Most of us have seen the persistent little icon in the system tray, and clicked the many variations of “Not now!” to Microsoft’s constant reminders to upgrade to Windows 10. Some of you even caved in and upgraded your computer to Winodws 10, and an even smaller percentage of you have come out on the other side mostly intact and productive. I still continue to recommend against upgrading existing Windows 7 and 8 computers without considerable caution, planning and the watchful supervision of a trained technology professional. “Cleanly” installed (either on a blank hard drive or from the factory new), Windows 10 is a good operating system that performs well but still has many rough edges, and I have seen way too many upgrade installations go south faster than geese in winter. For reliabililty and performance, Windows 7 is still very hard to beat, and is still considered the standard in enterprise/corporate technology. Despite all of this, Microsoft continues to advance its agenda of “Upgrade all the things”, and has now made the Windows 10 upgrade installer a “recommended update”.
What this means for you:
By default, Windows 7 and 8 are set to automatically check for, download and install critical security updates. There is also another option rug “Recommended updates” which is also checked, and that is where Microsoft gets its virtual hooks into your precious Windows 7 (or 8, I’m not here to judge) operating system and plants the seeds of an upgrade. If your machine is still set to download recommended updates (as it will be if you’ve never changed these settings), you will soon be (if you aren’t already) the proud recipient of a 6GB hidden folder that, if you continue to deny Microsoft the satisfaction of upgrading you to Windows 10, will reside happily on its little 6GB plot of hard drive. Forever. Removing it doesn’t help – Windows Update will cheerfully re-download it for you, to make sure your Windows 10 upgrade experience isn’t slowed down by having to download it when you finally give in to their relentless nagging.
If you have a large hard drive and “all-you-can-eat” internet bandwidth, this isn’t a problem, but for those of you with smaller hard drives (like earlier model laptops with SSD drives) or metered bandwidth, 6GB is a lot of space AND bandwidth. There are ways to combat Microsoft’s insidious peer pressure, but to truly banish the upgrade nagging, you’ll need to fiddle with registry settings or install a third-party utility. If neither sounds like an activity for which you are qualified (either in patience or technical proficiency), why not have a friendly chat with your local tech professional to discuss a more moderate, considered approach to upgrading to Windows 10? If you are a business professional that uses Windows-based computers, its a bridge you will have to cross at some point, but you should do it on your own schedule and on your own terms.
T-Mobile is set to announce a new device that will purportedly offer “full-bar” coverage for your home, even in areas that offer little or no tower-based cellular signal. The “4G LTE Cellspot” plugs into your home’s router and uses your internet connection to provide the cellular connection you may be lacking. To make this even more enticing, T-Mobile is offering this device free of charge ($25 deposit required) for all post-paid (as opposed to pre-paid) customers. Suspicious yet of this gift-horse? Good for you if you spotted the hitch.
Here comes the sucker punch:
The self-proclaimed “un-carrier” isn’t the first to offer this sort of device: ATT, Verizon and Sprint all have similar devices, with one glaring exception: you can’t limit who has access to the T-Mobile device plugged into your router and using your bandwidth. This might not be a problem for those blessed with larger homes or big yards, but the Cellspot is designed to boost signal for any T-Mobile device within 3000 square feet. The device works by routing cellular calls (and data) via your internet bandwidth, which may or may not be capped, depending on your provider. Translation: any T-Mobile device, yours or a complete stranger’s, will consume bandwidth on your dime. On top of this, any data bandwidth transmitted via this device still counts towards your bandwidth limit (if you have one), even though you aren’t technically using T-Mobile’s infrastructure to transmit that data. All of sudden, that device ain’t looking so “free” anymore, eh? All said, if you are among the unfortunate who suffer from poor cellular coverage in your home or office and rely heavily on your T-Mobile cellphone, and you have the fortune of having plentiful broadband coverage (with no bandwidth caps) this device might be the ticket to glorious full-bar coverage. Caveat emptor, and always beware carriers bearing “gifts”.
Several technology manufacturers, including Broadcom (whose chips you probably have in several devices around your home and office) are planning to release in 2015 chips for a new networking protocol called G.Fast which can push bandwidth transmissions on twisted-pair copper lines to near fiber-optic speeds of one gigabit per second. Throughout the US and many other developed nations with significant communication infrastructures, internet speeds aren’t limited by technology but by physical wiring. The most common form of internet service in the US, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), is delivered via the same wires that provide basic telephone service, that were, up until now, limited in how fast they could transmit data mainly by what amounts to a simple (but hard to overcome) physics problem: copper wires are susceptible to radio-frequency interference from adjacent sources, including each of the strands in a single pair that delivers the signal.
What this means for you:
Don’t rush out to cancel your existing internet service. G.Fast isn’t expected to make an appearance until 2016 at the earliest, and providers will still have to grapple with an issue that they have faced many times in the past: the full, gigabit transmission speed of G.Fast is still limited by distance, with the last leg not exceeding about 160 meters before the speed drops off drastically. This means that ISPs will still need to install equipment proximate to residences and offices, something that is costly and time-consuming to execute, and very few ISPs (maybe with the exception of Google and their Fiber initiative) have demonstrated a willingness to pursue until they are forced to (see ATT’s GigaPower counter to Google Fiber). However, the fact that this technology can utilize existing wiring that is available in just about every building in the US means that getting to gigabit internet speeds might not require companies tearing up streets and hanging from telephone poles to string the more expensive cables needed for fiber-based solutions. And you can bet that companies like ATT and Verizon will seize on any opportunity to compete with Google, especially when they can spend less money to field a competitive solution.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cable broadband was once strictly the province of residential customers, but over the past several years, the major players in this space have made large in-roads into the SMB market with fast, cheap internet circuits that, on the whole, perform more-or-less as reliably as their more expensive (T1’s) and/or slower (DSL) counterparts. The primary difference between cable circuits and T1’s, the former mainstay of business broadband, is that cable bandwidth is not guaranteed as it is on T1’s, and speeds can fluctuate wildly throughout the day, depending on the neighborhood utilization. Web-based speed tests were born, and from them probably many acrimonious disputes between customer and provider were sprung. Anecdotal research by CNET writer Dennis O’Reilly indicates that not all speed tests are created equal, can be inconsistent and even possibly slanted to favor the companies or brands sponsoring the test.
What this means for you:
A casual run of the tests on Speedtest.net may prove eye-opening, but not necessarily irrefutable proof that your internet provider has over-promised and under-delivered. In the case of a broadband circuit in use at an office, other users and devices will impact the internet speed, and unless you can guarantee your computer is the only device using the circuit, will never be a true test of the circuit’s full potential. Also, even if you were to disconnect everyone from the internet except your test machine, that’s not a true representation of the actual speed you and your co-workers will experience on a typical day. And here’s the catch behind the low-cost business-class cable – very rarely can the cable company provide any kind of cohesive reporting on how your bandwidth is being utilized, primarily because you are using a shared internet circuit. Conversely, with T1’s the higher costs pays for a dedicated, (usually) monitored circuit. Depending on your provider and contract, you may be able receive detailed reporting on utilization at any point typically within the past 7-14 days, and they may even be able to pin-point who on your network is bogarting all the bandwidth. If you have concerns about network or internet performance, speak to a technology professional who can provide you with a much broader, context-based analysis of your bandwidth usage. Don’t rely on a simple website to pass judgement on a critical part of your business performance.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net