What I use and how I do things at home

Being in Information Technology I have a lot of friends and family ask me for my opinion in regards to their personal computers and home networks. Heck, I even get phone calls from family asking me to install a wireless printer, setup a new computer, or remove pop-ups! I wanted to discuss what I personally do at my house.  The products and methods I use at client sites differ from the products and methods I use at home. Sure I could setup Microsoft Data Protection Manager and deploy agents to my family computers in my house for backups. I could also implement Microsoft Configuration Manager to make sure the few workstations under my roof are up to date with patches and to make installing software easier than sneakernet. Another option would be for me to go with Microsoft Service Manager so my family could submit helpdesk request with Service Level Agreements (SLAs). The fact is what I use at work and what I use at home is and will be different.

There’s a saying about opinions being related to a body part but I’m not going to get into that. Everyone does things differently. The way we do things may be different but the end result is basically the same. I’ve evolved throughout the years and below is what I’m currently using and doing.

Antivirus/Malware
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When you get a new computer from the store it’s usually installed with some trial version of antivirus. Don’t get suckered into using it. Sure they’ll give you a free subscription for 90, 180, or even 365 days but after that prepare to pay a pretty penny. If you have an computer running home editions of Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows Vista, or Microsoft Windows 7 skip the pre-bundled software mess. Download Microsoft Security Essentials, uninstall the pre-installed AV software, reboot, and install MSE. I’ve been using MSE for so long I can’t even remember what I used before that. It’s a great product for personal home machines. The reason I recommend this product is because it is free and it does a great job protecting from malware.  If you have Windows 8 then Windows Defender is the same as MSE and it’s already built in. I haven’t worked with a Windows 8 machine from a store but I would assume you uninstall the preinstalled antivirus software, reboot, and enable the Windows Defender Service.

Backups
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I use to duplicate my data by using mirrored hard drives. I even went through the backup to CD-ROMs craze (what was I thinking). With my data growing and growing and collection of software increasing I needed something that could also grow. For a long time I used Mozy until they started charging per GB. I didn’t like paying per GB but I loved how you setup the client and it back up offsite. A few years ago I switched from Mozy to CrashPlan. I LOVE CrashPlan. It saved Jody’s rear a few times already. I have the family plan where I can back up to ten machines to their servers without any online size limits. What’s also nice is using the same client I can backup those same computers to my server sitting in my basement. Another added feature is my friends can supply my code and backup their machines over the internet to my server free of charge. I love CrashPlan as it’s a great way to back up my data to multiple locations automatically. My family loves it as their machines are backed up also.

Passwords
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Gosh where to begin. I think the first way I tried to keep track of my passwords was with a password protected Excel Spreadsheet. That worked for a while. After that I used KeePass on my flash drive to keep track of my passwords. Overall I really liked KeePass. Since then I discovered LastPass. I decided to go with LastPass as they’re using the cloud.  Everything on their servers is encrypted so that makes me feel much better about my usernames and passwords. My browser and mobile device does the decryption. That way I know there is no decrypted data on their disks. I can access my passwords from an app on my phone, iPad, iPod, computer, and it even enters my usernames and password into websites. If you want a place to keep your passwords look into LastPass.com. This is a great way to have your usernames and passwords off a disk or flash drive. Tip: you can back up your data to an encrypted file for your own records if you don’t like that a website is the single source for your usernames and passwords.

Bookmarks
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I remember years ago I wanted to create an app that would synchronize bookmarks among different computers and browsers. Well someone beat me to it. Welcome to XMarks. Using XMarks, all of your bookmarks are synchronized across computers and browsers. If your computer crashes just install XMarks and you’ll have all of your bookmarks back.

Notes
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Sometimes you just need a place to have notes and snippets of webpages and such. For this I use Evernote. I can access my notes via an application, webpage, and even a mobile applications. It’s great for jotting down things. I prefer Evernote to Microsoft’s OneNote due to Evernote is a cross operating system(PC, mobile devices, etc.).

Files
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We all start with a few files, then we add/create more. Pretty soon we’re bombarded by data. F
or a very long time I kept my files on a flash drive but to be honest with you those flash drives are not very reliable. Good thing I used Mozy/CrashPlan! With cloud storage I decided to give it a shot. Let’s just say SkyDrive is great. I have a folder on my workstation and an app on my notebook and desktops. It syncs everything in that folder to SkyDrive.com and to my other workstations. Basically I have that file not only on my workstation but in the cloud and on my other workstations. There is a 2GB file size limit so I have some files that don’t sync online. It’s not a problem because if I’m out and about I shouldn’t be worrying about downloading an 11GB video file.

Microsoft Office Applications
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The newest and greatest item added to my bag of tricks is Microsoft Office 365. My work machine has Office but my personal machines do not. The student version of Office was cost effective as it was about $150 and you could install it on up to 5 machines.  We qualified for this as three people were currently enrolled in school. The problem now is activations and a new pricing model. Microsoft will only allow you to install the student edition it on a single machine. Welcome to Microsoft Office 365. Sure it’s a subscription but for $100 a year you not only get the latest version of Office but you can install it on up to 5 machines! If a machine crashes you simply go online and deactivate it freeing up that license. It also integrates with SkyDrive and your corporate versions of Office.  I’ve only been using it for a few days but so far I think it was a good decision.

I hope this blog discussing what I use makes you think if what you’re doing is enough. Any one of my machines can explode and I really won’t care as all of my data is safe and secure ready to be reloaded on a new machine along with some subscription services that makes travel easy

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download
Price: Free

CrashPlan
http://www.crashplan.com
Price: Free backing up to another friend’s computer. $33 a year backing up one computer with a 10GB online storage limit. $60 a year backing up one computer with no online storage limit. $150 a year backing up two-ten computers with no online storage limit.

LastPass
http://www.lastpass.com
Price: Free for online and computers. $10 a year for mobile apps and no advertisements.

XMarks
http://www.xmarks.com
Price: Free. $10 a year for mobile applications and added features.

Evernote
http://www.evernote.com
Price: Free. $45 a year to remove advertising and increase in monthly upload limits.

SkyDrive
http://www.skydrive.com
Price: Free for 7GB(if you had SkyDrive before pricing then you got 25GB free). Most expensive plan $50 a year for 100GB online store.

Microsoft Office 365
http://office.microsoft.com
Price: $100 a year for online access and installed on up to 5 computers.

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