Tag Archives: Technician

Essential Firefox Add-ons for IT Technicians

Firefox addons for IT techniciansFollowing my previous article about Chrome extensions for techs, here is one for the Firefox fans. Some of the plugins here are the same as those on the Chromium but not all. So if Firefox is your browser du jour, check these out:

Cliget – this is a super handy plugin which creates curl and wget commands automatically which you can use to download files from web links that would otherwise not work outside the browser (due to cookies, useragent and referrer). In other words you can use this to download files directly to a server instead of having to download to your PC first.

IPvFox – this addon will show you all the ip’s & hosts that content is loaded from on the page being viewed and will indicate if ipv4 or ipv6 is being used.

HttpFox – this one will monitor all the http traffic traveling between your browser and the server, so you can see things like cookies, http headers, query strings, POST params and the response body.

DNS Flusher – use this to reload the brower dns cache when changing the ip/host mapping to see the effect immediately.

Clippings – Saves and manages your frequently-entered text which you can then easily paste into web forms in Firefox or in Thunderbird messages.

FireShot – easily take screenshots of web pages with this addon. A bit like Snagit but only browser based.

SQLite Manager – a great addon which allows you to manage through your browser, any SQLite database you have on your computer.

PassIFox – use this to integrate your browser (Firefox and Chrome) with your KeePass password manager.

Not actually a Firefox addon, but still Mozilla, Enigmail adds PGP message encryption (using GnuPG) to your Thunderbird mail client.

If the above is not enough to power up your browser, there’s loads more to be found in this collection!

Hopefully you find these useful but if you have any suggestions for more handy browser plugins or addons for techies, let me know!

If you’re a Chrome fan then perhaps these extensions will be more to your liking.

5 Essential IT Tools I Use Every Day

5 Essential IT ToolsIn my day job of providing IT services to my clients I get to use a lot of different tools to deal with a wide array of issues, however there are some tools which I invariably use every single day without fail. Below I will cover 5 of my favorites, although there are indeed others but I will save those for another article!

Being a IT service business means I am providing professional services to many clients who have a diverse array of requirements, different types of contracts, services packages, prices, assets and more and trying to keep on top of all that is pretty much impossible once you go beyond a handful of clients. So it soon becomes essential to use a Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool and in my case I use CommitCRM, there are of course others but this one does the job well for a price I can easily justify.

I manage quite a few Linux and Unix servers as well as Windows boxes and so I am frequently connecting to consoles on those remote servers. Making connections secure is obviously important and the carefree days of unencrypted Telnet connections are long gone, to be replaced by secure shell or SSH. To facilitate these SSH connections from my Windows PC I use PuTTY which is a free application and very popular among Windows users. It not only does SSH but also Rlogin and even Telnet and is a very lightweight, easy to use application.

When you’re working on a computer it goes without saying that you generally need to know as much about that machine as possible so you can better diagnose issues, replace parts with the right kind etc. There are various utilities which provide such data, including those which are already bundled with the OS such as the Computer Properties and Device Manager tabs in Windows but there’s always room for improvement and on Windows I find that Speccy does just that. Information is power, as they say and so Speccy gives you that power.

Dealing with an enormous number of files of many different types, hidden away in obscure locations on your PC can cause immense frustration and time wasting when you’re struggling to find things or need to copy or move or compare or transfer or perform all sorts of other actions on those files and the built-in File Explorer in Windows can cause premature aging at times. Fortunately there are quite a few alternatives around these days and the one I rely on every day is Total Commander which is free and makes my day to day file management tasks considerably less painful without reducing life expectancy.

Of course it is pretty much unheard of these days to not connect to the Web and my days typically involve numerous web based tasks from Googling for answers to tricky tech issues or networking with other techs or reading the news, downloading updates, tweeting, facebooking, looking at funny cat pics and other highly important things of that nature. None of this would be possible without the humble Web Browser. In my case I use Firefox most of the time but I have been known to dabble with Chrome and Opera just to keep things interesting. The browser has come a long way since the days of Mosaic and there’s certainly a lot more to do and a lot more information on the web these days and that trend isn’t likely to change any time soon so the browser is surely one of the most important applications we techs rely on.

Which are your most used IT tools? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Antivirus Tools for Technicians

Antivirus ToolsThe curse of computers everywhere, even those not connected to any network, is the dreaded computer virus along with trojans, adware, spyware, keyloggers and all sorts of other types of nasty malware.. and some of them are very nasty indeed. For example the cryptolocker trojan which encrypts data on an infected system and demands payment of a ransom to decrypt that data, which many victims end up doing out of desperation and because the loss of income to a business due to not being able to access the data outweighs the cost of the ransom.

Malware most commonly affects Windows based systems but of course not only for technical reasons but also due to the fact that it is a more popular platform with users and so a bigger target for virus developers who don’t want to waste time developing for a platform with so much less potential for destruction and mayhem.

Linux on the other hand has relatively few issues with malware infections and in fact Linux antivirus software is not anywhere near as commonplace or in demand because it is much less often required. Which is not to say a Linux system is never infected with anything nasty – rootkits for Linux servers are also quite common and many a well known web based PHP app has provided a convenient gateway to a Linux server for a nasty rookit which then allows hackers in to the system to wreak havoc.

Somewhat related to Linux is Android and being extremely popular now makes it potentially a target for virus developers so of course antivirus developers are busy adding android antivirus to their tools to jump on that bandwagon early.

There are many antivirus tools to choose from these days, some that will try to prevent infection, others which will try to clean up an already infected system and some which do both. It is quite common practice to use more than one virus scanner as no AV tool is 100% effective at finding and cleaning infections.

Popular AV tools include AVG and Avast which are free (with a premium upgrade option of course) and the big names such as Mcafee,  Symantec and even Microsoft Security Essentials.

Other tools which are quite widely used include Malwarebytes, Combofix and Spybot.

A popular service used by many IT service providers is GFIMAX and not only does GFI provide an RMM service but they also have a managed anti-virus service which is based on Vipre and supports Windows and Android.

While most AV tools are software which must be installed on the PC, there are in fact some which are web based services so nothing needs to be installed at all. One such tool is  VirusTotal which will scan any file uploaded to their system and report back the ‘totals’. This provides a nice quick way to scan a file, for example a zip file or exe which you may have received or also to provide proof of virus free status (by including a link to the latest scan using a hash) for a file you may be sending to someone else. VirusTotal also includes an API so developers can easily embed virus scanning into their own apps or services.

Of course the last chance saloon when it comes to computer virus infections is the backup – hopefully you or you clients have working and recoverable backups!

Conferences for IT Services Professionals: the what, why, where and how.

Conferences for IT Services ProfessionalsAs we’ve said before, IT tools are not just physical gadgets that you can pick up and wave around the datacenter, they also include knowledge and connections or in other words – people. While there are many online communities for IT pros which we talked about in that  linked article, there are of course offline ‘meatspace’ places for meeting and greeting and learning and sharing. The infamous conference circuit is where the action is and there’s plenty of conferences to keep you busy all year around.

If you’ve never been to a conference you may be wondering what goes on there? How should you prepare? Is it worth the often not inconsiderable cost? Well the answers to those questions depends very much on what you are expecting to get from the event, what kind of event it is etc..  and yes you generally should prepare to some extent to ensure you get  the most out of it.

Excuses
For many people conferences are just an excuse to get a day or three away from the office to party in a fancy hotel in Vegas on the company expense account (and of course what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas). However besides partying there are actually other reasons to attend..  networking is a big one as it’s a great chance to meet potential clients and partners, thrash out lucrative new business deals and perhaps co-found what seems like it will surely be the next hottest thing, until you sober up the next morning..

Besides that, a good conference will be packed with informative sessions by industry experts and you can certainly learn a lot so don’t forget to bring a pen & paper (or tablet/netbook if you want to go all hi-tech 😉 ) and take notes!

Schwag
There will of course be schwag, or there should be as no conference could get away without the giveaway these days – the “schwag bag” is one of the key reasons for attending such events – we attendees need our free rubber stress balls, mouse mats, pens, hats, t-shirts, bags, badges, stickers, USB thingymajigs and assorted shiny things, all of course stamped with a company logo or domain name so you wont forget who provided the freebie sat on your desk or at the back of a drawer six months later.

The Events
So what does the coming year have in store for the prospective IT conference attendee? Read on for our current recommendations for IT services events..

If CISCO is your thing then you will want to be at CISCO Live which provides a working weeks worth of fun with routers. Whether you are a CCNA or CCIE or just want to get your hands on some Cisco schwag, this is the place to be.

HDI offers the ‘World Conference for Technical Services and Support’ which is attended by over 2000 people and lasts for 4 days, not including multiple pre-conference breakfasts and the like.

If you’re in the MSP line of work then you wont want to miss MSP World – you might even win $5k!

RMM service provider GFIMAX also has their own IT events around the world each year which are popular with MSP’s and IT techs.

Interop is yet another event worth checking out and as good an excuse as any to visit Las Vegas for a few days.

Gartner has events all over the place for a whole range of IT related themes so pick your poison and off you go.

Over in Europe there is the ridiculously large CeBIT conference (in fact the worlds largest IT conference) which runs for 5 days and features hundreds (if not thousands) of sessions and exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

These days ‘the cloud’ is red hot so of course you’ll just have to head for CloudExpo in Europe if you want to stay on top of the game.

Also in Europe (UK to be precise), there is IPEXPO which bills itself as the the UK’s number one enterprise IT event. If that isn’t enough to tempt you – the whole event, featuring hundreds of sessions and hundreds of exhibitors, is FREE to attend!

If you want to get in on the latest tips, tricks and news from the search engine world then SMX is the place to be and they have events all over the world.

There are of course many, many more IT events including offerings from IBM, Microsoft, Citrix, Oracle, ASCII, CompTIA, Asterisk, VMware, SITS, HP, Parallels, Infosec, RSA, HostingCon, and not forgetting of course CES.

If you manage to attend all those and live to tell the tale – let us know!

So what are your plans for the conference circuit this year? Do you have any favorite events to recommend? Or any to avoid even? Feel free to comment below.

 

Data Recovery Tools

Data Recovery ToolsSometimes critical data gets lost and no matter how much you wish, you wont find it behind the fridge, so what does the over-stressed IT technician do to recover his data and/or sanity? What data recovery tools are available to help resurrect that important missing data? Read on for the answers..

When you need to recover data it certainly helps if the computer it is on will actually boot up! If you’re stuck with a system that refuses to cooperate in this manner then what you need is a LiveCD (which could actually be on a usb stick) with which you can boot the recalcitrant machine and then (hopefully) mount the disks with your data. Popular Live CD distros include Knoppix (Linux based), WinPE (from MSFT and based on Win7) and Spinrite.

Many of these LiveCD distros of course also include various utils which you can use to diagnose problems and help recover your data, for example disk and filesystem checkers such as chkdsk for DOS/Windows, fsck and gparted for Linux/Unix systems and Disk Utility on OSX.

When it comes to actually finding and recovering the wayward files there are many options these days from free (but still good) to not so free (and sometimes still good) and some products which come with both options so you can try before you buy – assuming the free version doesn’t trash your data you might be tempted to pay for the premium version!

Among the options available for data recovery on Windows systems you can try the likes of Recuva, OnTrack Easy Recover, Total Recovery, Undelete 360, MiniTool Partition Recovery, Wise Data Recovery and even Norton Utilities.

On the Mac platform you can find such things as FileSalvage, Disk Drill Basic and Data Rescue 3, amongst others.

If your data is on a Linux system then you will find the imaginatively titled Recover Data for Linux and Linux Data Recovery to be right up your street.

If you’re still in need of more options then this page should provide enough to keep you busy for a long time. Feel free to let us know which data recovery tools you rely on.

When all else fails, it is time to reach for that ever reliable backup you made. You did make one right? You did also make sure to keep it up to date AND check that you could actually restore from it, just in case, right??

Mobile Tools for Technicians

Mobile Tools for TechniciansWith the advent of smartphones and then tablets, it is not only Star Trek engineers that get to have cool gadgets to help them with their technical tasks. Mobile tools for technicians are improving in leaps and bounds and there are now many to choose from which do just about everything you can imagine.

Being able to remote access a desktop from your mobile device is a very handy thing indeed and fortunately there are several apps available which allow just that. For example there is the mobile version of TeamViewer. There are several implementations of VNC and RDP and some, such as Jump Desktop that do both!

Connecting securely to your servers is something you will have to do plenty of and ConnectBot is a handy app for ssh’ing, Server Auditor is another similar app. If your mobile device doesn’t have a physical keyboard you may also want to install the Hackers Keyboard which provides easy access to all those tricky characters that only techs ever use.

Being able to login to servers and desktops and routers all from your mobile device is great but can you remember all those passwords? I think probably not! So another essential app is a password manager such as the great KeePass which is cross-platform so you can even use the same encrypted password file across multiple systems.

Being on call is no fun but getting an SMS alert in the middle of the night when a critical system is down is just one of those things you have to accept, however what good is it if you’re sleeping and don’t hear the little ‘new message’ beep? This is where  Klaxon comes in – it can filter your incoming messages and detect the important ones and then it will make sure you actually wake up!

Network testing tools are also typical in every technicians toolbox and for that you can use apps such as Wifi Analyzer, Fing which does ping, trace, port scanning and more, Ping & DNS which does what it sounds like, and there are plenty of others to suit your specific requirements.

DriveDroid is a clever little app which allows you to actually boot PC’s or servers from an image which is on your phone, basically turns your mobile device into a boot-up drive for other computers.

Moving files around is a common issue, clients often need to send you logs or other files and you may also need to send them files or send them to yourself from the road or office or wherever and Dropbox provides a convenient way to handle this task.

Being an IT technician often involves driving to client locations or datacenters in strange parts of the country and so you of course need to be able to find them  – Waze comes to the rescue with it’s GPS navigation app which shows you the way.

Which are your favorite mobile apps for techs?

 

Welcome to Tools for IT Services

Tools for IT ServicesWelcome to the Tools for IT Services blog where we will talk about and review many of the essential tools of the trade. Everything from software to hardware to services and online communities and resources which many in the industry find invaluable whether they be technicians for MSP’s or computer repair shops or running their own IT services business.

Needless to say, software for the busy IT shop or MSP includes the likes of professional services automation (PSA), accounting (such as the ubiquitous Quickbooks) and Outlook (or something of that ilk) amongst others and we will write about several.

Hardware used by IT people these days naturally includes smartphones and increasingly popular tablets of one kind or another combined with handy apps for testing, diagnosis, research and even PDF signing. But there’s more which can usually be found in a techs toolbox such as a multimeter, cable testers, screwdrivers and spanners and of course a few spare cables.

Web based services or “SaaS” to use the buzzword du jour, cloud based or otherwise, are all the rage these days and there are many which are used in this industry which offer such things as accounting, time tracking, monitoring/RMM and more. Which are the best? We’ll give you our opinions soon..

The web is all about communities and there are millions out there covering every imaginable interest from the narrowest niche for a specific app or component to the broadest general IT related community. Such communities can be based on forums or social network groups or even email lists and over time they become a vast treasure trove of knowledge from previous discussions and answers but also from existing active members who respond to requests for help or advice.

We will also cover industry news and events as well as discuss trends and changes in the IT services world.

Hopefully you will stick around or come back again to read our articles as we continue to update this site over time and if there’s anything you’d like us to cover – give us a shout!