sharp look and usability of the interface, it came at the expense of dedicated phone options, ease of use of the OS, and the app store selection.The Windows Phone 8 interface has been a challenge for developers. Many third-party vendors, who create apps and have come to advertise their appearance on the iTunes App Store and Google Play, are having hard times integrating options for the Windows App Store. This limits the selection available, and has prevented the interface’s large scale market saturation.

Going forward, Microsoft hopes that the newest update, Windows Phone 8.1, will present users reasons to switch. Two the the main features that the Windows Phone 8.1 update will bring are:

  1. A dedicated notifications area – For all of Windows Phone 8’s integrated simplicity, some users who have made the change from an Android or Apple-based system, have been left wanting in a couple areas. The notifications area is certainly one of them. The Windows Phone 8.1 Update provides users a new “Action Center” that will make the user experience of your Windows 8 Phone that much more dynamic.
  2. Cortana – The most anticipated addition to Windows Phone 8.1 is the integration of the Bing search-based personal assistant, Cortana. The application, initially named after an artificially intelligent character from Microsoft’s hugely popular video game series, Halo, is the first personal assistant available for Windows Phone 8 devices. Microsoft has gone so far as to use Jen Taylor, the actress that played Cortana in the games, to provide the voice for the virtual assistant. The popularity and usefulness of Apple’s integrated personal assistant, Siri, and Android’s Google Now, supplied the demand that Microsoft has responded to. Early returns on the usefulness of the software have been positive, with users complimenting the ability for Cortana to be customized to meet their needs.

These are two of the most important features the Windows Phone 8.1 update will provide mobile users, but they aren’t the only ones. Many other improvements have been made, that include:

  • An upgrade to Internet Explorer 11, including “InPrivate” mode.
  • “Data Sense” to help users manage their data usage. Windows Phone 8.1 integrates a setting to allow users to limit their data to avoid expensive carrier-based data fees.
  • Additional live-tile customization.
  • Adds multiple functions to the messaging capabilities of Windows Phone 8 devices. “Word Flow” allows users the option to integrate a “Swipe” feature to their messaging input.
  • Provides enhancements to the Phone Storage application that comes equipped on Windows 8 handsets. This allows users to manage their device’s storage capabilities to ensure that users don’t run out of storage.
  • Presents additional Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities.
  • Adds the ability for users to project their Windows Phone screen using wireless Miracast or wired USB technologies.
  • Presents improvements to Windows Phone Store.
  • Presents improvements to Windows’ camera application, including “burst mode.”
  • Windows Phone 8.1 comes equipped with a battery-saving application called “Battery Sense”, that helps users get the most out of their device by managing the amount of power each application uses.
  • The “WiFi Sense” application automatically signs the Windows Phone into trusted available WiFi hotspots.
  • Features revamped “Calendar” and “Maps” applications.
  • Separates Xbox Music and Xbox Video and adds functionality for each.
  • Adds a “speed dialer” application.
  • Adds a dedicated file manager.
  • Allows users to set volume on multiple levels instead of the global volume adjustment toggle found on Windows 8 Phone.

With all these obvious improvements, Microsoft is beginning to realize former CEO Steve Ballmer’s plan to alter Microsoft’s strategy in the devices and services arena and be a player in the mobile device market. Currently, Windows Phone 8.1 can be found on the Nokia Lumia 930, the Nokia Lumia 630, and the Nokia Lumia 635.

Windows Phone 8 users should expect an update to become available by the end of the month, depending on your service provider. Do you think that Microsoft can capture a larger market share with all the smartphone competition? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.