Large Screens: “The Best Computer Upgrade Ever”

Leave it to Apple to help us make priorities on our peripheral purchases: as noted on Slate yesterday, Apple has posted a study by Pfeiffer Consulting promoting ultra-large monitors (or monitors >24″) as a boon to productivity. Say’s Slate:

“When working on a computer, we lose much more time than we realize through user-interface manipulations,” Pfeiffer’s researchers wrote—even if we’re handling only e-mail and Web pages and not Photoshop.

“I dismissed the report as marketing collateral, but after a few weeks at my own widescreen I’ve reached the same conclusion—it’s surprising how much more work I crank out lately. Co-workers praise my newfound motivation. The truth is, I can finally see what I’m doing.”

No kidding. I noticed the difference at home upgrading from a 17″ to a larger wide-screen LCDs: it made a major difference, allowing me a greater work surface and improved visibility over all of the things I keep open on the desktop. (A coworker questioned my sanity when they noticed I had 30-40 mails open along with 15-20 browser windows – that’s an every-day occurrence.) Better, look to the crop of 20 to 24″ wide-screen monitors (as reviewed at CNET and PCWorld, with reviews of the top 5 20-inch and 23-inch): many good choices in the 20″ range for under $500. For improved performance, pair the monitor with a new video card with increased capabilities (like DVR, extra memory) and it’s a new computer experience.

[Note, added 011609: a great 20″ screen today is under $200, and highly-rated, name-brand 24″ models for around $300.]

If you want to know more about the display market, I recommend the Display Search web site.

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Building your own cabinets, internal and external

A person I work with but have never met sent me an email the other day asking me to elaborate on my concept of buidling a personal cabinet. I recalled that last year I discussed different ways to get good feedback, from within your own company (your internal customers) and also from real customers and partners.  

In addtition to the customer survey sources (like our semi-annual customer & partner satisfaction surveys), trip reports, direct relationships and avenues for listening to customers and partners (like our internal Frontline program), I suggested that they do something I’ve recommended in the past: build a cabinet. No, I don’t mean a cabinet in the sense of where I keep my sox, but a cabinet of trusted advisors from across the company (internal), and another consisting of key customers and partners (external).

The initial idea of building an internal, personal cabinet was brought up when I was in Windows Client and introduced to Brian Valentine’s cabinet alias on email: this is a list of people within the company interested in areas important to his group. If Brian sets up a broad cabinet of individuals, people who are copied on interesting information and mails, and are solicited for input and feedback, perhaps other employees at Microsoft should establish a personal cabinet.

Internally, you may have a need for a set of advisors, especially as we are so focused on what we do day to day: it’s often beneficial to get additional perspectives outside your core work group… perhaps even some outside your comfort zone. A good cabinet of 8-10 people can ask questions, listen and provide feedback on what’s most important. They can help you, encourage you and be a valuable asset, whether you’re deciding on a course of action in your group or planning your career. In a good scenario, a cabinet also communicates and works together as a virtual team to help you see things in a different light and you get to the answers you need.

Externally, developing a list of people with particular insight and experiences can work the same way; you may approach the set up differently, working individually with the list of people on your personal cabinet, unless you’re able to bring a non-competitive group together. This group may be made up of customer and partners you meet on the job, ISV Buddies, customer Frontline participants… people outside the company with whom you can knock ideas around and get feedback in a timely way.  It’s not a focus group, but a quick-hit check when you need feedback – and a group that you may ping a couple of times a year. And let them know that you value their feedback, candor and trust when you contact them.

In my cabinet, I talk to many of these people once or twice a quarter on average, and some maybe only once or twice a year at an industry event or trade show. For me, I look at people who are…

  • Insightful and provide a pro/con view of issues and challenges
  • accessible and give good advice (it often goes both ways, and they ping me with questions)
  • good at breaking down problems, with good gut instincts
  • strategic specialists in their field
  • thoughtful, and often frank 
  • happy to refer me to their own trusted contacts (the next degree of separation) when something is beyond their scope

As an FYI, I found that Cisco devoted a couple of stories in their quarterly ezine on how customers and partners should consider issues to consider when looking for their own trusted technical advisors. Some of the same principles can be applied here.

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Creating strong passwords (and passphrases) in six easy steps

There’s a good article that was recently posted on on the Microsoft Security At Home web site that outlines how to create strong passwords.

Why should you care? Because last year InformationWeek reported that simple passwords created using short, simple key sequences can be easily cracked:

“For example, a lowly P3 PC running a widely available cracking tool at just 500 MHz was able to guess the password “ChEcK12” in only 26 seconds; and today’s top-of-the-line PCs could perform the same crack almost instantly. (For more examples of just how quickly simple password techniques like this can be bypassed, see this page from McMaster University). It’s scary stuff.”

The article from the Security At Home web site recommends six steps to creating a strong, memorable password:

1. Think of a sentence that you can remember. (see more on “passphrases” below)
2. Check if the computer or online system supports the passphrase directly.
3. If the computer or online system does not support passphrases, convert it to a password.
4. Add complexity by mixing uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.
5. Finally, substitute some special characters and symbols for common letters.

And last: Step 6. When you’re done, you can test your new password with Password Checker, a non-recording feature the Microsoft.Com site that tests the strength of your as you type.

I like the suggestion of using a passphrase which when used as a password is as long as the phrase is in number of characters. As the Wiki notes, passphrases are usually longer than a password, with 20 to 30 characters typical of many passphrases, “making some kinds of brute force attacks entirely impractical. Second, if well chosen, they will not be found in any phrase or quote dictionary.”

So, passphrase of “MydogSpotisblackandwhite” may be better than “mydogspot.” Again, InformationWeek suggests that passphrases can be more secure “because they’re made of a series of words rather than totally random characters, they’re much easier to remember than conventional passwords of similar length.”

More information:

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How much does spam weigh? (And what to do about it)

Often when meet and talk with our customers and partners, I hear some of the same concerns that impact their satisfaction with our products and services: PC security, quality and reliability of our products, and issues with email around spam and phsihing. Starting this weekend I am posting more info, tips and feedback on how we’re meeting some of these issues. I kicked it off on Friday with my reference to the anti-spyware addition to OneCare, and yesterday on Windows Defender.

Today, it’s about email and how to reduce spam.

First, just how much of a problem is this?

Microsoft IT reported in 2005 that the company received about 10 million e-mails per day via the Internet, with up to 90 percent filtered out as spam. In addition, a recent report cited that the company blocks more than 3.4 billion spam messages per day from reaching the inboxes of MSN Hotmail customers.

On an individual level, I read that average person gets only 1.5 personal letters each week, compared to 10.8 pieces of postal junk mail. This amounts to 560 pieces of junk mail per year per person. Recent research estimates that 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent these days is spam. In 2004, enterprise users reported receiving an average of 29 unsolicited messages a day, more than a four fold increase from 6.2 spam messages per day in 2002, and 3.7 messages in 2001.

So, how do spammers get your address? A couple of years ago, the The Center for Democracy and Technology released a report on their six month study, “Why Am I Getting All This Spam?” They found that e-mail addresses posted on web sites or in newsgroups attract the most spam, as spammers most often harvest addresses from the web. Just like the big search engines, spammers have automated web bots (called ‘spiders’) collect as many email addresses as possible from web sites. (Here’s a link with more details on how spammers get addresses.)

Now let’s make this personal.

A month or so ago, after grumbling about how much of our curb-side recycling was junk mail, I decided to take a closer look at what we receive in the post. And over the last couple of weeks, I kept a running total of how much mail we received at home, counting the number of pieces of mail and the aggregate weight. (Yes, my wife questioned my sanity, but I explained that it’s all in the effort to improve customer satisfaction.) I divided what we received into two piles: mail we wanted or had requested (bills, notices and the occasional letter) and mail that was junk (flyers, catalogues, credit card offers, solicitations from companies we’d never heard of before…).

Over the course of two weeks, we collected a little more than the reported national averages:

  • 36 pieces of mail, totaling 2 lb 6oz (or about 63 pounds a year), and
  • 80 pieces of junk mail, totaling 10 lb 6.6oz (a little more than 270 lbs per year)

Now that doesn’t sound like much, but in comparison let’s look what came in just to my personal email address at home: 232 pieces of junk mail. That’s 149 caught by my Outlook spam filter and 83 snagged by my internet service provider. If that junk email were junk postal mail filling my post box, it would weigh close to 31 pounds. Over the course of a year, we’re looking at more than 6,000 junk emails, at a total weight of about 792 pounds.


At an average of two to three seconds per email, that’s at least four to five hours of my life a year just deleting spam mail (and that estimate is on the low side).

The Crabby Office Lady’s latest tip of the month includes a link to an entire site devoted to fighting spam and sharing news about those nasty spammers and phishers. Here is one of her favorite tips:

  • Turn off auto return receipt acknowledgement: Some spammers put a “delivery” or “read” receipt request in their e-mails. If your e-mail program (or mail server) automatically confirms these receipt requests you will just be confirming your address is valid (= MORE SPAM). We would recommend you either turn this feature off or make sure it is set to “prompt” first before sending.

For information on how to do this in Outlook, read Change automatic response to read receipts.

We also have a section on our web site, Microsoft Security at Home: E-mail, which provides information and resources to help you reduce the risks of spam, viruses, identity-theft schemes, and hoaxes, while enjoying the benefits of email.  

More info:

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