A few weeks ago a client needed some help configuring a MFP on their home office network. The printer was working but they needed assistance using the scan feature. To make a short story shorter, the process for using the scanner on this printer was cumbersome and annoying. It involved three separate applications and a trip to the actual device to press an arbitrary key combination that finally initiated the scanning process. The client returned the device the next day.
It’s 2010 and we are all still waiting for the prophecies of the paperless office to come true. In the meantime it’s essential that you have a printer (or more realistically a multi-function device) that will not only satisfy your needs but also be easy to setup and use. When making any purchasing decision the most important question you need to ask yourself is: “Why do I need this?” If you answer yourself honestly, you will have an easier time figuring out exactly what you need.
Choosing a printer certainly isn’t the most important decision you’ll make regarding your IT assets but you certainly don’t want to add something to your life that results in more frustration than utility. A printer is a mundane device and the way to know you’ve made a good decision is if you never think about it again once it’s all setup (except for replacing ink or toner of course). So let’s look at the basics.
Unless you have very specific printing needs your small office or home office will reap the most benefit from a well equipped multi-function printer (MFP), that will allow you to print, copy, scan and fax. That being said, I will focus on some things you need to look out for when choosing on a MFP. Printers fall into two main categories; inkjet or laser. The biggest choice will be determining whether a laser or an inkjet based printer is right for you. Laser printers are known for their crisp text, high volume and speed while inkjet printers tend to be better suited for high quality photo printing and lower costs for color printing.
Remember when choosing a printer that the cost of ink or toner will greatly affect the total cost of ownership for your device over its lifetime. Most inkjet printers will allow you to replace only the individual color ink cartridges you need, when you need to.
Here’s a list of specifications you want to pay attention to when choosing a MFP:
In addition, to these basics be sure to look out for these features:
For the most part, you want to have little interaction with the printer itself, except when copying, faxing or scanning a document. It’s important therefore that these interactions are as painless and seamless as possible. All printers are not created equal and the software that comes with your printer will have a very big impact on your experience so make sure it’s easy to use. Your IT consultant will also probably have some good recommendations for you so that you don’t end up with the kind of printer our client had.
Ever since the CBS Evening News Special exposing the security and privacy risks associated with data stored on copy machine hard drives, we’ve received a number of inquiries from our clients about the safety of their office copiers. So just in case you missed the news, let us bring you up to speed.
Modern digital copiers or MFPs (multifunction printers) are the equivalent of a desktop computer. They come equipped with processors, an operating system, and have memory (RAM) and storage drives to handle document storage, job queuing and image processing tasks. So every time you print, copy, scan or fax a document using your copier that document may spend some (albeit short) part of its life on the copiers internal hard drives. Once your print job is done the typical copier will remove the data from the disk. Sounds pretty safe right? Maybe not.
The latest hoopla surrounding information security on copier machines is related to the fact that many machines never delete this data from the disk, or only do so when the hard drive becomes full (which many never do). So when your copier lease expires and you send it back to your vendor, you may unknowingly be returning the hard drives filled with data from every document ever processed by the machine containing sensitive information about your company and your clients. With enough malicious intent, free publicly available computer forensic software and a few extra bucks anyone could potentially retrieve all that information from the disks.
While the outcome of the CBS investigation was pretty scary with medical records, credit cards and social security numbers retrieved from copiers purchased at random, the good news is that many vendors (as part of their standard operating procedure) actually destroy the data for you. Notwithstanding, if you rather not entrust your data destruction to your vendor you can still ensure your data safety before the copier leaves your hands. Here a few tips that will help.
Many machines already come with security features that will eliminate the risk of data retrieval, but are often not enabled by default. Insist that your copier vendor or your IT consultant enable the data encryption and overwriting features on your machines.
Before returning or disposing of your copier, perform a secure data wipe of the machine’s storage drives. Some copiers allow you to do this with built in functionality and others may require that a hardware add-on be purchased in order to perform the task. It’s also becoming increasingly common for copy vendors to allow you to keep the hard drives and destroy the data at your choosing.
Avoid using copiers you have no control over (e.g. at someone else’s office or at a library) to scan/copy/fax sensitive information. There is no telling who has access to that copier or whether it is their policy to have the data properly destroyed. You may also wish to inquire about data security policies at copy centers your company uses.
So before you send your copier packing back to your vendor with your drivers license and tax returns, make sure you get cleaned up. If not, look on the bright side, your replacement copier might come loaded with secrets of its own.
As IT Consultants we are always looking for ways our clients can get the most bang for their IT buck. Most of the time this involves squeezing the most out of their current systems to increase the lifespan of the PC’s and/or make them more useful. Cost is always top of mind and over the years we’ve learned some great ways to get this done on the cheap. Let’s look at a couple of inexpensive upgrades you can make to your systems to increase your productivity.
The only thing you need to know about RAM is that it largely controls how fast you computer boots and how fast your programs run. This means that the more RAM your system has, the faster it runs and the more you can get done, in less time. Most aging computers can get a second breath of life with a simple, inexpensive RAM upgrade. If your PC has anything less than 2GB of memory then this upgrade is for you. Depending on your PC or laptop 2GB of RAM should cost around $50. If your computer can support more, get as much as possible (up to 4GB in most cases) because a little RAM goes a long way.
You can use the Memory Advisor Tool on Crucial.com to determine what kind of RAM your system needs. While upgrading your RAM is fairly simple you will have to open your computer or laptop and you may prefer to have your IT support technician handle the job. If you’re up to the task, most desktop and laptop user guides will provide instructions for installing or replacing RAM.
I won’t waste any time here convincing you that you should have at least two monitors on your desk. Trust me, you should. If you need further convincing see this New York Times article from 2006, yes multiple monitors is old news. The good news is that today many PC’s ship with dual monitor capability (or at the very least can be easily upgraded) and nearly every laptop supports this feature.
Have your tech check if your computers’ video card supports multiple monitors. If it doesn’t you can pick one up for less than $100. Grab a second monitor (look in to a 20″ widescreen LCD for around $150) and you have yourself an upgrade that will make you more productive and you can continue to use even if you get a new PC.
This upgrade may not necessarily make you more productive but an external hard drive is a must for anyone with decent sized music, home video or photo collection. Having an external hard drive provides two main advantages: Firstly it gives you significantly more storage space for files (easily 1TB for less than $99). Secondly, because the drives are portable you can take your files with you very easily. You can free some space on your PC by moving your media files to an external hard drive or even use it as a backup drive.
There’s no time like the present to make these inexpensive upgrades to your system, so have at it and go be the productive maven you are.