Feb 28, 2012
The scene: June, 2011. A conference room. Our clients – Jennifer and Kari from Rural Development Initiatives, Inc, have asked me to sit down with them and discuss an exciting new idea.
The idea? They want a social challenge to support their cause. They’d like to challenge their supporters to take an action – build a fence, start a community garden, paint a mural – and then ask three of their friends to match their action with an action of their own.
"What kind of web programming will it take" is the question I have to answer. Should it be a separate website? Something built onto the new web database that we launched just a few weeks before? Something else entirely?
As we talked over ideas, a memory tickled in the back of my mind. I remember a Facebook app a year ago. An app where each “player” selected one action that they pledged to do in order to cut down their environmental footprint, then posted their pledge on their Facebook “wall” for all of their friends to see.
I suggested it. And we started looking for a reliable Facebook developer.
The need for a Facebook application came out of the bi-annual Regards to Rural conference. RDI wanted to encourage rural community participation and decided that a Facebook application would be an ideal tool for this while expanding RDI's social media presence.
netCorps helped RDI identify their needs, including the use case, key features and capabilities. We helped find a suitable developer, and helped to install, troubleshoot and host the app. We also acted as a project liaison, interpreting nerd speak. The developer, AES Connect, communicated the capabilities of Facebook applications well, we simply helped to clarify a few computer concepts and suggest how RDI could manage the data.
What is Powered by Rural?
RDI knows there is power in rural communities and we want to cultivate a new interest in civic engagement and help rural citizens showcase their power to those with the means to make the biggest impact in their community. The campaign is about awareness raising and civic engagement.
For those who are interested in joining, we ask that you do something- big or small- to improve your community, engage others to do the same, and share your stories with us so that we can help you get the attention and recognition you deserve.
Our audience is citizens, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of the Pacific Northwest. We want everyone, rural and urban alike, to understand that there is power in rural communities. We want to highlight those who are making a difference in rural and cultivate new interest in those who are not yet engaged. And, if you are a service-based organization we’re happy to showcase what you do too.
What were the challenges in reaching people?
Literal answer: Rural people are often distanced geographically. They often feel alone in their efforts and it’s hard for them to connect with others in order to share, inspire, and to be inspired by them. For this reason, the internet was a way to reach them and many people are already using Facebook
Figurative answer: Our biggest challenge was encouraging rural people to stand up and share the good work that they’re already doing. They needed to be encouraged to brag about themselves! Because they’re doing great things and they should be proud!
How does the Powered by Rural Facebook App support your project?
As I mentioned, many people are already using Facebook! In addition, it’s a way for us to reach beyond our current network and touch their friends and friends of friends, expanding our reach and our network. Facebook is also helping us reach the youth audience and cultivating a new interest in civic engagement within them.
There are some things we’d like to improve with the app, but that’s a task for the developer. To date, there’s been about 320 hours of community service pledged since the app launched, just 2 ½ months ago.
Powered by Rural can be accessed online at http://fb.me/poweredbyrural.
Dec 15, 2011
The short answer is: drivers.
Think of a driver as a translator; it's the go between that takes commands from your computer, and relays them to the printer in a language it can understand. And like our spoken languages, there are a multitude of printer languages, one or more for each printer manufacturer. And an HP printer won't understand commands written in Dell-speak and Brother won't understand commands written in Xerox. So for each printer you own your computer needs to have installed a unique driver/translator.
Now, to continue the metaphor, the reason your old printer won't work in Windows 7 is that your printer now speaks what your computer considers to be Latin. Or Old English. Sure, there are some translators out there that could make it work, but odds are, unless the driver is specificity designed for the make and model of the old printer, some things are simply going to be lost in translation.
For example, I recently attempted to install an old HP 1029 LaserJet on a new Windows 7 machine, but HP decided not to support the 1029s anymore... ostensibly I was out of luck, but by searching Google I found that I might be able to use the driver for the HP LaserJet3055. And sure enough, it worked, but it kept tossing out errors and occasionally freezing in the middle of a print job. Once more to the metaphor: my printer was speaking in a Southern accent, and the driver I found was from Scotland: it only sort of worked.
So the long and short of it is, when you make the transition to Windows 7 some of your older printers simply won't work. But like anything, their time is drawing nigh. Microsoft is soon going to discontinue support of Windows XP, which will leave it more vulnerable to security breaches, so it's probably time to start budgeting for an office-wide upgrade....including the printers.
The good news is that printers are cheaper than ever before. When you bought that mighty B&W LaserJet 6 years ago it probably cost you several hundred... but these days you can get a color LaserJet fit for a small office for the same or less.
Still hope that your old printer will work? Well, you may be in luck! Search for your old printer on the Windows 7 Compatability Center (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/compatibility/windows-7/en-us/default.aspx);your printer may indeed be supported by the manufacturer. Bear in mind, though, that just because the manufacturer says it has a Windows 7 driver doesn't mean it absolutely will work (the HP Universal driver is notorious for this sort of discrepancy)... each office is unique, and small differences can make the difference between a functioning old printer and, well, let's face it... a door stop.
Dec 13, 2011
When asked, netCorps staff has recommended purchasing new computers with Windows 7 on them, but cautioned against upgrading older systems until the hardware could be tested. We did some testing in October 2011 to see how well Windows 7 performs on older hardware, and here's the results!
We took two identical Pentium 4, 2.8GHz machines with 1GB of RAM installed and set up one with Windows XP and one with Windows 7 32-bit. We installed the same software on both machines: Microsoft Security Essentials, Firefox 7, Adobe Reader, and Microsoft Office 2007. We also installed Pathmark’s benchmarking software, which tests and grades several aspects of the system.
As we expected, the Windows XP machine scored higher on the Pathmark tests than the Windows 7 one did. However, we went on to test and time several typical office tasks on both machines as well – turning the computer on; opening a PDF document; loading the Firefox web browser; and opening Microsoft Word to a new document. On these tasks, the Windows 7 machine took roughly twice as long to start, but all other tasks took about the same amount of time or less.
In the automated testing routines done on the Windows 7 machine, the lowest scores - and the largest significant differences - were in video performance. To explore this further, we installed additional memory for this machine, bringing it up to 2GB (although the hardware could have taken more) and tested several add-in video cards. In most cases, we had to scrounge a bit to find Windows 7 compatible drivers for these cards - all were cards no longer in production, and the manufacturer website was not a reliable source of updated drivers. All of the cards improved performance somewhat, although not dramatically, and one had such difficulty with the 3D graphics that we had to disable hardware acceleration entirely to use the card.
With the additional memory and video cards installed, we added two more tests to our repertoire: we opened a large Excel spreadsheet and tested scrolling performance, and we tested the Windows Aero interface. The spreadsheet performance was tolerable with no video card installed, but improved a lot when we ran it with our overall best video card, the nVidia GeForce 6200.
We had done all of our previous testing with a Basic Theme in Windows 7, which disables several of the advanced graphical interface features, such as window transparency. The Basic themes will - and did - produce the best overall performance, but Windows Aero ran with the GeForce 6200 with no complaints.
Our testing suggests that this level of older hardware - Pentium 4, 2.8Ghz machines - can be upgraded to at least 2GB of memory and an add-in video card, and the performance on these machines will be adequate for many non-profit offices. We would still not suggest using these upgraded machines for heavy graphics or video use, but for basic office functions, they will work almost as well with Windows 7 as with Windows XP.
Raw Test Results:
|Win XP – Pentium4 2.8, 1GB|
|Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 1GB|
|Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 1.5GB|
|Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 2GB|
|Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 2GB, nVidia GeForce 6200
| Boot to Desktop
| Launch Firefox
| Launch Word
| Open PDF
May 31, 2011
Cell phones have come a long way since the Star Trek communicator-like flip phones of the 1990s - modern smartphones now do email, SMS, instant messaging, web browsing, Twitter, Facebook, and many more applications. At the same time that the functionality of phones is increasing, the sea of possible phone options is also swelling, and the nonprofit techie must don a Captain’s hat to navigate all of the different types of phones and make them work in your office. Here’s a short primer on smartphones, and some tips on which ones work best in various situations - so that when the next person comes to you and mentions that their phone contract is almost up and they’re thinking about getting something new, you’ll have some advice that will make their transition easier.
Apple’s iPhone - Available from AT&T or Verizon
Apple’s iPhone came out strong as one of the first popular multimedia smartphones, beating the range of Android phones to the market by about a year. It works well with all email servers, including Microsoft Exchange, although organizations using Google Apps for their email may find that configuring the iPhone for their email is not intuitive.
iPhone users looking for multimedia - photos, videos, and music - will be pleased with their phone, because, of course, Apple designed the iPhone off of the iPod and the iTouch. The iPhone synchronizes with the user’s computer via USB cable and the iTunes software, so if your staff wants their business contacts on their phone, they will need to install iTunes onto their office computer and synchronize with Outlook or transfer their Outlook contacts to another location to be synchronized onto their phone. Watch for iTunes music libraries being stored on network drives - if other people have access to those network folders (such as the Users folder on your server), this may be in violation of the copyright on those music files.
Criticism leveled at the iPhone tends to be regarding three things: the paucity of providers (Verizon started offering the iPhone only earlier in 2011), the tight control Apple keeps over what apps are available to iPhone users, and highly publicized design flaws, such as poor antennas.
Droid and other Android phones - Available from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and more
Android phones are the up and coming challenger to Apple’s iPhone. One of the top selling points to Android phones is the variety of models. Google purchased the base of the Android software in 2005 and developed an open-source mobile operating system from it, which means that several mobile developers have been able to use the system for their own devices. Unlike the iPhone, it is not restricted to one or two phone providers, but nearly every provider with a contract plan offers at least one Android phone, and an Android pre-paid phone is coming soon from Boost Mobile.
For users who have an in-house Exchange server, Android phones started out sluggish, requiring these users to purchase a $30 third-party app to synchronize email, contacts, and calendar with these phones. However, later models have caught up, and Android phones running version 2.2 or later seem to work just fine with Exchange servers.
Android phones require a Gmail account to link to, and if you do not have one when you purchase a phone, you will be prompted to set one up before leaving the store. Organizations using Google Apps can use the built-in Google tools on the Android phones to good effect, provided the phone is configured correctly right away - failing to configure correctly at the store will require a reset of the phone to resolve.
Android devices now also include tablets, available both in cellular network editions and wi-fi editions - one requires a monthly network plan, the other only requires access to a wireless network connection. These tablets do almost everything the phones can, except place phone calls, on a larger screen.
The preinstalled apps on an Android phone vary depending on the phone provider - some apps, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, are standard on all of them, but each vendor adds their own apps. The biggest criticism leveled at Android phones tends to be regarding these preinstalled apps - in several cases, they cannot be removed, although a replacement can often be found in the Android Market.
Blackberry - Available from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and more
Research in Motion (RIM)’s Blackberry has a long-standing history with text applications like email and messaging. Blackberry smartphones have been on the market since 2002, although from the beginning, they have been in the hands of busy executives with in-house IT staff to handle the necessary software. And software there is - traditionally, Blackberries sync with Microsoft Exchange servers as well as some larger and more complex business productivity servers though a plugin software installed on the mail server. This software can be purchased at several different levels, from the free one-user edition to a more expensive multi-user version. Blackberry phones also work with internet (POP or IMAP) email through a control panel on the web and synchronize via cable with Outlook.
Blackberry is still catching up with other smartphone makers in multimedia, in keeping with Blackberry’s history serving business users. This is not the phone for people who want music or movies, but a good phone for people whose primary use will be phone calls and emails. Blackberry’s calling card is the built in keyboard - real keys, not touchscreen - making typing a tad easier for people new to smartphones.