Software Upgrades That Break Things … And the right way to do them…

Several weeks ago, I decided that it was time for us to upgrade our web site to the latest technology. It was running on Windows Server 2008; the current version of Windows Server is 2012 R2 (for now). As you may suspect if you’ve read this blog even once before, I’m not a fan of updating things that are in active use. Since our website is something we actively use (online support is routed through our website, for one thing), I was more than a little nervous about having it go down.

That’s where the new virtual technology comes into play. I set up a duplicate Web server with a different address, installed all the updates, debugged (there were more than one or two conflicts, and it took me about four weeks to find them all), and today I’m launching the new website.

So if anything disappears that you been looking at, let me know. The best news is that now I can move along to something else.

The lesson that you can take away from this is that there is a way to do upgrades that doesn’t result in the possibility of your system being down for many days. The horror stories that you’ve heard in the past about upgrades dragging for weeks and weeks with websites being unusable or operations impossible because the system doesn’t work should be things of the past.

We’ve been using test servers like this for years with ERP updates; it’s time that the average small business took advantage of this affordable technology.

What’s needed for ERP

I was reminded last week that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) isn’t just about the technical side of things. One of the things I’ve struggled with for years when dealing with infrastructure experts (technicians) is the limited scope of their knowledge. Yes, it’s technically correct to keep all the software up-to-date in order to prevent virus infections, etc. However, when your shipping software or ERP software hasn’t been updated to support the latest version of Windows, it’s critical that you not do the update.

Woman with headacheIn order to adequately implement ERP, and to support it the following skills are useful if not absolutely necessary:

  • A general understanding of infrastructure including operating systems, security, networking, cloud computing, etc.
  • A thorough understanding of the business function you are trying to automate. This is perhaps the most important requirement; more often than not, a company that has trouble with ERP implementation is having trouble because someone doesn’t know enough about the business function. Sometimes it’s the employee; sometimes it’s the implementer. This is an area in which many infrastructure consultants failed to develop expertise.
  • An understanding of how software works. This doesn’t mean being a software developer or programmer (although that’s helpful). It means having an understanding of how data is stored in files, how computers think in rules and formulas, and how data stored in one place influences the result in another place.
  • An appreciation of the complex relationships between various pieces of software, and an understanding of how to troubleshoot problems of this type.
  • An understanding of the term “vendor supported” as it relates to software. Specifically, a piece of software may work on Windows 8.1, but the software vendor may choose not to support it. This means that if you have a problem, you’re on your own. From experience, software support companies know that any issues that arise in the future will be blamed on the fact that “unsupported” software is being used.

Businesses should be careful that they don’t expect their IT staff to understand and support every piece of software which they may use. While I may be completely confident in ERP software, I’m not the person you need to talk to about AutoCAD (computer aided design software).

Be careful most of all of the person that does not know and does not know that he does not know.

 

Dealing with Zero Day Cyber Attacks

A zero day cyber attack sounds ominous, but it simply means that the attack was discovered on the current day. The manufacturer of the software being attacked (in this case Microsoft’s Internet Explorer) hasn’t yet had time to deal with the software weakness that’s being exploited in the attack.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, most cyber attacks take advantage of bugs or weaknesses in software. Since software developers are human, it’s pretty easy to prove that every piece of software has bugs. The question is just how hard they are to find.

In the case discussed in this article from CRN, Microsoft has discovered a weakness that affects every supported version of Internet Explorer.

This also illustrates the importance of avoiding links in emails that you don’t trust. Simply visiting an infected site can infect your computer. Take a look at the article for more information about specifically what is being done by this cyber attack.

Windows 8.1 update

It appears that Microsoft has discovered that some of us still use mice and keyboards. Windows 8 was obviously designed for touchscreen. In this particular environment, the new user interface works well, although I’ve never seen much of an alternative except for the iPad. To me, the iPad interface is a bit more intuitive, but it’s a much more limited device.

Anyway, there’s a new article about the new features to be released in the next update for Windows 8.

http://www.crn.com/news/applications-os/300072246/microsoft-reveals-windows-8-1-update-details-will-make-windows-free-for-some-tablets.htm?cid=nl_crn#

 

Microsoft Calling: Not!

Last night just before 10 o’clock, my telephone rang. My home telephone, that is. My wife answered, and after a short discussion said, “My husband handles all the computers here, you need to talk to him. Would you like to talk to my husband?”

The voice on the other end of the line evidently said, “Yes.” She handed me the telephone. “What are you selling?” I asked immediately.

A heavily accented voice on the other end of line said, “I am not selling anything. I am from Microsoft, and we’re calling to do maintenance on your computer.”

“What?”

“We have been getting some signals from your computer,” said the voice, “we’re calling to correct the problem.”

“Look,” said I, “I’ve been in the IT industry 30 years now, my company is a Microsoft Partner, and Microsoft simply does not call end-users in the middle of the night.”

Dial tone. Rajeev or whatever his name was hung up on me. (By this time I can confirm that his accent was, indeed, Indian.)

The point of all this, if there is a point, is that I’ve seen a dramatic increase in phishing attacks via email. It seems that now the bad guys are invading my home telephone. I have to assume that perhaps the bad guys may be trying to invade yours.

Don’t bite. Microsoft doesn’t call, except to sell you something. Neither does Symantec. Neither does Apple. If somebody calls asking for personal information, whether they claim to be from your bank, Microsoft, or Timbuktu, slam the phone down. If you get an email from your bank claiming that you’re overdrawn, do not follow the link to log into your bank. Assume that whatever information you provide to someone in one of these ways is going to be used to steal everything you have.

Am I being overly reactive? Yes. Number of times you get taken advantage of being overly reactive: zero. Number of times you get taken advantage of being naïve: too many to count.

So take it from the TV ad: Just say no!

Was 2013 a Lost Year for Business Tech and ERP?

While there were a number of contenders for technology innovation in 2013, nothing really seems to stand out as a true improvement. As the article from Quartz points out, there were no particularly impressive smartphone improvements. IOS 7 was an evolution not a revolution, and while many people decided to hang on to their iPhone 4s phones, many of us did think about whether iOS 8 was going to require an upgrade to the newest and greatest.

While Quartz has difficulty figuring out what the application of Google Glass might be, I think the area of enhanced reality (digital data displayed over the real world, such as for equipment repair or selecting a restaurant along a busy street in France is a promising application). Privacy issues are significant with this device. And I’ve said before that every teenage boy wants to get Google Glass into the girls locker room.

This article doesn’t mention business software such as ERP, CRM, or other business operations software. My own observation is that it’s true that very little happen in the business software world. There were new releases, and slightly revised user interfaces. But on the whole 2013 looked pretty much like 2012. Having said that, it’s also true that while changes were incremental, many businesses also found incremental productivity gains. All in all, those businesses that keep their software and hardware updated on a continuous basis find themselves in a much better position to compete.

Of course this isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that I make an observation like this.

Read Those Information Screens When Installing New Software

When you install the update to Windows 8.1, at one point in the process you get the following screen:

I know you can’t read that, but the screen invites you to use express settings. If you click the light violet button at the bottom, you’ll accept the list of bulleted express settings. One of these is page prediction. The description of page prediction on the Microsoft privacy policy reads as follows:

When this feature is turned on, information about webpages you visit is sent to Microsoft, together with standard PC information. This includes the addresses of the webpages you visit as well as information about images and videos included on the page. To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms, might be included. For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent. Address strings might unintentionally contain personal information, but this information, like the other information sent, isn’t used to identify, contact, or target advertising to you. In addition, Microsoft filters address strings to try to remove personal information.

Statistics about the webpages you visit will also be sent to Microsoft, such as the time that webpages were visited, which webpage referred you, and how you got there (for example, by clicking a link or one of your Favorites). A unique identifier generated by Internet Explorer and your machine’s IP address is also sent. The unique identifier is a randomly generated number that doesn’t contain any personal information and isn’t used to identify you. If you delete your browsing history or if you turn flip ahead with page prediction off and back on again, a new unique identifier will be created. We don’t correlate old unique identifiers with new ones. Other information that will help Microsoft improve the experience of features in Internet Explorer will also be sent including the time it took to load a page in Internet Explorer and standard machine information like your network connection type, device model info and whether you have touch-enabled hardware.

As I read this, it means that all of my browsing information will be sent to Microsoft. In case you pressed the light violet button, I thought you might like to know how to turn it off. Here’s a video:

Computer Lockups and Troubleshooting

In the last few days, my computer system decided to lock up several times. I just installed a couple of trial versions of software, and I had purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 12. I’d also installed the upgrade to 12.5.

When the lockup started, I assumed that it was one of two things (A) the software I just installed, or (B) something new Windows Update had installed automatically. I Googled the problem and the names of the software, and discovered that Dragon was being blamed for several lockups similar to the ones I had experienced. I followed the instructions, turning off many features of Dragon that I really like. Lockups continued.

I uninstalled software. I reinstalled Microsoft Office. Lockups continued.

I finally remembered that I had installed Microsoft virtualization technology in Windows 8. This also required me to turn on Hyper V support on my motherboard. When I turned off virtualization support on my motherboard, the lockups went away.

The moral: Troubleshooting is frustrating even for an IT professional. The problem isn’t always obvious, and the solution often involves retracing your steps. It’s something like finding lost keys.

I hope you’re not troubleshooting anything now, and I hope it’s easy to find if you are.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 Support Lifetime Extended

 

Here’s some information that might be useful if you’re still on an old version of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009.

Products Released Lifecycle Start Date Mainstream Support End Date Extended Support End Date Service Pack Support End Date Notes
Dynamics NAV 2009 2/12/2009 1/13/2015 1/14/2020 10/11/2011 Mainstream and Extended Support for Business and Developer products will be provided for 5 years or for 2 years after the successor product is released, whichever is longer. Due to the release date of Dynamics NAV 2013, the end of support dates for NAV 2009 are extended as shown.
Dynamics NAV 2009 R2 3/15/2011 1/13/2015 1/14/2020 Mainstream and Extended Support for Business and Developer products will be provided for 5 years or for 2 years after the successor product is released, whichever is longer. Due to the release date of Dynamics NAV 2013, the end of support dates for NAV 2009 are extended as shown.
Dynamics NAV 2009 Service Pack 1 8/28/2009 Review Note Review Note Support ends 24 months after the next service pack releases or at the end of the product’s support lifecycle, whichever comes first. For more information, please see the service pack policy here .