The Monday Morning Post

Linked In and the Security Breach

A few days ago it was announced that hackers have cracked the linked in database, and obtained what amounts to potentially millions of user passwords. If you do not have a linked in account, nor know what LinkedIn is, then this urgent message will not apply to you.

For those of us who do have a LinkedIn account, it is imperative that you change your password to that account and, as many people use the same password across many different accounts, including banking accounts, login accounts to other services, and especially email, I urge you to change your passwords on all of those.

Should you be contacted by email to supply additional private or confidential information, based on information that may be culled from your linked in account, please disregard it. You never want to provide confidential information, login information, or passwords to any company or individual who requested it via email or text. Banks will never ask you for such information. Instead, they will direct you to a secure way of resetting your password to something new. Those security questions you answered or created when the account was first created come in handy when it’s time to reset.

If you have an account with LinkedIn, and that account uses a password that you have used anywhere else, you need to change the password on LinkedIn and the same password on any other service or login you use.

If your LinkedIn account password was unique, and you didn’t use that password on any other service, then you only need to change the password on your linked in account. Generally, you want to create a password that combines a word or a phrase with numbers. Do not use pet names, family names, children’s names, birthdays, anniversaries, or addresses. If you are using the word “password” as your password anyway, you deserve to be hacked.

According to news reports, the list of passwords obtained from LinkedIn was also posted on a Russian website. LinkedIn is a wonderful and often necessary resource for many of us. It happens to be our favorite method of sharing documents online, and replaced our idisk long ago. This message is not meant to scare you from using your LinkedIn account. However, we do want to be cautious here. Tread carefully as you continue to use your LinkedIn account, and be careful with your passwords.

iPhone 4 and 4G Cellular Networks – Apples and Oranges

These days the term “4G” is thrown around very loosely, and used interchangeably to describe the fourth generation of the iPhone (iphone 4), or the fourth generation of cellular networks. The most common misconception, which marketing geniuses gladly perpetuate, is that the iPhone 4 runs on the “faster” 4G network. Not exactly.

First let’s examine the current cellular network services to understand what they offer in simple terms. There are three to four standards of cellular networks available from most carriers – 2G, “Edge”, 3G, and 4G. The “G” stands for generation, not Gigahertz. 2G was launched on the GSM standard in 1991, offers digital encryption of cellular conversations, significant mobile penetration for cellular signals (in buildings, for example), and introduced data services such as SMS messaging and email. The digital 2G service reduced fraud because the cloning of handsets became nearly impossible. It reduced power requirements for handsets so they could become smaller, and dramatically increased handling capacity for cell towers. This brought costs, and prices, down across the industry. It also eliminated most of the static we had grown accustomed to on the analog systems of the 80s. Now instead of static, the call drops out.

“Edge”, also referred to as “2.75G”, stepped up capacity and allowed higher data rates within the GSM system.

“3G” provides a minimum peak data rate of 200kbits per second, enabling intenet access, video calls, and transmission of images in a “reasonable” amount of time. Several version of 3G now exist, mostly to provide mobile broadband connectivity for smartphones and laptops. The minimum data transfer rate is generally considered to be 2megbits per second on 3G, though enhanced versions of this standard are a bit faster, yet don’t qualify as “4G”.

“4G”, or “Fourth Generation” cellular sets the peak download speed minimum at 100 megabits per second for transmission to/from a moving vehicle, and 1 Gigabit transmission rate for a stationary phone. Interestingly, many cell providers market “3.9G” transmission standards as “4G”, because they offer a significant improvement over what we understand to be 3G. But technically, such “4G” designation is incorrect. Without getting into too many details, let’s just say that even within the 4G standard, not only are all 4G services not alike, but some aren’t truly “4G” at all. Instead, they are 3G LTE, which fpr the sake of argument you could think of as “Enhanced 3G”.

The race between the cellular companies to offer the most comprehensive “4G” networks is now on. Sprint claims to have one of the largest “4G” networks available, which according to their marketing materials can provide “up to” 10 times faster mobile broadband connectivity. But ten times faster than what? Morse code?

Verizon, meanwhile, touts all the money it is investing in its extensive “4G” network across the country. Who doesn’t remember the “can you hear me now” ads we were bombarded with for years. And, judging from the excellent reputation it has earned with its subscribers, Verizon is often regarded as one of the most reliable cellular networks. The power of repetitive marketing. It’s certainly the largest, by number of subscribers.

AT&T, meanwhile, touts “more bars”, which refers to their 3G network, with no mention of the 4G standard. Pressured by the competition, even AT&T has had to roll out its own version of 4G development, and promises a “great things ahead”, “coming soon” and “please don’t leave us yet” strategy. Last year they announced a plan to invest $17 Billion in their infrastructure across the country.

What does it all mean to the average consumer who just wants a phone that works, provides email and some occasional entertainment while waiting in line at the bank? It means that if you want the fastest possible service, one that allows live-streaming of television programing, or video chat with the office, the kids, or your significant other, then you want “real” 4G – not the beefed up 3G service they’re labeling 4G. It will, of course, cost you. And, no iphone currently on the market offers 4G compatibility. The best you can do with an iphone is 3G (either GSM or CDMA), period.

As of this writing, the only 4G-capable smartphones available are made by Samsung, Motorola, HTC and LG. They sport the Android operating system introduced by Google. Sprint offers 4G connectivity today. Verizon is waving the “coming soon!” banner. In view of that, it’s easy to understand the serious threat that Android phones pose to the iPhone’s market share. Indeed, it’s no accident that sales of Android phones have been brisk, and have already apparently cannibalized a part of Blackberry’s share of the market

Closing in on Verizon are Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile, both with their own versions of “4G”. At the moment, Verizon leads with 5-12mgb per second, followed by Sprint at 3-6mgb per sec, and then T-Mobile at 3-7mgb per sec.

While AT&T apparently can’t offer 4G service yet, it’s reported that it already has the capability to support those speeds and the newer technology on it’s current infrastructure.

It’s just a matter of time before we all will be using 4G. At the moment however, not only can the newest iPhone on the market NOT handle the faster, broader-spectrum cellular network speed known as 4G – AT&T hasn’t rolled out its version of the 4G network yet.

While Verizon starts to bring their version of 4G online in certain metropolitan markets, the Verizon version of the iPhone won’t run on it. It’s a 3G-only, CDMA phone. To top it off, Verizon recently announced that it would be “throttling down” data speeds on its mobile networks to compensate for the anticipated spike in new iphone users. (Verizon iPhone 4 sales are apparently below predictions by the way). Some are concerned that this 3G may end up slower than it was prior to the introduction of the Verizon iphone.

The Apple iPhone 4 is not capable of 4G speeds. Buy it because it’s cool. Buy it because it works seamlessly with you Mac. But don’t buy it because it’s faster online. It’s just not . . . yet.

Itunes Update may delete some data, Macbook Air is a solid revision, and the iPad is here to stay

Monday Morning Report – October 25, 2010

The Monday Morning Report features a summary of recent tech support issues that we’ve encountered and resolved, and some current Mac platform-specific topics that our clients bring up..

The big news this past week was the introduction of not only a new Macbook Air, but also the newest rendition of the Mac Operating System, “Lion” 10.7. While Lion won’t be out until mid-summer of next year, the newest, thinnest laptop is available in stores now. It feels more substantial, and has a long-overdue, very welcome second USB port. But we’ll review the laptop is a separate article later. The other news is that Steve Jobs has apparently scoffed at the introduction of 7” screen pads by other manufacturers. It sounds like the next iPad will still sport the 9.7” screen. No update yet on WHEN that second generation iPad will arrive. They don’t want to kill the brisk sales of iPads currently in stores.

This brings us to our overall impression of the iPad phenomenon. Let me cut right to the chase. Judging from the huge impact the iPad has had in just the first few months, I think it’s safe to say that most everyone will be sporting some sort of Pad, whether by Apple or not, within the next three years. iPads are everywhere now. It’s being handed out in restaurants as an interactive Wine List, complete with the history of the grape, video clips and narration. (Hope they have that Pad tethered to the chair.) There will be hold-outs, to be sure. Just as there were many hold-outs when the laptop first appeared. Indeed, the first laptop (Osborne-1, 1981) weighed as much as a car battery, because it NEEDED the equivalent of a car battery to operate. The screen was 5 inches in diameter. They sold 10,000 units per month when it was first introduced. The Osborne company went bankrupt two years later. The first Mac “laptop” was the “Mac Portable” (1989), and weighed 17 pounds. The point is, there will be trailblazers, gadget-hounds and businessmen. Eventually, those who don’t have some sort of iPad, Slate, Playbook or other digital Pad will seem quaint – like people today who don’t HAVE a mobile number, because they refuse to get a cell phone. Tribesmen in the remotest parts of Africa have cell phones, by the way and probably enjoy better reception with their carrier than we have here with AT&T in Los Angeles . But that’s another story.

The iPad is revolutionary because it’s approachable. It’s not intimidating. Not a single user we have come across regrets buying an iPad. Email and internet is easy. The text and images are easily magnified. The interface is intuitive (and not foreign, thanks to the success of the iphone), and the unit is lighter than a laptop (though it could still be a bit lighter, according to several users). Those who have the Kindle DX have all but abandoned it for the iPad, though in certain situations the Kindle can still prove useful. But the Kindle can’t come close to doing what the iPad does. And as any Mac user who has used a Kindle can tell you, the interface on the Kindle is hardly intuitive.

Unlike some previous introductions of Apple hardware (such as the first-generation Macbook Air), to say the iPad is a hit is an understatement. For a more detailed explanation of tips and tricks for the iPad, take a look at our article “Tips for setting up the iPad for the first time”.

The other big news on the tech front is Apple TV and the necessary, but apparently risky, iTunes 10.0.1 update. We’ve witnessed a few instances of data loss after running that update. Specifically, on some machines this iTunes update seems to make purchased items such as movies and tv shows disappear from the library. One client lost ALL of his TV shows, while another lost several gigs of purchased music.

In a perfect world, these things are always backed up and readily available for restoration. Unfortunately, a few of our clients do not live in a perfect world. Time machine did not make a valid backup of their data, and they faced either repurchasing those items or forgetting about them. A quick search on the web revealed that their experience was not unique. What’s especially surprising is that the deletion of the data is very selective. Since the iTunes library music is still there, and not ALL of the content is deleted, many users may not even notice that they have just lost some or all of their purchased video content, or purchased songs. Calls to Apple brought us nowhere. They referred us to what should have been our backup – but that didn’t work. The Applecare tech claimed he hadn’t heard of this problem before – and I assured him he would be hearing a lot more about it very soon. Apple then posted a fix that didn’t work for us, but may work for you. Check our “How-To” section for a link to detailed instructions for restoring missing items in your iTunes library.

The Mantra we always offer is: backup your data and verify it’s current before you do any updates. If everything is working fine on your Mac, skip whatever updates are offered. This is especially true if your Mac is a bit older, and does not have an Intel chip, for example. If you’re running a G5 or even a G4, those updates may not even apply to you. Note also that some updates don’t necessarily offer amazing new features – they can also take old features away. iTunes is a perfect example. Once upon a time (pre-iTunes 6), users were able to strip Digital Rights Management limitations from songs in their library (via a third party plug-in) That ability was quashed with an update. If your Macs interface with other hardware, such as the Sonos music system, an update might render your setup MUTE. Have a favorite list of radio stations you like to listen to? After that next update, that favorite list may disappear.

Frankly, a lot of updates work as they are supposed to, if the system they are updating is well-maintained. If, however, there are underlying issues you may be unaware of, an update could cause the system or the apps or several apps to crash. Computers are not appliances (yet), but the iPad is another step closer to making them seem like an appliance. No CDs, DVDs, or multitude of cables. The iPad just works.

Similarly, the latest Apple TV has been slimmed down and simplified for functionality. No more internal hard drive, no more sync issues. It’s all about streaming the content from your computer or the web now. And, Netflix access is included in a pretty itunes interface. Nice.

For more information on the new Apple TV, check out our Apple TV review. For our take on updates overall, watch our “How to update your Mac properly” video clip, coming soon.

And finally for this week, we’ve discovered that many users don’t realize how their Boot Camp installation really works. We’re currently working on a video clip to address this issue. In short, Boot Camp partitions are created by those users who need to run the Windows operating system on their Mac. The assumption is that Time Machine, the automated backup routine that is built into 10.5.x and 10.6.x includes the Windows data in the backup. It does NOT. The Boot Camp partition is created for Windows by design. Time Machine does NOT include that partition when it makes a backup of your data. If your Mac is hosed, and you haven’t setup some sort of backup for the Windows side, you’re out of luck. There is a very simple, easy solution however. Check back soon for our video tutorial on how to backup up your Boot Camp Windows partition. When it’s complete, you’ll find it in our “how-to” section of the site.

If you are using Windows on your Mac via another method, such as Parallels or VM Fusion, without a separate Boot Camp partition, then your Windows configuration IS included in your Time Machine backup. But we’ve noticed restoring from such a backup is really “hit or miss”. We recommend configuring some sort of automated backup routine either from within Windows, or taking the time every week or every month (depending how often you use your Windows setup on the Mac) to archive your Windows data on a separate drive or USB flash card. You could also copy your documents to the Mac side, and THEN let Time Machine backup those documents. Depending on what application those documents were created in, you may need a Windows system to read them. We discuss the benefits and pitfalls of each type of setup (Boot camp vs. Emulation in Parallels or VM Fusion) in another article to be posted soon. Tune in next and every Monday for more.