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  1. Although the headline-grabbing aspects of IT security usually involve cyber-wars, digital espionage and ferocious malware attacks, there is always less glamorous work taking place behind the scenes to keep company data and users safe. And much of this involves network monitoring. The IT administrators and software developers who ensure systems stay updated, behavior across IT infrastructure is carefully examined, and outages are kept to a minimum may not grab the cyber-security limelight like those specialising in antivirus and similar areas, but their work is fundamental to the running of organizations both big and small. Thankfully, there are a host of services that make their job a whole lot easier and more efficient, and we’ve run through the very best of them so you can find the perfect network monitoring tools for your organization. We've also highlighted the best routers for small businesses Spiceworks Who said network security software couldn’t get a little spicy? The first platform on our red-hot run-down is Spiceworks, which promises to keep you fully up to date on “the network happenings you care about most.” Among Spiceworks’ features are an IP lookup tool to trace and identify unknown IP addresses in the network, a subnet calculator for creating new subnets and converting CIDR (classless inter-domain routing) notation to an IP range, a traceroute tool for troubleshooting connection issues, and an interactive outage heatmap. Looking at potential drawbacks, it’s been commented that older plugins may no longer work with newer versions of the software, while the handy connectivity dashboard feature is not currently available for new Spiceworks users at the time of writing. However, for an easy-to-use, completely free application that makes money through ads rather than your organization’s subscription, it’s hard to get too hung up the negative aspects here. You can sign up for Spiceworks here WebTitan WebTitan supplies businesses of all sizes with a suite of security and monitoring platforms that give a wide range of powers to IT administrators. Doing the job of ‘Big Brother’ is WebTitan Cloud, a filtering solution for organizations to monitor, control and protect their online users from web content. The platform’s policy engine enables admins to block access to certain web pages among certain users, while adjusting the policy for other departments in the organization. It also includes a reporting section which covers behavior-based analysis, trend reports, security reports, and more. These reports can even be scheduled, sending the insights directly to the team members who need them. Away from the cloud-based platform, WebTitan packages also offer DNS-based web filters that block malware, phishing attempts and ransomware. The software’s creators, TitanHQ, claims its filters identify 60,000 malware variants every day and says the platform is well suited to educational institutions and wifi providers, as well as businesses. To get a quote for a WebTitan package for your organization, follow the link below. You can sign up for WebTitan here Pulseway Pulseway helps system administrators and IT departments stay right across their organization’s network by offering a real-time overview of all the machines under operation. It works for Windows, Linux and Mac devices and can be used on mobile devices for full administrative control form the palm of your hand. On top of its main dashboard for remote desktop control, patch management, white labelling and advanced automation, Pulseway offers: a business management integration that includes functions for ticketing, project management, accounting, CRM, time-tracking, invoicing, billing and help desk support; an antivirus integration powered by Webroot and Kaspersky for end-to-end protection; and a storage integration for business continuity and disaster recovery in the event of lost data and outages. Other third-party tie-ins include Slack, Pagerduty, Zendesk and IT Glue. Personal use of Pulseway (across two devices) is free, while subscriptions for larger teams vary depending on the number of machines and whether the platform is used as on premise or as an SaaS (software as a service). Full pricing details can be found via the link below. You can sign up for Pulseway here Atera Atera combines remote monitoring and management (RMM) with professional services automation (PSA) in a business management platform that’s made and operated in the cloud. The creators claim its cloud DNA and scalable SaaS packages make it extra fast for onboarding and rolling out in new organizations. The Atera platform offers IT administrators a range of features to stay on top of their network. These include remote access of computers, desktops, servers, apps and files, real time alerts on events like user log-ins, software updates, VMware and IP monitoring, IT automation and patch management, and analytics tools to dig into data and records. For those looking to expand the remit of the platform, integrations include CRM and service desk tools. Simplicity and ease-of use is the name of the game here, but for those well acquainted with platforms of this nature who really want to push their monitoring software to its limit, the range of features with Atera may feel somewhat limited. But with flexible pricing options available, IT administrators may be able to find the package that suits the needs of their organization. Pricing starts at $79 (£60) per user, per month. You can sign up for Atera here Netwrix Auditor Netwrix Auditor is all about giving maximum visibility of IT infrastructure changes, data access and system configurations to the IT administrators of your organization. Another key component is Netwrix’s security analytics technology, which monitors your IT environment and enables you to detect threats or anomalous user behaviour. Among the platform’s features is the option to automate auditing and reporting tasks to save time manually poring over logs of data, plus the ability to maintain a complete audit trail that can be archived for more than ten years. By maintaining such evidence, Netwrix Auditor enables users to prove their business adheres to and is compliant with PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, and FERPA standards, among others. Potentially relieving concerns about integration, Netwrix supports auditing on a wide selection of IT systems, including Active Directory, Office 365, Windows file servers, Oracle DB and VMware. Unlike some of the other services we’ve seen, Netwrix doesn’t support mobile use so it may not be the platform for you if you’re reliant on quick check-ups on the move via phone or tablet. You can get a quote on a Netwrix subscription via the link below. You can sign up for Netwrix Auditor hereBest of the rest Auvik is made exclusively for managed service providers (MSP). Based in the cloud, it enables remote monitoring and management, provides insight into client networks, and automates time-consuming tasks like device configuration and backing up data. Like any good dog, Datadog is good at retrieving things. In this case, information about your systems, clusters and infrastructure – no matter how disparate it is – and bringing it all into one site to help you analyze and secure the data of your organization. Panopta is all about meticulous scrutiny of your network to identify outages as quick as possible. Via 24 monitoring locations across North and South America, Europa and Asia, Panopta ensures all outages are detected no matter the duration, so your team can act fast. Working in a similar vein, Paessler monitors your IT infrastructure to identify problems “before users even notice,” it claims. A whole range of network components are covered by its monitoring systems, including LANs, WANs, servers, websites and applications. Another strong player in this field is OpsGenie. This operations management service is based in the cloud and its alert notifications extend to mobile as well as desktop, so you can receive network updates via email, SMS and voice calls no matter where you are. View the full article
  2. Google is continuing its efforts to bring virtual reality to the masses with the release of Google VR180 Creator - available to download free for Mac and Linux. This free software takes video from Google's point-and-shoot VR180 cameras like the Lenovo Mirage and converts it to a format that can cut and tweaked using any standard video editor. Once you've finished editing your clip, the conversion software will re-add the VR180 metadata so it's ready to watch on a headset like the Google Daydream View. Not for Windows Google VR180 cameras can capture both still pictures and videos, which can be viewed in 3D, or as flat images on an ordinary screen. Footage captured with the cameras in 360-degrees can also be exported straight to YouTube and Google Photos. Interestingly, VR180 Creator is only available for macOS and Linux for the time being, and Google hasn't announced if or when a version of the software for Windows might be forthcoming. It would be unusual to leave out such a huge section of the audience when aiming to make immersive video more accessible, so a Windows version might be in the works. Make amazing home movies with the best free video editors View the full article
  3. Technology permeates our workplaces, and with most staff relying on it to get their work done, their productivity is tied to their tech being up and running 24/7. Therefore, when a computer goes to the dreaded ‘Blue Screen of Death,’ employees call the all-knowing, all-fixing resource, better known as the helpdesk. Furthermore, helpdesk software also gets used at companies to support the needs of their customers. With so much technology to support these days, from computer hardware, to mobile platforms, online portals, and everything in between, the helpdesk has its hands full. For them to keep track of all these tasks, they rely on job tickets, and they need the resources provided in helpdesk software to keep things organized. We’ll take a look at some great choices in this space, that can serve the specific needs of supporting the helpdesk, which in turn supports the rest of us when things are not quite working right. We've also highlighted the best merchant services of 2018 Zendesk Support Zendesk Support is a software package that provides organization to put a variety of customer support interactions in one accessible database. It has the features for an efficient workflow, including web widgets, the ability to search a customer’s history, and predefined ticket responses. Another standout feature is integrated surveys for customer satisfaction ratings, combined with analytics and performance dashboards to track ongoing performance. Zendesk support also works with other pieces of the Zendesk software family, such as Zendesk Talk, which is their call center offering. A free trial is offered on the Professional Plan tier. Plans start at $5 (£4) per agent per month for the Essential Plan on annual pricing - and even more at $9 (£7) per agent per month priced month-to-month - but this only has a basic help center. To get the custom insight reports requires a step up to the middle Professional Plan, and the price rises steeply to $49 (£37) per agent per month annually - or $59 (£44) month-to-month. You can sign up for Zendesk Support here Freshdesk Freshdesk is helpdesk software that has a number of features to foster efficiency of workflow based around the tickets created. These include a team inbox to manage incoming tickets from several channels to one location, the ability to designate and create custom ticket statuses that work for your organization, canned responses to common trouble issues, and a team huddle to bring in expertise on more complicated challenges. This software can also integrate information from multiple channels including email, phone, social media and chat. There are trials for each of the tiers, and the lowest tier, Sprout, is available for free. The next rung up is Blossom, which goes for $19 (£14) per agent per month billed annually, and adds satisfaction surveys, time tracking and an advanced social channel. You can sign up for Freshdesk here Zoho Desk Zoho Desk is the cloud-based, helpdesk software offering that focuses on being context aware. It includes features such as prioritization of higher importance or overdue tickets, dashboards to track quality metrics, and the support to create a Knowledge Base for simpler issues that can be self-serviced. Zoho Desk can be used by agents with mobile apps for iOS and Android. Support for using Zoho Desk is provided via a number of avenues, including active user forums, a webinar series, a self-service portal, a user guide, and blogs, but live chat requires the top plan, and no plan has direct phone support. Unlike their competitors, a strong point of Zoho Desk is their simplified number of tiers which is only three, with the bottom being a free plan with a reasonable limit of three users, and the availability of free 15 day trials for the other tiers. Their most popular plan is the middle Professional Plan, which includes “Customer Happiness Ratings,” and cloud telephony for an affordable $12 (£9) per agent per month billed annually. Even their uppermost Enterprise Plan, which adds custom ticket templates, role based access control, cross department reports and the previously mentioned live chat support option goes for a competitive $25 (£19) per agent per month billed annually, less than most other top tier plans. You can sign up for Zoho Desk here Kayako Kayako is a helpdesk software offering that focuses on ease to use, and fosters a personal conversation with the customer. It is used by household name companies such as Airbnb, Toshiba, Peugeot and The Guardian. Standout features include support for the creation of multiple help centers each with their own content (termed Multibrand), live chat support, canned responses for common questions, support for SLA’s, and the ability to automate the workflow with smart business rules. There is also dashboard to track quality metrics including customer satisfaction, and custom reports can also be created. Pricing is based on a four tier model: Inbox, Growth, Scale and Enterprise with free trials available. The lowest plan, Inbox, starts at $15 (£11) per agent per month, billed annually. You can sign up for Kayako here Jira Service Desk Jira Service Desk, from Atlassian, takes a ‘modern approach’ to helpdesk software, with an uncluttered, and simple to use interface. Standout features include integration with over 600 other platforms such as Slack via available Service Desk apps. The Jira Service Desk can be used via mobile platform apps, and notable customers include Twitter, Sotheby’s and Spotify. On the one hand, Jira Service Desk has the shortest trial of our offerings here, only seven days, and no available free tier at the lowest end. However, their bottom tier offering starts at a monthly flat fee of $10 (£7.50) monthly, and covers up to three agents, and the next step up covers up to 15 agents for $20 (£15) per agent per month, with a custom discounted price for 16 agents or more - with the same feature set across all the plans. For those looking to commit to a year long subscription, they will get two months of service for free making this an even a better deal. You can sign up for Jira Service Desk hereView the full article
  4. The proliferation of messaging apps across mobile devices means that we can keep in touch with dozens of people at once, from friends and family to clients and colleagues, even if they happen to be on the other side of the world. But to ensure that your conversations stay private, you really need to get one of the secure mobile messaging apps on offer out there. These are the apps which offer end-to-end encryption – in other words, the chat is scrambled so only the sender and the receiver can understand what's being said. Encryption means that even if someone should hack the messaging app's servers, or tap into your conversations thanks to the badly secured Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, they still won't be able to interpret the messages. Here are the best Android apps with this feature. One of our best VPN services can also help you stay secure online Signal Signal is widely regarded as the gold standard of encrypted messaging apps, not least because its encryption engine is open source and available for anyone to inspect. That doesn't make it any easier to hack, but it does mean there are a lot more pairs of eyes looking at the robustness of the encryption methods. Besides the industry-leading encryption on offer here, the app itself is fairly plain and basic in terms of visuals and appearance. It does support group chats though, as well as the sending of files and photos in addition to text, so you're going to be pretty well covered no matter what your needs. Signal can replace the default SMS app if you want it to, but basic SMS texts aren't encrypted – you and the person you're chatting with both need to have Signal installed for the encryption feature to function properly, otherwise Signal doesn't have enough control over both ends of the conversation. The app also includes several other useful features on top of the tight security, such as video calling, and disappearing messages that vanish after a certain time period (perfect for those conversations you don't want to stay on the record). Download Signal for Android (free) Telegram Telegram is almost as well-respected as Signal is, although its encryption methods aren't open source and thus haven't been as well audited by third-party security experts. What it does have in its favor is a slicker interface, if that's important to you. Another black mark against Telegram is that end-to-end encryption isn't enabled by default, so you need to make sure the Secret mode is activated before you can be sure that no one else is going to tap into your communications. Other types of chat and file transfer are encrypted, but only for part of their journey to other parties. Those caveats aside, Telegram impresses in most areas, with features like chat backups and disappearing messages (messages with expiry times attached). You can load up group chats, make video calls and more, and in use it's just as responsive and intuitive as the other messaging apps out there. If you need all the bells and whistles of an instant messenger, like stickers and audio memos, and even basic photo and video editing, Telegram is a solid choice. Just be sure to enable the Secret mode for the most secure messaging. Download Telegram for Android (free) WhatsApp You're no doubt already familiar with WhatsApp as one of the best messaging apps out there, but you might not have realized that it offers end-to-end encryption for your messages – in fact, it uses the super-strong encryption protocol developed by Signal. There's very little that WhatsApp can't do. As well as the standard text-based conversations, it's able to handle video calls, group chats, location sharing, and the transferring of files of various types. You can ping a lot of people at once with the Broadcast feature, leave voice memos, and more besides. WhatsApp's immense popularity works in its favor as well, because the chances are that the people in your contacts list already have it installed to keep in touch with friends and family. All those chats are fully encrypted by default – there's no way to turn this off. What might give you pause when it comes to using this app is that it is, of course, owned by Facebook, which means you're contributing to the data collection practices of the world's biggest social network. Facebook can't read your messages (the end-to-end encryption prevents that), but it can log other data about you for marketing purposes, like the location of your phone. Download WhatsApp for Android (free) Silence The unfussy, no-frills Silence focuses on keeping your messages safe and secure, with other considerations – like animated animal stickers – some way down the priority list. It deals directly with SMS and MMS, rather than chat protocols that work over the web. It is in fact a spin-off from Signal, and uses the same open source, ultra-secure encryption methods – regularly audited by security experts in public view to make sure the code hasn't been cracked or unlocked by whatever government agency wants to get its hands on your conversation history. If you wanted to, you could use Silence and Signal together. So you get all of the benefits of SMS/MMS, like the ability to use it without Wi-Fi, as well as all the drawbacks, like limited support for group chats and no video calling. As you're using SMS/MMS, your phone network can tell who you're texting, even if it can't tell what's being said thanks to the encryption applied. To make sure everything is secured as it should be, you need to enter a unique passphrase to keep the app locked. On top of that, it can stop your communications being screen-shotted at the other end, for extra peace of mind. Download Silence for Android (free) Facebook Messenger That's right – friendly old Facebook Messenger uses end-to-end encryption too, which means your messages can't be intercepted by hackers, demanded by the government, or spied on by Facebook staff (yes, it's the same Signal protocol used by WhatsApp and Silence). You do need to turn the feature on though, via the Secret Conversation setting you'll find in the conversation options. At the same time, of course, you're contributing to the masses of data that Facebook holds on you, as you are with WhatsApp. The content of your messages is all safe, but Messenger will take note of who you're chatting with and where from, which in Facebook's eyes helps it to improve products and services. You should only use Messenger if you're comfortable with Facebook's data and privacy practices. Outside of the encryption options, you get just about every feature you can imagine being packed into an instant messenger – the ability to share anything from a photo to your location, easy group chatting, stickers and GIFs, video calling, and so on. There's even a range of simple games you can play inside the app. You can't fault Facebook Messenger from a usability point of view, but having to jump through an extra hoop to get encryption enabled is disappointing, and you can't encrypt conversations you've already had. On the plus side, it's unlikely you'll have to tell your contacts to install another app, as they probably already have this set up. Download Facebook Messenger for Android (free)View the full article
  5. Microsoft has revealed that it used artificial intelligence to drive the speed and efficiency of the rollout of its latest April 2018 Update for Windows 10. In a blog post, the software giant explained that it’s the first time it has used AI (and machine learning) at scale to improve the quality and reliability of an update roll-out (although the AI approach was trialed in a limited way with the previous Fall Creators Update). How does AI smooth things over? Essentially, it’s analyzing data on the characteristics of devices – presumably both in terms of hardware and software – to see which will have a good update experience, and to subsequently pick out and target the same (or at least very similar) systems for delivery. As the roll-out progresses, more data is collected, and more precise analysis and determinations can occur. Microsoft further notes that more than 250 million PCs now have the April 2018 Update, in the speediest roll-out of a major upgrade ever. The company also says that it’s seeing “higher satisfaction numbers, fewer known issues, and lower support call volumes compared to previous Windows 10 releases”. That could be the case going by Microsoft’s internal metrics – that cite a 20% reduction in system stability issues – which we can’t really argue with. But, we’ll at least beg to differ, as it’s not what we’ve witnessed at the barrage of internet feedback on the April 2018 Update, with numerous problems being reported since the roll-out began. There certainly seems to have been more trouble than the previous Fall Creators Update: antivirus conflicts, problems with SSDs, and gremlins with various laptops including Microsoft’s own Surface devices, to name just a few issues. And really, the regularity of fresh bugs crawling out of the woodwork has felt like it has rivaled the infamously shaky Anniversary Update at times. Speedy indeed Still, there’s no denying the speed of the current rollout, which Microsoft observes has hit 250 million devices in less than half the time taken by the Fall Creators Update. That tallies with independent statistics revealed a fortnight ago which show that the April 2018 Update is being deployed twice as fast as the previous upgrade. Microsoft also offers up a story of how its AI routines – when coupled with telemetry data – adjust the roll-out to protect PCs that may potentially be affected by a freshly spotted problem with an update. In its blog post, the firm writes: “A recent example from the past month was a black screen/reboot issue we detected within 24 hours of it first appearing. We immediately blocked all PCs that could be impacted by this issue from being updated, and communicated to customers within 24 hours, including an initial work around.” This was an issue with Avast antivirus software that you may recall, and over the following 24 hours, Microsoft worked with the security company to identify the part of its Behavior Shield that clashed with the April 2018 Update. A fix was immediately concocted by Avast, and the roll-out gates were opened once again for machines running the antivirus software. Here's to hoping AI will make future large Windows 10 updates even smoother. Most of the best laptops of 2018 run Windows 10View the full article
  6. Companies spend a lot of money these days creating killer content for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the various other social media platforms out there. Whatever business you're in, reaching your customers, clients and readers relies a huge amount on the ubiquity of social media sites. But there's no point spending time and resources on fantastic Facebook posts and tremendous tweets if you then don't know how to effectively monitor their impact and influence. Counting how many followers you have only tells part of the story. Getting the most out of your chosen social media platforms is as essential to your business as finding the right CRM system. That's why we've picked out five really useful social media analytics tools that will help you understand which of your posts are working, and which get a thumbs down. Snaplytics Snapchat was released in 2011, so there are relatively few marketing tools available for the platform compared to big names like Facebook and Twitter. The app works through the creation of short-lived 'stories' with which users can interact. Snaplytics is designed to help you manage this by taking regular snapshots of your Snapchat account and offering you Insights. The creators maintain groups of 20 accounts for each category, allowing you to benchmark your own account's success. You can also use Snaplytics' library of previously created content to view past efforts, see how well users engage with them, and republish if you wish. If you have a more complex marketing campaign, Snaplytics also supports scheduling stories ahead of time for later publication. You can organize stories with tags, allowing you to easily keep track of them as your campaign grows. Snaplytics' dashboard has been liberally praised online for its elegance, as has the app's ability to display marketing performance on a platform by platform basis. There's a free 14-day trial, after which you must contact the Snaplytics team for a quote. This is the only real criticism of the app, as a tiered pricing structure would be more useful for marketers working to tight budgets and deadlines. You can contact Snaplytics here for a quote Sprout Social Sprout Social is probably first and foremost known as a one-stop shop for managing and scheduling all of your social media accounts through one simple-to-use platform. Very handy indeed for your company's social media administrator when they're trying to juggle Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more at once. But it doubles up as a powerful tool for analysing your data, too. You can sort by various demographic and geographic measures to quantify exactly what content is working for which followers. Sprout can manage multiple accounts and monitor keywords across all social media so that you know when your brand is being discussed. It also helps your company respond to customers by directing messages to the people within the organisation who need to action them. You can try Sprout Social for free with its 30-day trial. If you like it, prices then start from $99 (£75, AUS$124) per user per month. Check out Sprout Social here Brandwatch There are quite a few social listening tools that we could have picked out for this list, but we've gone with the internationally-renowned Brandwatch. The Brandwatch Analytics tool puts its ear to the ground to eavesdrop on to the information that could be imperative to your company from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, news and every other corner of the web. Social sentiment analysis shows the tone of the data collected from the profiles you've connected with, and it's easy to tap into pertinent trends and themes emerging from the internet that could tip the balance in your company's favour. We particularly like Brandwatch's personal approach from the premium Enterprise plan, where you get a dedicated account manager who will give you bespoke advice. Contact Brandwatch to get prices for individual plans Buffer Rather like Sprout Social above, Buffer is another all-rounder that lets you post to your platform and then analyse the results. One of its major plus points is just how simple and straightforward it is to use, while also giving you flexibility. The fact it provides analytics in real-time makes instantly judging the impact of your content a doddle. Use the "Top Post" icon to compare different forms of content to see which works best for each network. While the Buffer app also allows for seamless Google Analytics integration for tracking the success of your marketing campaigns. If you're flying solo, then you can get Buffer absolutely free, while the reasonably priced Pro plan allows connections to 8 social accounts and costs only $15 (£11, AUS$20) per month. Sign up for Buffer here Simply Measured If you've got a little more leeway in your budget, then Simply Measured is probably the most thorough social media analytics tool here. Although the site offers a selection of free reports on sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+, its range of more sophisticated subscriber reports available to paying users are what really catch the eye. Among its cleverest tricks are date and time engagement analysis, content type analysis to help optimise what types of content work and when and analysis on the community you're trying to reach. Simply Measured now offers Instagram Insights which allow for further analysis into your Instagram account activity. Again, you need to speak to Simply Measured to get a quote, with distinct packages aimed at social marketers, content marketers and digital agencies. Contact Simply Measured for a quoteView the full article
  7. Note: Our best Linux distro for beginners feature has been fully updated. This article was first published in January 2014. For those folks dipping their toes into Linux waters for the first time, the choice of various distributions or 'flavours' of Linux can be truly overwhelming, especially if you're not sure what to look for. In the early days of Linux, choosing a distribution (distro) was much simpler. You usually selected one you had heard about or with which you had a small amount of experience. There were also far fewer choices beyond Red Hat Linux, Debian and Slackware. While you can still make a choice based on these criteria, the sheer number of Linux distros available now, and their ever vocal fan bases, makes it difficult to settle on one and get started. So let's ignore those voices altogether, and add one of our own. We've deliberately shied away from the popular mainstream distros here, as we didn't just want easy-to-use distros. Instead, we've selected four that we believe are ideal starting points. We have not included the regular version of Ubuntu as in our opinion it isn't exactly right for beginners as is. However, three of the four versions of Linux we'll be discussing are based on the Ubuntu operating system, with a few important changes. We've also picked one that's specifically aimed at those switching from Windows – in previous years, we were also able to feature a distro that was specifically aimed at macOS users too, but it (Pear Linux) has sadly been discontinued. However, both Pinguy and Elementary contain elements that will definitely appeal to Mac switchers – Elementary, in particular, has a macOS feel. These are the best Linux training providers and online courses in 2018 How we tested... All distros were tested on the same dual-core machine with 4GB RAM. We've selected the latest 64-bit stable releases for each one. Some distributions are available for 32-bit processors and can run with less RAM. We encourage you to visit the developer’s website and discover the current requirements for yourself. The distro also needs to be easy to install as most users will probably never have installed Linux before. We have also focused on software management and the kind of applications that are included with each distro. Apart from these major points, the distro also needs to be easy to use for day-to-day activities. The ideal distro for newbies is one that does all of the above and also makes it easy to tweak some settings. 5 of the most popular Raspberry Pi distros 10 of the best Linux distros for privacy fiends and security buffs 5 of the most popular Linux gaming distros 10 of the most popular lightweight Linux distros Linux Format is the number one magazine to boost your knowledge on Linux, open source developments, distro releases and much more. Subscribe to the print or digital version of Linux Format here Linux’s Live CD approach allows you to test a distribution and familiarise yourself with it without having to first install it to your hard drive. This is a great way for new users to ease into Linux, and you can usually install the distro direct from the Live environment if you like it. Most of these distros have an icon on the desktop you can double-click to launch the installer, making it very simple for newbies. If you already have an operating system on your machine that you want to keep, you will need to resize and partition the hard disk, at which point most people switching to Linux hesitate. This isn't an issue for beginner-centric Linux distros. Indeed, many mainstream distros don't enjoy much popularity with beginners because their installers aren’t very user friendly. Solus is the one distro not based on Ubuntu in this guide. It was created in December 2015 and follows a rolling release model, meaning it updates automatically. The most recent version, Solus 3, was released in August 2017. Solus is under active development but the installer bears a strong similarity to Ubuntu's and as such is very easy to use. You may find some of the terminology baffling, plus the aforementioned partitioning and formatting can be tricky, but overall the process is neat and tidy. The remaining Ubuntu-based distros all use a slightly modified version of Ubuntu's Ubiquity installer specifically designed for beginners. The installation process can be completed in around half a dozen steps and will guide you through the process of formatting your hard drive, creating a user, setting your time zone and choosing the keyboard layout. The most important step is partitioning, where you can erase the entire disk and use it to install the distro, or specify a custom partitioned layout. More importantly, if a version of Windows is detected, the distro will allow you to install it alongside in dual-boot format. The best thing about using Ubiquity, when you're a newbie, is that there's plenty of documentation. Plus there are YouTube videos that take you through the installation process of each of our Ubuntu-based distributions. Because these distros are based on Ubuntu, you don't get to choose the software that’s installed. Once you choose the installation disk and configure partitioning, the distro will automatically install the programs you've selected. Verdict Zorin OS: 5/5 PinguyOS: 5/5 Elementary OS: 5/5 Solus: 4/5 Linux distributions are usually designed to appeal to the largest number of potential users. This philosophy also underpins the applications which are included. All the distros in our guide offer the bare minimum in terms of programs, such as a web browser, email client, text editor, media player and so on, but some include much more than this. Solus includes some basic apps – Firefox, Thunderbird and Transmission BitTorrent Client, VLC Media Player, as well as the office suite LibreOffice. However, there are no graphics or other media editing tools, nor any games. Zorin is bristling with apps, such as LibreOffice and the Chromium web browser. Also included is GIMP image editor, an image viewer, Empathy IM, Rhythmbox music player, Cheese Webcam Booth and OpenShot Video Editor. It also carries Wine and PlayOnLinux, which allows you to install Windows-only apps and games. PinguyOS is similarly well blessed, and ships with Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Empathy, the Deluge BitTorrent client, Clementine music player, Shutter, Wine, PlayOnLinux and much more. Elementary OS has a much more elegant design which is reflected in its apps. It uses the Epiphany web browser, and also includes custom applications such as Photos, Music, Videos and Calendar. There's even a custom Mail app which is based on the former open source client Geary, which goes well with Elementary's user interface. Although the selection of apps is minimal, the essentials are covered and you can use the built-in app centre to add more programs if you wish. Verdict Zorin OS: 5/5 PinguyOS: 5/5 Elementary OS: 3/5 Solus: 2/5 For most new users, the default set of apps should be more than enough to get started. As you become more accustomed to your distro, you may wish to install additional programs. Software repositories may seem like a strange concept at first, but most distros provide useful tools to help you install applications easily. Solus provides its own frontend which links to both its own repository and a number of third-party apps. This can be a little restrictive for more advanced users, but there's a large selection of consumer-grade apps to choose from, and it's very well laid out. Elementary OS once shipped with the Ubuntu Software Center, which allowed you to install a huge range of programs. Since development was discontinued, Elementary now comes with its own package manager, AppCenter, which is perfect for new users. AppCenter offers a wide range of apps in a number of clearly defined categories. However, new users may struggle to find the exact application they need without trawling through long lists, as there isn't much in the way of description. This is a common issue with software managers in Linux. Zorin, like Elementary, has its own Software Store as well as the less glamorous Synaptic Package Manager. It supports the installation of Google applications and the Opera web browser. Pinguy is based on Ubuntu 14.04, which is an LTS (Long Term Support) release. This means it still uses the now defunct Ubuntu Software Center as well as the Synaptic Package Manager. By default a number of software repositories are enabled, allowing you to install programs designed for other operating systems such as Linux Mint. There's also an extensive selection of themes for programs like the Clementine music player and Gnome desktop. The preinstalled Y PPA Manager can also help you to manage PPAs (Personal Package Archives). This allows you to install the latest versions of software which would otherwise be unavailable from Ubuntu's official repositories. Verdict Zorin OS: 4/5 PinguyOS: 5/5 Elementary OS: 4/5 Solus: 4/5 You can tell a user has found a distro that they like when they begin to tweak its different aspects. Moving away from the default options is a sign of maturity for any user, but especially so with new Linux users. People often say Linux distros are extremely customisable – but what does this mean for new users? Sure, you can change the desktop background, the icons theme, define keyboard shortcuts, configure power management and make other changes to the appearance and behaviour of the distro. But is it easy for a first-time Linux user to do this? While all the distros in our list allow you to do all of this and more, they each go about the process differently. If the distro is aimed at new users, it scores highly if it includes special custom tools to help the user easily customise the distro to their liking. Zorin is one of the finest distros to attract inexperienced Linux users. It has everything in terms of offering a friendly and usable experience to those coming from another Linux distro or even from Windows or macOS. Besides its Windows 10-styled desktop, the custom application launcher also does a pretty good job of mimicking the Windows 10 Start menu. The Core edition has enough to whet your appetite. The paid 'Ultimate' version of Zorin also supports macOS, Gnome 2 and Unity desktop layouts using the 'Zorin Appearance' tool. Zorin also instils good desktop practice by regularly reminding users to run backups using the built-in app. All in all, the distro has the right mix of the best of Ubuntu sprinkled with some custom Zorin apps, such as the Look and Theme Changer apps. Elementary is one of the simplest Ubuntu-based distros available, and as such is a good starting point for beginners. The distro places great emphasis on design, and this has resulted in a curious choice of integrated applications. While these may not be to everyone's liking, the apps are highly usable and a suitable replacement for their more popular alternatives. It uses a dock to emulate the look of macOS, but it's not particularly configurable – and the same is true of the desktop as a whole. Pinguy once released new stable versions to coincide with the latest underlying version of Ubuntu, but it's at a standstill recently as its creator is not seeing a positive reimbursement on the time he is spending creating and maintaining it. That said, the distro is wonderfully stable and a very attractive option for all Linux users. Whether you're an absolute beginner or someone looking to switch to another distro, this OS is definitely worth your time. Pinguy also ships with Docky, a tool you can use to create any number of customised docks. You can add docklets to each of these docks, such as weather, a network usage monitor and a workspace switcher. It also includes the Tweak Tool to help you easily configure many different aspects of the desktop. One area where Solus closes the gap on its rivals is in terms of desktop configuration. That's largely thanks to the fact that its own Budgie desktop has a number of configuration options, making it relatively easy to customise it to your tastes. Verdict Zorin OS: 5/5 PinguyOS: 4/5 Elementary OS: 3/5 Solus: 4/5 A distro can have several reasons for offering paid add-ons. More often than not, it's because the developers are trying to make some money so they can justify running a free operating system. This is why some distros also offer the facility for users to make donations to the project. Zorin OS produces an Ultimate version that can be downloaded after making a PayPal payment of €19 (around £16.70, $22.35). It offers tantalising extras like macOS desktop layouts and 20 games. You'll also receive premium support. The distro supports one-off donations, too, and more specialised versions are on the way. PinguyOS also has an extensive store on CafePress, from where you can get all kinds of merchandise, such as mugs, T-shirts, bags and baby bibs. You can also donate via PayPal, or on Patreon. Elementary's website gives the impression you need to pay a fee for the OS before downloading it (type 0 into the 'Custom' box to skip this). It also has a US-only store offering merchandise. Furthermore, it supports ongoing monthly donations through Patreon to aid future development. Solus encourages both one-off and monthly donations via Paypal or Patreon, offering early access to developmental versions and premium support in return. You can also show your support by buying a Solus sticker for your machine. Verdict Zorin OS: 4/5 PinguyOS: 3/5 Elementary OS: 3/5 Solus: 2/5 Regardless of a user's past OS dalliances, Linux beginners will encounter a vastly different way of doing things, in terms of everything from appearance to the alternative apps they will need to master. This is why your chosen distro must provide extensive documentation. Additional resources, such as forum boards, mailing lists, wikis and so forth, which can help a newbie tap the collective experience of the community, are also appreciated. Elementary OS provides to-the-point, easy-to-understand documentation on its website. The project also has an Answers page, where anyone can post questions in order to get, well, answers. Solus organises its extensive support materials in the Help Center on its home page. There are community forums offering tutorials, installation support and more, plus access to more help resources via Google+, IRC and Reddit. Things are rounded off with a nascent wiki that should help with more technical questions. While it provides only a barebones installation guide, Zorin OS makes up for this elsewhere. There's a handy Help button on its Start menu that leads straight to its user forums, with sections including how-to guides, install help and more. The project also has an IRC channel (#ZorinOS), which aims to answer your questions instantly. PinguyOS offers its users everything that Zorin does – what's more, there's also a very thorough step-by-step installation guide to help you out. Verdict Zorin OS: 4/5 PinguyOS: 4/5 Elementary OS: 4/5 Solus: 5/5 There are three popular ways that Linux distributions are developed and updated – fixed schedule, fixed feature and rolling release. Linux distributions running with a fixed feature methodology are released when everything is ready – there's no specified date for a release. Elementary is a fixed feature distro despite being based on Ubuntu, which runs to a fixed schedule. The current Loki release is based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Long Term Support), and Elementary has made it clear that it only ever plans to build releases from the LTS branch. The fixed schedule is one of the most popular release cycles, and is followed by the majority of distros. In a fixed schedule, a new release is pushed out at regular intervals, usually every six months. Ubuntu follows this twice-yearly release cycle and so, naturally, most of its derivatives do the same. Zorin OS is based on the latest Ubuntu release. Work on a new edition begins as soon as a new version of Ubuntu is made available, but it takes time for the developer to produce the different editions. Pinguy's six-month-releases shipped with bleeding-edge software, and were not considered stable, but no new version has been pushed out since the distro based on Ubuntu 14.04. The stable releases are based on Ubuntu LTS releases which are supported for five years. The original Pinguy developer has recently released an updated version of Pinguy via the forums, and has also promised to release an official version of Pinguy based on Ubuntu 18.04 in 2018. Solus is the exception here as it's been built from scratch rather than being based on an existing OS. The project developers plan to release quarterly minor point updates (1.1, 1.2, etc) and one major update each year. Each major release will be supported for two years, so support for version 3 which was released in August 2017 will continue throughout 2018 and 2019. Verdict Zorin OS: 3/5 PinguyOS: 4/5 Elementary OS: 5/5 Solus: 3/5 The Linux ecosystem is often praised, and sometimes criticised, for giving users too much choice. This is true not just for applications, but also for distributions. There was a time when it was considered the height of cool for experienced Linux users to complain about the proliferation of a particular distro, but it did nothing to stem the tide. Linux desktop machines still account for only a very small portion of computers but this is slowly changing with each new release. As a new Linux user, you might get vertigo browsing through the list of distros, but this isn't a bad thing. It means you've a greater chance of finding a distro that's right for you. If you can't wait to find the perfect distro for your needs, then obviously one of these designed-for-newbie distros is a good place to start. Pinguy, unfortunately, is no longer on the top spot due to its stalled development. It's worth checking out, but the developer has sent out mixed messages, stating on his website that he may kill off development of the OS altogether – but subsequently releasing an updated version of Pinguy via the forums. Elementary OS started off as a contender for top dog, but small niggles such as a reduced selection of default apps mean that it finishes in third place. Creeping up the list fast is Solus. This project was recently resurrected after being dormant for a while, but has rapidly made strides throughout 2017. It also seems to be running a consistent release schedule, and is improving all the time. Zorin hits the top spot for 2018. It has several commercial variants, includes custom tools, and will appeal to Windows switchers with its custom desktop. So, here are the final results in full, along with download links for the distros in question: 1st: Zorin OS Web: https://zorinos.com Version: Zorin OS 12.2 Core Verdict: Very thoughtful distro. Good for most new users 2nd: Solus Web: http://www.solus-project.com Version: 3 Verdict: A vastly improved beginner's distro 3rd: Elementary OS Web: https://elementary.io Version: Loki 0.4.1 (Based on Ubuntu 16.04.02) Verdict: Very useable but initially sparse 4th: PinguyOS Web: http://www.pinguyos.com Version: 14.04.4 (Official) Verdict: A pleasant-to-use distro, but there’s a danger it’s dead In this guide we have chosen not to focus on any of the mainstream distros in favour of those we think are ideal for newcomers. There are Linux users who believe there's no such thing as a distro which is friendly to beginners, and the trick is to persevere. We've often seen more complex distros such as Arch and Gentoo recommended to new users, along with more familiar versions of Linux such as Debian, Slackware, Fedora and Ubuntu. Gentoo and Arch can certainly teach you about the workings of Linux like no other distro, but experienced Linux users still shy away from them, as you're more likely to give up in frustration at the complex setup process. In the end, the best course is to use the Live mode for each of the operating systems we've covered to experiment and find a distribution that’s suitable for you. View the full article
  8. Another new preview build has emerged for Windows 10, and there are a whole host of changes in this fresh effort, including some improvements for gamers. With build 17692 (Redstone 5), Microsoft has tweaked Game Mode to introduce some new options which it says should ‘improve the gaming experience on desktop PCs’, without being any more specific than that. Any kind of improvement when it comes to gaming performance will be most welcome, of course. The software giant does clarify that those gamers who are running many background processes ‘may’ see performance improvements if they switch on Dedicate Resources in the Game bar, so testing that could certainly be worth a shot. Although shutting down some of those processes might be a sensible idea, anyway, if you want to get your PC running games more smoothly. Speaking of the Game bar, that’s getting some new features, and it now gives you a visual illustration in the form of a graph which shows the game’s frame rate, and indeed your CPU or system memory usage, or GPU memory usage. The image at the top of this article shows the new interface running while playing Forza Horizon 3. As you can see, there are also new audio controls, allowing you to change your audio output device and adjust the volume of games (or mute them) on the fly. Turbo typing The other major change here is that those who use the virtual keyboard with Windows 10 will find that it’s now powered by SwiftKey, at least in certain languages including UK and US English (plus French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese – the latter being aimed at the Brazilian territory). This allows you to ‘shape write’ on the touch keyboard – i.e. drag your finger over the letters in a continuous gesture without lifting your digit from the screen – with SwiftKey picking up what you’re typing, and applying predictions and auto-correct. The system is also driven by an AI which learns your writing style and the words you use the most, to help hone the accuracy of its predictive efforts. You may have already experienced SwiftKey on Android and iOS mobiles, where it has been available for some time. It takes some acclimatization if you’re not used to writing by dragging your finger around, but it’s a nifty little feature that some find invaluable – although given that we're still in beta testing here, you can expect some wrinkles. Another interesting move is that Windows 10’s search function has been fine-tuned to point to the official download pages for any Windows software that you’re looking to install. Build 17692 also makes some Ease of Access improvements, including the ability to use a simple slider to ‘make everything bigger’ – in other words to increase the font size of text across the entire system, including desktop applications and UWP apps. Narrator has received some useful attention, too, including the implementation of a new keyboard layout which Microsoft claims will be more familiar and easy to use for screen reader users. There are a load of other minor changes here, and as ever you can see the full list of features – and known issues – over on Microsoft’s blog post about the new build. Note that one item listed in the initial post didn’t actually make it to this build, but will be coming in the next preview – namely the ability to control whether or not videos autoplay in the Edge browser. Some of the best laptops of 2018 run Windows 10View the full article
  9. There was a time, before computers, when every child in senior school carried with them a plastic stencil for creating neat flowcharts. Thankfully, creating them on a computer is so much easier to do, faster to change, and infinitely reproducible. Clear diagrams can detail the flow of information, products on a production line, the execution of code in software, and a dozen other business-critical processes. Managing people and resources can be difficult without understanding the dependencies involved, and these documents can often reveal those succinctly. Here are 10 of the best we could find, each with their own twist on the perfect recipe for being well understood. We've also highlighted the best mindmap software of 2018 Cacoo Business users often don’t work in isolation, and Cacoo by Nulab is a charting solution built to address that need, among others. It’s an online tool that interfaces to a wide range of cloud services, including Google Drive/Docs, Confluence, Adobe Creative Cloud, Box and Dropbox. In addition to Cloud stored and distributed content, Cacoo also works with TypeTalk (another Nulab product) and Slack to enable an information flow that alerts other team members when a diagram is updated. The number of templates might be less than other products, but it has all the critical ones like Network diagrams, organisational charts and floor plans. The feature set makes it of the most use to systems designers, software engineers, project managers and business administrators. Pricing is competitive, with a single user license costing just $4.95 (£3.70) per month, and a three-user Team plan is $18 (£13.45) per month. For those wanting greater control over their mission-critical tools, Cacoo offers an enterprise option where the system is installed on a private server, for ten or more users. There are also educational plans for teachers and students. For those wishing to check out Cacoo, trials are available for 14 days, and there is a free plan that allows six diagrams to be created in it, with limited sharing options. You can sign up for Cacoo here ConceptDraw Pro 11 ConceptDraw is a complete suite of applications designed to enable business planning and enhance productivity. Now at release 11, ConceptDraw Pro is just one of these tools and sits alongside ConceptDraw Office 4, Mindmap 9, Project 8 and ConceptDraw Store. Pro version 11 is a highly versatile business graphics and diagramming product with thousands of stencils and hundreds of templates ready to use. But for those that want greater flexibility, it is possible to design any stencil elements from scratch and incorporate them into a design. These custom elements can then use the tree and chain connecting modes available in the ConceptDraw Pro 11 software. Fully compatible with Visio (stencils and drawings), Pro 11 can be installed either to the Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac platforms, each costing $199 (£149) for a single license. Five and ten user license packs are available with a user discount, and you can also buy Pro 11 in concert with Mindmap 9 and Project 8 for greater savings. For teachers and students it can be had for a very reasonable $99 (£74), and a free trial is available for those wishing to try it out. You can sign up for ConceptDraw here Creately Where other tools rely on application installations, Creately is available online, as a desktop app and also on mobile platforms. It’s not exclusively for Flowcharts either, as it can be used to produce a wide variety of diagrams including organisational charts and wireframes, Gantt charts, Infographics and even maps. The available templates are extensive, and you can try it out online before you invest. One snag, and for many organisations it could be a deal breaker, is that online Creately uses Adobe Flash, and insists on it being on the client platform. Online Creately costs just $5 (£3.74) per month or $49 (£37) per year for a single user, and cheaper-per-head team pricing is also available. The Creately Desktop is $75 (£56) with one year of updates included. For the general public, Creately allows five diagrams to be created at zero cost, perfect for that small charting job that you can’t easily bend another tool to make. You can sign up for Creately here Draw.io Let’s say it upfront: Draw.io is free. No, seriously. They develop and maintain it at no cost to the user. When you’ve recovered from that shock, you should know that it’s an online solution that can save your work to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. It can handle a wide range of schematics, including complex BPMN workflows, UML diagrams and general Flowcharts, along with mind maps and network infrastructures. The list of possibilities is so big that we chose not to list them all here. So what is the catch? Well, if you use either Confluence or JIRA Cloud, then they’d like a subscription paid for that functionality. But it’s hardly expensive, being 1$ (£0.75) for Confluence per user and $0.50 (£0.37) for JIRA, and pricing for 200 users is $20 (£14.94) and $10 (£7.47) respectively per month. Before you spend money on other solutions, it’s worth checking out Draw.io, if only to be amazed at what software tools you can get for free, and how good they can be. You can sign up for Draw.io here Edge Diagrammer Based in Arizona, Pacestar Software has four diagram design tools of which Edge Diagrammer is the most versatile. Using Edge Diagrammer, you can easily generate block diagrams, flowcharts, org charts, family trees, data flow diagrams and many other standard diagrammatic forms. In addition to the base functionality, Pacestar has some free extension packs that support an even wider range of different diagramming methodologies. The limitations of this product are that it is exclusively Windows platform, although it has very minimal hardware requirements and will run on any full version of Windows from XP upwards. There is also a free to distribute Windows tool that allows anyone to view drawings created using Edge Diagrammer. While this software is undoubtedly powerful and effective, it doesn’t take account of information flow or distribution within a large operation. Therefore if you intend to use this you’ll need to manage the files it creates with other tools. A single user license is $149 (£111), and the more seats you purchase, the cheaper it gets per user. For those wanting to try it out a thirty-day trial is available to download, and for that period you can experience full functionality. You can sign up for Edge Diagrammer here Edraw Max V9.1 Another cross-platform option, Edraw Max, works on Windows, Mac and Linux natively. Created by the Shenzen Edraw software company, Edraw Max was built to construct professional-looking flowcharts, organisational diagrams and has templates for 280 different diagram types. If you have a specific need, you might not need all the power of Edraw Max, and the same company makes tailored tools for Mind Mapping, Infographics, Org Charts and nine other different specific diagram requirements. In theory, Edraw Max can do any of these jobs, although users might find the scope and power of this tool a little daunting at first. Those that get through an initially challenging learning curve report that once mastered this is a great application for creating professional looking schematics rapidly and efficiently. A single user license is $179 (£134) and includes free upgrades for three years on Windows and Mac. Pay a little more and you can get a lifetime license with indefinite upgrades, or you can pay $99 (£74) per year for a subscription. Multi-user discounts are also available, as they are for educational users. You can sign up for Edraw Max here Gliffy This product has many parallels with Draw.io, in that it also supports Confluence and JIRA Cloud, but Gliffy is also working on a proprietary Cloud solution to be launched soon, called Gliffy Project. Gliffy Diagram is available now and provides a straightforward tool for creating a very wide variety of chart types online or within Confluence. It also stores created charts into Google Drive, should you use that those Cloud services. Pricing is $7.99 (£5.97) per month for a single user, but this unit cost reduces to $4.99 (£3.73) per user for team members. Multi-user licenses also include additional groupware functionality. For Enterprise customers pricing is less per-person structured, and Gliffy provides an integrated solution that can dovetail into existing business processes. One nice twist on this online software tool is that you can install a Chrome version that can work offline, should an Internet connection not be available. What this product lacks is much in the way of object customisation, although it scores highly on ease of use and a gentle learning curve. You can sign up for Gliffy here Lucid Chart According to Lucid Software, they have over 11 million users. Strongly suggesting that this is not a niche solution, but a highly popular one. Lucid is one of the few tools that covers Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OSX and various Linux distributions by default, admittedly by being an online app rather than natively. For those who need workflow integration, Lucid Chart supports Confluence, JIRA and JIVE, along with the Google Cloud and apps and Microsoft Visio compatibility. There is a free trial that isn’t time limited. Instead, diagrams are restricted to a maximum of 60 objects, sufficient to explore its potential. Licensing starts at $5.45 (£4.07) per month for a Home user, and ‘Pro’ Business users pay $10 (£7.47) per month, both paid on annual subscriptions. Pro users get the ability to import and export to Visio, and dynamically link data into their charts for the extra money. There are also Team versions with groupware and Enterprise options, all at extra cost. Lucid convinced Amazon, Adobe, DocuSign, Cisco, Red Hat and Wells Fargo to be customers. And, it might be right for your business, too. You can sign up for Lucid Chart here Microsoft Visio When most people think about flow charts, they almost immediately think of Visio, although the product is capable of creating all manner of diagrams quickly and efficiently. It was one of the first products with smart drawing tools, and today it retains the ability for the tool to intelligently restructure a drawing as the user moves objects around. The obvious big selling point of Visio is that its part of the Office 365 suite, and therefore designed to integrate with the other Office tools seamlessly. Microsoft offers four different options with Visio; two online, and another two that are standalone Windows applications. Visio Standard 2016 and Professional 2016 are the installable apps, and they retail for £279.99 ($375) and £529.99 ($709) respectively. As you might guess, that high pricing is intended to encourage you to subscribe to the online versions, labelled Visio Plan 1 and Visio Plan 2. Plan 1 is pitched at £3.80 ($5) per user/month and is purely an online version, where Plan 2 costs £11.30 ($15) per user/month. And with that you also get online and Visio 2016 Professional app, and access to better mobile tools, and a Visio Viewer for iOS. These prices are if you subscribe annually, with month-by-month pricing being a little higher. For those already using Office 365, many of the existing packages include the online version of Visio. And, you can try that for free on Microsoft’s Office online website. You can sign up for Microsoft Visio here SmartDraw Like Lucid, SmartDraw can name an impressive list of blue-chip companies that are license holders since the company started in 1994. These include at least half of the Fortune 500 quoted businesses and more than 250,000 public and private enterprises across the globe. The SmartDraw product can be used online or as a standalone Windows application. It supports the creation of no less than seventy chart types, including all the standard ones. There more exotic templates include those for documenting a crime scene, landscape gardening, seating plan and even accident reconstruction. For those working as part of a team, it supports Confluence, JIRA, Trello and Google’s GSuiite. And, it’s fully compatible with Visio, able to import and export diagrams and stencils with Microsoft’s application. The Windows Desktop offers a single user license for $297 (£222) and multi-user 5+ licenses from $595 (£445). The online version is just $9.95 (£7.43) per month for one user, and $5.95 (£4.45) per user/month for 5+, both billed annually. The multi-user packages have extra functionality that allows licenses to be managed and can also control the sharing of SmartDraw data with other users. Most of the sophistication of SmartDraw is in the templates and not the application. Therefore it might be more suitable for those who make many simple charts, and not those involved in the creation of very complex diagrams. You can sign up for SmartDraw hereWhat to look for when choosing flowchart software Although designers might use these tools, the majority of people creating flowcharts aren’t classically trained graphic designers. Therefore, they need a tool that assumes no artistic abilities but can generate professional looking results rapidly. There is a fine balance between an application giving the operator the power to do whatever they want and funnelling their efforts in the direction of ultimate success. The way that most software handles this delicate balance is to offer the user templates that avoid them using too many fonts, or trying to cram too many elements into a design. If the operator has graphical skills, these restrictions might seem a hindrance, but to the less confident, they can be exactly the structural support these folks need. These are the key aspects that you might want to consider before purchasing a flowchart solution: Templates: How many does the application have, and are any of them tailored to your specific needs (coding, game logic, command structures, etc)? Objects: Almost all software will have a selection of predefined objects, and the number and quality of these should be assessed. If the graphical elements that you specifically need aren’t in the library, the ability to define your own will be very important. Groupware: As important as the creation of a diagram might be, getting it distributed and centrally updated is also critical. Some applications can enable multiple people to work on the same design, which might be useful when documenting an especially complicated process. Trial: Some of these tools can be expensive or require ongoing licensing, so it is useful to test a trial version before investing company cash. View the full article
  10. Every business is in a competitive environment, and each is trying to gain and maintain that competitive edge. Businesses have a variety of metrics they track, from accounts receivable to market share. Traditionally these parameters were tracked in ledgers, and this was subsequently transitioned into spreadsheets. However, both methods involved manually entering data, and specifying calculations, with analysis done by the user- a lengthy and involved process. However, business intelligence tools are hardly new, as they can be traced as far back as 1958 to Hans Peter Luhn who is considered the father of this field for his work at IBM. Business intelligence tools seek to apply a ‘big data’ approach to this business data. The goal is to apply these tools, so that analysis can occur in real time with less input from the user, and results can be applied faster, which ultimately improves the business. With the rise of data in the cloud, business intelligence has seen a recent increase in growth, with current adoption estimated at an all time high of 49%. Let’s take a look at different business intelligence tools to find some great choices to make your business smarter, and take it to the next level. We've also highlighted the best productivity gadgets for business Zoho Reports Zoho Reports is the business intelligence tool from the folks that have plenty of experience with web-based business tools, namely the venerable Zoho Office. Zoho Reports is a robust solution, that can integrate data from a variety of files, including Microsoft Office documents, URL feeds, and databases, such as MySQL, along with applications, of course from Zoho, but also outside their ecosystem including data from the cloud from Box, DropBox, Google Drive and other applications (for example Salesforce, Quickbooks and Google Analytics). Data can then be blended via integrated mathematical and statistical formulas, for example marketing costs in an Excel file, with sales data in a cloud database, to create a visually attractive and informative report. This is all done via a simple online interface, and functions can be applied via a simple drag and drop, with reports that can be easily viewed via the portal, or also printed or emailed. After the short fifteen day free trial, there are several pricing plans. The least expensive basic plan, which as a limit of only two users is $22.50 (£16.80) monthly, billed at an annual rate. Their most popular Premium plan with fifteen users is $112.50 (£84) monthly, again billed at an annual rate which requires more commitment than some smaller businesses are looking to make. You can sign up for Zoho Reports here Microsoft Power BI Software behemoth, Microsoft, also plays in the business intelligence tool space, and their offering is Power BI. They even have a “Microsoft Business Applications Summit” that features their Power BI, and not surprisingly other Microsoft business applications. Unlike some of their competition that take a totally web-based portal approach, Power BI takes the downloadable software approach, at least for the desktop version. There is a generous sixty day trial of the software, which promises to “Connect hundreds of data sources,” including Microsoft applications, and other sources such as Facebook, Sybase and Oracle which can then prep data for subsequent data analysis on the fly, allowing reports to be created in just a matter of minutes. Pricing begins at the Power PI Desktop tier for a single user, which is fully functional, and free. The next tier up is Power PI Pro and supports collaboration between users, and real time data analysis, and after a 60 day trial costs $9.99 (£7) per month for each user. You can sign up for Microsoft Power BI here Tableau Desktop Tableau Desktop endeavors to do more than make charts, but rather to show “live visual analytics.” A slick interface with drag and drop buttons allows the user to quickly be able to spot trends in the data. There is a lengthy list of supported data sources, including Microsoft Excel, Google Analytics, Box and PDF files. Tableau Desktop becomes an expensive option for a single user as it costs $70 (£52) per month that is billed on an annual basis, making this more expensive than other competing solutions. On balance, it also includes the associated application of Tableau Prep under the Tableau Creator package. You can sign up for Tableau Desktop here Dundas Dundas is a browser based business intelligence tool with 25 years of experience. It is designed to be a single tool to transform data into visual data analytics with “granular control over almost all visual design elements.” Data files can be incorporated with drag and drop functionality allowing end users to analyze data without involvement from IT. The HTML5 interface allows it to be used across a variety, including mobile, devices. There is a free 45 day trial, but after the pricing is opaque and requires a quote, but there are options to lease annually, or own for perpetuity. You can sign up for Dundas here Sisense Sisense is a business intelligence tool that seeks to simplify the complexities of data analysis by building in IoT, machine learning and AI into their platform. They claim it is so simple and streamlined, that you can go from “data to dashboard in just 90 minutes.” While we can argue the validity of that claim, their list of clients, including the likes of GE, Philips, Fujitsu, NBC and Airbus would back up that this is a top tier product. Their custom pricing is based on an annual subscription model, but it requires a price quote, and is unfortunately not available on their website. You can sign up for Sisense hereView the full article
  11. Whether you're a freelancer or a flautist, a graphic designer or a greengrocer, if you're running any kind of business you really need some kind of accounting software to stay on top of things – as we discovered, the age-old system of throwing everything into a drawer and panicking at tax return time isn't the best. But that doesn't mean you need to invest huge sums or learn something hopelessly complicated. The best free accounting software is easy to use and enables you to see how well you're doing and who owes you money. GnuCash is straightforward, completely free, and supported by a huge community of users, so you'll never have to look far for help online GnuCash is accounting software designed for individuals and small businesses, and was initially conceived as an open source alternative to apps such as Intuit's Quicken. It's available for Linux, GNU, OpenBSD, Android, macOS and Windows, and it's been kicking around since the late 1990s - but the most recent update was in April 2018. It handles invoicing and credit notes, accounts payable and receivable, employee expenses and some payroll features too, and it's quite happy with multiple currencies, cards and accounts. Its sheer flexibility makes it our top choice when it comes to accounting software for kitchen table businesses. Review and where to download: GnuCash Money Manager Ex is available for Windows, macOS, and even Android Another superb open source tool, Money Manager Ex is well designed and packed with enough features to rival premium software. It's easy to understand, and you'll have your accounts and transactions set up in no time. Money Manager Ex's simplicity makes it a particularly good choice for sole traders or your own home finances. This free accounting software is a portable app, so you can save and use it straight from a USB stick without installing it. There's even an Android app for updating your accounts on the move. Review and where to download: Money Manager Ex TurboCASH might be overkill for sole traders, but if you employ a few staff you might appreciate its extra capabilities TurboCASH is free accounting software that's been in continuous development since April 1985, and it's hugely popular in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. It's available in 23 languages and boasts an online community of more than 100,000 users. Designed for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), it's probably a bit much for freelancers or sole traders, but if you need something a bit more useful than a cash book TurboCASH can handle VAT, debtors and creditors, purchase orders, multiple companies and multiple users. Download here: TurboCASH Wave is online-only, and the tools it offers make it particularly well suited to freelancers With more than two million users, Wave is one of the most successful online accounting services - and it's completely free for accounting, invoicing and receipts, although if you want personal technical support you'll need to pay for it. Payroll isn't included in the free service either, and you do get the odd advert – just as you do with pretty much any free online service. It's a very well designed and carefully thought out application, and while it's probably a little basic for medium-sized businesses it's a good option for sole traders, freelancers and small firms. Try it online: Wave Express Invoice is really a slick interface for an online accounting tool With versions for PC, Mac, iPad and Android, NCH Express Invoice caters for most kinds of businesses - and if you have fewer than five members of staff, you can have it for free without time limits or other restrictions. It's designed to create invoices, quotes and orders easily, to automate recurring ones and to send them by email or fax, and there's a decent range of reports to pore over. The free accounting software is really just a front-end for a web-based service, but that's no bad thing unless your business struggles to get a decent internet connection. Download here: NCH Express Invoice VT Cash Book is fast and easy to use, but you'll need Microsoft Excel installed too It's not going to win any awards for aesthetics, but VT Cash Book isn't there to look good: its priority is to record day to day cash transactions with the least amount of fuss. It uses Autocomplete to speed up data entry, supports multiple bank accounts and bank reconciliation, can be used to prepare VAT returns and enables you to create profit and loss, balance sheets and ledgers. The free accounting software installs alongside its companion program, the paid-for VT Transaction+, but you don't need to buy the latter to use the former. Download here: VT Cash Book If your home business sells goods, Invoice Expert is definitely worth a look thanks to its stock management tools The free version of Invoice Expert is limited to 100 customers/products, but it retains the features of its $69.95 (about £50, AU$90) sibling including inventory and customer management, invoicing and quoting, purchase orders and inventory management. This free accounting software is a little bit intimidating at first glance, especially in the template-editing screens, but it's straightforward enough. It's an American program but it uses your Windows location to set the currency, so it should adjust itself accordingly. Download here: Invoice Expert Adminsoft Accounts isn't just great for tracking income and expenditure - it can also manage some payroll functions for small businesses These days genuine freeware - that is, software that's given away for free without adverts, bundled software or ulterior motives - is a rare thing, but it describes AdminSoft Accounts: more than 300,000 people have taken advantage of what is a surprisingly thorough free accounting system (and an unusually honest set of terms and conditions). It can handle not just invoicing and statements but remittance advices, stock control, purchase orders, budgeting and some HR functions too. It's a UK program so the default is pounds sterling, but it works happily in other currencies too. Download here: AdminSoft Accounts QuickFile's online-only tools are clearly presented, and you can access them from any internet-connected device Designed specifically for non-accountants, QuickFile offers free tiers for small businesses while still delivering automatic invoicing, purchase receipt management, quotations and multi-currency support. It’s cloud-based rather than a software download, and if you like the free version you can upgrade to an ad-free, more advanced version with bulk invoicing, revision history and a host of power user features for a modest fee. Try it online: QuickFile Apache's free alternative to Microsoft Excel is perfectly capable of handling basic accounting if you don't mind putting in the legwork to set it up You don't necessarily need a dedicated free accounting program, especially if your requirements are pretty straightforward. For many businesses and sole traders, all you really need is a simple spreadsheet - and with a price tag of zero, Apache OpenOffice fits the bill nicely. It's well worth browsing the library of templates once you've downloaded the main app, as there are plenty of user-created templates that you can easily tweak to suit your own specific requirements - not just for accounting, but for other common business tasks too. Download here: Apache OpenOffice Need something a bit more complex? Try one of these best accounting software packagesView the full article
  12. The photocopying machine: that chunky, clunky, problem-fraught tower of plastic, is slowly losing its status as the office centerpiece. Poly-functional (and more reliable) printers have played their part in displacing this staple of the business world, but so too have software services that can take care of scanning, copying and so much more. The opportunity to reduce paperwork and increase productivity has created a sizeable market for tools of this nature, and with so many proliferating in recent years, we’ve rounded up the best of the bunch to help you choose which would be most suitable for your organization. From powerful, enterprise-focused Adobe platforms to pick-up services perfect for small businesses, check out the very best of the document scanning and converting world below. We've also highlighted the best document management software of 2018 Abbyy FineReader Abbyy is responsible for a number of enterprise-oriented software tools and among them is its platform for document scanning, FineReader, enabling you to edit, review, protect, compare and convert PDFs and scans. The editing feature allows you to comment and annotate your PDF, making it perfect for collaboration. Compare, meanwhile, helps you identify text changes between different versions of the same document, saving time on proof-reading and back-checking. FineReader calls its OCR (optical character recognition) technology ‘world-leading’ no less, promising accurate conversion of paper documents, scans and PDFs to Word, Excel, searchable PDFs, and other file formats. If you’re dealing with scanning on a large scale, the Hot Folder feature is on hand to help schedule batch processing and track documents for conversion with ‘watched’ folders. FineReader can recognise a whopping 192 languages, so you should be covered no matter where your documents are coming from. Prices start at $118.30 (£88) per year. You can download Abbyy FineReader here Adobe Acrobat If there’s a software company that knows how to handle a document or two, it’s Adobe, and when it comes to PDFs, you’re in safe hands with Acrobat. The platform allows you to create PDFs from just about everywhere: Microsoft Office applications, the camera of your phone, HTML pages, and even from disparate emails, spreadsheets and documents which can be merged and organized into a simple PDF file. Key features include passwords and permission for added security, standardized templates to keep your documents consistent in style, the ability to edit and annotate both normal text and data in tables, a comparing tool to identify differences between different versions of the document, and ‘reverse’ conversions from PDF to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Storing all these converted files is made easier too, thanks to integrations with Dropbox, OneDrive and Box. With Adobe Acrobat, scanning your document really is just the beginning, but the caveat with this platform, like so many Adobe tools, is that it doesn’t come cheap. For businesses, prices start at $14.99 (£11) per person per month. You can download Adobe Acrobat here OmniPage Standard Another key player on the enterprise productivity scene is Nuance, and which brings its scanning tech to the market via OmniPage Standard. OmniPage Standard’s OCR technology takes care of scanning all types of documents in quick and efficient fashion, “enabling you to focus on more rewarding tasks”, it says. Anyone who’s ever had to type up a whole document to make it ‘digitally’ usable will know where they’re coming from. The platform promises high quality conversions that maintain the features of the original document – columns, tables, bullets, graphics and all. It also supports a wide range of editing platforms, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel, Wordperfect, and Nuance’s own Power PDF tool. Conveniently, Omnipage can process via a whole range of devices that capture text as an image, so if your phone, tablet or camera is at hand, you can scan, convert and manage your files on the move. This accomplished scanning all-rounder will set you back $149.99 (£112). You can download OmniPage Standard here Docufree Docufree works a little differently from the scanning services we’ve seen so far by physically picking up the documents you want scan and taking care of the dirty work for you. How exactly does it work? You place the documents you want scanned in a box, which the Docufree team picks up and takes to their conversion centre. Here, they prepare and scan the docs to PDFs and TTFS, perform OCR character recognition if needed, and store the converted files digitally and online for you. They’ll return the original documents if requested, or shred them for you, offering the attractive option of removing endless boxes of paperwork. If you’re inundated with documents each day, you can opt for the day-forward scanning service where Docufree collects your documents as they arrive in the post each day. Users can also take advantage of the free online account that comes with the service, allowing you to access and review documents as they’re converted and track the status of a scanning project. With Docufree you pay by the box which has a fixed price no matter the number of documents. Follow the link below to get a quote. You can sign up for Docufree here Readiris Now on version 17, Readiris is a scanning tool that captures and converts your documents to editable files thanks to its OCR technology. The service enables you to convert PDFs, pictures and texts from an image or scanned doc into Word, Excel, Powerpoint or an indexed PDF. Keeping pace with its higher-level competitors, Readiris also allows you to annotate files and make comments, making the platform suitable for collaboration in the process of scanning and converting. Its audio capabilities are pretty handy too, as documents and books can be converted into MP3 and Wav files, enabling you to digest texts without even having to read them. You can record voice comments too, removing the reading and writing process of editing altogether if preferred. Readiris 17 comes in three packages, with a $50 (£37) service at the lowest end of the scale and Readiris Corporate 17 at the top, priced at $199 (£148). You can download Readiris hereBest of the rest Sounding like a pretty fun if slightly nerdy Nintendo game, Data Dash operates in the same manner as Docufree, picking up or receiving your files in the mail then digitising them as you wish, with a reported 99.5% accuracy. Claiming to be the “first fully functional online PDF solution”, Soda PDF is a very comprehensive service, enabling you to create PDFs from more than 300 file formats, convert to various file types, edit and annotate files, create custom forms, and send and track contracts for electronic signature. ScanSpeeder, meanwhile, specializes in photos, allowing you to bring your precious prints into the digital world. Start with your own flatbed scanner than allow ScanSpeeder to sort, archive and safely store. VueScan is on a mission to save old scanners by creating drivers for aging machines so you can keep using the scanner you have. No more throwing hardware away when manufacturers stop releasing drivers! Focusing on mobile scanning, CamScanner allows your iPhone or Android device to scan, enhance and share documents with just a few taps of your phone. It also includes many of the editing and annotation features of its desktop counterparts listed above. View the full article
  13. Windows 10 users will likely be concerned to hear that Cortana had major vulnerabilities, which allowed a malicious party to potentially bypass the lock screen – or easily view sensitive information from it – although the good news is that Microsoft has just patched these issues. McAfee uncovered and documented the security flaws in a lengthy blog post, with one simple issue being the fact that you could trigger the voice assistant from the lock screen (assuming Cortana is enabled in this respect, on default settings), and bring up a contextual Windows 10 menu simply by typing while Cortana is listening to a query. And the details of files – and possibly file contents – revealed in that contextual menu could potentially leak sensitive information from the locked laptop. Beyond that, the security firm found that it was possible to exploit Cortana in order to execute code on the PC from the lock screen, allowing an attacker to trigger a backdoor dropped from, say, a previously successful phishing email attack. Moreover, McAfee further demonstrated an exploit of the digital assistant that allowed a payload to be locally executed from a USB stick, with the result that the attacker could change the login credentials for the notebook, and get full access to the machine. Highly worrying indeed. Privilege patch As mentioned at the outset, Microsoft fixed these issues with its freshly released patch for Windows 10 (out yesterday). As Windows Latest reports, the company noted: “An Elevation of Privilege vulnerability exists when Cortana retrieves data from user input services without consideration for status. The security update addresses the vulnerability by ensuring Cortana considers status when [retrieving] information from input services.” So, if you do have Cortana running on the lock screen of your PC, this is a pretty critical security patch to download. And if you haven’t patched yet – as might be the case with business machines, where deployment of patches can be a thornier issue – then obviously it might be a good move to banish Cortana from the lock screen for the time being. McAfee further observes that it’s just scratching the surface of potential attack vectors that can be leveraged against digital assistants and via vocal commands, and that the firm intends to look much more deeply into finding vulnerabilities along these lines. It’s obviously an important area to research, as we are inexorably heading towards a world in which AI virtual assistants are increasingly used to help you run many aspects of your devices and operating systems. Some of the best laptops out there use Windows 10 and CortanaView the full article
  14. The way companies present and market themselves has changed radically over the last few years. With more consumers using internet-connected devices, digital marketing has become a crucial area of business management - and that's where email marketing services come in. Any modern business that wants to get messages out to customers successfully can’t afford to neglect the power of technology. Traditional methods like printing and distributing leaflets have become almost obsolete. There’s so much more you can achieve by sending company brand and product information through email marketing software. Not only can you do this at the relevant points in time – to coincide with things like sales and discounts – but you benefit from the fact that virtually everyone has an email account. There’s obviously a lot of potential here, but to succeed, you’ll need the right email marketing software. And that’s exactly why we’ve highlighted the best offerings here. These are the best free email clients of 2017 Bronto Bronto is one of the best email marketing software packages out there, providing you with easy-to-use commerce marketing automation for your business needs. It’s targeted specifically at retail companies, integrating specialist services such as Magento and Netsuite. Using the system, you can manage a database of customer email addresses and send personalised campaigns to target specific customers at the right time. So if you’re running a sale on baby clothes, then you can target customers who have just had children or have bought baby items in the past. The software is aimed at medium-sized and enterprise organisations, and it’s already used by major retailers and manufacturers like Everlast, Clarks and Not On The High Street. You can sign up for Bronto here CommuniGator CommuniGator is another well-respected company that offers email marketing and automation software for small and medium-sized businesses. The firm’s email marketing tool lets you put together an email campaign within a matter of minutes, and you don’t need to have any coding or design skills. It offers a suite packed with expert-designed templates to ensure you have a campaign that looks good, plus there’s a drag-and-drop editor, so you can easily add different elements based on the type of campaign you’re working on. Every email is designed to be well-presented on mobile devices, and you have the option to send emails to a specific audience or customer group. Request a free demo here MailChimp Even if you haven’t used email marketing software before, you’ve more than likely heard of MailChimp (probably sponsoring a podcast or two!). Launched in 2001, it’s a veteran and leader in this arena, allowing users to create and send professional marketing emails to a database of customers. Like many other products, there’s a built-in designer that offers a selection of templates which can be edited to your tastes. You can add elements like clickable text, graphics and logos, and there’s also the option of designing your own email from scratch if you have the requisite coding skills. MailChimp does well on the integration front, too, especially for online retailers. You’re able to link the system up to services such as Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento to send targeted product campaigns. Once you’ve unleashed your campaign, you can analyse its performance via the report feature. The software is free-to-use, although there are premium business packages which you'll need to purchase. You can sign up for MailChimp here Mapp Digital Mapp Digital, which was created by BlueHornet Networks and TeraData, provides companies of all sizes with a package of tools for online marketers, covering crucial areas such as email, social, mobile push and web marketing. With email marketing in mind, Mapp offers an easy-to-use dashboard that lets companies design and execute successful campaigns. The emphasis is on ensuring emails are customer-centric, with plenty of regard for brand image and generating meaningful results from audiences. More than 3,000 companies are using the software, including big firms like Puma, Thomas Cook, Xerox and more. You can sign up for Mapp Digital here Adobe Campaign Tech giant Adobe is also a proven leader in the email marketing arena. Adobe Campaign gives you the ability to personalise and deliver a marketing push across a variety of online and offline channels. You can create campaigns by making use of a drag-and-drop platform, identify appropriate customer channels using integrated profiles, deliver contextual and timely campaigns, automate campaigns so you can focus time and energy in other areas, and get reports on how your campaigns are performing. You can sign up for Adobe Campaign here Shutterstock Editor Shutterstock, which is a database of premium stock images, isn’t a company you’d think to associate with email marketing software. However, it’s now launched an easy-to-use, web-based app that lets you quickly upload, edit, publish and share assets. Shutterstock Editor offers businesses a way to find images and graphics for highly visual email campaigns, and there’s certainly no shortage of pics to choose from. The database recently surpassed 100 million images, covering a diverse range of categories. The service offers professionally designed templates, and lets you search for high-quality images, edit photos and illustrations using a range of tools, personalise designs by uploading a logo, and publish your creations on social media. You can sign up for Shutterstock Editor here Campaign Monitor Campaign Monitor is a web-based platform, like many of the other offerings listed here, and it sports a professional-grade email builder that lets you create fully branded and personalised messages for customers. All emails are tailored to work well on a variety of different screen sizes and resolutions. Once you’ve created a campaign, you’re able to send it to a list of subscribers automatically, or schedule it to go out at a set time. For example, if you have a Black Friday sale, you can schedule a campaign to go out in the early hours so customers are informed of certain deals with the maximum notice. There’s handy list management facilities here, too, letting you manage all your customer emails and arrange them into target segments. The service is extremely popular, being used by more than 200,000 businesses worldwide. You can sign up for Campaign Monitor hereView the full article
  15. In July 2001, the Code Red worm infected over 359,000 hosts which were running a vulnerable implementation of Windows NT. Visitors to compromised websites were greeted with the message: "HELLO! Welcome to http://www.worm.com! Hacked By Chinese!" Code Red and the phrase "Hacked by Chinese!" have long since passed into internet legend but the danger of website defacement is clear and present. Hackers can target your site at any time, so unless you are viewing a page as its been changed, it's hard to respond quickly. In this guide, you'll discover an elegant solution to the issue of website defacement in the form of the very best security tools on the web today. These automate the task of regularly checking your domains for anomalies and make sure to notify you if any unauthorised changes are detected. There are options to match all budgets from free services suitable for the occasional blogger to premium platforms for large business owners. We've also highlighted the best web hosting services Visualping Visualping is a deceptively simple tool which offers powerful protection against website defacement. Users of the website or iOS/Android mobile apps need only enter a URL and their email address to receive regular updates of any changes made. The tool works by making regular snapshots of the page in question then comparing these on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. It can also be customized to trigger an alert for tiny, medium or significant changes. Visualping is not designed specifically for website defacement. As the developers' website mentions, it will work equally well for checking on the release on concert tickets or a new product launch. However its ability to display superposed 'images' as well as the fact you can control the frequency Visualping checks for changes means it's certainly fit for purpose. The basic free version of Visualping allows you up to 2 free checks per day. Costs vary after this on a very reasonable sliding scale depending on the number of checks required. For instance, to have Visualping check your site 40 times a day (every 36 minutes) would cost just $13 (£9.72) a month. If you need to monitor multiple domains consider installing the Visualping Chrome web extension. Once installed just click the Visualping button to start monitoring the current page. Through to its name Visualping may not be able to detect invisible to changes to pages such as modifications of source code. If malware is a concern consider one of the other tools in this guide. You can sign up for Visualping here StatusCake StatusCake is a many-layered treat for webmasters. This British-based site offers a way to check your pages for defacement and downtime from a variety of locations: the project maintains 48 monitoring centers in 28 countries around the world. Many centers support the more recent IPv6 protocol. This offers subscribers a much more refined experience over simpler competitors. Not only can you adjust the frequency of checks but you can also specify the location from which you want to monitor pages. StatusCake even offers a speed test to show how quickly a page loads when checked. There is a free package which can perform up to 10 checks at 5-minute intervals. This is fine for hobby bloggers and those with very monolithic websites but business owners can benefit more from a paid subscription. These are very competitively priced compared to other monitoring services. StatusCake's 'superior' subscription, for instance, costs only $24 (£17.93) a month for 100 check a day, (roughly 14 minutes). Regardless of which package you choose, StatusCake includes multiple notification options including email, text message and even push notifications via Android/iOS. This service also works with some party apps such as PagerDuty. You can sign up for StatusCake here Sucuri Sucuri began in 2010 under the guiding hand of developer Daniel Cid who envisioned a tool which could give webmasters better insight into the security status of their websites. It's safe to say that Mr. Cid has been successful. The cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) Sucuri works not only as a monitoring platform but contains many tools to help prevent malicious attacks by hackers such as a Firewall, anti-virus and DDoS protection. This may be why Sucuri was acquired by legendary hosting provider GoDaddy in March 2018. The Sucuri Website Firewall can handle malware prevention through use of a dedicated whitelist, so that only authorised parties can connect to your site. Sucuri also regularly monitors changes to your pages and can display appropriate warnings. The service also maintains a dedicated incident response team, who work 365 days a year to assist you with restoring your site if anything goes wrong. Subscribers to the 'basic' Sucuri package for $199 (£149.46) per year are guaranteed a response within 12 hours to all support requests of this kind. The basic tier also includes features such as the firewall (with support for whitelists and blacklists), continuous scanning for defacement and malware cleanup. Sadly, there is no free trial for Sucuri, however the main site offers a money back guarantee within 30 days if users aren't satisfied. You can sign up for Sucuri here OnWebChange OnWebChange is one of the most versatile and useful tools when it comes to defacement protection. Since it was originally developed by Briton Tom Carnell in 2009 the service has exploded and can boast tens of thousands of users. This is due in part to the sophisticated monitoring features. In the first instance, users can select one or more areas to monitor within a web page. This is ideal if you maintain pages with dynamic content. OnWebChange will notify you each time a change takes place, either via email or via push notifications in Android/iOS. Power Users can also use a HTTP CallBacks with their own login data to adjust website content automatically e.g. to restore a defaced page. The generous free tier offers subscribers advanced CSS (Page Content Selection) as well as the ability to scan both PDF and plain text files for changes. Free tier users are permitted a maximum of 3 tracked sites a month. Checks are made up to 30 times (roughly once a day). Premium subscribers such as those who opt for the 'Solo' package for $1.40 (£1.05) a month, benefit from advanced features such as unlimited trackers and checks every 30 minutes. You can sign up for OnWebChange here IPVTec IPVTec was created in 2014 under the supervision of a founding member of cybersecurity firm IPVSecurity who was unhappy with the monitoring solutions available to clients at the time. Like Sucuri, the monitoring toll IPVmon is cloud-based meaning setup is minimal and you can start monitoring no matter how small the resources of your own network. The monitor routinely checks for website defacement but also contains a number of other handy features such as verifying your SSL certificates are in date, detecting if pages are unreachable, as well as scanning for malware. Emphasis has been placed on pro-active searches for anomalies to prevent problems before they occur. This includes actively scanning for domain hijacking and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks as well as defacement. If any irregularities are detected, users are notified with details via text message and email. Messages include a recommended 'call to action' to remedy the issues. IPVTec also has a dedicated dashboard for viewing notifications. Sadly there is no free version but the IPVTec website offers subscribers a free 30 day trial to accustom themselves to the platforms features. The basic (Pro 5) package costs $24 (£17.94) a month and permits monitoring of 5 pages and a single domain. You can sign up for IPVTec here Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (Peter Angritt) View the full article
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