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  1. Quick Look is one of macOS’s most convenient features, but one developer has proven it’s also extremely vulnerable to hacking. Apple's Quick Look mechanism generates and caches thumbnails of files, images, folders and other data to give users fast and easy access. That’s generally what Quick Look does with all your files, but a security researcher named Wojciech Regula realized the feature is doing the same thing with all your encrypted data and saves those said thumbnails to an unencrypted location. This vulnerability would allow a hacker to easily capture snippets of original files, including those contained in encrypted containers, simply by rooting out Quick Look’s cache of thumbnails. Mo’ speed, mo’ problems Regula simulated such a hack by uploading two images into two separate encrypted containers, one encoded in VeraCrypt and another with macOS Encrypted HFS+/APFS. Using simple commands, the researcher both images through their file paths, allowing him to access a miniature version of the original files. As if seeing thumbnails images of your private images wasn’t bad enough, Regula also showed how the Quick Look’s backend can also reveal sensitive documents. Unfortunately, Quick Look also does a great job of caching any additional drives you might have plugged into your Mac, so files stored on thumb drives or external hard drives. So what can you do? Fortunately, users can secure their encrypted files by manually clearing the Quick Look and unmount their encrypted container and Regula notes that Apple has even made a utility called ‘qlmanage’ just for this task. It seems like the best way to keep your data secure from Quick Look is to completely divorce it from your Mac – which isn’t convenient at all. So hopefully Apple releases a fix for this vulnerability in a near future macOS update. You can't do much about Quick Look, but you can secure your Internet connection with a VPN Via AppleInsider View the full article
  2. Being online just got a tad riskier, for the umpteenth time, thanks to the emergence of a nasty sounding piece of new malware that stealthily avoid detections. Mylobot, discovered in the wild by Tom Nipravsky, a security researcher at Deep Instinct, is apparently building up a complex botnet, infecting Windows PCs and employs several measures to avoid detection. The malware can be primed to deliver any number of different payloads, so it could install ransomware or a Trojan, pilfer data, recruit the machine to add firepower to a future DDoS attack – a whole host of unpleasant possibilities are at the malware author’s fingertips. As for its detection evasion techniques, these include anti-sandboxing routines, disguising its inner workings via encryption, and using a reflective EXE – meaning it executes directly from memory rather than disk, making spotting it harder. The malware lies dormant for two weeks, doing nothing and keeping a very low profile before finally searching out its command and control server. Stealth is at a premium here, for sure. Botnet bashing Interestingly, once active, Mylobot even searches for other botnets on the host PC, and attempts to stop their processes and remove them, effectively barging any competing malware out of the way. It also shuts down Windows Defender and Windows Update to help make sure it can carry out its nefarious work (whatever that may be) without interruption. All of which, in short, means this is a highly sophisticated and thus dangerous little beast. Where did it come from? The origin of the malware remains unknown, as does the intentions of the author, but apparently there is some possible connection to Locky, a famous piece of ransomware, as well as other strains of the latter. ZDNet reports that Nipravsky observed: “We haven't found any indication about who the author is, but based on the code, this is someone who knows what they're doing.” Right now, the good news is that Mylobot is far from widespread, although that picture could easily change if the operation behind spreading the botnet is ramped up. And presumably that’s the eventual intention. Even our best laptops need good security softwareView the full article
  3. Gone are the days of waiting for a printed bank account statement to drop through your letterbox, or making a visit to your local branch to move some money between accounts. We now have more control of our money than ever before. But that convenience could, for some, mean disorganisation, reckless spending, borrowing and debt. Applying poor money management techniques to your personal accounts is one thing, but doing the same to your small business funds could be disastrous. And while we can't help you to be sensible – that's on you – we have selected ten personal finance software solutions that can make a difference to the way you think and act with your capital. Take your pick of these services and use them to stay on top of your money. A good overview will help you control your spending, grow your balance, and ensure you've always got enough in reserve to keep the taxman happy. If you're looking to keep your business books with a bit more detail, check out our guide to the best accounts and invoicing software. We've also chosen the best free software for small businesses Quicken Premier Price: $74.99 (around £57) per year Available for Windows, MacOS Probably the biggest name in personal accounting, Quicken's desktop tool is well-aged and feature-packed and – whisper it – starting to feel a bit out of date. So much so that parent company Intuit recently sold the rights to the software to a private equity firm in order to concentrate on its more modern properties like Mint.com and TurboTax. The latest version of Quicken released this year now includes 5GB of secure online backup with Dropbox, free Quicken Bill Pay and expanded custom reporting. At the time of writing, the company is also offering a lower price for the first year of $44.99 (around £35) instead of $74.99 (£57) for those who sign up to the Premier plan. The Premier edition is perfect for managing personal finances, business accounts and investments in one place provided you're in the US – it's not so hot for UK users, being geared more towards American finance options. It neatly links transactions between your accounts – so transferring from savings into a current account is one entry, with a 'from' and a 'to' rather than a pair – and provides various budgeting and prediction tools to help you stay on track. Click to get Quicken Premier for Windows or Quicken Premier for Mac Personal Capital Price: Free, fee-based Available for on desktop and mobile Personal Capital's primary function is to track your investments, assets and savings, rather than specifically looking after your current accounts. Are your assets working for you? Are you on course for a comfortable retirement? What can you do to be better off? Plug everything in and you'll be able to see the big picture of your finances. Personal Capital offers specific advice and statistics based on your goals and your current standing, but access to human financial advisors is where the company makes its money. While anyone is welcome to use its website, you can only access advisory services if you have an account minimum of $250,000 (around £190,000), and there's an annual fee (of between 0.49% and 0.89%) to pay if you want your assets managed – this is lower than most financial advice services. UK customers will probably want to steer clear – Personal Capital is geared towards US investments like IRAs and the 401k – but for those State-side this could be the perfect way to grow your wealth. Get started with Personal Capital personal finance software Buxfer Price: Free/From $1.99 (£1.50) per month Available online An online service that's not slathered in effects and colours, Buxfer does a good job of presenting your finances in a clean, professional manner. It cutely brags about the fact that it's currently helping its users manage almost two trillion dollars in funds, so it's got a solid user base behind it. You don't have to give Buxfer your exact banking details if you're uncomfortable doing so – you can opt for offline manual syncing with your bank account instead – but if you do trust it, there's a layer of high-level encryption to protect your data and the company is regularly audited. We like its budgeting tools best of all – the visual reporting is very strong, and the fact that it doesn't force you into predefined categories and instead allows you to tag expenditures however you see fit means Buxfer should fit nicely into most people's banking lives. The free version gets you five budgets, accounts and bill reminders, the Pilot version ($1.99 per month - around £1.50) adds on automatic tagging and bank syncing, the Plus version ($3.99 per month - around £3) gives you unlimited budgets, and the Pros version ($4.99 per month - around £3.80) includes online payments, advanced forecasts and more besides. Sign up for Buxfer YNAB Price: $83.99 (around £64) per year Available on desktop and mobile Just in case you need to be told explicitly what to do, along comes YNAB - short for You Need A Budget. Because, hey, if you don't want to spend every single penny you have and more, you absolutely do need one. And perhaps you have more money than you thought? YNAB's primary mission, as you might expect, is to help you curb overspending and avoid living from paycheck to paycheck. Stick to the program, temper your spending appropriately, and eventually YNAB will see you spending last month's money rather than that which you've just earned. It's quick to install, supports the majority of transaction information downloadable from banks, and appropriately configures itself for personal or small business use by changing its monetary categories depending on your needs. If you get off track, YNAB – which is reasonably forgiving and understanding for a bit of software – will tell you what you need to do to get back to where you need to be. You'll have to make sacrifices, but if it's guidance you need, this sets itself apart from the likes of Quicken. Find out more about YNAB Mvelopes Price: From $4 (around £3) per month Available on desktop and mobile There are various philosophies of budgeting. One time-honoured technique is the envelope budgeting system: splitting your funds, as they arrive, into various envelopes marked for specific purposes, never dipping into an envelope to spend cash on anything other than its designated use. You don't need savings to start budgeting this way, just willpower and, er, envelopes. Without a whole host of bank accounts you're not going to be able to apply this technique effectively to digital money, but using Mvelopes is a good way to at least put a representation of your sectioned-off income in front of you. Designate an envelope for working capital or savings and you can grow your personal wealth or business funds surprisingly quickly. Anything you don't spend in an envelope stays there, giving you more to play with in your next pay cycle. There's no longer a free version of Mvelopes (although you can try it for free with a 30-day trial) but the basic plan for $4 (£3) a month should be adequate for most people, offering management of unlimited accounts and envelopes. It's intuitive to use, and there are mobile apps for Android and iOS, essential for taking a peek inside your envelopes when it comes time to pull any money out of them… Sign up for Mveleopes Banktree Price: £35 (around $46) Available on web, desktop or to download for Windows UK readers will be pleased to know that unlike most accounting software, this is produced by a British company – not that other apps are terrified of good old Pound Sterling or anything, but it's slightly easier to put your financial trust in home-grown software, and its support for data from UK banks is very strong. Banktree is more than happy to support worldwide currencies, and in fact does a solid job if you're working simultaneously with more than one, offering balances in multiple currencies rather than rounding them off into a single total. It's also good for keeping track of everything, allowing you to scan receipts with its mobile app and import them later on. It's not the prettiest software around, and it's slightly more awkward to use than many of its more refined cousins, although Banktree does produce very neat reports which you can break down by time, or by payee. It may be worth experimenting with the free trial before you choose to invest in this one. Get Banktree personal finance software Money Dashboard Price: Free Available for iOS and Android This iOS/Android app doesn't try to reinvent the banking world or offer anything truly ground-breaking, but it is perhaps one of the most useful money management tools out there. Hook up every one of your UK bank and credit card accounts and you'll be able to see each of your balances in a single place with a single login. That in itself is enough for us to recommend it. But there's more – Money Dashboard will track your spending, offering you an overall pie chart depicting your spending on loans, consumables, transport and the like. There's an at-a-glance overall balance, showing exactly how much money you have available across all of your accounts, and you can compare this to the previous month's figure to show how well you've been managing your funds. That's a great motivator. It's super-safe, too: Money Dashboard locks down your login with an equivalent level of security to that of your bank, and it's completely read-only – your money isn't going anywhere. Get Money Dashboard for iOS or Money Dashboard for Android Moneydance Price: $49.99 (roughly £38) Available for MacOS, Windows and Linux Made primarily for Mac users (but also out on Windows and Linux), Moneydance is a desktop money management package with a very neat single-window interface. Load it up and you'll get an instant view of your finances, upcoming bills, recent expenses and more. Click an item in the left hand sidebar and the main content changes to reflect it. Its reporting features are quite strong if not spectacular to look at, and one of Moneydance's most useful sections is its account register. If you're old-school and once managed a cheque book, this operates on a very similar principle. There's also an iOS app for logging transactions on the go, which later syncs with the software on your desktop. Unfortunately for UK users, Moneydance doesn't support the connection protocols used by UK banks, so you'll need to download your transaction history manually to keep on top of it and revert to your bank's own app to move money around. US users, however, are well covered. Get Moneydance on all formats here Coinkeeper Price: Free Available for iOS, Android The stuffiness of money management can negatively affect some. We've certainly been in the position of not wanting to even look at a spreadsheet full of depressing numbers. Coinkeeper boils it all down to a series of circular pots – drag coins from your current account, and you can allocate them to all of your spending needs. We wouldn't exactly say it makes money management fun, but it's cute at least. Coinkeeper is free to download and try, although you'll need to shell out for the $1.79 (roughly £1.40) per month subscription option to really make the most of it and budget effectively. It's brilliant for keeping track of your expenses, and don't be fooled by its frivolous looks – you'll be able to see at a glance where your money is going, and export your data in a CSV file to use in virtually any other finance app or spreadsheet. Try Coinkeeper by clicking here Power Portfolio Price: Free Available online Provided by This Is Money – an offshoot of the Daily Mail – Power Portfolio is both a good way to keep track of the stocks and shares you own, and a great way to see if you'd make it as a market investor without risking any capital. Updated every few minutes, it contains info on all London-listed shares and UK-based funds, and even lets you track money put into alternative assets like wine and art. When your individual investments are set up, be they real or virtual, you'll be able to see what top brokers are saying about the stocks you've picked, get an overview of exactly where your money is allocated, and track the performance of your stocks over time. Basically everything you'd need for a play portfolio. If you're funnelling a lot of cash into shares though, you might be better off employing the services of a broker or investment manager and using this tool only for at-a-glance monitoring. Track your investments with Power PortfolioView the full article
  4. Ashampoo is offering TechRadar readers an exclusive 75% discount on its premium software uninstaller, Ashampoo Uninstaller 7. Ashampoo Uninstaller 7 is our top-rated software uninstaller, capable of removing every trace of unwanted programs. With this special deal, it's down from US$39.99/£29.99/AU$49.99 to just US$9.99/£7.49/AU$12.49. Get 75% off Ashampoo Uninstaller 7Ashampoo Uninstaller 7 checks your PC for software and displays every program along with a star rating indicating its quality. This is very handy if you see a program you don't recognize and aren't sure whether to keep it. You can remove any unwanted programs with a single click. Uninstaller 7 will erase any residual files and registry entries, then show you how much disk space you've saved as a result. Install monitor Ashampoo Uninstaller 7 monitors new programs as they're installed, enabling it to quickly roll back all file and registry changes in a matter of moments. With a couple of clicks, it'll be as though the program was never on your PC in the first place. It can also remove pre-installed Windows 10 apps, plus browser plugins from Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Edge. If that's not enough, you also get a suite of system maintenance tools to keep your PC running smoothly once it's free of unwanted apps. These include a general drive cleaner, file recovery tool, file association manager, and many more. This exclusive offer ends June 28, so move quickly to get your copy. Check out our guide to the best software uninstallers View the full article
  5. Thomas Edison said that genius was “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” and anyone who has gone through the process of turning their epiphany of a great idea into the reality of a viable business, can attest to that, as there are tons of pitfalls along the way. Unfortunately, a good business plan can involve a ton of perspiration, due to the detailed planning that can easily overwhelm anyone; even more so a neophyte. Business plans are essential to secure funding for fledgling businesses, including even getting a firm off the ground, or expanding an existing one. Any loan officer will ask to see a business plan before making a loan, and it can easily show how serious the applicant is about their business. Solid business planning software can definitely assist with the creation of a business plan, providing hand-holding along the way to structure the process. Let’s look at some great choices for business planning software to get your business going, without you having to break too much of a sweat. We've also highlighted the best business intelligence tools Bizplan Bizplan is the online business planning tool that claims usage of 30,000 startup founders from the Startups.co platform. They use a guided creator that can break the big project down into the component pieces that get tracked with a Progress Tracker, and expert guidance each step of the way including templates that can be dropped in, and completed, along with simple integration of visuals along the way. Additional resources are also provided via the Bizplan Academy, with lessons on relevant topics, for example, “Building a Brand: How to Tell a Powerful Brand Story,” and “Critical Path Your Way to Higher Revenues,” among the many offerings. Those that need even more assistance also can take advantage of an expert consultation from a financial expert that starts at $999 (£752). Plans start at the aptly named “Starter” tier which has a brief seven day trial period, and then is $19 (£14) monthly, but only supports a single company and user. The next tier up is the “Business” tier, which supports up to 5 companies, and unlimited team members for $29 (£22) per month. You can sign up for Bizplan here PlanGuru PlanGuru is a comprehensive, and powerful software package in the business planning space. Education is provided via a series of case studies at their ‘PlanGuru University,’ and a whole slew of video tutorials. The feature set includes flexible budgeting that can handle a simple small business, or a larger multi-department operating budget, and financial forecasting that uses multiple methods, including intelligent and turn-key methods - twenty methods in total. Historical results can also be imported with the general ledger import utility which can then applied to produce a rolling forecast. They also offer PlanGuru Launch, a service to bring in expertise that starts at $250 (£188) per hour of assistance. A significant downside is the cost, with the least expensive plan costing $99 (£75) per month, which only includes a single user, and additional users cost $29 (£22) each per month. While there is no free trial, PlanGuru does offer a 30 day money back guarantee. You can sign up for PlanGuru here Enloop Enloop is a great choice for business planning software for the cash strapped business as it is the rare offering that has a free tier. Step up up to the next tier, and this is no barebones product, as it has over 100 currency symbols, can automatically generate bank-ready financial reports, and even has automated text writing that can sync with financial data to turn it into text. There is also a real time performance score assigned, that dynamically changes as the business plan is strengthened. The plans start with the Free tier, which is limited to a single business plan with simple text, no images, and does not offer any advanced features. The next plan up is the Detailed plan, that for $19.95 (£15) monthly supports two business plans, and offers a significant 55% discount when paid annually, making it even better value. You can sign up for Enloop here LivePlan LivePlan is business planning software that offers a simple pricing scheme as there is only a single plan to choose from. As they have a 15 year track record, they offer a clean and simple interface, that can create business plans that look like they were done by an expert consultant, and the software includes a live dashboard that can track day-to-day performance. Those with writer’s block will benefit from the over 500 included sample plans that can be turned to for inspiration. Rather than complicate things with too many tiers to choose from, LivePlan only has a single offering for $19.95 (£15) per month, and includes a 60-day money-back guarantee if not satisfied. You can sign up for LivePlan here Business Sorter Business Sorter promises to simplify and speed up business planning,and claims to be able to flesh out a plan in an hour or two, via a novel 273 card sort system that covers many common situations. The ability to reword cards is included, or also to add cards to the already expansive deck, so no worries if there is not a pre-made card for your situation. Unlike some sites that have videos, the educational resources here are provided as PDFs and Word files, which can be quicker to access, but harder to follow for some learners. The lowest tier plan, Basic, starts at $10 (£8) monthly, with an annual discount of $80 (£80) on an annual basis, is fully featured, and includes up to three team leaders. You can sign up for Business Sorter hereView the full article
  6. If your bank never performs any second-line identity verification checks, anyone who picked up your debit card would be able to walk in, hand it to the bank teller, and walk out with all the money you have in cash. But that doesn't happen, because banks know someone with possession of your card isn't necessarily authorized to use it, and oftentimes one has to jump through many more hoops to get a transaction processed. You bring your ID card along, verify your date of birth and answer other sundry questions, as well as enter your PIN code into some terminal for good measure. The platoon of CCTV cameras hanging overhead throughout the premises will also capture your face and everyone else's as a psychological deterrence against mischief. However, when it comes to cryptocurrencies, it’s a completely different ball game. Most people don’t transact through a bank—that’s kind of the whole point of it being decentralized. As a result, individuals themselves become responsible for implementing security, specifically through their selection of cryptocurrency wallets. Going to extremes with wallet security isn’t crazy There shouldn’t actually be a big difference between securing cryptocurrencies and traditional money. In essence, both are about managing information deemed adequate for verifying our identities. But for the Bitcoin blockchain, ownership of your cryptocurrencies is solely tied to the possession of your wallet’s private keys. To draw an analogy, identity management would be as robust as in the scenario described above, where verification stops at you simply being a card-holder—simply possessing the private key stored in your crypto wallet. This is probably why people go all out to secure their cryptocurrency coins with hardware wallets in a way no one ever thinks necessary with their debit cards or ATM PIN codes. Without a bank to manage the consequences of losing our private keys, people get a little anxious about wallet security. Maintaining the checks and balances that secure access to your crypto holdings is now performed by your wallet. Is there a best option for storing cryptocurrency? So how should one go about evaluating wallet security? The imperfection of the “digital money” metaphor is becoming better understood, but so should the failure of the “wallet” comparison - when you lose your crypto wallet, you don’t lose your crypto coins. That is because a crypto wallet doesn’t store coins but houses your private keys. Therefore, the physical security of the wallet doesn’t matter as much as whether the key can be recovered safely and remotely in case of physical destruction. What is most important, however, is how hack-proof the wallet is against malicious and unauthorized access. A secure wallet should be able to prevent your private keys from being leaked at any time, especially during a transaction. The best situation would be that even if the wallet were to be stolen, the private keys should remain protected by encryption. Hot or cold or … both? Wallets have varying risks of leaking these keys, often based on the extent of key exposure to the web. If you imagine the web to be a hot source of malicious threats, permanent “cold storage” or disconnection of keys will seem like the gold standard. Unfortunately, it’s not a good thing to fix our minds on a stiff dichotomy between safe + inconvenient (cold) and less safe + convenient (hot). Under these strict “hot” and “cold” categories, we draw our strategy lines along how much value we're willing leave unsecured in order to retain practical use of our coins. The popular recommendation is for people to segment their cryptocurrency holdings into various buckets of value to use hot/cold wallets in combination: online or software hot wallets for small amounts of cryptocurrency used in daily spending, hardware cold wallets for savings, and paper wallets that you might lock up in a real, physical security vault at a bank, functioning almost like a fixed deposit account. However, this distributed solution isn’t an ideal situation for managing your coins, because the gap in convenience between a hot wallet and a cold wallet is so wide—and we know the battle between security and convenience is one in which convenience often wins. People are likely to store a significant value of cryptocurrency in their hot wallets anyway, considering how inconvenient it is to try transacting with a USB—the form-factor of typical hardware cold wallets take these days. Forget the labels, make way for innovation Looking at the popularity of hardware wallets and promising efforts to improve payment convenience, the trend is likely to skew towards more authentication and connectivity enhancements for hardware wallets to become the popular default in mass adoption of blockchain-enabled payments. Ledger, for one is toying with the idea of hardware to hardware transactions, and others are integrating NFC and Bluetooth connectivity to leverage payment terminals already familiar to the retail space. With hardware wallets, you can also achieve a sophisticated separation between the authentication of device access and the authentication of payment. This preserves transaction anonymity while allowing enhancements in the identity verification capabilities of hardware wallets, specifically leveraging on technologies familiar to mobile banking such as OTP (one-time password) or even biometric integrations. The critical choice will therefore no longer be between hot and cold wallets, but whether hardware wallets will be able to simultaneously strengthen key secrecy while securing increased connectivity—forget the hot and cold labels, what we should strive for is leak-proof hyper connectivity. Within the cryptocurrency environment, the area of greatest vulnerability remains user key management, and therefore wallets are currently the weakest link. While people may be satisfied for now with the use of multiple wallets as a distributed solution for securing their currencies, cryptocurrency storage options will need to innovate quickly to support the accelerating adoption of blockchain-enabled transactions. As decentralized ecosystems of commerce, communication and investment start to take root, we cannot be blindsided by the newness of change, without considering the challenge key security poses to its viability. Recognizing the important role wallets play in this emerging future might help us to see where accelerated efforts are badly needed—both safeguards and connectivity. Kaiying Fu is Communications Manager at Penta Security Systems Inc. An information technology security firm headquartered in Seoul, South Korea We've also highlighted the best Bitcoin wallets View the full article
  7. Despite WhatsApp’s secure end-to-end encryption and two-step verification process, it is possible for hackers to worm their way into your account and extract personal data. Hackers only need a phone number associated with a WhatsApp account to dupe users into a variety of scams including sharing their verification codes to gain complete access to an account, impersonating a contact, links to malicious software, phishing attempts and more. However, there are certain steps you can take to secure your account in case you’ve fallen victim to a hacking attempt. A couple of days back, the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued advice via Twitter on how to deal with a compromised WhatsApp account. Remove WhatsApp and reinstall at different times of the day Deleting and reinstalling WhatsApp application will re-register your account with a fresh verification code and automatically log you out from any open sessions on other devices. Notify your close contacts and urging them to ignore unusual messages It is important to alert your family and friends of your hacked account and ask them to be wary of conspicuous messages from your number. Email WhatsApp support to deactivate your account In order to make sure no one uses your WhatsApp account you can deactivate your account by sending an email to WhatsApp support at support@whatsapp.com with the phrase “Lost/Stolen: Please deactivate my account” in the body. Upon successful deactivation you have 30 days to reactivate your account before it gets deleted completely. Reinstalling WhatsApp every day As tedious as this sounds, it’s one of the best ways to mitigate the possibility of unauthorized sessions of your WhatsApp account. And always remember to enable two-step verification under the settings menu with each install. View the full article
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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

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