Open Source Help Desks

May 4, 2009

image

Last month we decided that we needed something a bit stronger than Basecamp for logging IT support requests. So it was time again to look at open source helpdesk solutions. Here is a brief summary of our research.

Our requirements are:-

  • Easy and fast to log support calls
  • Web based
  • Customer and contract driven
  • Knowledge Base
  • Service Level Agreements – Reports
  • Friendly and professional looking
  • PHP / Perl based
  • Isn’t a dead project

 

  1. Asset Tracker – Old, not easy on the eye
  2. Astres – Written in French and designed for Civil aviation
  3. BATTS – Couldn’t see any screen shots or documentation, felt too technie
  4. BugTracker.NET – Needs Windows Server ASP.NET
  5. Bugzilla – Designed more for software development than IT support
  6. DITrack – Command line driven
  7. Double Choco Latte – Maybe a dead project? Doesn’t look too appealing.
  8. Eventum – Software development rather than IT support
  9. Helpdesk Reloaded – Looks dated
  10. Helpdesk Issue Management – No Knowledge base or statistic
  11. Information Resource Manager – I looked at this one a couple of years ago but appears the project is now dead

This list was made up from

http://www.opensourcehelpdesklist.com/

In the end we decided to give Sitracker a bash. Hopefully post an update in the future on how we’ve got on with it.





Firefox 3

June 17, 2008

Download Day 2008

If you’ve not already installed Firefox 3 or even worst still, not even installed Firefox before (Web Browser) then today is the day to do so.

http://www.spreadfirefox.com/en-US/worldrecord/

Author: Support @ 12:00 pm
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Backup Tools – Mirror Backups and Microsoft SyncToy

October 15, 2007

hard drive head mirrored

One of the best ways to backup your documents and files is to perform a mirror backup. As I have mentioned before in 20 Pointers for planning your backup strategy. The simplest backup strategy can often be the most effective one.

A Mirror backup simply consists taking a complete copy of documents and files and storing them in alternative location. Unlike a traditional backup, the files are not compressed or encrypted. Restoring the backup is either a simple process copying files back or pointing users to the mirrored location. Mirror backups are a great addition to your primary backup solution and effective way to restoring files quickly.

Windows Copying Issues

To perform a Mirror backup you can simply copy files and directories yourself to backup location. You can automate the process by writing a batch file and schedule the task using Windows Scheduler. Although, Windows has a couple of issues when it comes to copying large amounts of files. Often Windows will halt the copy process if it encounters an error with just one file. Another bug bear is when a the process stops to ask the user if they would like to over write existing files. This is fine when copying small amounts of data, but a real pain when you leave Windows to copying large amounts of data that may take a number of hours.

How to use Microsoft SyncToy

Thankfully, Microsoft have produced a free tool called SyncToy, which can over come Windows downfalls. SyncToy allows you to perform a number of file copying operations:-

  • Synchronize: New and updated files are copied both ways. Renames and deletes on either side are repeated on the other.
  • Echo: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.
  • Subscribe: Updated files on the right are copied to the left if the file name already exists on the left.
  • Contribute: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames on the left are repeated on the right. No deletions
  • Combine: New and updated files are copied both ways. Nothing happens to renamed and deleted files.In this example, we are going to create a solution that would allow a user to automatically backup files to a location over the network simply by running a shortcut on the desktop.
    1. Download and install SyncToy
    2. SynToy - First Screen
      Run SyncToy and click on Create New Folder Pair
    3. SyncToy -Create New Pair
      The Left Folder is where the originally data is held, the documents and files you wish to backup. Browse to the top level directory that contains these files and click on Next.
    4. SynToy - Right Folder
      The Right Folder is where you would like the data backed up to. This can be a mapped network drives, UNC path (\\server\folder\) or simply a local location on the same machine.
    5. SyncToy - Type of copy
      Next the tricky part, deciding on how SyncToy should copy the data. We are going to choose Echo, which is basically a one way. This saves on time and bandwidth by only copying new and updated files. Click on Next.
    6. SyncToy - Backup name
      Give your backup job a name and click on Finish.
    7. SyncToy - Advance Opitions
      Next your presented with an overview of your backup job. Click on Change Options…
    8. synctoy - file options
      Files to include – By default SyncToy will copy all files, you can change this to only select certain types of files. For example if you only wanted music files you might have *.mp3;*.wma;*.mp4;
      Check file contents – You might want SyncToy to check the contents of the file rather than relying file size and date attributes.
      Active for run all – SyncToy can have a number of backup jobs which can be run as a set. Un-ticking this means that this backup job won’t be included in a batch run.
      Save overwritten files in the Recycle Bin – Any files that are overwritten are saved in the recycled bin.
      synctoy - file selection
      You can choose which individual sub folders are included in backup job by clicking on Select subfolders.
    9. SnycToy - Preview run
      When your finished with additional options, click on ok and return to the overview screen. Next click on Preview button and SyncToy will give overview of what will happen when the backup job actually runs. If your happy with the results, click on Run and the backup job will run for real this time. That’s it!
      SyncToy - Running

    Automated the Process

  • As this backup job is going to be run by the user, we want to make the process as simple as possible. SyncToy has nice feature that allows it to run in batch mode by using -R switch. Open notepad and add the follow line “C:\Documents and Settings\<your username>\Local Settings\Application Data\SyncToy\SyncToy.exe” -R.

    notepad synctoy batch file

    You might need to double check the location of the SyncToy.exe as this varies depending on the version of Windows. Save the file with a .bat extension to the desktop. Now the user can simply double click on the batch file and SyncToy will complete backup jobs that have been defined.

    image

    Alternatively you can have Windows Task Schedule (Found in the control panel) run the batch so the whole process becomes automated.

    Author: Support @ 8:00 am




    Free Remote Support Software

    October 10, 2007

    remote control support

    Many businesses benefit from remote support software which enables IT departments and computer support companies to resolve computer issues. For businesses that are big enough to have a central server, this can be achieved easily with little expenditure using software like VNC or Remote Desktop. Smaller businesses typically need to purchase software like Log Me In or Go To Assist. That was until CrossLoop came on the scene.

    CrossLoop is an ideal solution for businesses:-

    • That don’t have a central server
    • Don’t want to mess around with router configurations
    • Require a secure connection
    • More than one PC in their network
    • Require remote support while out of the office
    • Don’t have a static IP address provided by their ISP (As a business you will benefit from having a static IP address)
    • or are not willing to purchase remote support software

    CrossLoop does have a couple of disadvantages over other paid solutions. Such as, you can’t transfer files (now comes with file transfer!) and you need someone else to confirm access code at the other end. Although with one of my clients, I prefer this level of security because of the nature of the sensitive information they deal with.

    How does remote support software work?

    Here is a quick explanation of how remote control software works in businesses that have server and those that don’t.

    how remote support software works with businesses that have a central server

    Think of the server as a secretary that re-directs your telephone calls to the correct person (computer) within the business.

    how remote support software works with businesses that don't have a central server

    For businesses that don’t have a secretary (server), the computer support company needs a virtual secretary (CrossLoop, Logmein etc) to assist them with the location of the person (computer) to whom they are connecting to.

    How to use CrossLoop

    Here is Terinea’s quick guide to using CrossLoop.

    1. Download and install CrossLoop, from
      http://www.CrossLoop.com/download.html
    2. Run CrossLoop – requiring remote assistance. Alternatively if you’re joining a hosted CrossLoop session jump to step 3.
      1. If you’re requiring remote assistance, click on the HOST tab and provide the person connecting to you with the Access Code.
        crossloop host tab
      2. Once they have the access code, press “Connect” and wait for them to connect.
        waiting for connection, crossloop
      3. Once the connection has been made, you will need confirm by clicking on Yes.
        confirm connection crossloop
    3. Run CrossLoop – joining a hosted CrossLoop session – Providing support.
      1. Click on the JOIN tab and enter the access code provided by your friend (HOST).
        image
      2. Click connect and wait for the host to confirm connection (Step 3 Above)
        image
      3. After a couple of second the process should be complete, enabling you to control the remote computer
        Crossloop connected

    File Transfers and more

    Alternatively you can watch an eight minute video that explains the process in more detail, although I prefer Robert Scoble video below. It is also worth visiting CrossLoop’s excellent user guide page that explains the process in more detail, including how to transfer files. I have also made this page available as a PDF.

    CrossLoop, Windows Vista and Windows Defender

    Windows Defender and Crossloop

    When using CrossLoop on Windows Vista, a screen a like above may appear, click on the Ignore button. Windows Defender seems to think its some type of spyware. I can re-assure you, it isn’t!

    To stop this from happening again, click on Start bar (Windows logo) > Control Panel > Security > Windows Defender. Under Review potentially unwanted items, click on Review items detected by real-time protection. Once the screen below appears select Always Allow from Action and then Apply Actions.

    crossloop window sdefender

    What remote access software do you use?

    Author: Support @ 6:21 pm




    Fixing Computers for Beer!

    September 20, 2007

    416610_3644 

    Like most people involved with computer support, my first experience began when fixing PC’s for friends and family. Usually this resulted in payment with free beer, not bad when you where 17! Ten years later I still find myself fixing friends and family computers.

    So here is quick guide to what I would install on a personal PC, maybe one you’ve formatted and re-installed Windows because it was running very slow. I say personal PC because AVG Anti-Virus Free version can’t legally be used in business without paying for the commercial version.

    1. Partition and format the drive into two. One for the Windows System and the other for files and documents. That way you can wipe Windows without losing your files.
    2. Install Windows XP and configure
    3. Install hardware drivers
    4. Install service packs if required (SP2 for full wireless capabilities)
    5. Run Windows updates, twice only
    6. Install Microsoft Office if required, other wise install free Open Office
    7. Run Office updates and enable office and window updates to download together 
    8. Install Firefox, make sure you rename the shortcuts as “Internet” else they will hunt down IE and start using it again.
    9. Thunderbird for Email
    10. Install AVG Anti Virus and AVG Spyware – Free Versions 
    11. Enable Firewall and Windows Updates (Set as download and install at shutdown only)
    12. Install 7zip for zip files and other compressed files, an excellent free alternative to WinRar and WinZip
    13. Install CrossLoop for remote support
    14. Install Foxit, lightweight alternative to bloated Adobe PDF Reader
    15. Install VCL Player, multimedia player for various audio and video formats
    16. Install iTunes if they have a iPod
    17. Install CCleaner and clean up the installation files left from windows updates
    18. Run Defrag
    19. Maybe install some type of free Online Backup Service

    Family PC

    image

    If the computer is for Family use, make sure you read Improving Windows XP for Families  by Robin our Managing Director.

    What software do you install on your friends and family PC’s?

     

    Author: Support @ 11:00 am




    Extending Window Live Writer Features

    September 18, 2007

    windows live writer

    I’m a great fan of Window Live Writer, but sometimes I feel its missing one or two features that could make my day-to-day blogging life easier. Luckily Windows Live Writer features can be extended in a similar way to Firefox .

    Before you install any plugins make sure you have the latest version of Windows Live Writer as many new features have been add since the first release last year.

    1. Acronyms – Although I do my best to avoid jargon sometimes you need to use acronyms for things like HD, CRM , TB etc. Instead of having do the following, TB (TeraByte), you can just hover over the acronyms and tooltip should appear.
    2. blog this
      Blog This for Firefox –  A Firefox add-on that adds a button to the browser, that when pressed pre-populates WLW with the web page content.
    3. file upload with WLW
      Insert File(s) – Allows you to upload files (none images) to your blogging platform, instead of using FTP client.
    4. flickr
      Flickr4Writer – Integrate your Flickr services into your blog posts
    5. image
      del.icio.us bookmark plugin – Integrate your bookmarks from your delicious account.
    6. Website Capture Plugin – Create small screen shot image of a website by providing website address.
    7. AdSense Code Drop In – This plugin allows you to easily insert AdSense code straight into your blog post.
    8. image
      Insert Code for Windows Live Writer – This plugin allows your code (programming code or markup language) to maintain its format as it would appear in a editor.
    9. image
      Insert Symbol Plugin – Make inserting symbols into your blog posts an easier task.
    10. image
      Template Plugin – Start your blog post with a pre-written template.
    11. image
      Text Template – Similar to the Template Plugin that allows snippets of code or regular text to be quickly inserted into your blog post.

    You can also find more plugins for Windows Live Writer at…

    Windows Live Gallery

    and

    Windows Live Writer Plugins

     

    Author: Support @ 8:00 am




    Plan your projects using Mind Mapping software

    July 31, 2007

    mind map software

    Last night I was speaking to one of my clients about their ideas for software system they would like developing. Although my client had done an excellent job of laying out her ideas using Excel and Word, I feel that actually with all it’s features Microsoft Office had let her down.

    Yeah you can use some of the organisational charts in Word and PowerPoint, but they lack certain features and to be honest, not very inspiring from a creative point of view. Microsoft does have a program called Visio which is very good, but again I feel it could be a little more inspiring, easier to use for non-technical users and then there’s the price, £200 for the standard version and £400 for the Professional!

    Mind Mapping

    An alternative application which might of helped my client when planning her software system could of been Mind Mapping Software. You start with a centralised idea and branch out ideas and as you formulate your project the map grows. The idea is not be accurate or too formal, just a quickly way to get your ideas recorded. 

    image

    There are a number of commercial applications such as MindManager and IMindMap, but I would suggest you start off with FreeMind an open source Java based program than can run on Windows, Linux and Mac.

    image

    Just recently I came across Mind42 which is an online Mind Mapping application that runs via your web browser. Once you have produced your map you can then import it into other Mind Mapping programs, Microsoft Word or insert it into your website or blog. You can also invite other people to collaborate with you while you develop the map. If that’s not enough Mind Mapping software, check out peterussell.com.

    I should of mentioned these two programs in last months post, “Plan Your Website, Save Money and Time” as this would proven useful way to map out your website.

    Your Apps

    What planning/project/sketch-up programs do you use? Are there programs that you get your clients to use because it gently guides them to think in a more systematic approach?

    Update

    Mindomo Is another online Mind Mapping Software, thanks to Greg for this one

    Author: Support @ 8:00 am




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