Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 165 06/08/11


Cloudy Forecast

I run a small business, currently there are five of us, and we all work from home. We’ve now reached a point where some kind of network to share calendars and files etc would be useful. Can you offer any guidance?

Paul Rabette, by email


Your business sounds like an ideal candidate for the so-called Cloud that we’ve been hearing about recently. Instead of regularly synchronising the files on your computers everything is stored in one place, online, so that everyone in your company can easily access it. There’s no need for you all to install the same software on your computers. You’ll be using browser-based applications that are regularly updated so you don’t have to worry about keeping up with the latest versions. Cloud computing also allows you to work anywhere on any computer or device with web access and in theory your data and files will be safe and secure.


It sounds hunky dory but there are a few things to bear in mind. All of your eggs will be in this one remote basket so if there are problems with the company hosting your Cloud, Internet infrastructure, local power or communications failures and so on, you could be in trouble. Security shouldn’t be an issue, but the fact is you are trusting a third party to protect your data and there are plenty of examples of supposedly secure and reliable systems being hacked or failing catastrophically.


If that hasn’t put you off you can either commission a bespoke solution, designed for your business or use an off the shelf system. Assuming that your operation is relatively straightforward and not concerned with secret or sensitive information and you simply want to collaborate with your colleagues online then I would opt for the latter. To get an idea of what it is like to share documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, try Google Docs (http://goo.gl/wVoS4), which is free. If you want more bells, whistles and storage space have a look at Google Apps for Business (http://goo.gl/5irJ), which currently costs from £3.30 per user, per month. 



Bank on iPad?

I bought an end-of-line iPad 1 and was surprised to find that Mobile Safari is not a universal browser. It lets me access my main bank account but not the bank's linked stockbroker pages. The bank’s support staff tell me that the website only supports Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari for Mac. Can the iPad be adapted for Firefox?

James Robertson, by email


No, though there is an app, called Firefox Home, which lets you access and display your Firefox bookmarks and tabs, but it’s not a browser. Mobile Safari has improved but it has a number of limitations and lacks several quite basic features. There are alternatives but I suspect you will still have problems accessing some sites because Apple does not allow web-based applications, like Flash and some versions of Java to run on iOS. However, it’s worth giving some of them a try, if only to make web browsing a more pleasant experience and I would start with Atomic Web Browser and Mercury, both of which you will find in the iTunes App Store.



iPlayer on TV

The first time we tried to connect our laptop to the TV to view BBC iPlayer programmes, it worked perfectly but we have never managed to get a picture on the TV since. Are we omitting some simple step without realising it or perhaps we are connecting up the equipment in the wrong order?   

Hilary Kemmett, by email


It should all be explained in the laptop and TV’s instruction manuals but the procedure is fairly straightforward. It varies a little from one combination of laptop and TV to another but usually all you have to do is connect the laptop to the TV using a VGA lead and an audio cable, if you want to hear the sound through your TV speakers or hi fi system. Once that is done select the external monitor mode on the laptop. Usually you have to press and hold the Fn key (generally next to the Ctrl key) then press the external monitor key (one of the F keys on the top row of the keyboard – look for a blue coloured screen symbol). On most laptops the screen goes blank as the video output is switched to the VGA socket. Some TVs switch automatically to the laptop display; on others you have to change the input manually from a button on the remote or through the on-screen menu.



Pinning Down FireWire Connections

I have two DVD Recorders and a Sony digital camcorder. All three have 4-pin FireWire ports with which I can copy my recordings onto DVD. However, my PC has a 6-pin FireWire socket.  Why the difference, and is possible to connect my camcorder to my PC this way?

Richard Weston, by email


Yes you can. FireWire cables with 4-pin connectors carry just digital data. The two extra wires in 6-pin cables are for a 24-volt feed, which can be used to power or charge external devices. Otherwise the two cable types are interchangeable using readily available 6 to 4 pin and 4 to 6 pin adaptors (male and female), providing of course you are not relying on the cable for charging or to provide power.



Holiday Weather Watch

A few weeks ago you mentioned the possibility of installing a camera so that you can keep an eye on your property whilst on holiday. I have a BT Home Hub and I quite like this idea, if only to see what the weather is like. I would never leave my PC running whilst away but the BT Hub is always on. Is it possible to plug a security camera directly into the Hub?

John Mold, by email


Yes-ish, but not any old camera. You need a special type, called a netcam, or IP Camera with built-in web server. These work independently of a PC and all you have to do is plug it into your Hub or router and log onto the camera using a web browser when you are away. Prices start at around £40 online; more advanced models have features like PTZ (motorised pan, tilt and zoom), motion detection with email notification, wireless connection and low light capabilities.



© R. Maybury 2011 1807


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