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What is a PBX Phone System?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange, which is a private telephone network used within a company.

Traditional PBXs would have their own proprietary phones, such that there would be a way to re-use these phones with a different system. This means that we either have system-lock-in (we are bound to the same system because changing system means also changing phones, which makes it prohibitively expensive to break away) or vendor-lock-in (we are bound to the same vendor because the phones are only usable with systems from the same vendor, sometimes only within a particular range of systems).

Time and Technology however have changed the consumer telephony landscape, with the flag-bearer being the Open-Standards-based IP-PBX. The point of the “IP” in this new era is that the phone calls are delivered using the Internet Protocol as the underlying transport technology.

PBX Phone System

This image gives us an idea of what an IP-PBX system allows in terms of connectivity and reachability.

With a traditional PBX, you are typically constrained to a certain maximum number of outside telephone lines (trunks) and to a certain maximum number of internal telephone devices or extensions. Users of the PBX phone system (phones or extensions) share the outside lines for making external phone calls.

An IP-PBX opens up possibilities, allowing for almost unlimited growth in terms of extensions and trunks, and introducing more complex functions that are more costly and difficult to implement with a traditional PBX, such as:

  • Ring Groups
  • Queues
  • Digital Receptionists
  • Queues
  • Voicemail
  • Reporting

The Benefits of Network-Attached Storage (NAS)

So you’re looking for a more effective way of sharing and storing your data, and you’ve come across Network-Attached Storage – otherwise known as NAS, for short. But what is it exactly and how does it work? Here we’ll explain all:

What is Network-Attached Storage?

You could create extra storage by connecting a USB External Hard Drive to your computer – or you could use Network-Attached Storage. By allowing multiple devices to have access to the same data over the internet, this creates a more efficient means of data management along with offering backup of essential information on a frequent basis. So in a nutshell, NAS offers centralised storage.

What are the benefits of Network-Attached Storage?

The key benefits of network-attached storage are mainly speed and convenience. While hard drives will always be the most common choice when it comes to storage, you may find that you could be restricted with their use – as such devices are often limited in use due to the type of computer it’s connected to. Instead of a hard drive connecting to your computer, NAS connects to your wireless router – enabling multiple users from multiple devices to access the files on the network. So, if you’re at home and have a number of PCs and printers, this provides the quickest and most efficient way for everyone to acquire and share the relevant data.

Improves collaboration

By connecting to the network, this aids sharing and collaboration so as to allow users of the network to collaborate more effectively on a project – as any digital data saved to a NAS drive can be accessed from one universal location. So not only can anyone accessing the network get to their desired files and folders between computers with ease – they can also share said digital content. Many NAS units offer options for connecting to your storage remotely meaning you (or friends and family) have access to your files anywhere in the world – effectively your own private cloud storage. Of course as soon as you open your files up to the big wide world you should ensure you have secure passwords and where possible configure firewalls to give you as much protection as possible – with different NAS devices offering different options for this. Some might be simple FTP access and others offer slightly more advanced VPN access or via the manufacturer’s servers.

Which devices can I link to my NAS?

You can hook up your printers, computers as well as USB cameras with your NAS device.

Does my NAS back up my data?

When it comes to backing up your data, RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is your best option. By using two or more hard disks, this helps provide a level of security in the event of a system failure – ideal for NAS.

Configuring the NAS setup

Another great advantage is that NAS provides the ability to customise your storage settings i.e. add even more hard drives when configuring your setup. This offers two useful benefits: one, simply upgrade your storage without ever needing to transfer your data to an external drive – all that’s required is a second drive. Fortunately the majority of NAS systems provide enough space to fit in two hard drives, so having that extra storage solution can be considered a lifesaver. Your second advantage with NAS is setting up two or more drives into a RAID array – whereby you pair multiple drives together to enhance redundancy, performance, or even both.

There are 6 types of RAID. The most common being RAID 0 (striped array), RAID 1 (mirrored array) and RAID 5:

RAID 0 is the simplest way to combine all of your drives into the largest single volume possible, by splitting your data across all the drives (known as striping). It offers performance benefits because the RAID controller is able to write to multiple drives at once but offers no redundancy so it is not suitable for important irreplaceable data.

RAID 1 effectively replicates what is one drive onto another. At best it offers the same performance as a single drive (at worst it can reduce write performance as write speeds will be dictated by the slowest drive). It does however offer full redundancy in the event of a single drive failure. If you’re using an external hard drive and it suddenly packs up on you then this spells trouble – but should one of your RAID 1 NAS drives be affected, the second drive has stored your data so you can easily recover your library.

RAID 5 is by far the most popular and is a combination of RAID 0 and RAID 1. It requires a minimum of three drives with one drive acting as a ‘parity drive’. Data is striped (like RAID 0) across n-1 drives (n being the total number of drives in your RAID array) meaning you have the performance benefits of RAID 0. The parity drive means in the event of a single drive failure it is possible to rebuild the entire array (much like RAID 1). This does however mean that you are vulnerable after a drive failure until the RAID is rebuilt (the time it takes to re-establish the parity drive) meaning you can still potentially lose all of your data. For this reason RAID 6 has been developed to supersede RAID 5 allowing failure of up to two drives for large arrays. The downside to this is that you need two parity drives so you get less total storage for your money, and as array sizes increase, RAID 6 becomes even more essential.

Why should I choose NAS?

We’ve already covered the fact that NAS is ideal for users looking to share files, storage capacity, printers plus its regular backup service. But why choose NAS as your preferred storage solution?

Media streaming

Now that you’ve become accustomed to sharing your files, you can now allow other devices such as a media player have access to your media library. Acting like a DVD player, your media player can display photos, play your music and films from a hard drive connected to it – or simply play files direct from your NAS. This eliminates the need to keep numerous copies of the same files.

Printer sharing

If your computer is attached to a USB printer, this lets you print your documents off with ease – but can be an annoyance for someone else who needs to print something but whose computer isn’t the primary computer connected to the USB printer. NAS solves this problem by connecting to the USB printer, thus sharing this printer with the rest of the devices in the household.

Remote access

With NAS, you can share your files from anywhere within the home – but many NAS devices offer remote access capability so you can access your files anywhere in the world. This means you can play your favourite song within your web browser, or share your photo album with friends while you’re on the move.

How much will NAS cost?

Costs will depend on how much storage you’re after – an entry-level NAS can start around £50 but you’ll only be running on a small amount of memory with a slow processor to boot. For NAS to cater for more simultaneous users for heavy-loaded applications such as media streaming or hosting a website, you could be looking at around the £400 mark. Quite simply, the best way to determine how big a NAS you need is to add the entire storage of household’s devices – then double it.

How do I install a Network-Attached Server?

This is a relatively simple process, but before undertaking the installation, bear in mind the following:
• What are your backup options?
• Which users will have access to the NAS server?
• What will the permission levels be for each user?
• What types of files will be shared?
It’s recommended that users should have their own account, thereby customising permission levels for each person.

Installing a NAS server for Windows users

With Windows, the NAS server should automatically display in the Network Places folder once the setup process is complete. If not, users should select the Tools drive on My Computer (this can be found under the Map Network Drive option). Select an empty letter that shows up in a free drive, but don’t use a drive that’s been used before. Then, choose between linking the NAS server for one-off use or on a regular basis – and then you’ll be granted access to the NAS server.

Installing a NAS server for Mac users

Quite often, many of the same systems will be implemented to help you with setting up the NAS server. Most come with a wizard function to walk you through installation, where once installed, the NAS device will appear in the Finder’s list of shared folders. If not, simply enter the IP address of the installed server to gain access to the shared files.

What is VoIP?

Related image

VOIP is an acronym for Voice Over Internet Protocol, or in more common terms phone service over the Internet.
If you have a reasonable quality Internet connection you can get phone service delivered through your Internet connection instead of from your local phone company.

Some people use VOIP in addition to their traditional phone service, since VOIP service providers usually offer lower rates than traditional phone companies, but sometimes doesn’t offer 911 service, phone directory listings, 411 service, or other common phone services. While many VoIP providers offer these services, consistent industry-wide means of offering these are still developing.

How does VOIP work?

A way is required to turn analog phone signals into digital signals that can be sent over the Internet.

Why use VOIP?

There are two major reasons to use VOIP

  • Lower Cost
  • Increased functionality

    Lower Cost

In general phone service via VOIP costs less than equivalent service from traditional sources. This is largely a function of traditional phone services either being monopolies or government entities. There are also some cost savings due to using a single network to carry voice and data. This is especially true when users have existing under-utilized network capacity that they can use for VOIP without any additional costs.

In the most extreme case, users see VOIP phone calls (even international) as FREE. While there is a cost for their Internet service, using VOIP over this service may not involve any extra charges, so the users view the calls as free. There are a number of services that have sprung up to facilitate this type of “free” VOIP call.

Increased Functionality

VOIP makes easy some things that are difficult to impossible with traditional phone networks.

  • Incoming phone calls are automatically routed to your VOIP phone where ever you plug it into the network. Take your VOIP phone with you on a trip, and anywhere you connect it to the Internet, you can receive your incoming calls.
  • Call center agents using VOIP phones can easily work from anywhere with a good Internet connection.

 

What is the internet of things?

Google searches have been filled with questions about the internet of things. What is it and why does it matter? Is it safe? Is it even real? Here are some answers

internet of things

A decade from now, everything could be connected to the internet of things. Photograph: Peter Menzel/The Human Face of Big Data

Among its many other cultural and economic assets, Google is accumulating a rather comprehensive record of what is troubling us, from asking the search engine to diagnose our disease symptoms to whether we will ever find true love. It seems only natural, then, to turn to Google to decrypt the latest piece of technical jargon, “the internet of things”.

It is a term that internet users have been peppering the search engine with questions about. But what does it mean for real life? We’ve taken the most commonly asked questions about the internet of things, and answered them using a real human being.

What is the internet of things (and why does it matter)?

The internet of things (or as it’s also known, IoT) isn’t new: tech companies and pundits have been discussing the idea for decades, and the first internet-connected toaster was unveiled at a conference in 1989.

At its core, IoT is simple: it’s about connecting devices over the internet, letting them talk to us, applications, and each other. The popular, if silly, example is the smart fridge: what if your fridge could tell you it was out of milk, texting you if its internal cameras saw there was none left, or that the carton was past its use-by date?

Where it’s most common, in Britain at least, is home heating and energy use – partially because the government is pushing energy companies to roll out smart meters (although it has been questioned whether it can be delivered on schedule). They have clever functions that let you turn on heating remotely, set it to turn down the temperature if it’s a sunny day, or even turn off when there’s no-one home. Some can tell the latter with motion-sensing cameras, or simply by seeing that your smartphone (and therefore you) has left the premises.

IoT is more than smart homes and connected appliances, however. It scales up to include smart cities – think of connected traffic signals that monitor utility use, or smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied – and industry, with connected sensors for everything from tracking parts to monitoring crops.

Why does it matter? There’s a reason the government is encouraging energy companies to hand you a smart meter: all that data and automated use is more efficient, meaning we use less energy. Many areas of IoT show such benefits, though some smart gadgets are more about whizz-bang effects than efficiency, which may well be why we’re seeing more smart heating than smart fridges in the UK.

Is it safe? Can the internet of things be secured?

Everything new and shiny has downsides, and security and privacy are the biggest challenges for IoT. All these devices and systems collect a lot of personal data about people – that smart meter knows when you’re home and what electronics you use when you’re there – and it’s shared with other devices and held in databases by companies.

Security experts argue that not enough is being done to build security and privacy into IoT at these early stages, and to prove their point have hacked a host of devices, from connected baby monitors to automated lighting and smart fridges, as well as city wide systems such as traffic signals. Hackers haven’t, for the most part, put much attention to IoT; there’s likely not enough people using connected appliances for an attack against them to be worth the effort, but as ever, as soon as there’s a financial benefit to hacking smart homes, there will be a cyber criminal working away at it.

So the short answer is yes, IoT is relatively safe: you’re not likely to face serious loss or damage because of your smart meter, any more than your home PC, at least. However, there’s no guarantee, and so far not enough is being done to ensure IoT isn’t the next big hacking target.

How will the internet of things affect business and work?

This all depends on your industry: manufacturing is perhaps the furthest ahead in terms of IoT, as it’s useful for organizing tools, machines and people, and tracking where they are. Farmers have also been turning to connected sensors to monitor both crops and cattle, in the hopes of boosting production, efficiency and tracking the health of their herds.

The examples are endless, and all we can predict is that connected devices will likely creep into most businesses, just the way computers and the web have. When the efficiencies are with tools or plants, it’s easy to appreciate the potential benefit, but when it’s office workers who are being squeezed for more productivity, it could take on a bit of a dystopian shade: imagine your security access card being used to track where you are in the building, so your boss can tot up how much time you’re spending in the kitchen making tea.

On the flip side, a smart tea maker that knows just when you’re in need of a cuppa could be very handy indeed.

What does the internet of things mean for healthcare?

Smart pills and connected monitoring patches are already available, highlighting the life-saving potential of IoT, and many people are already strapping smartwatches or fitness bands to their wrists to track their steps or heartbeat while on a run.

There’s a host of clever connected health ideas: Intel made a smart band that tracks how much patients with Parkinsons shake, collecting more accurate data than with paper and pen; Sonamba monitors daily activities of senior or ill people, to watch for dangerous anomalies; and people with heart disease can use AliveCore to detect abnormal heart rhythms.

Healthcare is one area where more data has the potential to save lives, by preventing disease, monitoring it and by analysing it to create new treatments. However, our health is also one of the most sensitive areas of our lives, so privacy and security will need a bit more preventative medicine first.

Is the internet of things real?

This is perhaps the best query being Googled about IoT: is it real?

Surprisingly, it’s tough to answer. Technology is full of marketing and hype – it’s often difficult to decide early on whether an innovation is truly ground-breaking or not. After all, many tech pundits mocked the first iPhone.

But the internet of things is one of those wider ideas that isn’t dependent on a single project or product. Smart fridges may well be the appliance of the future, or could fall by the wayside as too much tech for too little gain, but the idea of connected sensors and smart devices making decisions without our input will continue.

A decade from now, everything could be connected or perhaps only bits and pieces with specific benefits, such as smart meters; and we may call it IoT, smart devices or not call it anything at all, the way smartphones have simply become phones.

No matter where it is or what we call it, IoT is real – but what it will look like in the future is something even Google can’t answer.

Making a voice-controlled robot is now as easy as Pi

Support for voice commands with the Raspberry Pi is here. The Windows 10 Creators Update brought forth an IoT Core with Cortana support to the Pi 3, and now the diminutive computer boards have been hooked up with Google Assistant.

This is thanks to a partnership between Google and the makers of the Raspberry Pi, who put their heads together to produce a new Voice HAT that sits on top of the miniature computer (like a ‘hat’ – although the acronym actually stands for Hardware Accessory on Top).

You can get the accessory bundled with the latest edition of the MagPi (the official Raspberry Pi magazine), in a kit which also includes all the necessary wiring and other bits and pieces – like a speaker, microphone add-on board, and cardboard case to house the project – along with step-by-step instructions on how to build it.

Custom commands

The finished product offers voice control via Google Assistant, so you can just treat it as a simple digital-assistant-in-a-box. However, there’s also the ability to program custom commands for whatever other use you may have in mind for this box of tricks – like driving a voice-powered robot (“robot – move forward!”).

It’s pretty nifty stuff, and the project can be powered by a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, or a Raspberry Pi Zero board.

As we mentioned at the outset, last month also saw Cortana support come to the Raspberry Pi 3 courtesy of the Creators Update for Windows 10 IoT Core, the version of Windows designed for IoT gadgets like the Pi.

If you’re running this OS (as opposed to Raspbian, for example) on your Pi, then you’ll be able to build Cortana-powered smart devices which respond to the same voice commands you can give your PC – or indeed you can program custom commands, as with the Voice HAT.

The world of the Raspberry Pi is fast becoming a much bigger place with many more possibilities for keen tinkerers.

Microsoft’s new version of Windows 10 doesn’t let you make Google your default search engine

Microsoft’s lightweight version of Windows 10 is a bit more locked down than first anticipated.

In an FAQ page for Windows 10 S, as the just-announced variant is called, Microsoft notes that its Edge web browser will be the default in the new operating system.

That much was known already, as the main thing that makes Windows 10 S “lightweight” is the fact that it only runs apps from Windows’ app store. Right now, no other major browser is in that app store and available on PCs to begin with.

What wasn’t specified before, though, was the fact that neither Edge nor Internet Explorer (Microsoft’s older browser) will let you change the default search engine in Windows 10 S. As LaptopMag notes, that means you’ll be sent to Microsoft’s Bing engine whenever you search from the address bar, with no way of switching to Google, DuckDuckGo, or another competitor without going to their respective websites.

Microsoft Surface EventMicrosoft

With regular Windows 10, you can dig through a few settings menus in Edge and change the default engine from Bing to your preference.

Beyond that, the FAQ page notes that even if you are able to download another browser from the Windows app store, Edge “will remain the default if, for example, you open an .htm file.” In other words, when you open a link from an email, chat app, and what have you on a Windows 10 S machine, that link will open in Edge every time.

Microsoft likely has its reasons for this — the big ideas it’s selling with Windows 10 S are security and simplicity, with a particular focus on schools. The easiest way to create that, in its eyes, is to put the services it can directly control at the forefront of the OS as much as possible. Getting more people to use its stuff probably doesn’t hurt, either.

But from a consumer standpoint, this kind of closedness is a ways away from the flexibility of standard Windows 10. Bing, while generally fine, has long been less popular than Google Search, even as it’s become more tightly integrated with Windows 10.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft has tried pushing people toward Bing before. Back in 2014 it launched a “Windows 8.1 with Bing” edition of its OS that was aimed at lower-cost hardware, much like Windows 10 S today. It required Microsoft’s device partners to make Bing the default search engine, too, though it gave consumers the ability to opt out if they wanted.

Theoretically, there isn’t much stopping a Google or Mozilla from bringing their web browsers to the Windows app store. And if you really wanted to avoid Bing, you can always make a shortcut to Google Search or whatever else.

Plus, this kind of policy isn’t totally unprecedented: Google locks Chrome as the default browser on its Chrome OS (but does let you change default search engines), while Apple does the same with Safari on iOS.

But those interested in Microsoft’s flashy new Surface Laptop may want to keep in mind that Windows 10 S really wants you to use Microsoft things, and that it’s aimed at schools much more than professionals and heavier PC users. It’s more like Chrome OS, just with Microsoft in Google’s place.

It’s also worth remembering that schools can upgrade a Windows 10 S machine to full Windows 10 Pro for free. Surface Laptop buyers can do the same until the end of the year — though it may make the hardware a bit less efficient than it’d be otherwise.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Warning! when someone emails you a Google Doc link it could be malware!

A nasty piece of malware is going around that pretends to be a Google Doc link, maybe from someone you know.

To protect yourself, don’t click on Google Doc links you weren’t expecting to receive. Often, these links are sent by people you know.

Here’s an example I received this afternoon. Several of my colleagues have received identical emails.

Phishing scam

Apparently, if you were to click on the “Open in Docs” link, it would send a similar email to your entire inbox, according to BuzzFeed’s Joe Bernstein.

The malware seems to be pretty sophisticated

“We have taken action to protect users against an email impersonating Google Docs, and have disabled offending accounts,” a Google spokesperson told Business Insider. “We’ve removed the fake pages, pushed updates through Safe Browsing , and our abuse team is working to prevent this kind of spoofing from happening again. We encourage users to  report phishing emails in Gmail .”

In the meantime, if the sender is someone you know, check with them outside of Gmail before you open anything to ensure they shared a Google Doc with you.

What does an IT consultant do?

Simply put a consultant focuses on advising organizations on how best to use information technology (IT) in achieving their business objectives. In addition to providing advice, IT consultancies often estimate, manage, implement, deploy, and administer IT systems on behalf of their client organizations – a practice known as “outsourcing”.

There are different reasons why consultants are called in:

  • To gain external, objective advice and recommendations
  • To gain access to the consultants’ specialized expertise
  • Temporary help during a one-time project where the hiring of a permanent employee(s) is not required or necessary
  • To outsource all or part of the IT services from a specific company

Best secure browsers 2017: 9 of the most private browsers UK

What does the idea of a secure browser mean? The world is now more complex than it was in 2010 when we last looked at the contenders. People are more oriented to mobile devices running under very different conditions while a range of security features such as URL filtering, download protection and do not track have transformed mainstream desktop browsers such as Chrome, IE and Firefox. In a sense all browsers could now plausibly claim to be ‘secure’ browsers.

If that’s the case, what has happened to what were once considered secure browsers? One answer is the specialised products are now more focused on the issue of user privacy, of handing back control to the user and opting out of data collection systems of the sort that underpin firms such as Google.

It is perfectly possible to tweak Chrome, Firefox or IE, fine tuning them for security and privacy if that’s important. Each now has a privacy mode – which might or might not convince the skeptic of course. But the philosophy behind the true secure browser is to eschew the notion of platforms and plug-ins, stripping back every non-essential feature to create a more minimalist experience.

The following eight (OK, plus one plug-in) achieve this is in different ways. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, merely an indication of what’s on offer from ones that caught our eye. Privacy usually requires compromises so they won’t be for everyone.

Our top picks are:

– Epic Privacy Browser
– Comodo Dragon
– Brave
– Tor

Read on for the full list.

Epic privacy browser

Based on Chromium, Epic is the perfect example of a browser that strips out every conceivable feature to maximize privacy. It’s rather like using a minimalist Google Chrome with the Google. Cookies and trackers are eliminated after each session, all searches are proxied through the firm’s own servers (which means there is no way to connect an IP address to a search), and it attempts to prioritize SSL connections wherever possible., useful for open Wi-Fi connections. It does not collect data about its users and comes with excellent built-in ad blocking.

For a fully-encrypted connection, it includes a one-button proxying feature that does slow down browsing but will appeal to some users (it can’t necessarily be used as a regional bypass proxy because Epic’s servers are based in the US). Despite eschewing plug-ins a handful are available to make life a bit easier, for example password manager LastPass.

Downsides? Epic’s one-click proxy does slightly slow browsing down, although for high-spec machines this shouldn’t be an issue.

Comodo Dragon/Ice Dragon

Comodo offers two browsers, one based on Chromium (Dragon) and the other on Firefox (Ice Dragon). Which one you choose would depend on your current investment in either Chrome or Firefox because each aims to maintain compatibility with thing like plug-ins, stored passwords, and favourites if desired.

Features? Probably the first one is the ability to choose whether to use Comodo’s SecureDNS servers for either Dragon or all applications (or not at all), which potentially offers privacy and security compared to a user wanting to bypass their ISP’s infrastructure.  This incorporates a domain filtering system designed to limit exposure to problem domains of the sort used by malware

Probably the most intriguing feature is the browser’s ‘virtualised mode that isolates it from the host system. This is a free feature but requires the user to install Comodo Internet Security (CIS), a free version of the company’s anti-virus software. Not everyone will want to do that but the added security of this approach is worth considering.

Downsides? Comodo is set up as a parallel world to Chrome or Firefox minus some of the tracking and with some extra added layers of security. Impressive as this sounds it’s almost the polar opposite of Epic’s minimalism – worth experimenting with perhaps.

Brave

Announced by Brendan Eich, co-founder of the Mozilla Project, Brave is an open source browser that offers a respectable Chrome and Safari alternative, even in its early stages.

Brave offers great speeds and advanced ad-tracking controls, ideal for the privacy conscious who are also after a lightweight browser.

Available for Windows, Linux and OS X users, Brave includes HTTPS Everywhere integration, blocks cookie capture and has an active developer community which is always improving the browser.

Downsides? It’s a pretty new browser that’s in beta testing so don’t expect a fully polished product.

Tor

The Tor browser has become the watchword for the anti-surveillance because it is built on an entire infrastructure of ‘hidden’ relay servers. Built atop a modified Firefox, it can be installed on a Windows, Mac or Linux PC but also on a USB stick if that’s preferable.

The important thing to remember about Tor is that it is really an advanced privacy browser rather than a secure one in that it includes no anti-malware technology and blocks plug-ins by design. It is designed to anonymise a user within certain constraints such as the requirement to use only HTTPS connections (enforced by HTTPS Everywhere – see next entry). The Tor Project offers a list of do and don’t for using it securely, including being very careful about downloading and opening documents which require external applications. Tor is a privacy browser not a secure environment.

Downsides? Using Tor will be slower than with other browsers and it can be demanding to use to its full privacy potential.  Some people think that anyone who uses Tor is trying to hide something. Of course they are right. If privacy is that important, let them think what they want.

Dooble

Dooble is a lean Chromium-based multi-platform (Windows, Linux, OS X) browser that won’t be for everyone despite its privacy features. In its default state it disables insecure interfaces such as Flash and Javascript which will make it difficult to use with a lot of sites but might be worth it for its stripped-down approach. The browser assumes the user wants to travel incognito from the off, while HTTPS can be enforced and third-party session cookies in iFrames blocked. The handling of cookies is unusually granular.

An innovative feature is that all user content (bookmarks, browsing preferences and history) can be encrypted using various ciphers and a passphrase. Another interesting feature is to set privacy, for example private browsing, for each tab using the right-click option.

Reviewers haven’t taken to Dooble because it lacks refinement in places but we found it fast and in some of its ideas clever.

Downsides? As stated.

Maxthon Cloud Browser

Maxthon is not so much a secure browser as a totally new type of HTML5-compatible browser that wants to act as a straight replacement.  With origins in China, and designed around synchronisation between PC and mobile and builds in features often enabled in other browsers using plug-ins.

Although not a security browser per se, it embeds claimed protection from AdBlock Plus including the (for some) contentious ‘Acceptable Ads’ technology, AES256 encrypted synchronisation of files to its cloud services, and says it limits employee access at its end to customer data. That probably gives most people the collywobbles but it’s worth pointing out that exactly the same issues exist for any cloud service, including Google.

Downsides? Despite the interesting aspect of cloud integration, we couldn’t see how Maxthon was inherently more secure than running a branded browser with the security settings turned up. In places poorly explained and documented, it’s also unclear whether it has features such as download protection that would come as standard elsewhere.

HTTPS Everywhere

A browser plug-in rather than a browser as such, HTTPS Everywhere is an EFF/Tor project that enforces SSL security wherever that’s possible in Chrome, Firefox and Opera. Its promise is to make what would otherwise be a complex and uncertain process much simpler because it is easy to start out using HTTPS on a website and be sent back to non-HTTPS pages without realising it.

Downsides? It’s another plug-in of course but it’s worth it. A boon for café surfers everywhere.

Cocoon browsing

When we first looked at Cocoon in 2014 we were put off by the fact that it didn’t seem to have been much recommended since its first appearance around 2011-2012. Last year, the firm seems to have re-launched itself as an ad-supported free product and a “military-grade” product offering a range of alluring security features –anonymous browsing, anti-Facebook tracking, better Wi-Fi security on open hotspots, and an encrypted end-to-end connection.

Based on a plug-in design (Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE), Cocoon is really a proxy VPN-like service in which the user logs into its server using a created account, and logs out after conducting any browsing. In theory, this makes it ideal when using unsecured PCs away from home.

We have yet to properly test the browser’s security for this review (that is imminent) but the paid version does advertise some interesting additional features such as ‘mailslots’, basically disposable email addresses that hide the real address (webmail services also offer this through aliases although the underlying service such as Gmail or Yahoo is always apparent). Deleting the temporary email address effectively unsubscribes you from anything signed up for.

Avira Scout

The philosophy behind Scout from German anti-virus firm Avira is to bundle a range of third-party security plug-ins inside a dedicated Chromium-based browser with a few additional tricks up its own sleeve.

Integrated security on offer includes Avira Safe Browsing (blocks known phishing websites), Avira Safe Search, Secure Wi-Fi, which enforces HTTPS (based on https Everywhere) when connecting to sites across insecure Wi-Fi, and anti-tracking (the excellent Privacy Badger plug-in).

Scout does appear to be ‘hardened’ with a few tweaks, however and additional ones are also possible in future. A script is included to check extensions against an allowed list. The extensions mentioned above are also implemented with the browser itself and cannot be removed, a protection of sorts. Near-term releases will add Avira’s AV scanning, including at some point the firm’s cloud-scanning facility.

 

What are the main differences between an on-premises phone system and a VoIP system hosted in the cloud?

For many years the only solution was to have a phone system on your premises. This box of kit connects up all your phone extensions and links them to the phone network, often using PSTN or ISDN telephone lines. You may have seen the acronym PBX (it stands for Private Branch exchange): that’s another name for an on-premises phone system.

Typically, a phone system is a capital purchase with a one-off up-front cost, although you may be able to spread your payments through a leasing agreement. Some customers don’t feel that they’re ready for the cloud, and like to have the security of having the actual phone system located on their premises.

A cloud system, sometimes called a hosted phone system, uses the internet to connect all your extensions to each other and the public phone network. There is no actual physical phone system hardware on site (apart from the phones). The system itself is easy to set up (often with a plug ‘n’ play option).  You usually pay for each user on a monthly basis (at least you do with our cloud-based systems: BT Cloud Voice, BT Cloud Phone, and BT One Phone) so there are no significant up-front costs.

Now, there is a quasi-third option. You can sometimes link to VoIP services on an on-premises system. This hybrid gives you the reassuring presence of an on-premises system with the cost savings of being able to make calls over the internet

So which is best for me?

As you might have gathered, there’s no simple answer to this. Which is best depends on your business, your expectations and requirements, and of course, your internet connection!

For a small business with simple requirements and a stable internet connection, a hosted cloud-based solution offers low up-front costs and a manageable monthly fee. But you also have the choice of an on–premises system, if you prefer to have the actual hardware on your site.