PTG specializes in the delivery of IT services with a focus on business continuity, virtualization, and storage solutions to support your line-of-business and communication applications. Our implementation services are centered around IT and business best practices, gleaned from years of working in the industry and from well-established vendor partnerships.

What Happens to My Data if My Office 365 Subscription Lapses?

A 2014 article from the Wall Street Journal states, on average, there are 394 cloud apps running inside companies!  With all those apps in use, it can be heard to keep up with various subscriptions, renewals, and costs.  (We aren’t even going to go into the security risks associated with this many apps!)

So a frequent question we get from customers is: “What happens to my data in Office 365 if my subscription accidentally lapses?”.  This is a great question, and Microsoft has a very liberal policy on non-payment.

You can find the full language at this link, but in a nutshell:

What happens if a customers does not renew?

If a customer does not renew, they have a 30 day grace period when they can continue using the service. After that point, they have another 90 days when data is held, but functionality is severely reduced. The customer can reactivate the subscription at any time during this period and the billing will be retroactive from the expiration date. After the 120 days, the data is deleted from Microsoft servers.

(Emphasis added was our own!)

So Microsoft will keep your data up to 120 days from the time your subscription lapses (but we recommend you get on auto pay to avoid the risk!). 

This document is specific to Open Licenses for Office 365 but the policy also applies to subscriptions purchased through the Microsoft Subscription Advisor program.

Hat Tip to Todd Sweetser – the best Partner Technical Strategist at Microsoft

How Secure Is Your Password?

Today’s Post is from Zack Moody, Security Engineer                           

In last month’s customer newsletter, I gave out a few basic nuggets that I noticed walking through an airport, but this entire series in a nutshell is ‘Cyber Safety.’ In this post I thought I would dive a little deeper into one of the topics of discussion from last month’s article, ‘Choosing the right password’.

Protecting your identity

I think we all talk a pretty good game about thinking before we speak or not reacting so fast, but do we really think before we click? The world has become a super busy place, and with information at everyone’s fingertips, it’s only getting worse. However, we need to make ourselves take the time to make safe decisions online. Are we sure about where that link or URL is going to take us? Does that attachment in the email from your cousin’s neighbor look fishy? What about those forms you fill out for some new trial of anti-aging medicine? How about using ‘iloveyou’ as your banking password, instead of taking the time to type out something a little more complex? Is that time saved really worth the possibility of having your accounts drained or identity stolen?

Password Testing & Manager Tools

One of the easiest forms of protection, yet widely overlooked, is your common password. Yes, I said it! Some people cringe at the sound of passwords…just another something that I have to remember and keep up with! A strong solid password is your front line of security against compromised data. Here a few places to test the strength of your password…give it your best shot:

How many accounts do you have that require a password? I am sure that list gets longer and longer every week. How many of you use the same password and/or username for each of those sites? Not good…if that attacker can get into one account, more than likely they can get into the other with a little bit of research. How about using common names for passwords? In a 2013 study by Google Apps, your current pet’s name hit the number one spot! How frequently does your pet pop-up on Facebook or Instagram? Some others that made that list were place of child’s birth, child’s name, and favorite holiday destination. The best practice is to pick a unique password for each account, but wouldn’t that get even harder to keep up with? Why not make it easier on yourself and get a password manager!?

These are some of the best. Not only do they store your passwords and credit card numbers for any site, but it also has a super-secure complex, password generator.

Creating Passwords

When creating passwords, you probably know to mix regular characters with digits and punctuation. However, when acceptable, are you using spaces and underscores to construct phrases or even full sentences? Please do not get suckered into substituting letters for numbers and think that it’s a secure password! We all know that trick, so don’t you think that savvy hackers know it to? Not always are you going to get a site that gives you much freedom, but when you do…go crazy! The key here is that it won’t take you much longer to type out a long complex password than it would a simple one. However, it will take a malicious hacker an extremely long time to crack. By just using eight characters you could generate 6.1 quadrillion password combinations, according to research by Paul Lee at Deloitte. However this still does not give you a one up on how quickly super computers can sort through them. Research done at a password conference found that running password-cracking software distributed across five strong servers, were able to sort through 348 billion password combinations a second. At this rate they said a 14-character Windows XP password would be cracked in just six minutes!

As technology gets more advanced and computers get faster, the time it takes to break a password will get much easier. Biometric identifiers will become closer to the average user implementation and less expensive. With some Biometrics being biologically impossible to re-create, that will be become the new key to securing your data online.

Most Common Passwords of 2013

This is a list compiled by SplashData of stolen passwords and shared online by malicious hackers:

  1. …123456
  2. …password
  3. …12345678
  4. …qwerty
  5. …abc123
  6. …123456789
  7. …111111
  8. …1234567
  9. …iloveyou
  10. …adobe123
  11. …123123
  12. …admin
  13. …1234567890
  14. …letmein
  15. …photoshop
  16. …1234
  17. …monkey
  18. …shadow
  19. …sunshine
  20. …12345
  21. …password1
  22. …princess

In the next article, we will discuss passwords a little more as something you know, but combined with something you have…Multi-Factor Authentication. I hope this has been informative for you, and as always, if there is anything you would like to know or hear about in the next or upcoming segments, then feel free to reach out to me.

OneDrive–Confusing, but Powerful

Submitted by: Matt Banning (PTG Project Engineer), Outsourced IT Support and Office 365 Specialist

Storing Personal Documents in the Cloud
One of the questions we get a lot at PTG is ‘what is the easiest way to store my personal documents to the cloud?’. If you’re like 90% of us, we like working from our desktops and NOT uploading via Internet Explorer. So to answer that question, let me first explain where you store your personal documents.

What is OneDrive?
OneDrive (formerly known as SkyDrive) is where you store your personal documents whereas SharePoint is for your company documents. The background workings and functionality are all the same. The fundamental difference between OneDrive and SharePoint though is that your managers and coworkers do not have access to the contents of your OneDrive. As long as you have your company email address you get 1TB of information – roughly the equivalent of 3.6 million images or 300 hours of high definition video – that’s completely yours.

OneDrive Variances
Before I go any further let me go ahead and dispel some potential confusion. The term ‘OneDrive’ is used interchangeably by Microsoft to denote: OneDrive (the free online storage associated with a Windows Live account), OneDrive for Business (associated with your company email address), and OneDrive the application (that creates a folder on your PC to sync to the cloud). OneDrive for Business (the application) will connect to your Office 365 account, whereas OneDrive (the free version) WILL NOT connect to your Office 365 account.

OneDrive is intended to be the replacement for the ‘My Documents’ folder on your desktop, the beauty of it though is that its backed up to the cloud so you don’t have to worry if you accidentally drop or lose your PC. So back to the original question- ‘what is the easiest way to store my personal documents?’.

If you are an Office 365 customer, the only thing you need to do is download the OneDrive for Business application or simply press ‘sync’ from your OneDrive folder.

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After you download the application, you’ll have a new folder called ‘OneDrive @ (your business name)’. You can drag and drop or save directly to this folder. Anything you place in it will immediately be synced to the cloud – which you can access from anywhere by visiting the portal at https://login.microsoftonline.com and then choosing ‘OneDrive’ from the ribbon at the top.

Also – you can drag and drop directly into the browser (if you have a modern browser).  This is a handy little feature.

Things to Watch Out For

OneDrive for Business is good – but it’s not perfect.  Some things you need to be aware of:

-There is a limit of 20,000 items that can be synced between your PC and OneDrive.  (That’s a lot of items, but we seem to see customers run into this limit frequently.)

-Special characters are not allowed in OneDrive file names (so no $, %, !, etc.)

-As of now there is no selective sync in OneDrive for Business.  Meaning you have to sync everything from your OneDrive Cloud Storage to your local device.  We are hopeful that Microsoft will change this (soon), but don’t have any definitive details on that yet!

Using filters in Microsoft Outlook to make your life easier

Today’s post is from Reed Wilson, President and CEO of PTG and admitted Office 365 Junkie

If your inbox is anything like mine, it is very easy for mail to get lost in the mess.  I knew there had to be a better way and I recently stumbled across the ‘Filters’ function in Outlook 2013.  (To be fair – this feature is also in earlier versions of Outlook.)

I’ve found that this is an easy way to triage mail using other filters that are in the option set as well.

In Outlook 2013, you can find the Filter Email option in the far right hand side of the Outlook Home ribbon.  You can see all the filters here – so if you just wanted to show Unread – choose Unread.  You can also use timeline filters (ie: show mail this week or yesterday).

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You can also ‘stack’ the filters.  In the example above – this will show unread mail across all folders.  If you are like me – you have a ton of unread mail in Deleted Folders.  So if I just wanted to see unread mail from yesterday in my inbox, it would look like this:

 

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(Although this screen says ‘this week’, it is really showing just ‘yesterday’ as you can see in the highlighted string.)

Happy Searching!

Microsoft Outlook Productivity Savers–Volume 1

Today’s post is from Reed Wilson, President and CEO of PTG and admitted Office 365 Junkie

Most of us use Outlook every day, all day.  While email is awesome, I believe we can make it better.  I remember in the early days of my career (pre-BlackBerry devices) when we would leave a meeting and rush back to the office or to the hotel so that we could ‘do email’.  Then BlackBerry devices came along and we could just do email all the time.  It was great, right?  For a while, yes, but then I began to miss the days when I could just focus on the task at hand.

1) Turn off notifications.  This is my number one rule.  Do you open Outlook first thing in the morning, close it in the evening, and try to triage email between tasks throughout the day?  You can turn off all those distractions with less than 5 clicks.  (These steps are for Outlook 2013.

File-Options

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Choose mail in the left hand panel and go down to Message arrival – I uncheck them all (no distractions!)

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Psychology Today says you can lose up to 40% of your productivity in a day by multitasking.  (For the non-math types, that’s 3.2 hours!)

2) How many times have you been cc’ed on an email that you really didn’t care about?  “Cake in the conference room!”  You can now safely ignore those emails with a single click.  By choosing ‘Ignore’, any future emails with the same subject line will go straight to your deleted items.  Don’t worry – the sender won’t know that you are ignoring the emails. 

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3) You can work offline to triage large amounts of email.  This is a great way to clean up your inbox without having more mail come in.  If you go to Send/Receive in the Ribbon and Choose “Work Offline” – Outlook will drop the connection to your Exchange Server, keeping new mail from coming in/out.  I use this feature most frequently when I have been out of the office for  a few days and really need to get caught up.  Since my colleagues often know I am back – that’s when they will start with the heavy emails…meaning that I can’t get caught up on my older emails because the new ones are coming in. 

Any emails that you ‘send’ while you are working offline will stay in your outbox and will flow out once you go back online (by reversing the steps above).

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4) Set an Out Of Office to set expectations.  This is another one of my favorites.  When I am going to be out of the office for a week, I will clearly state in my out of office that I will not be responding to any mail that comes in during that time period.  I also clearly state who the sender can re-direct their message to in my absence.  When I return – I literally delete all messages from that week.  It’s a bit risky, I admit, but it works.  I’ve found that if it’s important enough – people will find the right person to escalate their issue to or will just pick up the phone.  The key here is to make sure you make it clear that you will not be responding to any mail that comes in during that time period.  (Try it, it’s very liberating to delete 1000 emails in a single clip!)

Configuring Office 365 on your iPad or iPhone

Today’s Post is brought to you by Andrew Atkins, IT Support Specialist

As part of the new Office for iPad suite, Microsoft has released an app called OWA for iPad. OWA stands for Outlook Web App (previously, Outlook Web Access).

This app allows you to access, create and view email, manage your calendar, and keep up with your contacts. You will need to have at least an iPad 2 or iPhone running iOS verion 6 or higher.

Now at this point you are probably thinking to yourself “But wait, I already have these features built into my iOS device. Why do I need another application to handle these things?”

Well for starters the built-in mail, contacts and calendar applications in iOS are all completely separate. With the OWA for iPad they are all neatly packaged into one application. Additionally you can share your calendar with a colleague right from the application or open a shared calendar. Both of these are things you cannot do in the native iOS calendar!

When you first install the OWA for iPad you’ll be asked to sign into your Office 365 account.

Log In Screen for iPad is on the left, iPhone is on the right

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Now that you are logged in you will be dropped right into your mail. From here you can create, delete and manage your email just as you would from a normal OWA window or from your desktop Outlook 2013 program.

Now if you want to switch to check something on your calendar or to schedule a meeting simply click on the button in the bottom left of the screen. (Shown circled in Red here)

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This button will bring you to the Navigation Screen. From here you can change between Mail, Calendar, People and Options menu. Also if you press and hold this button you can use voice commands to control the application.

The OWA for iPad also includes push notifications on your lock screen so that you don’t miss those important meetings, and new emails, attaching files from your OneDrive, configuring automatic replies for your account along with a host of other features.

Ready to get started? Here’s the link to download and install OWA for iPad: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/owa-for-ipad/id659524331?mt=8

I will be posting how you can manipulate settings for the app in a future post. 

Please let us know if you have any questions or if we can be of any help getting you set up on your OWA for iPad.

Turn names into email addresses in Excel

Today’s post is from Becky Azevedo, our NOC Manager on the Managed Services Team

Have you ever had a list of items in Excel that you wanted in a different format, but you didn’t want to spend the next few days or hours manually typing them into different columns or copying and pasting until your fingers bled? For example, let’s say you have a list of people’s names that you would like to turn into email addresses. Or a column of names in the lastname, firstname format that you want to separate out into separate columns. There are a number of other examples, but it is my experience that in the IT world these are the most common.

Let’s start with first example, a list of people that you want to turn into email addresses. I’ll show you how to make Excel do the work for you.

In this scenario, we have a list of the people that exist at Fake Corp,. but we would like to publish their names with their email addresses.

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1. We will start by selecting the cell in the 2nd column next to the cell that contains the name.

a. The email address format we want is firstname.lastname@fakecorp.com

2. The function we will call to help us with this is “CONCATENATE”. The formula we will use in this example is =CONCATENATE(K2,".",L2,"@fakecorp.com") And the first result looks like this: clip_image004

3.

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Now the easiest way to fill in the rest of the cells without having to type all that information in again is to use the Fill Handle (my personal favorite). The fill handle is at the bottom right corner of the selected cell.

You may have never noticed it before, but once you get the hang of it, I know you will find it to be very useful. To use it, hover your cursor over the fill handle until your cursor changes to a +. Then click and drag it down as far as you want to copy the formula to other cells and then release the mouse. Whether it’s 5 cells, 500 cells or 5,000 cells the fill handle will make them all match.

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Now for the 2nd scenario. If you have a list of people, but they are listed in the lastname, firstname format and you want to separate them into different columns, there is a built-in function in Excel 2013 called Text to Columns that makes this super easy.

1. Highlight the cells you want to separate.

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2. Click on the Data tab of the ribbon and you will see several useful tools here. However, we are going to be exploring Text to Columnsclip_image012

3. Clicking Text to Columns will start the wizard that walks you through your options. On the first screen of the wizard, we will select “Delimited” because our data is already separated by a comma, and click next. clip_image014

4. Next we will check the box next to comma and click nextclip_image016

5. We can leave the data format as General and click Finish on the last screen of the wizardclip_image018

6. Now the names have been separated into different columns!

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Now you can combine cells and separate text within cells like a pro! Happy Excelling!

Microsoft PowerPoint Security Bug–All in the news

There has recently been coverage in the news about a security flaw in Microsoft PowerPoint (and other Office products as well), that could allow a remote attacker to gain access to a PC or system.  As usual, this is much ado about nothing if you are paying attention to what you are doing on your PC.

In order for the security flaw to be exploited:

1) You have to open an infected PowerPoint.  In most cases, this would mean something that you were emailed or that you downloaded off the internet.  First way to keep safe: Don’t open files that you aren’t expecting or that you have downloaded off the internet.

2) In Office 2010 and 2013, if you have not modified the default settings, Office warns you before running code on an Office file.  (This functionality may have existed in 2007…but if you are still using 2003 or 2007, time to upgrade!)  This functionality was created specifically to limit these types of attacks.  Second way to keep safe: Run an updated version of Office and don’t enable code that you aren’t expecting.

For more details – you can visit this link. 

Don’t get us wrong – this is a serious security flaw, but if you follow the normal rules of staying safe on the internet, your risk is very low.

Review of Surface Pro 3

I have been using the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for a few months now.  Previously, I used a Lenovo ThinkPad x230 but I put it aside to put the Surface Pro 3 through the paces.  Here are my thoughts.  My requirements on a laptop are:

1) Light

2) Tough, I move around throughout the day and my machine needs to be able to take a beating

3) Great battery life

4) Able to keep up with me if I have several applications open at once

5) Solid state drive and more than 4GB of RAM (16GB is ideal for me)

My thoughts on the Surface Pro 3 (256GB SSD, i5 processor, 8GB RAM)

Size and Form Factor

This thing is light.  Super light and super thin.  It’s very easy to carry into meetings and not feel like you are lugging a laptop with you.  I bought a Snugg Leather case (brown) for it – it is the perfect size and allows you to pop the Surface pen right into the top.  (More on the pen later.)  Pretty much any case that fits the Macbook Air will be perfect for Surface Pro.

The kickstand is awesome.  Being able to position the screen is something I never really thought about with my Surface Pro 2 – but it makes sense because you can position your screen on a regular laptop.  Great engineering on the part of Microsoft designer engineers.

The keyboard leaves a lot to be desired.  It is backlit (which is very nice).  The track pad feels a little ‘off’ to me.  I don’t know if maybe it is too smooth or too big –  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  (No pun intended.)

Battery Life

The battery life is weak.  I am running the i5 and am lucky to get a full 5 hours of normal usage.  Normal usage for me is light productivity work, Bluetooth turned on, and using Wi-Fi.  I could get about 7 hours out of my x230.  I had a keyboard battery for my Surface Pro 2 – I really hope Microsoft makes one of these for the Surface Pro 3.

Performance

Performance is not bad.  It manages to keep up with me having about 30 windows open across IE, Outlook, Office, and our CRM application.

Files open quickly thanks to the Solid State Drive.  It does get a little hot every evening when our regularly scheduled antivirus deep scan kicks in – but that’s to be expected.  You can hear the fan working extra hard during this time frame.

Anecdotally, it feels like I need to reboot this machine more frequently than I did my Lenovo x230.  I can’t speak to why – but if I don’t, it inevitably slows down.  I would reboot my Lenovo only when patches were applied (about once a month). 

I’ve also noticed that all my icons occasionally will just go black.  I don’t know if this is tied to the Surface or Windows – but it has never happened across any of my other PCs.  I suspect it has something to do with the video drivers.

The included Pen

The pen works really well. I use OneNote for most every meeting I attend to help me keep my thoughts and to-dos all organized.  OneNote is great for that and the integration with the pen works flawlessly.  The Surface comes with a little loop that you can hang off the device or the keyboard to hold your pen.  I think it looks silly, so instead I tuck the pen into the side of the Snugg case or into the keyboard.  Both work well and I have yet to lose my pen (fingers crossed).

Pen tucked into the nook on the Snugg Case

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Pen tucked into the keyboard

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Accessories You Will Need

The Surface doesn’t come with a keyboard.  I guess that is so Microsoft can say that it is really a tablet, and thus, can operate without a keyboard.  But – you need a keyboard. 

You really need a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 if you are going to use it as your standard machine.  I use a Plugable UD-3900 and run 2 24” monitors plus my Surface monitor.  At home I use the Microsoft docking station and it works well.

If you do lots of presentations, you should probably buy the DisplayPort to VGA connector.  Most projectors are VGA – so this is your safest bet.  The Surface does have DisplayPort, so if you are good with that – then no need to spend the money.

I also like the Microsoft Arc mouse.  It folds flat, uses Bluetooth, and works like a charm. 

Tablet Use

I can’t see using the Surface as a tablet, ever. It’s just too big.  I can’t think of a time when  I have ever seen anyone using a Surface as a tablet, either.  (Save, of course, when they are taking notes.)  This may also be due to the lack of apps that are useful in the modern interface.  If the app ecosystem gets closer with Windows 10, perhaps I will use my Surface more as a tablet.

Gripes

I know a lot of people tether their PCs to their mobile phones, but I like having a built in SIM.  Microsoft has all but said that is not in the cards for Surface.

As stated above, I seldom reboot my PC.  Instead I mostly put my PC to sleep.  The Surface seems to have a really hard time with this.  I am not sure if it’s due to the design of the keyboard (there is no clasp to hold it shut, there is no hinge to keep it shut, so it will randomly wake up from sleep) or something else.  I have worked with the power settings to no avail.  The issue is I will put my machine to sleep, throw it in my bag and head to a meeting.  When I get to the meeting my Surface has been awake the whole time and my battery is significantly drained.  In one instance my meeting was two hours away and my Surface was completely dead.  Luckily I had my power supply, if not, it would have been a short meeting.

All in – the Surface Pro 3 is a very solid device and, for most folks, you can definitely replace it and use it is as your daily machine. 

Working with OneDrive for Business for iOS

OneDrive for Business is a part of the Office 365 Suite or can be used as a standalone product.  OneDrive is a great way to share documents and files without having to pass a bunch of email around internally or externally.  With OneDrive for Business you can easily share documents with other folks from inside your organization or outside your organization.

Here’s how the process works on iOS (iPhone).  This post assumes that you already have your file in OneDrive.

Open OneDrive and look for the file you want to share.  Once you have found it – tap on it.  In this example, I am sharing a ZIP file.  Once the file is opened you will see a person icon with a plus on it in the lower left hand corner.  Tap that to share the file. (The buttons across the bottom are Share, Make Available Offline, and the ellipse allows you to rename, delete, or open the file in another app.  By the way, if you are working with an Office document, you will also have the option to edit the file from this menu.)

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Now tap the + button to actually share the document.

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The next screen allows you to put in the email address of the person with whom you would like to share the document.  You can also press the + button in the Share With: box to search contacts from your phone.  Slide the ‘Let Recipient Edit’ bar over if you want to allow the user to just view the document versus editing it.

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Then press “Add” in the upper right hand corner and your document will be shared!  Happy sharing!