Hosts Juliet Beauchamp and Ken Mingis talk with guests about the latest tech trends and news.
With most of (if not everyone in) your household now working from home, you’re perhaps asking more of your home network than ever before. Multiple devices may now be hosting a video conference, streaming and using chat tools all at the same time. On top of those demands, you may also be accessing sensitive company data from home. Your home Wi-Fi network needs to be both fast and secure. PCWorld/Macworld’s Michael Simon joins Juliet and gives tips on how to prioritize certain traffic on your home network, boost speeds and secure it all without leaving your house.
If you use Apple products you can use Group FaceTimeto replace Zoom meetings. This supports up to 30 callers and has some intelligent features, such as placing the window belonging to the person currently speaking at the front. It’s also highly secure with end-to-end encryption. The big problem is that it is not cross-platform, which makes it a fairly ineffective choice much of the time.
Microsoft’s Skype and Teams
Microsoft offers two video collaboration tools, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Both have advantages that make them worthy alternatives to Zoom.
You can now use Skype without an account. Skype handles up to 50 people in video conference or 150 people in group text chat), and it supports group video chat. It’s solid, free to use and you can now use it without an account or download. Available on most platforms, Skype offers a range of useful features, including document and screen sharing.
However, Skype conversations are not end-to-end encrypted.
This is why so many enterprises use Microsoft Teams. That highly secure solution supports 2FA security, data encryption and meets dozens of national, regional and industry-specific security/privacy compliance regulations. It also integrates extremely well with Microsoft’s other productivity products, including Office 365.
Prices on these vary, but both Cisco Webex and TeamViewer offer free personal accounts, which may be seen as an advantage when working with socially isolated teams. If security and privacy matter to your business, it is worth pointing out that Webex Meetings offers end-to-end encryption as an option.
It is worth considering if your enterprise needs end to end encryption. While this will be mandatory for some tightly regulated industries, it may not be necessary for everyone, particularly those employing RPA systems, as NoJitter observes.
BlueJeans and Jabber also see use across the enterprise. The former is a fee-based system that’s eminently cross platform and supports up to 100 users (BlueJeans Enterprise); the latter is a Cisco product. It may also be worth taking a look at new solution, Challo, which I’ve noted in the past.
Another highly secure solution, Signal supports video collaboration and offers best in the business end-to-end encryption. It’s a full-featured collaboration solution, however, works on most platforms and lets you share all messages, photos, videos, files and chat using video. It also supports group chats, though this doesn’t extend to video collaboration which must be one to one. Best advantage, other than world leading security? It’s free.
An open-source tool for self-hosted systems
Jitsi is an open-source video collaboration solution that has picked up a fair amount of attention in the last few weeks. While I’ve not used the service, its advantages include the capacity to set up a self-hosted collaboration system, while some reports claim video can be a little jittery at times.
The great thing about the system is its price (its free) and high degree of security – though it does not support end-to-end encryption. Jitsi is available via mobile apps and using Slack and can be self-hosted, though you can also use the service’s own offering.
That Jitsi can be self-hosted may be a major advantage, given around 13% of enterprises already rely on collaboration tools they maintain on their own servers, according to Nemertes.
I guess there’s always Google Hangouts Meet
To help get through the pandemic, Google has made the premium version of Hangouts Meet available to $6/month/user G Suite users for free.
One of the best things about this is that it supports up to 250 participants in a call, which makes it useful for big meetings. You can also live-stream meetings to up to 100,000 people, good for larger enterprises attempting to reach large groups.
The biggest negative factor is its lack of support for end-to-end encryption, which should be a red flag for any tightly regulated industry.
More info for remote workers
Feel free to explore these guides that should help Apple-using remote workers and the enterprises that employ them:
Northwell Health is connecting tens of thousands of hospital workers with Microsoft Teams, improving collaboration between clinical staff and reducing the time needed to access patient information.
Northwell, the largest hospital network in the New York City area with 23 hospitals and 800 outpatient facilities, began its deployment of Teams as a secure messaging platform at the start of last year.
The reason for choosing Teams was to provide staff with a secure and compliant method of text communication, enabling hospital workers to share protected health information (PHI) on mobile devices, said Northwell Health’s chief medical information officer, Michael Oppenheim.
“At the most basic level, we need to provide a solution to enable providers to be able to communicate in a HIPAA-compliant way,” said Oppenheim. “Standard SMS texting on a phone is not sufficiently secure, so we wanted to be able to provide folks with something they could use from a desk, from a handheld [device], and have ad hoc communications with each other.”
Video is another key use case for connecting clinical staff. “Right from within Teams you can communicate, you can launch a meeting, you can have a multi-way collaboration with video. It enables us to take what we wanted from a clinical collaboration perspective beyond just an ad hoc texting tool.”
Gather ’round, kiddos — ’cause it’s time for a story.
Once upon a time, Chrome was a lean, mean browsing machine. It was the scrappy lightweight kid in a block filled with clunky old blobs of blubber. People had never seen a browser so fast, so thoughtfully constructed! It stripped everything down to the essentials and made the act of browsing the web both pleasant and secure — qualities that were anything but standard back in that prehistoric era.
Well, fast-forward to today, and the fairy tale is over: Eleven years have passed since Chrome’s debut, and the browser — just like that one college buddy of yours — has grown considerably less lithe. These days, in fact, Chrome has earned a bit of a reputation for being somewhat bloated and, thanks to all the third-party software associated with it, not always entirely secure. My, how things have changed.
Still, Chrome remains the de facto standard of modern web browsing, commanding a whopping 67% of the global market, according to recent data from analytics vendor Net Applications. And it has plenty of positives to offer, not least of all its tight integration with the rest of the Google ecosystem — a particular boon for G Suite users.
So whether Chrome’s feeling slightly too sluggish or you simply want to tighten up its security, take the time to go through these 10 steps. They’re all easy to pull off and free from any significant side effects — and together, they’re practically guaranteed to give your browser a much-needed fitness boost.
(Note that, except where specified, these tips revolve around the Chrome desktop browser and should work the same regardless of your operating system — even with Chrome OS, where the browser is built into the system software.
1. Clean up your apps and extensions
Chrome is basically its own platform at this point, and the apps and extensions that run within it can work wonders in customizing the browser and expanding its capabilities. But every single one of those add-ons requires a certain amount of resources to operate — and the more of ’em you have installed, the more bogged down and slothful Chrome can become.
Not only that, but many Chrome apps and extensions require access to at least some of your web browsing activity. That’s why periodically looking over your list of installed apps and extensions and clearing out any items you no longer need is one of the easiest and most effective ways to speed up your browser’s performance while simultaneously strengthening its security.
So type chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar and carefully evaluate every app and extension you see. If there’s anything you don’t recognize or no longer need, click the Remove button within its box to get rid of it.
The more you can clear out, the better.
2. Put your remaining add-ons under the microscope
For any apps and extensions that you didn’t uninstall, look closely at what sort of access they’re claiming to your web browsing data — and whether they really need to be privy to that much of your activity.
Start once more by typing chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar — but this time, click the Details button associated with each remaining app and extension, then look for a line labeled “Site access.” If you don’t see such a line, the add-on in question isn’t accessing any of your browsing data. Check it off your list and move onto the next one.
If an app or extension is listed as having access “on all sites,” meanwhile, it’s able to see and even modify what’s in your browser all of the time — without any restrictions. Stop and ask yourself if it genuinely needs that ability. If it doesn’t, switch its setting to either “on specific sites” or “on click,” depending on which setup seems to make the most sense. (If you choose “on specific sites,” you’ll then have to designate which specific sites the extension is allowed to access. If it’s an extension that modifies the Gmail interface, for instance, you might want to set it to operate only on mail.google.com.)
You may run into some extensions that stop working properly as a result of such a change, but it’s worth giving it a whirl. And if an extension won’t function with more limited access without any logical reason, well, it’s worth considering whether it’s really an extension you want to be using.
3. Step up your tab management smarts
If you’re the type of person who keeps tons of tabs open, listen up: Your hoarding habit is bogging your browser down. The more tabs you keep active at once, the slower Chrome will run. It’s inevitable.
The obvious solution is to stop leaving stuff open that you don’t actually need open — but if you absolutely need to have more than a handful of tabs running at any given moment, think about snagging an extension that’ll manage them more intelligently for you and prevent ’em from bringing your browser to a crawl:
The Great Suspender runs in the background and automatically suspends any tabs you haven’t looked at after a configurable amount of time. That way, your tabs remain readily available but don’t needlessly eat up resources when they aren’t actively in use.
Toby for Chrome transforms Chrome’s New Tab Page into a series of custom tab collections. The idea is that instead of leaving tabs open, you can save them there and then pick up where you left off later.
Tab Snooze takes a cue from email and allows you to send any tab away and then have it return at a set date and time. So instead of keeping everything you’ll ever need right in front of you, you can snooze tabs you aren’t actively working with and then have ’em reappear when you’re likely to need ’em.
One or more of those tools will go a long way in keeping both Chrome and your brain from getting overloaded.
4. Consider a script-blocking extension
You know what really slows the web down, more than anything connected to your own local browser? It’s certain sites’ overuse of scripts — tracking scripts, ad-loading scripts, video-playing scripts, you name it. (Not that, uh, we’d know anything about such matters ’round these parts. Insert awkward whistling here.)
A script-blocking extension like uBlock Origin will keep such scripts from running and make your web browsing experience feel infinitely faster as a result. You can even manually whitelist sites within the extension as you see fit — whether to keep legitimate scripts, such as video players you actually want to use, from being blocked, or maybe just to keep certain unnamed writers from being shackled in their publication’s basement for having encouraged readers to block revenue-generating scripts.
Erm, let’s move on, all right?
5. Put your mobile browser on a data diet
Here’s one for the Android-owning folk among us: The Chrome Android browser has a handy hidden option that routes slow-loading pages through Google’s servers in order to simplify their code and make them quicker to open. It all happens instantaneously, and nothing looks different as a result.
The feature’s called Lite Mode, and you can flip it on by going into Chrome’s settings on your phone, scrolling down toward the bottom of the list, tapping the line labeled “Lite Mode,” and then flipping the toggle to the on position.
It won’t make a night-and-day difference, but it’s one of the few effective speed-enhancing options available in Chrome’s mobile form — and hey, every little bit helps.
6. Let Chrome preload pages for you
Waiting for a page to load is the worst part of web browsing, but Chrome has an out-of-the-way feature that can take at least some of that pain away by selectively preloading pages you’re likely to open.
It works by looking at every link within a page that you’re viewing, using some Google voodoo magic to predict which links you’re likely to click on, and then preloading the associated pages before you actually click ’em.
This one’s available in both the desktop browser and within the Chrome app on both Android and iOS:
On the desktop, type chrome:settings into your address bar, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click “Advanced,” then in the “Privacy and security” box look for the line labeled “Preload pages for faster browsing and searching” and activate the toggle alongside it.
On Android, open the Chrome app’s settings, tap “Privacy,” then look for the line labeled “Preload pages for faster browsing and searching” and make sure the box next to it is checked.
And on iOS, open the Chrome app’s settings, tap “Bandwidth,” then tap “Preload Webpages” and select either “Always” or “Only on Wi-Fi” from the options that pop up. (Going with “Always” will result in speedier browsing even when you’re using mobile data, but it’ll also burn through more mobile data as a result.)
If you want to take this same concept even further, the third-party FasterChrome extension will preload a page anytime you hover your mouse over its link for at least 65 milliseconds. That way, when you’re about to click something, the loading starts in the background — and by the time you get there, the time-consuming work is finished and the page is ready to appear.
7. Switch to a better DNS provider
Every time you type a web address into Chrome, the browser relies on a Domain Name System server to look up that URL, find the IP address where the site is located, and then take you to the right place.
More often than not, your internet provider is the one responsible for doing that job — and suffice it to say, it doesn’t tend to do it particularly well. By switching yourself to a third-party DNS provider, you can seriously speed up the time it takes for a web page to come up after you type in its address, and you can also keep your internet provider from collecting data about what websites you visit and then using that information to make even more money off of you.
Cloudflare and Google both offer DNS provider services for free, and both are generally considered to be among the fastest and most reliable options available — and, what’s more, both promise not to store any identifiable info about you or to sell any of your data. You can switch to either of them as your DNS provider by changing a setting in your router’s configuration or by adjusting your settings on a device-by-device basis. This easy-to-follow guide has specific steps for doing that on a variety of different products.
8. Fill in the web’s security gaps
By now, you probably know that most websites should be using HTTPS — a secure protocol that puts a lock icon in your browser’s address bar and lets you know (a) that a site actually is what it proclaims to be and (b) that everything you send to the site is encrypted.
But while most sites have come around to the standard, some still inexplicably cling onto the older and far less secure HTTP protocol.
Well, here’s the fix: A Chrome extension called HTTPS Everywhere will switch insecure sites over to HTTPS for you and ensure anything you transmit to them remains safe from snooping eyes. It’s developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, and it’s completely free to use.
9. Clean up your computer
If you’ve tried all these steps and your Chrome browser is still struggling, it might be worth checking to see if something funky is going on with your computer that could be affecting Chrome’s performance.
If you’re using Windows, Chrome has its own simple-as-can-be tool for seeking out and removing any malware or other programs that might be interfering with Chrome’s proper operation: Just type chrome:settings into your address bar, click “Advanced,” and then scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen and click “Clean up computer.” Click the Find button on the next screen, then wait while Chrome scans your system and walks you through the process of removing anything harmful it uncovers.
If you’re using a Mac or Linux system, look through your list of installed applications and see if there’s anything present that you don’t recognize — or try a third-party malware checker if you want to dig deeper. (You can find some specific scanner recommendations for Mac here and for Linux here.)
On Chrome OS, meanwhile, malware isn’t really an issue, thanks to the software’s unusual architecture, but it can never hurt to take a look through your launcher and make sure nothing unusual or unexpected catches your eye.
10. Give yourself a fresh start
Last but not least, you can always reset Chrome to its default state — eliminating all apps and extensions, restoring all settings to their out-of-the-box defaults, and giving you a completely clean slate on which to start over.
This isn’t something that’s advisable for everyone, but if your browser is really poky or having other problems and nothing else is making a difference, it’s a final step worth attempting. Type chrome:settings into your address bar, click “Advanced,” and look for the “Restore settings to their original defaults” option at the bottom of the screen. Click it, confirm that you want to proceed, and then sit back and wait for the deed to be done.
With any luck, your need for speed will finally be fulfilled — and you can start getting around the web with optimal security and without all the waiting.
Your computer’s operating system may or may not be designed with security in mind, but without ongoing software updates, your computer is vulnerable. How do operating systems handle sending out these updates and which approaches are the most secure?
Why Do We Need Software Updates?
There are three key reasons software updates are important.
New Features: OS developers provide new features all the time. We want them. Gone are the days when you buy a new box to get the new code. Now you get the goods via software updates.
Security Patches: It’s impossible to know all of the vulnerabilities in a program before releasing it into the wild. Updates containing security patches bolster the defenses of the code running on our devices. You can mitigate much of your risk by running the latest versions of software.
Ongoing Support: These days we declare a device alive or dead not based on whether it still works, but rather if it still receives updates. A device that no longer receives updates is one that will gradually lose access to newer apps, successfully loads fewer websites, and becomes increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.
There are two ways to distribute these updates. One approach is a centralized model, where a single company manages all of the updates that go to your device, regardless of which brand or model you use.
In a decentralized model, the components that go into your OS come from many sources. There is a degree of separation between the developers and those who package all those various parts together for users.
Both approaches have their pros and cons. Proprietary desktop OSes such as Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Google Chrome OS all take a centralized approach. GNU/Linux has a decentralized model.
How Microsoft Windows Distributes OS Updates
Microsoft distributes OS updates to anyone with a Windows PC. These updates go out based on what version of Windows you run.
For most of Windows’ history, switching to a new version of the OS was expensive. This encouraged many people to continue using older versions. With Windows 10, the situation is different. Microsoft provided Windows 10 for free initially and has said that rather than release another major upgrade, the company will now focus on iterating the desktop through software updates.
Microsoft has traditionally supported popular versions of Windows well after the release of one or two successive releases. Windows 7, for example, still received updates half a decade after the release of Windows 10.
and forces users to install them. This can be frustrating, but it keeps computers up to date. Just make sure you create regular backups. While unlikely, system updates can botch your installation of Windows (or any other OS for that matter).
Microsoft is transparent about how long Windows releases will receive support. This helps users make informed decisions about their hardware purchases. Forced updates also keep users patched and up-to-date, protecting more of us from exploits.
Still, a large number of Windows users aren’t using Windows 10. Some are using versions that are severely out of date, making the Windows landscape as a whole a vulnerable and easy target.
How Apple macOS Distributes OS Updates
Apple provides OS updates directly to users via a dedicated Software Update tool. Unlike Windows, macOS does not automatically update your OS, but you can turn that feature on. Manual updates give you time to backup your data before getting new software.
, that means you can expect roughly three years of support.
Unfortunately, the end of life for older releases can arrive at any time without any heads up or official announcement. Apple’s security updates page shows what updates have arrived but not how long they will keep coming.
This doesn’t tell the whole story. Generally speaking, there’s little reason not to upgrade to the latest version of macOS. Changes tend to be more iterative compared to the revolutionary changes that took place between Windows 7 to 8 and Windows 8 to 10. Upgrades were relatively cheap in the past, and now they’re free.
Since macOS is only available on Apple hardware, the company can explicitly list which devices it will support. Unfortunately, if your MacBook or iMac is not on the list, you’re out of luck. You must now replace macOS with Windows or Linux to have an OS with ongoing updates, even if your hardware is technically perfectly capable of running the latest version of macOS.
Manual updates give you time to back up your data, but many people choose to never install updates, leaving them more vulnerable to exploits. Apple also doesn’t tell us when a given OS release will reach the end of its support period.
On the flip side, Apple generally supports a given computer model for many years. Just make sure you consistently upgrade to the latest OS. You can check out Apple’s list of obsolete products.
How Google Chrome OS Distributes OS Updates
On a Chromebook, updates are quiet and automatic. It doesn’t matter which device you buy, if your model is supported, you will receive each update in a matter of days. Google manages most of the software experience, so Chrome OS feels the same regardless of which Chromebook you buy.
Google provides updates on a regular schedule. Maybe OS updates come roughly every six weeks, with security patches and software updates arriving twice as frequently. You have the option to turn off automatic updates if you prefer.
But Google is not transparent about how long each Chromebook or Chromebox will receive support. The company doesn’t actually base support times on operating system version (like Microsoft) or specific devices (like Apple). Instead, Chrome OS support depends on which chipset sits inside your machine. Google promises to support each chipset for six and a half years after launch.
That poses a problem. Most of us do not know what hardware lies underneath our keyboards. We can easily buy a Chromebook using a chipset that’s been around for five years already, without knowing we will only receive one and a half years of support.
Thanks to Chrome OS’s design, the danger of going without software updates is magnified. Since Chrome OS combines the web browser with the rest of the OS, when OS updates stop, your web browser will no longer receive updates. This is not the case on other platforms, where you can update apps separately.
Chrome OS strikes a nice balance between keeping users up to date with automatic updates while giving us the freedom to upgrade at our own pace by doing things manually. But the company’s support period is largely obscure and, given Chrome OS’s design, substantially more important.
How GNU/Linux Desktops Distribute OS Updates
We usually refer to GNU/Linux simply as Linux, but in this case it’s important to clarify things. Google’s Chrome OS is based on Linux, but how it operates is fundamentally different from other versions of Linux based on GNU software.
There are hundreds of different GNU-based desktops you can download. Most give you a degree of freedom on how you approach software updates. Generally, notifications will arrive automatically, but you must manually download and install the update. You can do so using a simple app or the command line.
If you use a more niche version of Linux, you have a greater risk of losing access to updates due to the project ceasing to exist. Under such circumstances, you’re free to switch to another version of Linux and keep on trucking.
GNU desktops have the longest support life. Your desktop will continue to work for as long as your hardware meets system requirements. And if your preferred Linux distribution does end support, you can just switch to another.
Updates are not automatic, but there are other aspects of the way free software gets distributed that have a larger impact on whether the various parts of your OS are truly up-to-date. Since software is not produced in a central location, new updates and patches may be available for months or years before the people who make your version of Linux get around to packaging and releasing them.
Which Method Is the Most Secure?
In this case, the means is less important than the ends. If you manually update your PC every day or two and keep software up-to-date, then your machine is effectively as secure as one that receives automatic updates.