Shop Safely This Holiday Season!

BREAKING NEWS FLASH:  Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Has a Security Flaw! 

As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again”.

This is not the first time and certainly will not be the last that Microsoft issues critical security bulletins and patches. This warning is particularly timely in light of the upcoming holiday shopping season.  According to comScore, online purchases during the 2011 holiday season topped $37 billion, a 15% increase over the previous year.  Forecasters are projecting growth of 12% or more in 2012.

One of the security bulletins released on November’s Patch Tuesday addressed multiple vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (IE). For those of you who have not followed my recommendation to dump IE in favor of Google’s Chrome browser, it is absolutely critical to apply this update as soon as possible.   This is even more urgent if you plan to shop online next week and enter your credit card information.

To make sure that Windows (and IE) is completely up to date, take a look at my September post.  It outlines the steps to verify whether Windows Updates are current and how to ensure they are installed automatically going forward.

While you’re at it, take a look at my March 2012 blog post about staying safe online. There I touch on public wireless networks, antivirus software, applying Windows Updates and utilizing strong passwords.  I also discuss the importance of ensuring that a website is secure (https://) before entering credit card information.

If you want more details on the current batch of Microsoft Updates (or simply need help sleeping), take a look at the article in PC World or Microsoft’s Security Bulletins.

Stay safe out there.  Please contact me if you need assistance securing your system.

The Problems with Free Email

You finally made the jump from DSL to your cable internet service provider (ISP) and they offered a pile of “free” email addresses.  Awesome, right? Not so fast!

Before changing your address to, there are a few things you should consider.

I work and communicate with a lot of people who took advantage of free email addresses provided by their ISP.  I always wonder what they will do when they decide to switch ISPs again to save a few bucks, improve their TV channel line up or escape a bad customer service situation.

Most of the free addresses in my area are with Time Warner Cable (TWC) or Bellsouth / AT&T.  In the last few years, AT&T’s U-Verse (TV/Internet/phone) has made a big splash in our market and lured away many long time cable and DSL customers.  So what happens with your Roadrunner email address when you jump ship?  I called the cable company to find out.  Unfortunately for cable customers, the email address goes away when you cancel cable.  Suddenly those free email addresses don’t look so free anymore!

Here are a few good reasons that using your provider’s free addresses is a bad idea:

  1. Portablility – as mentioned above, you frequently cannot take your email address with you when you leave the cable company for a new ISP.  A buddy of mine has moved from Chicago to New Orleans to California.  Each time he moves, his email address changes to the local cable company. I never know where to find him.
  2. POP – most cable companies offer very basic POP3 services.  In its most basic setup, any messages downloaded to Outlook or Outlook Express are removed from the email server.  Thus, if you want to look at your messages from another computer (at work) then you’re out of luck.
  3. Lack of features – many cable services offer email only.  While they have limited contact management features on their webmail portal, contacts don’t sync up well with Outlook or other mail clients. In the unlikely event that an online calendar is offered, it’s not very robust.
  4. SPAM – keep your email address long enough and you will eventually get so much spam that it’s tempting to abandon the account.
  5. Capacity – while some ISPs now offer larger email boxes, they have traditionally not provided a whole lot of capacity.  I recently looked at a business-class client whose ISP only allocated 100 MB to each mailbox.  That’s only about 20-25 photos of your newborn niece.
  6. Cost – “free” addresses are included in your monthly internet service bill.  However, if you jump ship to another company, be prepared to pay a monthly fee to maintain your old email address so friends, family and online retailers can find you. This, of course, assumes that you can keep your address at all. This happened to me when I left Mindspring a few years back.  I was able to keep the address for a monthly fee.
  7. Relay – Have you ever taken your laptop to a coffee shop or hotel and tried using Outlook or Windows Live Mail to answer your emails?  Incoming messages work fine. However, outgoing messages get stuck in your outbox and cannot send until you’re back at home.  This is because many POP3 accounts require authentication when a user is connected to a network outside of their home network.  This can be fixed with the right configuration.  Good luck setting it up so that it works right every time.

Back in the early days of the internet and email, I signed up for new dial up services every few months depending on who sent me floppy disks and a free trial.  I jumped from AOL to Prodigy to Infinet to CompuServe to WorldCom… It wasn’t a big deal because no one used email for important correspondence – just for forwarding jokes.

Changing your email address is not so easy today.  When you change your address, you not only have to notify friends and family, but also your customer accounts with Amazon, iTunes, ABC Bank, etc.  Changing addresses and logins tied to an email address can be a monumental hassle. As such, plan to transition to a new address over the course of several months.

What to use?

There are a variety of web-based email providers that are not tied to your physical connection.  Players include Gmail, Hotmail (now, Yahoo!, Netscape, AOL, Netzero, MSN, etc., etc., etc.  These are all free and will not change when you jump internet providers.

 Folks that know me and my love for all things Google will not be surprised to hear me recommend Gmail. There are a variety of reasons that I recommend Gmail including:

  1. Portability – since Gmail is web-based and not tied to your physical connection, there’s no need to change if you move your internet service.
  2. Web/cloud based – while it is possible to use an email client such as Outlook or Outlook Express, there’s no compelling reason to install anything onto your PC. Simply launch your browser and navigate to If your hard drive crashes, there’s no need to worry about losing years of email, hundreds of contacts or your calendar. All of this information is stored safely in the cloud.
  3. Features – Gmail includes your email platform (complete with folder capabilities), a robust calendar system (allows multiple calendars and shared calendars) and a good contact manager. Additionally, Google Docs provides a web-based alternative to costly MS Office applications (Word & Excel).
  4. SPAM Filters – Google’s SPAM filters are phenomenal.  I have seen Yahoo accounts that receive SPAM 5:1 over legitimate messages.  On the rare occasion that SPAM gets through Google’s filters, I can flag it as SPAM and Google learns and prevents it in the future.
  5. Large capacity – the standard free account now offers 10GB of space – FREE.  That’s tremendous capacity.  I have used my Gmail account for almost 5 years and have only filled 31% of their generous allocation.  If that’s not enough space, purchase Google Apps for $50/year. They give you 25GB of space and a few other bells & whistles.
  6. FREE – yes, that’s correct.  It costs nothing.
  7. Relay – since Gmail is web-based you never have to worry about outgoing messages getting stuck in your outbox when you’re away from your home network.
  8. Mobile Sync – if you’re using an Android phone or tablet, simply link your device to your Google account and your email, calendar, contacts, cloud documents, etc. all seamlessly sync between Google’s cloud and your device. Apple’s devices sync well with your Google account too, once you configure the account properly.  Plus, when you delete or file messages on your portable device, they are synced with your inbox back at the computer and vice versa.  Blackberry?  Maybe.  Google has cooled to the BB platform, so support may be lean going forward.
One last thing to consider: Several free providers, including Yahoo and AOL, are tired of losing accounts to Gmail and have made it difficult to walk away from your account.  The most notable methods they use is to disable forwarding to another address and disable POP3 access.  This removes your safety net, since many people would simply keep the old account and forward it to the new account indefinitely. Yahoo will enable forwarding and POP3 if you pay them $20/year for a Premium account.

If you have an existing ISP email address and are thinking about jumping to another internet provider, it’s probably a good time to begin the process of closing your existing account and migrating to a new online account. I usually advise 3 months.

If your business is seeking branded email, we can help set that up as well.

Ready to make the jump but unsure where to start? Contact PartnerTechs for guidance and we will launch you painlessly into the 21st century.


Ready for Big Time Productivity?

In the past month, I have set up dual monitors for several clients.  A couple of these users had seen multiple monitors used by others and were ready to make the jump.  One user did not know it was possible, but has been blown away by his increased productivity.  In most cases, the users were non-technical and thought that multiple monitors were either costly to purchase and setup, beyond the capabilities of their existing equipment, or too difficult to use.  After experiencing their expanded screen real estate for a few days, they’re hooked for life.  

I have used dual monitors for almost a decade.  Not only does it reduce constant toggling between open applications (Alt+Tab), it also saves on paper usage.  Just think of all the times you have printed a document simply to transfer information from one page into a spreadsheet or document.  Imagine eliminating the printed page(s) and transcribing (or copying/pasting) from one screen to another.  I typically keep email/calendar open on the left (smaller) screen and spreadsheets or web sessions on the right (wide) screen.

Researchers are divided on whether productivity actually increases with extra monitors. A New York Times article cites several studies and academic opinions on the topic. Some academics think that multitasking kills productivity, while others laud the benefits of extra screens. At the end of the day it comes down to the type of work you’re doing, your work habits and your ability to efficiently juggle multiple tasks.

VGA and DVI PortsMost desktop computers include dual video ports – an analog VGA (blue) and digital DVI (white).  Laptops generally have a video port that supports an external monitor, although some Ultrabooks do not include external video ports.  Be sure you look at the ports available on your PC to make sure the display that you select matches up. Some monitors have both VGA and DVI connections, although the cheaper models will have only one.  Before you carry it out of the store make sure the box contains the appropriate video cable, otherwise you will have to make another trip.

Also, be aware that installing a second monitor can adversely affect your PC’s performance, especially if the graphics adapter is embedded on your motherboard.  When this is the case, the computer’s processor and system memory have to carry the load of two displays, so less memory is available for the operating system and programs to use.  You can avoid this performance hit by installing a graphics card with its own processor and memory.

Installing an extra monitor is usually as simple as connecting to the appropriate port on your computer.  Once the monitor is connected, you will need to enable multiple monitors in Windows, tweak the resolution settings for the new monitor and turn on Clear Type in order to smooth the fonts.  Instructions for these tasks are beyond the scope of this article but can be found here.   Installing a graphics card is a bit more complicated and beyond the scope of this article. Windows 7 display settings

Computer monitor costs have plummeted dramatically over the last few years.  Once a high cost item, a 20” monitor can now be had for about $100. In fact, CompUSA is currently advertising a 20” monitor for $79.97.  Larger 21” – 23” displays are available for $100 – $125.  When displays were expensive I used to get caught up on name brands.  At today’s prices who cares if you buy a monitor manufactured by Joe’s Computers and Hair Products?  If you cruise the monitor aisle at Best Buy, CompUSA, or Amazon you will notice that the big names like Samsung command premium prices.  However, to save money, look at brands you’ve never heard of such as AOC, Planar, and Hannspree.  At $99 for a 22” device, it’s not too painful if you only get 3 years out of it. And don’t waste your money on an extended warranty.  This is just a ploy for retailers to squeeze out a little more profit margin.

If you’re ready to make the jump but concerned about fouling something up, give us a call.  In most cases this add-on can be setup and configured in less than an hour.

Once you’ve installed the desktop expansion and had a few weeks to play with it, post a reply and tell us what you’re doing with all your new found spare time!

Microsoft Issues Critical Update for Internet Explorer

In case you missed my Facebook and LinkedIn posts over the weekend, Microsoft issued a Critical Security Bulletin on Friday to address vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.  The security hole may allow remote hackers to access your computer and execute code on it. In other words: NOT GOOD.

If you regularly use Internet Explorer (IE) you should install the Microsoft patch without delay. If you don’t use IE you should update anyway. Either way, you should always make sure you apply all Windows Updates as well as updates for troublesome apps such as Adobe and Java.

If your computer is set to automatically install updates, you’re probably fine.  However, it’s worthwhile to check your system tray (bottom right hand corner of the screen) to make sure you don’t have any pending Windows Updates.

For more geeky details and analysis, take a look at this article in Information Week.


After sending out this post, I received several responses asking how to verify that Windows Updates are up to date.  Here’s the easiest way to check and also set them to install automatically so you won’t have to worry:

Windows 7:

1. Start>All programs>Windows Update

2. At the top left of the Windows Update page click on Check for Updates

(this will take a few minutes)


 3. Once it’s complete, look for ‘Important Updates’.  If any are listed, click the ‘Install Updates’ button.  If there are none, you’re fine.  It will probably list Optional Updates, but I would not install those.

To make sure your updates are applied automatically in the future:

1. On the same page as above, click on ‘Change Settings’.

2. Under Important Updates, change to ‘Install Updates Automatically’.


Windows XP:

1. Start>All Programs>Windows Update

2. A web browser will open and navigate to the following page:

3. Click on Express and Windows will check for updates.  Once the scan is complete, choose Install Updates.  Once this is complete, the machine will likely require a restart.

4. To make sure that Updates are applied automatically going forward:

Start > Control Panel > Security Center > Windows Updates (select Automatic)

That’s it.

Stay safe out there!



For Whom the Bell Tolls: Microsoft Ending Support for XP in 2014

Microsoft announced in April 2012 that it will end support for Windows XP and Office 2003 in April 2014. This is certainly no surprise since the operating system will celebrate its eleventh birthday this October. By the time Microsoft ends support, it will have been on the market for almost 12.5 years — 2.5 years longer than the company typically supports an operating system (“OS”).

So what’s the big deal?  No one really uses XP anymore, do they?  As a matter of fact, XP has maintained strong market share despite the popularity and stability of Windows 7. According to, Windows 7 finally overtook XP in the fall of 2011 – a full 2 years after Windows 7’s October, 2009 release. This is a pretty remarkable stat for a ten year old operating system that is 2 generations removed from Windows 7.  Windows 7 now holds a firm lead at 49% of the OS market with XP now trailing at about 31%, Vista at 8%, and Mac OSX at 7.5% .

Is it time to run out and spend $100+ for Windows 7?  Probably not, unless you have other compelling reasons (like Vista) to upgrade. You still have some time and there’s a good chance that you will decide to replace your aging computer between now and XP’s scheduled sunset in April, 2014.  After all, XP has not sold on retail shelves since late 2010, so your PC will be at least 4 years old by then.

For most people, migrating to a new operating system is a big hassle, but can be done over the course of a weekend.  An enterprise, however, can take 18 months or more to migrate to a new OS. About six months ago, an international law firm replaced all of their laptops and desktops across the firm.  Surprisingly, the IT staff decided to wipe Windows 7 from all of these new machines and replace it with Windows XP – quite a surprising move in light of XP’s advanced age.

In a world where online threats are constantly plaguing systems, and where hackers have successfully defeated Windows Updates digital certificates, it is critical to run an operating system that still receives updates – especially when that software company has a history of releasing operating systems with gaping security holes. You know those Windows Update notifications you receive several times a month?  Some of those make the system run a little better or tweak instability issues.  Most of the updates, though, patch security vulnerabilities that Microsoft has identified or that hackers have already exploited.  Thus, it’s pretty critical to abandon an operating system that is no longer supported.

If you decide to upgrade, should you wait for Windows 8, or choose Windows 7?  As much as Microsoft wants Win8 to set the new standard the way Windows 95 did, their track record is not so great. Most in the IT field will agree that every other major Microsoft OS release has been junk (Windows 95 [sure, it turned out to be decent after a challenging start], Windows ME, and Windows Vista were all stinkers).  Will Windows 8 break Microsoft’s trend of substandard operating systems?  I have a theory that they release bad operating systems to build demand for subsequent releases.  Plus, they buy time for hardware manufacturers to develop drivers for the new release and software developers to build compatible apps.

Think about Vista: I have seen plenty of Vista machines that became so corrupt or slow that it made more sense to simply erase the OS and reload.  In the likely event that the user lost their system installation disks or simply decided to pull the plug on a bad OS, they shelled out $100+ to purchase Windows 7.  Thus, Microsoft got paid when Dell, HP, and others sold the new computer, and MS got paid again when users became fed up with [insert crappy Windows release] and purchased a new retail copy.

Back to Windows 8, one major factor in Microsoft’s corner is their push to make a consistent user interface (UI) for desktop/laptop computers, tablets and phones the way that Apple has done.  One of Apple’s strengths is that the UI is consistent from their desktops/laptops to iPhones to iPads to iPods. No one else has mastered this yet:  Android’s UI on phones and tablets is consistent, but they don’t have significant market share in their ChromeBook category.  I don’t know if Microsoft’s UI is consistent from PCs to mobile devices because no one is buying them yet...  MS has only grabbed up about 2% of the U.S. smartphone market. They’re not winning any fans either, following recent announcements that the new Windows Phone 8 OS cannot be installed on existing Windows 7 phones… GASP!

If you listen to the Apple fanboys, the desktop/laptop era is dead and PCs will give way to tablets and handheld devices.  While reports on the death of the PC are greatly exaggerated, most industry experts believe that mobility is where the biggest innovations (and profitability) will be for the foreseeable future. Thus, Windows needs to get it right NOW with their mobile platform or cut bait. But I digress.

The bottom line on XP is that it’s time to start thinking about upgrading your business systems, especially if you have a large number of users still on XP.  It’s probably safe to hang on another year or two with your personal XP system(s) since you will likely replace those systems anyway. I certainly will!  To avoid major security issues, though, it’s critical to jump the XP ship when Microsoft pulls the plug in 2014.

I have no intentions of rushing out and upgrading to Windows 8 when it is released in late 2012.  If history teaches us anything, Windows 8 will be buggy out of the box and will emerge as yet another problematic OS that will ultimately be fixed by its successor, presumably Windows 9.  Windows 7 will become the new XP in that its solid performance, security and stability will make it a market leader for the next decade.

Share your thoughts and stories on XP or other Windows releases.  I would also like to know your predictions for Windows 8.

As always, if PartnerTechs can help you with your small business technology needs, please contact Ken Carmack.


6.5 Million LinkedIn Passwords Breached

This just in:  6.5 Million LinkedIn Passwords Were Breached

You may be thinking “what’s the risk?”  Big deal if some Russian hacker adds a Ph.D. to my name or a NASA internship to my resume.

But there might just be a big risk. If you’re one of those people that uses the same password for everything from online banking to your email account, then now is a great time to change your LinkedIn passwords.  If you haven’t changed passwords for other accounts containing sensitive data, there’s no time like the present to do so.

Take a look at the following article for details on the breach as well as some best practices for creating and managing passwords.

For more information on passwords, you can also take a look at my article on the topic.



Flame Malware Spreading Via Bogus Windows Updates

I frequently chastise people for ignoring Windows Update messages and prompts to apply patches to other applications such as Adobe products and Java. The response I frequently hear is “How do I know if the updates are real?” or “Yeah, I keep putting that off”.

I’ve always assumed that when Windows Update pops up in the system tray (the bottom right corner of your screen) that the messages are legitimate and safe since digital certificates are used by the operating system to verify authenticity.

You may not have heard about the newly publicized Flame malware since it has not made a splash in the U.S… yet.  However it’s all the rage in tech articles and blogs lately.  The Flame malware has created counterfeit security certificates that fool Microsoft Windows into thinking that bogus updates are real.  If these “updates” are applied, your computer is infected.

Fortunately, security companies and Microsoft have jumped up and issued (or will issue) updates to protect against these attacks.  However, they’re fearful that the malware may have other exploits that they have not yet discovered.

What to do? Unplug your computers from the internet!

HA! That’s not really an option.  However, it’s now more important than ever to make sure all operating system updates and patches are applied, that your antivirus software and definitions are updated, you’re running approved firewall software, and that you apply all updates and security patches to applications such as Microsoft Office, Adobe products and Java.  If you’re not running antivirus software, find one.  There are plenty of free (and very effective) options out there. 

For more information, take a look at this article from PCWorld:

Stay safe out there!


P.S. If you want to “geek out” and read more, take a look at the next articles.  While security firms are still wrestling with the code, so far they have found that Flame can monitor email inboxes, take screen shots of what you’re working on and even record conversations you’re having near your computer. It also exploits BlueTooth to spread to other devices. What’s really interesting is that this malware does not appear to be the work of bored teen geeks or crime syndicates from the former Soviet Union.  Instead, because it has to date targeted computers in Iran, security experts believe it was created as a cyber weapon by a nation-state.  Enjoy!

Case Study: First Presbyterian Church

Connecting a Disconnected Organization

From medical missions in Bolivia to projects serving the poor, hungry and uneducated all over the Triangle, Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church has a full plate.

Dedicated pastors, staff and volunteers have little time to spare and none to waste.  Partner Technology Solutions was honored to help FPC regain precious hours previously squandered on a patchwork of inefficient technology.

We sat down with them, listened to how they use their technology resources, identified where the gaps and inefficiencies were and heard their frustrations with a mismatched system. The solution we designed for them involved migrating to Google Apps, which revolutionized their communications:  Email, Scheduling, Document Sharing  and more required no new hardware or software and is accessible from virtually any device with an Internet connection.

If you’ve ever missed an appointment because you looked at the wrong calendar or lost valuable time  trying to find a misfiled E-document, keep reading.


Challenges faced by the pastors, staff and members:

  • Lost emails
  • Spam problems
  • Limited mailbox capacity
  • Inconsistent platform
  • Inability to access emails away from the office
  • Incomplete group email lists

Staff accessed email through a patchwork of solutions including Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, web mail and personal email accounts. Using “POP3” clients on the former system, once messages were downloaded in the office, they were no longer available remotely, causing difficulty for pastors and administrators working out of  the office.

As is standard with ISP-based email systems, mailbox limits were small, frequently forcing users to clean out their mailboxes to avoid rejected messages (called “bounces”). During a group training session,  I asked if anyone had ever cleaned out their full mail box to stop bounces.  The room resonated with “Yesses” and exasperated sighs.  Under the old system each user mailbox had a maximum capacity of 100MB.  That’s about 20-25 photos of your newborn niece.

Staff and members were even more frustrated because incoming emails were frequently lost or never delivered to their intended recipients.  The most daunting issue was spam; because staff email addresses are available on the web, most staff members had been inundated with junk mail.  Redundant spam filters made the problem worse. With filters at the ISP level, as well as through Postini and desktop mail applications such as Outlook and Thunderbird, every day staff had to:

  1. Log into the ISP’s website to clear spam from the ISP’s filter and deliver legitimate messages flagged as spam.
  2. Log into a Postini account to do the same.
  3. Look in their Outlook or Thunderbird spam/junk folders for legitimate messages.

These filters flagged many legitimate emails as spam and delayed delivery of time-sensitive communications. Lack of confidence in this cumbersome system led staff members to sometimes use their personal email addresses for church business, further compounding the confusion.

 Additionally, multiple committees and groups such as Deacons, Session (Elders), youth, choirs and others lacked effective group email tools. In order to communicate with a group, members and staff either created groups within their contacts or searched for a recent email to the group and hit “reply all.” The latter method frequently included contents of earlier unrelated emails and the absence of  “master” group lists meant new group members often didn’t get the message.


The switch to Google Apps provided each user with a 25GB mailbox – a box they will NEVER fill. That’s 250 times the size of most ISP mailboxes.  I hope I don’t have to eat my words, but I publicly offered to eat a Sunday bulletin if anyone fills their mailbox.

The migration to Google Apps eliminated the 5-10 minutes per day that staff spent searching spam folders for “real” messages. Google Apps employs excellent spam filtering and the spam folder is conveniently located on the left of your mailbox.  When it contains spam, the folder is bold. Otherwise, it blends in. No more logging into web mail, Postini  and other places to review spam.

 Remote users are enthusiastic about migration results. The old “POP3” email system deleted emails from the server once downloaded. Now an email is accessible from anywhere until the recipient deletes it, crucial to pastoral staff who spend much of their time out tending the flocks.

Because Google Apps is web-based, users may access their email (and all Google Apps!)  through any web-connected machine with a browser, whether on a PC, Mac or Linux box.  When they log in remotely, they now see a screen identical to what they see in the office.  Google Apps is tailor made for Android devices including mobile phones and tablets and works well on iPhones and iPads.  Windows Mobile 7 and 8?  Dunno. No one in the U.S. has bought one yet!

We have created several Google Groups for emailing various committees, boards and groups and their usage has taken off.  To address an email to an entire group, one simply enters the group name in front of the domain name: or This is a much more efficient way to communicate with the various groups in the church.  Plus, administrators can log into the “Groups Control Panel” to determine whether any addresses are bouncing, as well as maintain “master” group lists, accessible to anyone authorized to communicate with the group.

Bonus Benefits

 A valuable feature of Google’s mail app is that it accommodates existing domain names and email addresses.  Thus, no one endured the hassle of changing and communicating a new email address.   Additionally, Partner Tech’s migration included importing all email archives, folders, contacts and contact groups, giving users the ability to search years of email archives using the power of Google Search in their inbox.



Challenges faced by the pastors, staff and members:

  • Calendaring/event scheduling
  • Resource scheduling
  • Inconsistent platforms
  • Limited remote access

The church’s master calendar had been maintained on an Excel spreadsheet for years by the office administrator. Maintenance of the calendar was time-consuming and the schedule could not be easily shared, especially with remote users. A critical component of church communication and management, the weekly bulletin and newsletter both rely on the information to be complete and accurate.

Located in downtown Raleigh and focused on multiple missions, FPC’s campus hosts a variety of classes, meetings and gatherings most days of every week. This presents a resource scheduling problem.  One example of a scheduling embarrassment occurred when the Deacons arrived for their April meeting and found their meeting room occupied by about 50 visitors attending a jobs workshop.


We created multiple shared calendars for the organization including the “master,” which will be embedded into the church’s new website once the new site is completed.  We also created calendars for the Children’s Ministry, Middle School Youth, High School Youth, Choir and Staff Vacations.  Everyone in the domain can view each of these shared calendars.  Only designated individuals may add / delete / modify events.  No one can view personal calendars of other staff members unless the staff member specifically grants permission.  Personnel responsible for specific activities will be responsible for the content of the sub-calendars.

The quality and accuracy of content is improving, the office administrator’s burden of maintaining and distributing multiple calendars has been alleviated, and parents are delighted that the calendars of their children’s activities can now be automatically shared with them.

 My presentation starts in 10 minutes. The projector was supposed to be here!  | Why are the Deacons meeting in the kindergarten classroom in those tiny chairs? | I’ve got 400 pounds of ice melting in the parking lot! Where’s the church van?

All of these issues are resolved by a new feature recently rolled out in Google Apps: Resource Allocation.  On the Administrative Control Panel we created various shared resources, such as meeting rooms, church vehicles and projectors.  When someone creates a new appointment on any calendar in the domain, they are able to reserve a resource and immediately confirm its availability.

Bonus Benefits

 With email, calendars and documents on the same platform and sharing similar icons and keystrokes, new users are quickly learning to transition among different Google Apps. Also, administration and support is simplified.  Remote support is easier and staff may assist one another because all users are looking at identical screens, regardless of location. And imagine how excited that staff and new member users are to have one Google user name and password across the platform.



Challenges faced by the pastors, staff and members:

  • Document sharing among users with diverse software & platforms
  • Tracking system for building maintenance requests
  • Inconsistent platform
  • Inability to access documents while away from the office

Documents such as the Preaching Schedule, Pastor-on-Call Schedule and Speakers for Recurring Events List were emailed among staff and maintained in a 3-ring binder. The Pastoral Care List summarizing crucial information such as births, deaths and sick and hospitalized members was maintained on a white board in a secretary’s office.

Building maintenance requests for the sprawling campus were submitted by phone, email or paper message to the church administrator. A group of volunteers (mostly retirees) was ready, willing and able to assist with addressing minor maintenance requests. However, there was no readily available punch-list from which to work.

The staff had long shared documents on a file server, a solution with several shortcomings:

  • One must know where to find a particular document
  • Documents are not accessible remotely
  • It’s impossible to tell if you’re looking at the most recent version.


The staff and members are embracing document sharing via Google Docs: word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations and moreBecause this suite of apps is web-based and imports files from many other programs, one doesn’t need to be on a computer with a particular software to create, review and share documents.  Further, several users utilize Macs at home and the file compatibility issue disappears on Google Docs.

Now they are uploading frequently-shared documents, such as the Preaching Schedule, Pastor-on-Call Schedule, and Pastoral Concerns List into Google Docs.  Once these items are shared with the domain, they are available on any browser to anyone in the domain. Thus, if Reverend Bob visits someone in the hospital on Saturday night, he can immediately log the results into the Pastoral Concerns spreadsheet from his laptop or smart phone and Reverend Ed will be up-to-date when he announces Pastoral concerns in Sunday morning services.  Further, when preparing the newsletters and bulletins, no one has to visit the white board, or pray that it’s up-to-date. FPC is just scratching the surface with this powerful tool and they’re finding new ways to use it everyday.

To address campus maintenance concerns, we utilized the Google Docs Forms tool. When campus users encounter maintenance issues, they follow a link to an online form to report the issue, producing an alert to the office manager and Property and Insurance Committee. When new items are submitted through the form, a cloud-based spreadsheet is updated and notifications are sent to the office manager and members of the handyman group.  The form includes columns to report each task’s current status, resolution or needed follow-up.



Although not the most important factor, initial and ongoing investments are crucial factors for all decision makers.  For non-profits, funding challenges are forcing many to reassess their operating budgets to ensure that they can keep their missions on track.

Google Apps charges businesses $50 per user per year, a cost easily recouped through gained efficiencies. Thus, with 14 users the cost of Google Apps for FPC would have been $700 per year.  However, Google provides Apps for nonprofits meeting certain criteria (including 501(c)3 tax status) for free. Organizations must apply, provide proof of their tax status and make a handful of statements to be approved for the program

Unlike a Microsoft Exchange deployment, migration to Google Apps required no new servers, hardware upgrades or networking equipment.  The only implementation cost was labor.

Further, there are no software licensing agreement fees to pay year after year, no security patches to apply and no weekly updates to install. All of the software interface and back-end technology is hosted on Google’s servers and managed by them.  Further, Google’s Service Level Agreement promises a 99.9% up-time guaranty.  While I do recall Gmail outages in the past, it has been a very long time since the last one.

As a small business owner and former CPA, Ken knows that every dollar matters to small businesses and non-profits. He works with them to find affordable hourly or package price solutions that meet their budget restrictions.


The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (“FISMA”) is a U.S. federal law that covers the information security of federal agencies’ information systems.  Google Apps has received the authority to operate at the FISMA-Moderate level (the standard level for federal email systems) from the U.S. Government. Accordingly, the U.S. General Services Administration (“GSA”) moved email to the Google cloud in 2011 citing cost savings and efficiencies.

Data security is a very important consideration when moving sensitive information to the cloud. Google has received an unqualified SAS70 Type II certification from their independent third party auditor.  This provides administrators and users peace of mind knowing that their data is secure in the cloud.

Google Apps provides the ability to connect to their servers using encrypted connections (look for https:// ) when connecting to Google. This assures users that login credentials, passwords and any sensitive information sent across the web is encrypted for the trip so that hackers cannot eavesdrop on transmissions – if you’re currently using a POP3 connection, you’re probably not using a secure connection.  The organization’s administrator can configure the requirement that all users connect using a secure connection.  Further, all data is securely stored on Google’s servers which include backups and redundant storage throughout their network of data centers. Thus, the days of losing all your emails, contacts and calendars in a hard drive crash are behind you.



A Legitimate Long-term Solution or Here Today and Gone Tomorrow?

If you think this sounds too good to be true, unfurrow your skeptical brow. Google Apps currently hosts 40 million users in 4 million businesses – that looks ideal for small organizations, right?  In addition to small businesses, Google has many major accounts such as Motorola, Land Rover, Genentech, the City of Los Angeles, and McClatchy Newspapers.  In North Carolina, Wake Forest University and NC State University have migrated all of their users from self-hosted platforms to Google Apps.

The Future

Are we finished?  Not a chance!  We’re just scratching the surface of what Google Apps can accomplish at First Presbyterian Church.  Yet to come:

  1. Incorporate YouTube Premium into the church website
  2. Embed Google Calendar into the new website
  3. Expand usage of Groups and Shared Documents
  4. Create an FPC intranet using Google Sites.

Will First Presbyterian’s office become paperless?  Absolutely not! However, it will reduce its reliance on hand distributed schedules, 3-ring binders and white boards hanging on the wall.

We will post follow-ups on Partner Tech’s Blog as the organization climbs up the learning curve with core Apps and we start deploying new features.

What is your organization doing to manage work flow and communications?  Let us know if we can help migrate you to the cloud to realize the benefits discussed here.