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10. Crypyocurrency – Risk and Volatility

It pays to remember that Bitcoin and crypto-currency is in it’s infancy. The value of a Bitcoin is highly volatile and is highly unpredictable over the short term, so it should not be regarded as a way of saving money. Only try it out with money you can afford to lose. Personally I believe it will evolve to the point where financial control is wrested away from the banks, governments and a clutch of super rich with the power to manipulate the market. Like all investments, anyone getting on the ride early could reap the benefits as it grows. However, we are breaking totally new ground here. It is also likely that cryptocurrency could out perform fiat currency and be a lousy investment but useful only for short time transactions as an “on the spot” measure of value, rather than an investment instrument. For all we know, it could have passed it’s investment peak now. For my money, there are better investments that conserve the value of your hard won savings.

Initially the concept of Bitcoin took off and other cloned versions vied for leadership. It was viewed as shady and branded as a way crime would launder money, in it’s early days. Banks refused to recognise it, effectively making it valueless in the real world. Today several banks are looking at participating in Bitcoin. These ups and downs in perception have reflected in the price of a Bitcoin.

Recently several European and Australian Banks have quietly begun to purchase Bitcoins. The Commonwsealth Bank of Australia is looking into Bitcoin at the moment.

I believe that it’s only a matter of time and crypto currency will take over from the banks, leaving them to be expensive safe deposit houses. The world needs a universal currency and nationalistic pride will never accept any one currency. The answer is a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. Currently we lose millions in transfer fees to transact overseas. Why? We’re not loading gold onto ships any more; it’s purely digital data these days (the price of an international, micro seconds long, phone call)  but we are still paying the fees fixed in the pre-computing days when it was shipped in a flotilla with armed escort vessels. With Bitcoin it will cost no extra to transact at home or overseas. The banks require staff to do this, so they can never compete with Bitcoin.

The important consideration is, there is a maximum number of Bitcoins. There can only be 21 Million Bitcoins. Unlike currency, no-one can make any more. Over time as more and more businesses come to accept Bitcoin, the demand will increase and being capped at 21 million means the value of Bitcoin should rise proportional to the demand. If the same happened with the US Dollar, for example, the Federal Reserve could print more money which would drop the value of the dollar. No-one can do this with Bitcoin.

As in all digital matters, with time any system becomes open to vulnerabilities, so you need to keep your software up to date. I would not suggest you transact in Bitcoin on a system using Windows XP, Windows 7 or Ubuntu 13.04 Linux. These operating systems are no longer supported for security updates and would invite hackers to steal your wallet. If you prefer these old stalwart systems, transact using a smartphone with updates and store your stash in a cold store,  hardware wallet that is removed from your system, the moment the transaction is complete.

Operating Systems – What do you get for your money?

I bought a laptop for our business and it came with Windows 7 and a trial version of Office 2007. It was on a special deal and inclusive in the price, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered getting them installed.

You see, I was cured of Windows back in the Vista days. So much hype and so few drivers. Out of desperation, I installed Ubuntu. The HP printer that was dormant under Vista fired up, the Internet router now had options of wireless or cable connections and a host of other problems vanished. I went exploring and discovered that not only did I have a full operating system but I also had a full office suite as well (not a separate expensive package to be installed separately, like with Microsoft’s Office 2007 package).

Anyway – I tried Windows 7 and have to admit it was a vast improvement over Vista. Unfortunately it still does not match Ubuntu by miles and here’s why:

  1. Firstly, of course is the price. I actually had to pay for Ubuntu (which is normally free) because our Internet is so lousy, it would probably be a faulty download to get it on line. I had no option but to buy the APC Magazine because it had a fill version of Ubuntu 11.04 on the free DVD that came with the January 2011 edition. Windows would have cost me about $75.00 at that time, for the student edition.
  2. I get a full operating system with Ubuntu which might not sound like much but it includes a business Office suite as part of the operating system. In Microsoft’s world (a.k.a. Hell with flourescent lighting) that Office suite would cost me at least twice what I paid for Windows!
  3. Ubuntu loads in 32 seconds, Windows 7 takes double that time and up to 3 minutes if it demands to check my drives for errors.
  4. Shutting down Ubuntu takes 15 seconds. Windows can take a minimun of 45 seconds and has taken up to 42 minutes if updates are installing.
  5. I have control in Ubuntu. In Windows, it takes over my computer and allows me to do some things when it’s not updating or installing updates.I was giving a presentation, a Powerpoint slide show to a group of IT undergraduates. I powered up the computer and was greeted with the “Installing Updates – 5% of 135 files” message. For the next 14 minutes I had to ad-lib, to an IT lecture group! I could not postpone the updates installation. Ubuntu informs me if there are updates, gives me the option of postponing them and gives me the extra option of installing them on another desktop (or workspace as they call it). I would have been able to run the slide show while the updates installed in the background.
  6. I use a wide screen display and Ubuntu automatically sets it. Windows 7 doesn’t. I get icons that need to go on a weight loss program or a normally proportioned image central in the screen, with two black bands at each side. To get the best result I have to set the screen size manually.
  7. I dare not use Internet Explorer when I’m on Facebook or eBay and have to be very wary of emails with attachments. There are so many viruses out there. In fact if it wasn’t the only way Microsoft will agree to keep me secure with updates, I’d erase Internet Explorer completely. Accordingly I use Ubuntu for my Internet surfing – viruses just don’t work in Ubuntu. The system is far more secure and the evil programmers who write viruses want to hit the greatest numbers of computers, so they write them for Windows at around 75% of all computers, rather than Linux at 2%.
  8. There’s the “supergeek” prestige among IT people when you fire up your linux system that looks so cool , while they get the POST beep on their Windows system. It’s the penultimate proof that you really know I.T. In my line that enhances one’s credibility before I have said anything.

Everything I need to run our business is there but to be fair, there are some really cool games that won’t run in Ubuntu. All the online games do. Some experts might say there is a work around but to me a workaround is a sign that something is faulty.

To summarise: My $9.99, (let’s call it $10) got me everything you paid at least $200.00 for.

So, as one business person to another, what did you get for that extra $190.00 ?

Business Software 5 – Operating systems in plain English

If it’s so good why don’t you use it?

Surprise, surprise – I do and have since 2006 !

In 2006 I bought a full legal copy of Windows XP for my new computer. I upgraded the CPU and my Windows XP installation didn’t run on the new computer. It said it was not the same computer it has originally been installed on, so I had to install it all over again. Later my hard disk crashed and I fitted a new one. XP once again said this was a different computer and I had to reinstall it. To my surprise, it refused to install and I had to call Microsoft customer support in Sydney, go through a stupid and involved process to install a piece of software that I had paid for, on my own computer. When I increased the RAM and upgraded the video card and XP gave me the same stupid messages, I was fed up installed SuSe so at least I could keep operating.

By the time I had finished that job, and finally had the time to phone Microsoft again, I had hacked my copy of XP, so I could reinstall my software that I had paid for, on my computer – that was what I had bought it for!

Ubuntu running on my laptop -  It runs like a well oiled seabird
Ubuntu running on my laptop - It runs like a well oiled sea bird

I have since used Linux for all Internet work.

All my business work is done using Open Office. This is a free equivalent to Microsoft’s Office but has a few extra very handy features that you won’t get with MS Office.

  • Extra colours for highlighting and they are soft shades that make your document look more professional that the same document would in MS Office with it’s garish highlights which force you to work in a single colour.
  • Office 2010 uses file types that previous versions of MS Office cannot read without a special add on. Open Office reads these files regardless.
  • Open Office can save files as if they were created in MS Office or it’s own format that MS Office cannot read. Ideal to prevent plagiarism and to lock up documents from prying eyes until they are ready for publication.
  • Icons don’t have to be in any special format, like in MS Office’s .ico files.
  • Open office is cheaper that MS Office Business or MS Office Professional  ($389 – $850) because it’s free!

If you can use MS Office, you can step across into Open Office with no training, the commands are so similar, unlike other software Office equivalents.

But there is one massive advantage that you can’t get with Microsoft’s Office –  I can use the same Office software for Windows or Linux. Unlike MS Office which does not work in anything except Windows, Open Office is available in a Windows format too.

My laptop came with Windows 7 (after I told them I would not buy one with Vista) and a trial version of the latest offering from MS Office. I tried the trial version and it was good, but I could not justify the cost, when Open Office could do everything just as well. There wasn’t enough difference to warrant the expense. I removed the trial version and installed Open Office in Windows 7 instead. It runs perfectly and although it doesn’t come with as many templates for slides and documents, there are hundreds available on the Internet for free (the ones for MS Office, that I liked, were for sale if I used them for business use).

By the way, did you notice that when I began writing these articles, Windows held 80% of the market (in the 1st installment) and today it is at 76% ?

Maybe a lot of people like me are starting to ask, just what am I getting for my dollar?
Someone should tell the software corporations like Apple and Microsoft that the old corporate practice of locking out the user from the software only works when you have a top product. If they invested in a better product rather than a better lock, they’d get more customers.

Business Software 4 – Operating systems in plain English

Linux in business.

First, to assess linux, we need to cover a few simple basics. Linux is an engine that runs an Operating System, not an Operating System. It is packaged with other programs to create a Distribution or “Distro” – a complete operating system. This is much the same as a V8 engine being wrapped in a body to create a Ford Mustang, GM Monaro, Rolls Royce or Chrysler. They all run on a V8 but are different cars.

There are many different distros of Linux. The most popular are Ubuntu (also Kubuntu with slightly different desktop), SuSe and Mint (which is based on Ubuntu). On my desktop I use Ubuntu but it doesn’t like the screen size on my laptop, so I use Mint for my laptop. I can swap files between them with 100% capability.

Like most people, you already use Windows and don’t want to take the risk of stuffing it up with a different operating system, here ‘s the great news – you don’t have to. You can use both!

This is called a dual boot system. When you start up the computer (or laptop), it will halt at a window for 15 seconds and wait for you to choose from either the Linux system or Windows system. If you choose Windows, Windows starts up normally. You can easily set the waiting time for longer and can set the default system as either Windows or your Linux distro. If you don’t choose one or the other, within that waiting time, it will choose whichever you set as the default system.

If you think you’ll end up with a boring operating system check this out, this is my laptop desktop in Mint.

My laptop desktop with Linux Mint
My laptop desktop with Linux Mint with Open Office Calc, a spresadsheet silmilar to Microsoft's Excel

There are some advantages with Linux too:

  • It is very reliable. I have used Linux since 2001 and never had a system crash.
  • Because most computers use Windows, most viruses and malware are written for attacking Windows systems – not Linux. There is no harmful virus that will attack a Linux system.
  • It uses less resources that Windows. This means your Internet experience is smoother, your computer runs faster and cooler.
  • You can surf the Internet, confident that you are secure against many viruses (there are still some viruses that go for your BIOS or the master record boot on the hard disk).
  • Your Operating System comes complete with a full Office Package that is better that Microsoft’s Office (I will justify this in a later article in this series).
  • If you are still not convinced, Linux is also available in “Live” editions. These run straight from the CD. You don’t have to install anything. Of course to do this, it runs slower (about the same speed as Windows) and has less bells and whistles) but it’s enough to give you a preview of the operating system.

In the next installment we’ll look at the office software that comes with Linux distros (and can also run just as well on Windows too).

Business Software 2 – Operating systems in plain English

A trap when buying new computers

When buying a computer or laptop, they come with an operating system already installed and a re-install disk. Recently manufacturers are not supplying a separate disk for reinstalling Windows on it’s own. They usually come with a DVD to reinstall the whole computer (Windows and all other software in one session). Built into the price you pay, is the cost of the Operating System and you are entitled to a disk to reinstall this as a stand alone product.

This is important because if ever you have to change the hard drive, RAM or processor, the reinstall disk will not work. It will not recognise your computer as the original computer and refuse to install the operating systems and the other software. You will be forced to buy a whole new operating system, even though you are legally entitled to reinstall the original system. You are allowed two installs before the software locks you out and refuses to re-install. If you call Microsoft’s customer service, they will ask for evidence that it is the original computer the installation was done on, then supply you with a 25 digit code to allow you another installation. Save the hassle, get your operating system on a separate DVD or buy your new computer without any operating system (and discounted accordingly) and install your own. This allows the added advantage and security of a dual installation – we’ll be discussing this in more detail later.

Another option is to buy one with Linux as an Operating System. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next article instalment. Make sure they deduct the cost of the Windows operating system off the selling price (Linux is free).

MAC computers use a different operating system but as a business computer, they are very expensive to run because they are almost impossible to upgrade, forcing you to buy a whole new computer. Repairs are very expensive and repairers are few and far between. Some software will either not run on a Mac or will run with less options. Although Macs rarely break down, when they do, you will pay much more than a Windows (or PC) computer to get it fixed. Mac computers are costly and often impossible to upgrade unlike PC computers which can often be upgraded (larger hard drive, faster processor or by adding more RAM) to keep up with new software.

Business Software 1 – Operating systems in plain English

If you scan the shelves of software shops, it won’t take too long to realise that equipping a small business with software can easily set you back 2 to 3 thousand dollars for a typical small business.These days most businesses need software to run.

You just can’t run without it but there are many ways to save money on software. Over the next few instalments we’ll take a look at some options – the practical ones that don’t require a degree in I.T. to work in a business!Let’s begin with the operating system.

Windows runs on 80% of the world’s computers, so it’s the obvious choice. At that kind of market penetration you can be sure the product is well supported. Don’t be duped into buying VISTA or a computer (or laptop) that is cheaper because it comes with VISTA (or even Windows XP) rather than Windows 7. Soon they will not be supported and rapidly your precious business records will become vulnerable to attack from new viruses, malware or worse identity theft.

Windows 7 – the latest Windows version, is a solid reliable platform that comes in several packages: Home Professional Ultimate Family Pack As with most software, the top of the market package is filled with extras you will never use and the Home package is limited and may not have a few utilities you could use in your business. The Family Pack is centered around photos and videos. The best package for business use would be the Professional version.

 

Windows 7 Boxes
Windows 7 comes in three forms - Ultimate, Professional and Home edition

When buying a computer or laptop, there are some important traps to be aware of. Next installment, we’ll look at a few that anyone buying a new computer should be aware of.