Saturday, June 9, 2007

Auto Completion Malfunction

I know that this has happened to you. You are sending out an email and Outlook (or whatever mail program you use) decides to "help" you and after you type in a couple of letters it fills in the blank for you.

This is called auto-completion. Quite often this is a helpful feature. There are, however, times when auto-completion can have unintended results, results that, at best can amount to humorous faux pas between friends and at worst can cause sensitive information to be disclosed to the wrong party.

One of the problems with the feature is that in most cases, it appears to just do a pattern match on addresses in your address book or inbox. The computer cannot distinguish between the email address of you closest friend, the email address of some joker that spammed you last week or the email address that you mis-typed last month.

I had an auto-complete malfunction happen to me recently, that was pretty funny. I sent birthday wish, via email, and of course accidentally to the wrong person. Fortunately, the accidental recipient caught the mistake. We had a good laugh about it and added each others' birthdays to our calendars.

Quite often, however, an auto-complete malfunction could cause a major problem. Imagine the same situation only I am an attorney sending sensitive information to a client and it goes to the wrong person. This could cause harm to the client an the attorney could incur financial liabilities.

The bottom line is that while auto-completion can be a useful time saver, it can also increase your exposure to errors if you are not careful. If you use auto-completion, be careful. Look at the To, Cc and Bcc fields before you hit the send button. Once you hit the send button you cannot take it back.

If you use email to send sensitive information, every addressee should be in the To/Cc/Bcc fields as a result of a deliberate choice. You might want to consider turning auto completion off, and selecting your email recipients from an up-to-date address book. By doing this you can save time and avoid another common email problem -- mistyped addresses.


Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mini Series on Online Accounting -- Introduction

Well I just got through upgrading from Quickbooks 2004 to Quickbooks online. I put it off as long as I could. I was perfectly happy with the software but Intuit ended support for online invoicing with Quickbooks 2004.

If I may digress and make an observation. As a user I was inclined to whine a bit about being forced to upgrade. As one who develops and supports software for a living, I think that it is reasonable to expect that customers will upgrade after 3 years. Supporting old versions of software take resources that could be used to add new exiting features and all software vendors must balance between the two.

The end of support for online invoicing with Quickbooks 2004, left me with some interesting choices.
  1. Go back to my 20th century practice of stuffing the invoices in envelopes and taking them to the post office. That worked great if you like getting invoices 90 days after the due date.
  2. Use my on line banking for invoicing. I was all set to do this, but there was one problem. In order to add a client that was a business, the "Add Client" form was asking me to enter my clients Employer Identification Number. I really did not want to ask my customers (who PAY me money) for information that seems rather private. So I canceled the online invoicing from my bank.
  3. Upgrade to the latest desktop version of Quickbooks. A reasonable option, but if my computer ever has to be sent away for repairs again it will be tough.
  4. Upgrade to Quickbooks on line -- Access my accounting information from anywhere for a low monthly payment (slightly more than I am currently paying for on line billing)? Sounds good to me.
Going through the process gave me a lot of material for this blog. Enough for a miniseries of sorts. My plan is to post a series of entries related to my experience. The following list (subject to change of course) highlights the topics that I plan to cover.
  1. Describe my impressions of the product and the upgrade process.
  2. Explore the more philosophical issue of storing sensitive data in a web based account.
  3. The advantages of on-line applications over desktop applications.
I hope to complete the series by the end of this month (June 2006).

Stay tuned -- more to come....

-- RMKnightStar