How to Get iOS Devices to Work with Windows Servers

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 Jeff's iOS devices and Windows servers blog-3

A while ago a client asked, “How can I use my Apple iPad with my documents at work?” 

Initially, it seemed like an easy question. Windows computers and iPads are both very popular products; of course there would be an easy solution. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be.

These two large competitors are not very interested in working together. My client, who had his shares on a Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 Server and wanted his Apple iPad to access those shares, had presented a challenge.

There were obvious solutions. You could use any number of remote desktop apps, such as Teamviewer, to get into your company’s terminal server, to work on the server’s desktop. But my client did not want to remote-in to anything. He wanted to access the documents without needing any device. He wanted to be able to use his domain credentials to authenticate and access shares.

I realized my solution needed to be broken out into a few parts. The first was to get an iOS device onto a Windows domain network. That’s actually the easiest part out of this entire process; every iOS device has a VPN tool built-in. As long as your network has RRAS (PPTP on port 1723), you can join the device to the network. If you are inside the network and have WiFi, even easier. To find the VPN tool on your iOS device, go to Settings –> VPN. It will request your information for connecting, simple as that. WiFi is in the exact same location (Settings –> WiFi).

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FileBrowser

Once connected to the network, you need to browse SMB shares. Unfortunately, Apple decided not to build this portion into their devices. You need a separate app. I tried out many, but the one I liked most was FileBrowser ($5.99). For any business looking to complete this task, it’s worth the price. FileBrowser allows you to set up locations in your iOS device, called Remote Servers, and connect to see all shares to which your domain credentials have access. For my example we joined a VPN, then mapped a “Remote Server” to an internal IP address where his file server existed, and then reviewed the various shares related to that file server.

If you have your shares locked down in the appropriate security groups, you will only see the shares to which you have access. (FileBrowser doesn’t get around any security flaws that could be present. It’s all based on your domain credentials.

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Google Docs

My client loved this, but he added one last piece to the puzzle. His company didn’t want to just view the files, they wanted to edit them, too. After much searching, I found the best tool for this job in another app (a free one) called QuickOffice, by Google (later replaced by a more powerful version of Office editing, Google Docs.) With Google Docs you can pull up any of the FileBrowser-searched documents, edit them with tools very similar to Microsoft’s Office suite, and then place them back on the server.

Although it sounds complicated, all the apps worked together seamlessly to allow my client’s company to review and edit files in their Windows environment, thus allowing them to integrate Apple devices into their Windows domain. And in the end, my client was happy.

For more information on how you can integrate your Apple products into a Windows domain, call Everon at 1-888-244-1748.

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Microsoft to Stop Making Windows OS: How this will impact your business

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windows 10 - last osIn a recent conference speech, Jerry Nixon, a Microsoft exec, announced that Windows 10 will be the software giant’s last operating system. Instead of creating an entirely new OS after Windows 10 is released (widely rumored to happen in July), Microsoft will continue to make improvements to Windows 10 through regular updates.

This type of OS-updating is already seen to some extent with the Apple OSX architecture. Nixon stated that a big reason behind the move was due to how the development team would lock themselves away for three years to create the next operating system… but their end-result would be a product the world wanted three years ago. Given how quickly technology changes, this new process will be a welcome departure.

Microsoft has not yet determined what it will call its iterations, post-Windows 10. However, we will not see the continued numerical names to its OS. Microsoft also mentioned that this will help sales, as the idea of selling end users on entirely new operating systems has become increasingly difficult. This way of thinking can be somewhat attributed to the failures of Vista and Windows 8.

Windows 10 will have some version of the Start Menu, which is what seemed to be a stopping point for many businesses. You can download a free preview of the operating system here. (For information on how to create a virtual Windows 10 preview, see my previous blog post, found here.)

Of special note, if you are a small-medium business: you can rejoice in the fact that you will no longer have to have a test machine in your network, to test all of your applications and specialized network setup, every time Microsoft releases a brand new OS. Once your company moves to Windows 10, you should not need to worry about having a new operating system, preventing your company from moving to the latest version. (Although you will want to ensure you are getting the appropriate updates, as they will be critical for keeping your computers protected, and allowing Microsoft to patch security flaws.)

Microsoft’s updates to Windows 10 will likely be free, similar to the way Apple handles its updates to OSX. In fact, if you own Windows 7 or later, and you update within the first year of Windows 10′s release, you will get Windows 10 for free. (Details for that can be found here.) The Windows 10 free upgrade is also free for users who have pirated software as well. (Details for that can be found here.) Microsoft is allowing this to happen to help combat piracy and ensure their OS is patched and in the hands of as many end users as possible.

Microsoft’s idea of giving away their OS for free is a departure from their old way of thinking. It is a strategic move, as Microsoft continues to battle Apple for the OS user base.

Microsoft has made some other bold changes lately, including a decision to discontinue its popular web browser Internet Explorer for its new product, Spartan. Spartan will reportedly be lightweight and very similar to other popular lightweight browsers on the market, such as Chrome and Firefox. The new browser will appear on Windows 10.

Our engineers at Everon are constantly staying on top of the tech-trends that affect small to medium businesses. If you have any questions about Microsoft or Windows 10, feel free to call 1-888-244-1748.

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How to Open Multiple Windows in Excel, on Multiple Monitors

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 Excel monitors

Recently, a colleague taught me a neat trick in Excel. We’re both huge fans of the program, and we get strangely excited when we acquire new tips and tricks. Normally, the tricks we seek have something to do with complicated formulas or pivot tables. But this time it was something as simple as “How to open multiple windows in Excel, on multiple monitors.”

I’m sure anyone who has used Excel before knows that you can’t open two separate spreadsheets in two separate windows. I find that extremely frustrating because my job often requires me to compare data between different spreadsheets.  As a user with two monitors, I want to be able to compare those files side by side on each of my screens. Are you in the same boat?

Well, I have the answer to our problem. Behold! How to open multiple windows in Excel…

Step 1: Open up your first Excel spreadsheet (in the way that you normally would).

Step 2: Open your start menu and locate the Excel icon.

Step 3: Press and hold the “Alt” key and select the Excel icon with your mouse.

Step 4: BOOM! You now have two separate files open in two separate windows.

Excel

(Note: This process also works with more than two windows.)

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Windows 10 Preview: How to Create a Virtual Desktop

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Note: This article does not deal with anything inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Rather, I am going to show you how you can set up your own virtual environment, so you can test out Windows 10.

Windows 10 was released as a technical preview a few months back, and it is available until October, here. If you have a spare workstation, you can install the software over it and “play” with it. However, if you don’ have the resources to do that, you can virtualize Windows 10 very easily, using a free product called Virtual Box, by Oracle. At this website, they give you a free virtualization application, and you can spin up test machines using this environment.

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You can install Virtual Box on Windows or on Mac. For my example, I am going to download and install it on my Mac. When you download and install your Virtual Box package, you can simply accept all of the defaults and install it normally. Once VB (as I will refer to it here) is installed, launch the application and you will be prompted with the Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager.

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From this point, you can now begin downloading your Windows 10 Technical Preview. Once that is finished downloading, you are ready to virtualize!

Go to your Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager and click “New.” You will be given a series of prompts to walk through, beginning with the Name, Type and Version. Your name is just used as an identifier in case you have multiple VMs, but the type and version must match what you are installing. I am installing the Windows 10 x86 preview, so I chose Microsoft Windows as my type, and Windows 10 (32 bit) as my version.

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The next prompt asks how much RAM you would like to allocate to the machine. Minimum for Windows 10 is 1 GB. However, the more RAM you give the VM, the better it will run. Keep in mind that whatever RAM you allocate to your VM, it takes away from your own OS. Also remember effective load balancing: if you know you are setting up three or four VMs, you need to allocate RAM in order for all of those to run effectively. For my example, I will allocate 2 GBs.

VB4

The next area is hard drive size. In the same regard as the RAM, you have a finite amount of hard drive space, based on how much disk space you have on your own hard drive. You also need to determine the hard drive file type. This can be important for your business, because if you create a virtual machine on your own machine, and you decide to move it to a virtual server for everyone to use, you will want to move the hard drive with as little effort as needed, and you will need to adhere to whatever virtual server you have. VDI is Oracle’s hard drive file type, VMDK is VMWare’s hard drive file type, VHD is Microsoft’s Hyper-V hard drive file type, and HDD is Parallels’ hard drive file type.

You do have two other options for QED and QCOW, however those are rarely used. Your two main virtual server hard drive file types are VMWare’s, or Microsoft’s Hyper-V systems.

For this example, I am going to keep it as VDI.

VB5Once that is completed, you will return to the Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager, and you are ready to load your ISO of Windows 10 Technical Preview!

VB6Right-click on your newly created virtual machine, and click Settings. Under the Storage tab you will see your Storage Tree. In your tree is an empty controller, where CD/DVD drives are kept. To the right of that you will an icon for a disc. Click on that and it allows you to Choose a virtual CD/DVD disk file… this is where you can point to your ISO you just downloaded for your Windows 10 preview!

VB7Once the ISO is loaded, start the VM and set up your Windows 10 Technical Preview. It is as simple as that. This can be done with any ISO you get for any operating system, not just Windows 10. This can be very important for creating a test environment for your office. If you have an application you want to test out, but you do not want to affect your workstations, test it out in your VM environment. This is a safe and effective way to ensure that when you introduce new elements into your environment that you do so safely.

For assistance with setting up a VM environment, or testing and installing new applications for your office, call Everon at 1-888-244-1748.

 

Quick Tip: How to Mass-Send Personalized Emails, Via Word

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A few days ago, I confronted a project: the annual update for our 37-person company directory. I knew I wanted something better than the generic, blank form I’d emailed out last year. I also knew there had to be something easier than copying and pasting our existing records – of every single person – in order to individually email them all.

There was!

email mail merge blog - 1I was already quite familiar with Word’s Mail Merge function, having used it for years to convert my personal address database into print-‘em-off, peel-and-stick labels for my Christmas cards. (No, that’s not cheating. It’s efficient time-management.) But I couldn’t find a similar mail merge function in our email software — we currently use Outlook 2010, at work. So I ran a search in Outlook Help. The answer to my email dilemma… was back in Word!

1. I started a new Word document, went to the “Mailings” tab and, from the “Start Mail Merge” dropdown, I selected “Email Messages.” Then I typed up the basic version of the letter I wanted to email out to everyone.
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2. Next, I went back to the “Mailings” tab. This time I clicked the “Select Recipients” dropdown. I already had the old database from last year, so I picked the “Use Existing List…” option and browsed for my file. (Note: in order for this to work, you need to have your recipients’ email addresses as one of your database’s fields. You’ll need it for Step 4.) I added the fields that I wanted personalized in my generic letter. (Dear <<Name>>…,)
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 3. Just like in a regular Mail Merge, with an email merge you can edit your recipient list and preview your results to check for errors. When you’re happy with how it all looks, go to “Finish and Merge” and select “Send E-mail Messages….”
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4. Then, from the dialogue box that pops up, select your database field that contains the email addresses.
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5. When that’s done, click “OK.” Boom. Messages all sent. You’re done!