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How to Set Up SSH on Linux and Test Your Setup: A Beginner’s Guide

One of the most important ways of using Linux is via SSH. This remote access command line tool lets you do everything from installing software to configuring Linux as a web server. SSH can save time, make you more productive, and help you unlock the power of your Linux distro.

But how do you set up SSH, on both the client and server sides? Learn how to install and configure SSH software at both ends and remotely control your Linux computer.

What Is SSH?

SSH stands for Secure Shell and allows you to remotely control a Linux computer or server from another device. It works across local area networks and the internet, meaning that it can be used to manage a Linux-powered media server in your house, or a Linux web server on a different continent.

While SSH doesn’t give you access to the remote computer’s desktop environment, it lets you use the terminal. Once connected to the remote computer you can use it as if it was right in front of you. Just be sure to have root access.

Note that other remote access solutions are available for Linux. For example, Ubuntu users can rely on the VNC-compatible remote desktop tool Remmina.

To use SSH, you’ll need to ensure that the remote computer (server) has SSH set up. Additionally, your local device (the client) will need an SSH app installing.

Client-Side Installation

Installing and setting up SSH on a client is simple. In some cases you don’t even need any additional software:

  • Linux users should find a SSH client built into the terminal
  • macOS computers also have SSH preinstalled in the terminal
  • Windows PCs will need to use the PowerShell command line tool, or install PuTTY

Connect to a device using SSH in Windows PowerShell

  • To connect to Linux over SSH from iPhone and iPad try iTerminal ($4.99)
  • If you’re using Android for SSH, try JuiceSSH (Free)

SSH not installed on your Linux system? Add by updating packages and upgrading, then installing:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

sudo apt install openssh-client

Used to using SSH on Windows but have switched to a Linux desktop? You might miss the PuTTY desktop SSH app with its easy mouse interface. Fortunately, it can be installed on a Linux desktop:

sudo apt install putty

With your SSH client software installed, you’re ready to set up a connection to your remote computer or server.

As a general rule for all desktop and mobile clients, all you need is an IP address or host name, and appropriate login details. While the look of the apps may differ, and the port name may need entering manually, SSH clients are mostly indistinguishable.

Server-Side Installation and Configuration

Before establishing a connection, install the server-side software to host your SSH connection. This requires someone to be present to install or enable SSH. You might already be present to do this—otherwise, a colleague or support engineer at the server end will set up SSH.

Note that if you’re using a web hosting package, SSH should be enabled by default. Speak to your web host to set up SSH if not.

If SSH is not enabled on the remote computer or server, install it with

sudo apt install openssh-server

Check this worked with

sudo systemctl status ssh

The command should illicit a response of “active.”

Check the status to confirm SSH is set up correctly

In some cases the Ubuntu firewall ufw may block SSH. To ensure this doesn’t happen, use

sudo ufw allow ssh

In some cases you’ll need to also enable SSH on the remote device. This is a security precaution that can be tweaked using

sudo systemctl enable ssh

Other options are available (stop, start, and disable) for configuring the SSH service.

Determine IP Address

To connect to the remote device over SSH, you’ll need to know the IP address of the machine. You have two easy ways to find this:

  • Run a terminal command
  • Check the router

To display the IP address of the remote system, logon and run

ip address

This will return the device’s IP address, so take a note of it. On older Linux versions ifconfig may provide better results.

You can also check your router to see connected devices. The Linux PC or server will be listed, typically by operating system or device name. This should make it simple to identify.

To display the public IP address, login to the server and open whatsmyip.org.

The IP address you use should be the one suitable for the connection. So, if the device is on the same network as the client, use the local IP address. For connections across the internet, use the public IP address. If the computer is located on a different network, make sure that port 22 is forwarded to the computer.

Connecting to Linux via SSH

Along with the correct IP address you should also have a username and password to gain access to the remote machine.

For command line SSH tools, use

ssh username@REMOTE.IP.ADDRESS.HERE

Be sure to replace username with the actual username and REMOTE.IP.ADDRESS.HERE with the remote device’s IP address. Hit Enter, and you’ll be prompted for the password.

With a correct password, you’ll get a functioning terminal prompt—you’re now logged into the remote computer.

Using a desktop SSH client like PuTTY?

Configure SSH on Windows with PuTTY

Input the Host Name or IP address, select the SSH connection type, then Open. When prompted for your username and password, enter them in the command line window to complete the connection and gain remote access.

Can’t Connect? Troubleshoot Your SSH Set Up

If you are having SSH connection issues, these are the possible causes:

  • SSH software isn’t installed on either computer
  • Your username or password is incorrect
  • The IP address is wrong
  • A firewall is blocking the connection, or port 22 is not being forwarded

Double-check each point and you should be able to connect. If not, the problem might be more complex.

Using Linux Remotely With SSH

SSH is a useful tool for managing one or more Linux computers.

It lets you can work on any machine from just one system. You can input almost any Linux terminal command over SSH.

Key examples include:

  • Update: sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
  • Check status: uptime
  • Running processes: ps
  • Running processes by CPU: top

Setup SSH on a Linux server to run commands remotely

Check our list of SSH commands for managing a Linux server for more.

Setup SSH and Make Linux More Powerful

With SSH, Linux becomes considerably more flexible and powerful. You can literally remotely access a computer using a smartphone thanks to SSH.

If SSH is set up correctly, with client and server-side software enabled and configured, remote command line access is possible. Need something more? Here’s how to remotely control a Linux desktop from Windows.

Read the full article: How to Set Up SSH on Linux and Test Your Setup: A Beginner’s Guide

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How to Use Chrome Remote Desktop to Control Your PC From Anywhere

Want to connect to a remote computer or let someone else connect to your system? Chrome Remote Desktop is a free and simple way to do this. You can use it on any computer running Chrome, as long as it’s online.

Let’s look at how to use Chrome Remote Desktop and how it works.

What Is Chrome Remote Desktop?

Chrome Remote Desktop Home

Chrome Remote Desktop is a free remote access tool that will seem familiar if you’ve used other remote access solutions. The service allows you to access another computer over the internet as if you were sitting right in front of it. Your keyboard and mouse inputs control the remote PC.

Potential uses for Chrome Remote Desktop include:

  • Using a platform-specific app on a different computer.
  • Checking in on a computer from anywhere around the world.
  • Offering tech support for a friend or family member from afar.

Chrome Remote Desktop works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS. Despite its name, you don’t actually need Google Chrome to use the service; we tested it as functional in Firefox. However, Google recommends it for the best results, so you should use Chrome if possible.

Also, you can remotely access and control a desktop with an Android or iOS device. We’ll show you how to install Chrome Remote Desktop on each platform so you have everything you need to use it. You’ll need a Google account, so make sure that’s set up before proceeding.

How to Set Up Chrome Remote Desktop

We’ll walk through the differences in the Chrome Remote Desktop install process for each platform. However, they all have the first few steps in common: install Google Chrome if it’s not already. Then, head to the Chrome Remote Desktop web hub and sign in with your Google account.

You’ll then see the Chrome Remote Desktop homepage. At the top, there are two headers: Remote Access and Remote Support. Remote Access is for controlling your own computers from anywhere. Remote Support allows you to control someone else’s computer (or have someone control yours) by generating a one-time code.

Chrome Remote Desktop requires you to install an app to get remote support or access your computers from anywhere. We’ll assume you want to access your computer remotely; if not, you’ll find a download link for the required app in the Get Support section of the Remote Support tab instead.

Chrome Remote Desktop Get Support

Let’s look at the install process for Windows to illustrate the main process, then we’ll cover the differences in the other operating systems.

How to Set Up Chrome Remote Desktop on Windows

If you want to make your current computer accessible using Chrome Remote Desktop on other computers, go to the Remote Access tab. Then click the Download button in the Set up remote access box.

Chrome Remote Desktop Set Up

This will launch a new window to the Chrome Remote Desktop extension on the Chrome Web Store. Click Add to Chrome, then Add extension to approve the permissions. You can then close the new window.

Next, you’ll see a prompt to download a file called chromeremotedesktophost.msi. Save this somewhere convenient, then click Accept & Install in the Ready to install box to run the installer.

Chrome Remote Desktop Ready to Install

Once it installs, you’ll see a prompt to choose a name for your computer. Make sure this is descriptive so you don’t confuse it with other machines.

Chrome Remote Desktop Name Device

Next, you’ll need to choose a PIN for this device. You must enter this every time you connect to this computer using Chrome Remote Desktop. Enter a PIN that’s at least six characters, check the box if you want to let Google collect usage statistics, and hit Start.

You may see a UAC prompt from Windows to allow the remote connection; click Yes to approve this.

Chrome Remote Desktop PIN Setup

Now on the Remote Access tab, you’ll see your current computer listed as Online. This means everything is ready.

Set Up Chrome Remote Desktop on a Mac

Because most of the app works through a browser interface, installing Chrome Remote Desktop on a Mac is almost the same as the Windows process above. You’ll need to install an app and extension just like Windows.

Click the Download button in the Set up remote access section to download it. Choose a location to save the DMG file, then open it to reveal the installer file inside.

Chrome Remote Desktop Install Mac

Double-click on the PKG file to open the installer, then walk through the process. You’ll need to enter your administrator password to approve the installation.

Once that’s done, back on the website, click Turn on to set up access from your other devices. Set a device name and PIN. After doing this, you’ll see a prompt to grant Accessibility permissions to Chrome Remote Desktop so it can work properly. This is a security feature of modern macOS versions.

Click the Open Accessibility Preferences button, which brings you to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. Here, select Accessibility from the left sidebar, then click the lock in the bottom-left and enter your password to allow changes.

In the list on the right, check the ChromeRemoteDesktopHost box. If it’s already checked, uncheck it and check it again.

Mac Chrome Remote Desktop Accessibility

Next, you’ll see another prompt to grant screen recording permissions for Chrome Remote Desktop. Click Open System Preferences in that alert to jump to the Screen Recording tab on the same Privacy settings page.

Again, check the box for ChromeRemoteDesktopHost.

System Preferences will warn that the app won’t work properly until you restart it. Click Quit Now to close Chrome Remote Desktop. Return to the Chrome Remote Desktop page in your browser and if everything is working properly, you should see your Mac’s name and Online under This device.

Now you’re all set to use Chrome Remote Desktop on your Mac. You may need to approve the Input Monitoring permission the first time you connect, which may require restarting Chrome Remote Desktop again before it works properly.

Set Up Chrome Remote Desktop on Linux

The Linux process for Chrome Remote Desktop is a lot like the above (assuming that Chrome is available for your distro). On the Chrome Remote Desktop page, click the Download button under Set up remote access and you’ll be prompted to add the Chrome Remote Desktop extension to Chrome in a new window.

Once this downloads, click the Accept & Install button and confirm the prompt that launches. You’ll then need to install additional packages to run the Chrome Remote Desktop app.

Chrome Remote Desktop Install Linux Packages

After that completes, you’re ready to generate a code so someone else can access your computer. However, you’ll also see a prompt to install Chrome Remote Desktop in the bottom-right corner of the window.

If it doesn’t appear, click the Plus icon at the far right of the address bar to show a prompt to install it.

Chrome Remote Desktop Linux Install App

This opens a dedicated Chrome Remote Desktop app on your computer. However, in our testing, the Linux computer didn’t appear in the Remote Access panel, meaning that you can’t connect to your Linux machine from other devices. It still allows you to remotely control other computers and receive incoming connections, though.

Chrome Remote Desktop No Devices Linux

If this is a deal-breaker for you, see other ways to remotely from Linux from Windows.

Set Up Chrome Remote Desktop on Chrome OS

To use Chrome Remote Desktop on your Chromebook, make sure you’re signed into the same Google account that you used to set up your other machine(s). Like every other platform, go to the Chrome Remote Desktop site, click Download, and follow the steps to install the Chrome Remote Desktop extension. Then you’re all set.

Like Linux, it seems that you can’t set up a Chromebook as one of your computers in the Remote Access section. This is an unfortunate drawback, but the rest of the app still works.

How to Control Your Own Computers With Chrome Remote Desktop

Using Chrome on any computer, open the Chrome Remote Desktop page and sign into your Google account. On the Remote Access tab, click one of your computers. It must show as Online to connect, so make sure the system is reachable.

Chrome Remote Desktop Connect

You’ll need to enter your PIN to connect to that device. Check the Remember my PIN on this device box (not available for all connections) to skip this step in the future.

In the list of devices, click the Pencil icon to the right of an item to change its name. You can also change the current device’s PIN. Use the Trash icon to remove a computer from your account.

How to Give or Get Assistance With Chrome Remote Desktop

The other half of Chrome Remote Access is the Remote Support tab, which lets you help a friend (or have someone connect to you).

If you want someone else to connect to your computer, you’ll need the Chrome Remote Desktop extension, as described above. If you don’t have it installed yet, you’ll see a prompt to install it under Get Support.

Once it’s ready, click Generate Code and you’ll see a 12-digit code. Give this to the other person (via text, email, or another method), who will need to enter it in Chrome Remote Desktop on their end.

Once they do, you’ll see a box asking for your permission to let your friend connect to your PC. Only approve this if it’s someone you expect to connect.

Chrome Remote Desktop Generate Code

Conversely, if you’re the one connecting to a friend, have them follow the above steps to install the extension and generate a code. Then type the code they provide in the Give Support box at the bottom of this page, followed by Connect.

Using Chrome Remote Desktop

Once you’re connected, you can freely control the other computer using your mouse and keyboard as you’d expect. On the right side of the screen, you’ll see a small arrow that you can click to reveal more options.

Enable Full-screen if you need access to certain keyboard shortcuts. For example, if you’re using a Windows machine to control a Mac, Chrome Remote Desktop sends the Command key when you press the Windows key. However, unless you’re in full-screen, your computer will intercept commands like Win + R.

Chrome Remote Desktop Options Top

You can Enable clipboard synchronization if you’d like to copy and paste between devices. Under Input controls, you’ll find the option to send Ctrl + Alt + Del, Print Screen, and F11 to the remote computer. The option to Configure key mappings is particularly handy, as it lets you reassign keys if the defaults don’t work for you.

Use Displays to choose which screen you want to control, if the remote device has multiple.

File Transfer lets you send a file to the remote machine or grab one from it.

Finally, the Add to desktop option lets you install another Chrome Remote Desktop app (which you may have installed earlier) for a few enhancements.

Chrome Remote Desktop More Options

If you’re the one being controlled, click the Stop Sharing button at the bottom to end the session.

Chrome Remote Desktop on Android and iOS

Want to control your computers from your smartphone or tablet? You can install Chrome Remote Desktop on Android or iOS for anywhere access.

The apps are simple: install them, sign in with your Google account, and you’ll see all your added machines under My Computers. Tap one to initiate a connection and provide the PIN to remote into it.

Unfortunately, you can’t use the mobile app to get support or connect to others using codes; only machines that you’ve added to your account will work.

Once connected, here’s how to interact in Trackpad mode:

  • Drag one finger to move the mouse cursor. The display will follow the cursor as you move it.
  • Tap one finger to click (you’ll click whatever is under the cursor).
  • Tap with two fingers to right-click.
  • Use a three-finger tap to middle-click.
  • Pinch or spread with two fingers to zoom in and out.
  • Swipe up or down with two fingers to scroll vertically.
  • On Android, swipe down with three fingers to bring up the toolbar.
  • On iOS, tap the screen with four fingers to show the menu.

Using the toolbar/menu, you can switch between Touch and Trackpad modes. Trackpad (mouse icon) is the default, while Touch behaves like other apps by letting you use a finger to scroll the screen and tapping anywhere to click there.

Also on the toolbar, you can bring up the keyboard to start typing, send a Ctrl + Alt + Delete combo, resize the desktop to fit your display, and end the session.

Download: Chrome Remote Desktop app for Android | iOS (Free)

Is Chrome Remote Desktop Safe?

Google says that “all remote desktop sessions are fully encrypted.” Combined with the fact that you need a PIN to connect to your remote devices, you can be reasonably sure that Chrome Remote Desktop sessions are safe from snooping. For best results, use strong PINs that aren’t easy to guess.

In addition, the one-time codes generated when you connect to someone’s computer expire after five minutes. This prevents old PINs from being used in the future.

Now You Know How Chrome Remote Desktop Works

You’re all set to use Chrome Remote Desktop for your own machines or connecting to others. Regardless of which platforms you set up, though, make sure you configure their settings to disable sleep mode when idle.

Chrome Remote Desktop can’t connect to a remote machine when it’s offline, sleeping, or turned off. The app doesn’t support Wake-on-LAN, so if you want to access it at any time, make sure your computer won’t go to sleep or run out of battery.

Need another option? For a cross-platform remote desktop app that doesn’t involve Google, check out our full guide to TeamViewer.

Read the full article: How to Use Chrome Remote Desktop to Control Your PC From Anywhere

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The Best Office Desk Chair for Back Pain and Posture: 9 Great Options

If you spend long hours working or studying at a desk, it’s essential to have an office chair that promotes good posture. Without it, you can experience back pain, get hunched shoulders, or even suffer more serious long term damage.

A good office chair is expensive, but if you’re going to spend hundreds of hours each year sitting in it, you better believe that the cost is well worth it. Here are our picks for the best office chairs for better posture.

1. Steelcase Gesture

You can find chairs that are priced higher than the Steelcase Gesture but you needn’t bother. This is pretty much as good as it gets. Most importantly, it’s comfortable and ergonomic. The chair’s core equalizer provides the perfect amount of lumbar support, depending on how much you recline.

It also provides an incredible range of adjustments, particularly in the armrests—they can move up, down, in, out, and all around. This freedom of movement was born from Steelcase’s Global Posture Study, and the results speak for themselves.

The chair looks clean, minimalistic, and professional. It’s available in eight beautiful and unique colors that can make any office pop with life and is backed by a 12-year warranty.

2. Herman Miller Classic Aeron

The Herman Miller Classic Aeron is perhaps the most well-known of the items on this list. It’s usually the first recommendation to pop up when someone starts looking into high-end office chairs. And it was the benchmark standard for all office chairs in the years before the Gesture’s debut.

This chair comes in three sizes that support different height and weight. It also uses a mesh-like texture for the seat and back—unlike most chairs that rely on foam, fabric, and leather—for breathability and temperature regulation.

Aesthetics-wise, it looks like any other office chair, and that’s fine. The only downside is the lack of a headrest. Other than that, it’s excellent and comes with Herman Miller’s 12-year warranty.

3. Steelcase Leap

If the Gesture and Aeron are too expensive for you, take a look at the Steelcase Leap instead. The Leap beats all other chairs found in its price range. In fact, some even prefer the Leap over the Aeron because it provides better spinal support and is more adjustable. This chair strikes the perfect balance between ergonomics and price.

The LiveBack feature molds to the shape of your back, staying firm in the lower back while allowing for a respectable range for reclining. The lumbar support bar can even be moved to fit exactly where you need it, and the armrests can be positioned however you want.

4. Ergohuman High Back Swivel Chair

With its black and chrome styling, the Ergohuman High Back Swivel Chair has an imposing look. But the design is what makes the chair help with your posture. You can adjust almost every part of it; the back, the lumbar support, the headrest, and the arms.

Once you’ve got it set up to suit your body, you’ll find the mesh seat and back ensure you won’t overheat during long working sessions—although do beware that mesh can stretch over time. And it comes with a lifetime warranty that allows up to 250 pounds of weight for up to 40 hours a week.

5. IKEA Markus

IKEA Marcus office chair for posture

The IKEA Markus is another good balance between price and performance, with a focus on the former. The headrest is comfortable, the lumbar support is passable, and the seat isn’t too deep. The mesh back is breathable, and the foam provides comfort. The reclining mechanism can be locked at any point.

However, although the armrests aren’t adjustable, you can remove them if they get in the way. You can save some money on the Markus if you opt for fabric rather than leather. But even if you grab the leather version, this is some of the best bang-for-your-buck that you’ll find in the realm of office chairs.

6. Space Seating Professional AirGrid

For an even cheaper option than the IKEA Markus, the Space Seating Professional AirGrid is worth a look if you’re on a budget. It’s comfortable and has a breathable mesh back. The armrests are acceptable: plastic, fine in short bursts, and adjustable up and down.

You can remove them without affecting the chair’s integrity. You’ll struggle to find a better chair at this price. Use it as a stopgap for one or two years, and during that time, save up for one of the others on this list.

7. OFM Essentials Collection Racing Style Office Chair

The OFM Racing Style Office Chair is very well padded and supportive in all the right places. With plush armrests, headrest, and lumbar support, it cradles your body, and you can recline the seat into your ideal position. This also makes it double as a decent gaming chair.

There are some compromises in the build. The chair is made from a combination of plastic and SofThread leather, which is a bonded leather, which goes some way to explain the more affordable price. It’s good for up to 250 pounds of weight and is backed by a lifetime guarantee.

8. SMUGDESK Ergonomic Office Chair

While there’s no doubt that paying more for your office chair will bring you better quality and support, not everyone has a large amount of cash ready to spend. The SMUGDESK Ergonomic Office Chair is some way cheaper than we’d generally recommend, but if you need a new chair right now, it has the basics covered.

Its got a high back, lumbar support, an adjustable head, and padded armrests. The design is best described as functional, but it’s sturdy and can support up to 300 pounds. Self-assembly is required.

9. DRAGONN Ergonomic Kneeling Chair

Finally, for an office chair that really helps with posture, why not consider the DRAGONN Ergonomic Kneeling Chair? A kneeling chair encourages what’s known as active sitting, where your body is forced into the correct posture. It makes use of, and helps to strengthen, your core muscles.

The chair doesn’t have a back, so there’s no slouching. This is a good thing, of course, but it can take a little getting used to and may be tiring with extended use at first. Kneeling chairs come in a vast range of prices. This DRAGONN chair is affordable enough that it’s accessible to anyone willing to try something new.

More Tips for a Healthier Spine

A new office chair can help improve your posture, but if you feel that your back is already in a pretty bad way, we can help. Take a look at this quick three-minute exercise you can do to fix your posture.

Once you’ve got your new chair, you can set about improving the rest of your working environment. This is especially important if you work from home. Check out our guide on how to set up your home office to become more productive to get started.

Read the full article: The Best Office Desk Chair for Back Pain and Posture: 9 Great Options

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How to Set Your Own Background in Microsoft Teams

You’ve been invited to a Microsoft Teams meeting, but your work area is a mess. Perhaps you’re working at home, or your usual office is just simply unsuitable. Maybe some redecorating or renovation work is taking place.

Either way, you don’t want anyone to see the mess. So, what can you do?

The solution is to set a background that hides everything behind you during a video call. It could be anything, from outdoors scenery to a photo of an office. Here’s how you can set a custom background in Microsoft Teams.

Why Use Microsoft Teams?

With the explosion in home working following the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft Teams is one of the most complete collaboration tools available.

Featuring messaging, team management, and document sharing, Teams is free for anyone to use. However, you’ll get the best results from it by using corporate login details, so speak to your employer about this.

Like Zoom, Microsoft Teams enjoyed a big increase in use in 2020. Surprisingly, it doesn’t feature an easy option to change your video call background.

Fortunately, changing a background in Microsoft Teams isn’t that difficult. You just need to be handy with the Windows or macOS file manager.

Do You Need a New Background?

Before proceeding, take a moment. You’re about to start rifling through your computer’s hidden files and folders. If this prospect concerns you, it might be smarter to simply tidy up, or even move to a new location.

Microsoft Teams is available on Windows, macOS, iPhone, and Android. As such, it shouldn’t be too difficult to switch to a mobile device and take the call in your garden. At work? Why not join the video call from an unused desk, or even in your parked car?

If you can’t do without a new background in Microsoft Teams, keep reading.

You Could Just Blur the Background

If you don’t want to find a new background, you could use the blur effect instead. This is a simpler solution to finding a background, a task that can quickly become time consuming.

To use the blur feature in Teams, start a call then click the ellipses button on the call toolbar.

Click Show background effects then select the blur option. Use Apply and turn on video to confirm, then carry on with the call.

Blur the background in Microsoft Teams calls

This is a quick and easy fix that saves a lot of messing around with copy, paste, and strange file paths.

How to Choose a Suitable Photo Background

You’ll need an image handy before you set it as the new background, so take a moment to choose one. It might be a corporate logo, or a photo of colleagues at work. Perhaps the photo is a shot of some team building exercise.

It can be a pattern or even just a single color.

In most cases, you’ll need an image that is around 1MB in size. This should ensure that the image quality is high enough to not seem blocky. In terms of resolution, look for images at least 1080px wide.

A low quality, blocky images can be distracting to your colleagues, so keep the background as eye-pleasing as possible.

Save your images in an appropriately named folder in your personal drive and leave this open.

How to Set a Background for Microsoft Teams Video Calls

Windows and macOS Microsoft Teams users can both set a custom background on video calls.

On Windows PCs:

  • Press WIN+R to open the run box
  • Enter %AppData%MicrosoftTeamsBackgroundsUploads

Add custom images to Microsoft Teams

  • Click OK
  • Paste the image(s) from your source location into this folder
  • In a Teams video call, click the ellipses button and select Show background effects

Open the background effects menu in Microsoft Teams

  • You’ll see a selection of pre-installed images including the blur option
  • Browse to the end of the list to select your image then Preview it
  • When you’re happy with the results simply Apply and turn on video to broadcast your feed with the new background

If you use macOS follow these steps:

  • In Finder browser to /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
  • Paste the chosen background image(s) into the folder
  • During a Teams video call, click the ellipses button and Show background effects
  • Select the image, then Preview

Set custom backgrounds in Microsoft Teams

  • Click Apply and turn on video to add the background to the call

By now you should be broadcasting to your colleagues with a beautiful sunshine scene, a Minecraft landscape, whatever you want!

Where You Can Find Microsoft Teams Backgrounds

What background you choose will depend on what kind of visual you want to share with your colleagues. Short of ideas? Fortunately, there are many places you can find images to use as Microsoft Teams as backgrounds.

Star Wars Backgrounds

Need to remind your coworkers of your galactic power? What better than a collection of Star Wars backgrounds for video calls? This includes the ruined Death Star from The Rise of Skywalker, the planets Jakku, Hoth, and Tatooine, and of course the Millennium Falcon.

Download: Star Wars backgrounds

Marvel Backgrounds

Combining MCU and Marvel Comics images, this is a nice collection if you want to pose as a member of SHIELD or be an Avenger.

Download: Marvel Comics backgrounds

BBC Backgrounds

Fawlty Towers video chat background

The BBC has released a collection of “empty set” backgrounds from a range of TV shows spanning over 50 years. These included sitcoms such as Fawlty Towers (pictured) (other British sitcoms are on Netflix), Doctor Who, Pride and Prejudice, and many others.

Note that these image files are high-resolution format, with some as large as 50MB.

Download: Empty Set backgrounds from the BBC

Harry Potter Backgrounds

For something a little more magical, these images of Hogwarts, Platform 9 ¾, and the popular houses are perfect.

Download: Harry Potter backgrounds

Get Serious: Use Professional Backgrounds

If you prefer to keep your Microsoft Teams video calls serious, simply apply more professional backgrounds. You have a wide choice here. For example, sites like Pexels and Pixabay provide free, professional images.

Meanwhile, your organization probably has a collection of corporate images suitable for video call backgrounds. The public relations department can probably provide these if they’re not available on the website or company intranet.

Share Ideal Surroundings in Microsoft Teams Calls

By now you should be ready to discard your messy workspace, at least virtually. With Microsoft Teams’ custom backgrounds, you can effortlessly declutter your surroundings. And even attract attention in your video calls as any type of photo with a suitable resolution can be used.

Just be sure to save it in the right folder. And if you don’t have time to find a new background image, don’t panic—simply blur your background so no one can see how cluttered your life is.

New to Microsoft Teams? Get to grips with it quickly with our Microsoft Teams keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet.

Read the full article: How to Set Your Own Background in Microsoft Teams

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5 Reasons Why Home and Remote Workers Should Use a VPN

You’ve heard about virtual private networks, and probably read somewhere that they’re great for improving security and privacy. But for some reason, you’re not using a VPN. After all, your time is taken up with work.

You don’t have time for Netflix, social networking, online gaming, or any other activity that benefits from using a VPN.

As it turns out, there are many more reasons for using a VPN, especially if you work from home.

How Does a VPN Work?

Despite VPN usage rocketing, there remains some mystery around how VPNs work.

Think of it as a secure tunnel between two online locations (perhaps your home and work, or your favorite website). No one on the outside can see what you’re doing in this secret tunnel. Various security and privacy benefits come with using a VPN. In some cases they can improve your internet speed too, by circumventing your ISP’s data prioritization.

Two types of VPN are available:

  • Access to a single VPN server (perhaps provided by your employer)
  • Connecting to the internet via a third-party VPN subscription service

While similar, they have slightly different uses. Our complete guide to how VPNs work explains this further.

Here are five reasons why anyone working remotely should be using a VPN.

Using a Work VPN? Follow Your Company’s IT Policy!

Working remotely? If you’re accessing your organization’s network or using hardware provided by your employer, ensure you’re adhering to the IT policy. As you’ve probably already signed your agreement to this, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Just make sure you use the equipment as you would in the office: for work purposes.

It’s also worth pointing out that the policy may exclude you from working from your favorite café or brasserie. Regardless of whether you have a VPN running on your computer, this could be a big no-no, so tread carefully. Contact your IT department for advice here.

Working from home during a precautionary lockdown? Check you have the latest version of the IT policy as it may have been updated to reflect recent events.

1. A Secure VPN Is Vital During Pandemics

Social lockdown to combat the effects of a pandemic has been proven to seriously impact working practices. While there are various solutions to this, for office workers a key weapon is a VPN.

Remote working is a security risk in many ways, not least in giving cybercriminals new avenues for attack. Hackers can intercept unencrypted connections, for example. Passwords can be sniffed, stolen, and used, and sensitive data stolen.

With a connection to your employer’s network secured by a VPN, you can work with confidence. Encrypted connections cannot be sniffed. Your password remains safe.

Ideally this VPN would be provided by your employer. If no VPN provision has been made, reach out to your IT colleagues. While it’s possible you’ll be refused, it would be short-sighted.

Freelancer or virtual assistant? Perhaps there is a collaborative portal you use. Your vital files might be stored in the cloud. Or you might be concerned about the security of VOIP calls.

You can still use a VPN here. Simply subscribe to a top VPN service, like ExpressVPN, and go from there.

2. Home VPNs Are Cheaper Than Commuting

Stop commuting - work from home via a VPN

Incredibly, staying at home and using a VPN to connect to your corporate network is cheaper than commuting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a health emergency or some other reason for prolonged home working.

Even when you consider the electricity costs and the VPN subscription, it’s still cheaper. If your IT department has configured a VPN from your computer direct to your workplace, even better!

You wake up, burn your hand on the cafetière, fall into your car with your tie on wrong, or your makeup still to do. Nothing goes right. And then you realize you’re short on gas, which means a stop on the way to the office. Then you get caught in traffic, making you late. And you forgot to sort out your tie/makeup.

It’s horrible. Really, if you can avoid living like that, you should.

If working from home is an option, you can keep your data private and secure using a VPN. Your current work projects are protected from hackers by the VPN’s encryption. All for a few dollars a month.

3. Productivity Is Increased With VPN Privacy Software

Working from home, or at a table in your favorite café, or even in a hot-desking workspace is great. You’re swapping the water cooler for a cat and a coffee machine. If you have the determination and discipline to work rather than play, you should experience a marked increase in productivity.

Is it really that easy? Well, it takes some effort to get in the zone. But one thing you don’t want is to be worrying about the security and privacy of your connection. That sort of distraction will reduce productivity, not increase it.

Simply enabling your VPN client can help immeasurably.

4. Remote Access Your Work PC With a Secure VPN

While reading this, you’re probably wondering “how am I going to connect to my work PC?” It’s quite simple. Using remote access software you can establish a remote connection with your work desktop.

Several options are available here, from SSH to VNC and the most popular, RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).

All you need to do is ensure your work computer is switched on, which a colleague can do for you. If your organization’s IT policy permits VPN access and it is enabled, you should be able to connect.

Again, a private work-arranged VPN will be required here.

5. A VPN Protects You on Public Wi-Fi

Use a VPN to safely work from home

One of the greatest things about working as a freelancer is that you can work anywhere. Cafés are popular, but you may prefer transport hubs, shopping malls, or other places with free Wi-Fi.

If you don’t have Wi-Fi at home, free wireless access might be the only chance you have of getting online for remote work.

But is free Wi-Fi safe?

Over the years, various threats dwelling in free Wi-Fi hotspots have been uncovered. Wi-Fi sniffer software installed on laptops, tablets, and smartphones can detect and capture unencrypted data. Fake wireless networks posing as real record everything you do while connected.

You probably don’t fancy losing your username and password to a stranger sat nearby.

But actually, it doesn’t matter if the Wi-Fi is free or paid. If it isn’t yours and you don’t have control over it, you shouldn’t connect without a VPN. Simply subscribe to a VPN and install the app on your laptop, tablet, or mobile to protect your data.

Which VPN Should You Use?

Many VPN services are available to subscribe to. However, they differ in quality, reliability, and privacy policy.

So, how do you make the right choice? Well, you need to look for a service that is highly regarded, fast, and with enough servers to ensure reliability. But you also need a VPN that has a clear no-logging policy.

Netflix support is irrelevant for work, but you might need torrent access. Many organizations rely on peer-to-peer (P2P) networking to transfer data. Microsoft distributes updates using P2P too, making it additionally important to have.

Further, you’ll need a VPN that is affordable. If encrypted VPN tunneling isn’t provided by your employer to its network, they may be persuaded to cough up. Otherwise, consider paying for a VPN over a longer period (such as six months) to gain a discount.

Free VPNs are available, but while a handful are good, most are designed to farm your personal data. They’re best avoided.

Want a suggestion for a VPN? We have a reader exclusive: Get 49% off on our top recommended VPN, ExpressVPN.

Working From Home? You Need a VPN

Whether you’re in lockdown, need a few days to work from home, or freelance full-time, you need a VPN.

Freelancers and virtual assistants can take their pick from a range of great VPN services. If you’re employed, meanwhile, your employer should be able to provide you with a VPN connection to the network. You might even get a remote connection to your work PC!

Read the full article: 5 Reasons Why Home and Remote Workers Should Use a VPN

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How to Separate Work From Personal Life: 5 Key Digital Habits You Need

When you freelance or when you work from home, the line between your personal self and professional self tends to blur.

The risk of identity mix-ups and misplaced data is constant. (And the temptation to eat at your desk or play hooky from work is frequent!) One email sent to the wrong address or one ill-advised selfie posted to your social media profile could get you fired.

To reduce the potential for such disasters and for better work-life integration, let’s see how to separate your work and personal life in the digital world.

1. Have Distinct Online Identities

separate-gravatars

Start with your work email. Don’t use this address to sign up for services that aren’t related to your work. Use your personal email address instead.

(If you work freelance, set aside a dedicated inbox for work. To maintain a professional image, it’s ideal to get a custom domain name and an email address to go with it.)

For convenience, you can check all email sent to your work and personal inboxes from the same location with a desktop email client or a webmail service that can handle multiple accounts.

Now for the most important bit: set up different profile pictures for your work and personal email accounts. For best results, use Gravatar to assign an avatar for either email account. Once you do this, whenever you use one of your email addresses online, the corresponding unique profile picture shows up with it.

What’s the benefit of doing this?

You’re always aware if you’re using the appropriate account for whatever online action you’re about to take. This helps when you’re sending a strongly worded email, leaving a comment on a website, or sharing sensitive files.

You might also want to have separate social media accounts for work and personal use. After all, professional networking on social media has certain dos and don’ts that may not apply to the personal sphere.

2. Use Separate Devices

If you limit your work-related tasks and personal ones to distinct devices, you don’t have to worry about any mix-ups of data or identity. You can turn one device into a productivity hub and the second one into an entertainment and admin zone.

You don’t have to go out and buy a new gadget to make this work. Try using your desktop or laptop only for work and your phone only for personal tasks and media consumption. A Chromebook also makes the perfect device for personal use.

It can get tedious to switch between the two devices, but that’s the idea. It’ll ensure that when you work, you work, and when you play, you play.

If procrastination is your nemesis or workaholism is, having a dedicated device for work and a shutdown ritual can help you fight it. This is a great way to ensure work-life balance.

3. Create Separate User Accounts on Desktop

fast-user-switching

If you use the same device for both work and personal activities, it’s ideal to create separate user accounts or profiles for them.

You can use your personal account for day-to-day admin, blogging, watching movies and TV shows, and catching up on newsletters. You can also use it for casual web browsing and as a testing ground for apps.

But when you log into your work account, it’ll be like you have dressed up for work and entered “the zone”. By the way, some people find that actually dressing up helps them be more productive when working from home.

4. Separate Browsers or Browser Profiles

create-chrome-user-profile-mac

Don’t want to switch back and forth between user accounts? Why not switch between browsers instead? You can use a combination of, say, Chrome and Firefox, or Safari and Opera, to split your digital activity.

With this approach, you can keep your work browser lean. All the resource-intense activity in your personal browser will stay limited to it.

You can play around with all kinds of interesting extensions in the personal browser without slowing down your work browser. You also don’t have to worry about mixing up bookmarks or leaving behind your search history in your work account.

If Chrome or Firefox is one of your primary browsers, you can set up different profiles for work and play instead of using separate browsers.

While you can have multiple user profiles in Opera also, the method to set them up is slightly roundabout. You’ll find it in this thread in the Opera forums.

It’s a pity that Safari doesn’t support multiple user profiles. You can’t even add them with an extension due to Apple’s System Integrity Protection (SIP) security feature. But don’t worry, you can quickly switch between user accounts from your Mac’s menu bar.

5. Separate Apps and Tools

google-suite-for-work

Of course, your work might not be limited to a browser. But you can still keep your work-related and personal activities sorted with distinct apps, brands, app suites and their ecosystems.

For example, if you use OneNote for work, you can save non-work stuff to Evernote. Or, if you use iCloud apps or Microsoft apps for your personal data, you can use Google apps for work.

Setting up apps to separate work and personal activities might seem like a lot of effort initially, but once you have everything in place, your workflows are more sorted. And thanks to import/export and cloud backup features in apps, moving your data is not a problem.

Dividing activities with digital and analog tools can also work. For example, you can use Trello, Google Calendar, and Evernote for work. And for personal use, you can go with an actual Kanban board, a paper planner, and a paper Bullet journal. (You don’t have to go to extremes like swapping out personal emails for handwritten letters!)

This last approach is working out pretty well for me. By using my laptop mainly for work, I have been able to reduce screen time to a considerable extent.

Dress Up Your Online Self for Work

In a traditional work setup, your work life is both physically and digitally removed from your personal one. As a freelancer or remote worker, you can get the same physical space by setting up a home office. But you need a digital barrier too, and the onus to create it is once again on you.

Separating work and personal life is the first step toward being a successful telecommuter. And if you do it as a precautionary measure, in all probability, you won’t have to do it as a damage control tactic.

Image Credit: Olivier26/Depositphotos

Read the full article: How to Separate Work From Personal Life: 5 Key Digital Habits You Need

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The 8 Best Google Teamwork Tools for Online Collaboration

Google has one of the most enviable company cultures of any business in the world. But what makes Google a truly great place to work is its spirit of collaboration and drive for teamwork. That same culture is reflected in its roster of cloud tools built for team productivity.

Let’s look at several of those Google collaboration tools.

1. Gmail

Gmail is a user-friendly email provider that offers 15 GB of storage space per account. What you might not know is it also allows for collaboration through a delegation option. Delegates can read and send email on your behalf while accessing the account.

To set this up, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click the Settings button (gear icon) and choose
  2. Select the Accounts and Import tab at the top.
  3. Scroll down to Grant access to your account.
  4. Make your selections for the Mark as read and Sender information
  5. Click Add another account, enter the Gmail address for the person you are delegating to, and click Next Step.
  6. Confirm the email address and click Send email to grant access.

You’ll be directed back to your Gmail settings where you’ll see the person’s email address in that section. It will display as Pending until they accept the invitation and will then change to reflect that.

Gmail Grant AccessT o Delegate

Your delegate has seven days to accept your invitation. Once they do, they will see your account listed beneath theirs with the word Delegated. They simply click that to manage your inbox.

Google Switch Account Delegated

Download: Gmail for Android | iOS (Free)

2. Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a great way to visually organize your busy life. The tool also supports sharing. Make some or all of your calendars public, so people can see when you’re free.

Want to share a calendar with just one person? It’s easy!

  1. Click the options button (three dots) to the right of the relevant calendar in the main list and select Settings and Sharing.
  2. On the next page, scroll down to the Share with specific people
  3. Click Add people and then enter the person’s email address.
  4. Choose the Permissions dropdown box and pick the privilege you want to allow. You can also change this afterward in the same section of the settings.
  5. Click Send.

Google Calendar ShareWith Specific People

You can also share your using a link. On the same calendar Settings page, scroll down to Integrate calendar.

You’ll see different URL options for your calendar as a public URL, public URL in iCal format, and secret URL in iCal format.

Google Calendar Integrate Links

Copy the generated URL and send it to colleagues, friends, or other people you know. Be aware, anyone who gets the link can access the calendar.

The sharing capability of Google Calendar is fantastic for planning meetings, study sessions, or other collaborative activities.

Download: Google Calendar for Android | iOS (Free)

3. Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a spreadsheet app you can use with others simultaneously. Advantages like conditional formatting and built-in spreadsheet formulas save time for you and collaborators. You can even see other people make edits in real time.

To share your spreadsheet, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Share button on the upper right.
  2. Add the email addresses of the people you want to access the spreadsheet.
  3. Click the pencil icon and specify whether people can view the sheet, edit it, or comment on it.
  4. Alternatively, you can use the Get a shareable link option and send the link manually. Choose the viewing and editing permissions when doing so and you can group message or email the link to your team.
  5. Click Done when you finish.

Google Sheets Share Options

Want to send a notification to a collaborator in the sheet? Just right-click the cell in your sheet and pick Comment. Then type a plus sign followed by the collaborator to send a notification to their email address.

Google Sheets Comment Mention

Download: Google Sheets for Android | iOS (Free)

4. Google Docs

Google Docs works perfectly for putting your head together with teammates. Use it while writing to-do lists, brainstorming for projects, or anything else that’s better with input from others.

Share a document with people via the same process you use for Google Sheets (above). You can also use the shareable link option in the corner of the sharing box.

Another option you have when sharing Google Docs or Google Sheets are some advanced settings.

  1. Click the Share button on the top right.
  2. In the popup window, click Advanced.
  3. Here you’ll see the link to share, those who have access, and an option to invite more people.
  4. Under Owner settings, you can check the boxes for those additional options. So you can prevent editors from changing access or adding others and disable options for commenters and viewers to download, print, or copy it.

Google Docs Advanced Sharing Options

While looking at the document, pay attention to the colorful, flag-like icons with people’s names. They tell you who’s responsible for making changes.

Download: Google Docs for Android | iOS (Free)

5. Google Slides

Getting ready for a group presentation? Avoid endless phone calls and emails about how to proceed, and collaborate with Google Slides instead. Select an appealing template to save design time and make your words pop with hundreds of font possibilities.

Like Google Docs and Sheets, this collaboration facilitator allows in-the-moment editing by any authorized individual. Simply follow the now-familiar process for granting privileges with the Share button on the upper right of the window.

google slides presentation

Download: Google Slides for Android | iOS (Free)

6. Google Keep

Think of Google Keep as a beautifully basic project management tool. You can depend on it as a place for notes, drawings, lists, pictures, and audio clips.

  1. Start sharing by clicking the Collaborator icon at the bottom of the note.
  2. Enter the person’s name or type in their email address.
  3. Click Save.

Google Keep Note Collaborator Button

When you open Google Keep, you’ll see the last person who edited the note along with when.

Download: Google Keep for Android | iOS | Chrome (Free)

7. Google Hangouts (Chat)

Google Hangouts, to be renamed Google Chat, is a messaging app. Use it to talk to one person at a time through text or up to 150 individuals.

You can also launch a video chat with as many as 10 people. Start a new conversation by clicking the plus sign. Then, add people by name, email address, or phone number. Finally, choose whether you want a message-based conversation, phone call, or video call.

Google Hangouts Main

Let more people join by clicking the person icon and clicking the Invite People icon on the top. Then, follow the same process you initially did when creating the chat.

Download: Google Hangouts for Android | iOS (Free)

8. Google Meet

Google Meet is very similar to Google Hangouts as both offer a video call service. However, Google Meet is intended for professionals and is a paid service, although currently free due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Google Hangouts, on the other hand, is more for consumers.

It can accommodate up to 250 participants per call for G Suite users (see below) and 100 with a personal Google account. Plus, you can check out the live streaming and recording features.

Google Meet Meeting Ready

Starting or joining a meeting with Google Meet is simple. Just head to the website, hit Start a meeting or Enter meeting code, and you’re on your way.

Download: Google Meet for Android | iOS (Free)

Bonus: G Suite

If you’re collaborating for business reasons, checking out for G Suite may be a good idea. G Suite is Google’s packaged solution for organizations of all types. It offers all the tools above, plus several others. Essentially, it lets you access every tool from one location.

The G Suite version of Google Drive has a central administration panel with data loss prevention features. It also boasts a machine-learning-powered search feature that helps people find files faster.

After finishing a two-week free trial, you’ll pay a monthly amount per user based on tier level.

Purchase G Suite: $6 to $25 per month per user based on chosen package after a two-week free trial.

Take Advantage of Google Collaboration Tools

Getting acquainted with these tools is simple. That’s because the process for carrying out certain tasks (such as sharing documents) is identical across apps. And, most even allow you to keep working alone or with others, even without an internet connection.

With so many professional tools available (for free!), there’s no excuse not to be an awesome team. For more, take a look at these additional online collaboration tools.

Read the full article: The 8 Best Google Teamwork Tools for Online Collaboration

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Zoom vs. Houseparty: The Best Video Chat Apps, Compared

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the world scrambling for ways to stay in contact. And video chat apps are one of the easiest ways you can keep in touch with friends and family.

Two video chat apps are making more headlines than most: Zoom and Houseparty. Both video chat apps promise to keep things simple, allowing you to video chat with multiple people at once. Better still, both Zoom and Houseparty are free to use.

So, how do you choose between them? In this article, we pit Zoom versus Houseparty to see which is best…

Zoom vs. Houseparty: Which Is Best?

There are three important criteria to consider:

  • Features
  • Security and Privacy
  • Ease of Use

These three categories contain the most important information that will help you decide between Houseparty and Zoom. You can explore the information in detail or check out the table below for a quick overview.

houseparty zoom comparison table

Zoom vs. Houseparty: Features

First things first: which video calling app has the best features?

Zoom Features

This is an interesting question because it depends on what you want from your video chat app. Before the pandemic, Zoom’s focus was on enterprise customers. Home users calling friends and family were not a priority for Zoom. In that, the feature-focus slants toward business users.

Using the basic plan, Zoom users can add up to 100 participants in a call that lasts a maximum of 40 minutes. Once the time expires, Zoom ejects all users from the video chat. You can upgrade to a premium account to remove the time restrictions. Or you can just reconnect and continue chatting.

Zoom Schedule Meetings

As you can see in our overview of Zoom, the app also features integrated chat, screen sharing, local recording, multiple screen layouts (handy when you have several participants), and various meeting scheduling options.

Zoom is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and through most web browsers.

Houseparty Features

Houseparty, on the other hand, was built with fun and games in mind. Eight participants can connect to a Houseparty video chat. There is no time limit, and you can drop in and out of Houseparty chats by selecting the next room.

Now, here’s the thing. Houseparty attempts to offer the “experience” of a party. You move through rooms, chat with different people, and find the mood that suits you. A Houseparty video call starts as soon as you launch the app. Moreover, your room launches without a lock, so anyone from your contacts list can join from the outset.

houseparty chrome desktop version

This extremely open approach is, in part, what has led to Houseparty’s success. But it is also one of its most glaring security and privacy issues.

Once you’re in a Houseparty video chat, you can launch one of the integrated games and start playing. Games include Heads Up! (virtual charades), Trivia (a quiz game), Quick Draw (somewhat like Pictionary), and Chips and Guac (which is like a clean version of Cards Against Humanity).

Houseparty is available on Android, iOS, macOS, and through the Google Chrome web browser.

Zoom vs. Houseparty: Security and Privacy

When you engage in a video chat, you want to feel secure. That means no snooping, no chance for video-based intruders, and options to control the security of the app. Can you trust Zoom or Houseparty with your next business meeting or family quiz night?

Zoom Security and Privacy

At the time of writing, Zoom has a terrible reputation regarding security and privacy. Regardless, it remains extremely popular in the face of adversity. How much of that comes from users unable to switch services now that their business or school is using Zoom? We don’t know.

What is well understood, however, is that Zoom has a poor reputation regarding security and privacy. Which is why we dedicated a whole article explaining how to secure your Zoom chats. Zoom’s meteoric rise caught the development team napping. Suddenly, the eyes of the world were focusing on and pulling apart the app and its inner workings.

As well as Zoom’s privacy issues, users face a new type of online threat: Zoom-bombing. A Zoom-bombing attack is the act of crashing an insecure Zoom video call. The intruders then display offensive material or cause a general menace, forcing participants to leave.

Although Zoom did improve the default password option for Zoom meetings, you should still learn about Zoom-bombing and how to protect yourself.

Houseparty Security and Privacy

Houseparty’s security and privacy is a mixed bag.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several websites reported that Houseparty suffered a major data breach. Furthermore, the app was allegedly insecure, and hackers could use the app maliciously.

No evidence ever came to light regarding the data breach allegations. What’s more, Houseparty owner, Epic Games (of Fortnite and Gears of War fame) announced a bounty of $1 million for anyone that could find specific evidence of the leak. The bounty is as yet unclaimed.

Potential data breach aside, Houseparty still has a few privacy and security issues. For one, when you sign up to Houseparty, you agree to let them use any footage from your video chats in their marketing or advertising.

Which leads to the next issue. Houseparty offers very little in the way of encryption to protect your video call from snoopers. Is someone interested in your family game of Trivia? Probably not. But the potential for exploitation is there.

On the plus side, you cannot search for people online. This means that it is highly unlikely that a stranger will crash your Houseparty.

Houseparty is not grabbing negative headlines for its security and privacy issues. At least, not to the same degree as Zoom. It definitely helps that Epic Games and Houseparty didn’t make a series of claims about the security of their products, only to have to walk those claims back under the scrutiny of security researchers and privacy advocates.

Still, Houseparty is a long way from perfect.

Zoom vs. Houseparty: Ease of Use

The final thing to consider is ease of use. How easy is it to use Zoom or Houseparty to make a video call? What about using the more advanced features?

Zoom Ease of Use

Zoom is incredibly easy to use. Anyone with a webcam and microphone can create a Zoom video call and begin inviting people. Likewise, anyone can click a Zoom link and enter a video chat. The web interface is mostly intuitive, as are the Android and iOS apps.

One area that Zoom could improve on is hiding options deep within the various settings menus. Three different settings menus relate to different aspects of Zoom. At times, finding the correct option for the setting you want to change can take a while. Furthermore, for less technical users, the array of options available can feel overwhelming.

In terms of hosting a video chat for a large volume of people without requiring much technical know-how, Zoom is a useful option.

Houseparty Ease of Use

Like Zoom, Houseparty is extremely easy to use. Once you sign up and add your contacts to the app, you can begin to search for your friends and family. Houseparty shows a list of active chats that you can join, too.

As for entering the Houseparty app, straight into an active room, there is a way to join in incognito mode. When launching the app, hold down the Houseparty icon. You can then select the “Sneak into the House” option, which allows you to enter the app without alerting any other users.

Zoom vs. Houseparty: Which Is the Best Video Chat App?

How you use Houseparty or Zoom depends on the type of video chat you want to have.

If you’re meeting up with family and friends to play some games, Houseparty is a great option. On the other hand, if you’re hosting a business meeting or attempting to teach a class, Zoom is better suited to the job.

As one review states, Houseparty is like the happy-hour of video calling, while Zoom is the office job. And that’s a pretty accurate statement.

Of course, Houseparty and Zoom are not the only video chat apps around. You could try Jitsi, the open-source and privacy focused alternative which offers similar functionality to Zoom. Or, if you have previously used Skype, here are the best free Skype alternatives giving you even more options.

Read the full article: Zoom vs. Houseparty: The Best Video Chat Apps, Compared

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Skype Video Not Working? How to Test and Troubleshoot Your Camera

Want to make a video call or join a video conferencing meeting only for Skype to not display your face? While this might be useful if you’re shy, it can be disconcerting to others—it’s also not professional.

There won’t be a video stream if there’s a problem between Skype and your webcam. If you’re struggling to get Skype video calling to work, here’s what you need to do.

Skype Video Calls Not Working? 8 Tips

If the video chat software doesn’t work, you could be missing out on vital work discussions. So, test your webcam and fix any problems before you sit down for the meet.

The following Skype video troubleshooting tips are for Windows 10, but most work with macOS, and Linux too.

  1. Configure Skype for video calls.
  2. Update the software to the latest version.
  3. Check for webcam device driver updates.
  4. Check if your webcam is disabled.
  5. Use the right version of DirectX.
  6. Check for other programs using the webcam.
  7. Could your antivirus be blocking Skype video chat?
  8. Examine the webcam for damage.

Let’s look at these suggestions in more detail and find out why your webcam is not working in Skype.

1. Configure Skype for Video Calls

Ensuring Skype is correctly configured for video calls is a smart move before you start conferencing.

With Skype open, click on the three-dot icon to open the menu and select Settings (or press Ctrl+,).

Click Audio & Video section, and you’ll see which of your camera devices is selected.

Select the right webcam for Skype

You can trace most of Skype’s problems to this screen. The problem is usually an incorrect camera selection, although it could just as easily be the webcam settings.

Start by selecting the correct camera. You’ll find the drop-down selector menu next to the Camera heading. Be sure to select the correct camera here. It will usually appear as a USB device whether it is built into your computer or not.

If Skype is configured to use the correct webcam, then you may have an issue with the webcam itself. The first thing to try is to start any software that shipped with your webcam. This can often be used to switch on your webcam and test it.

If your webcam has a hardware switch, turn it on.

Also, spend some time in the webcam software, checking the settings for any restrictions or configurations for video chat. For example, you might need to assign permission for Skype (or other apps) to access the camera.

2. Update Skype

With Skype correctly set up, it’s a smart idea to update the software. Microsoft issues regular updates for Skype, so hardware problems can be easily fixed this way.

To check your Skype version, click the three-button menu then Settings > Help & Feedback. In the right-hand pane, you will see the Skype version and year. The displayed year should be the current year. Windows users should be running Skype 8.59.0.77 or later.

Skype updates automatically on Windows, but you can force an update by uninstalling Skype and downloading the latest version.

To remove, press Start and type skype. In the displayed result, expand the list and click Uninstall.

Uninstall Skype

In the Programs and Features screen, highlight Skype and select Uninstall from the menu.

It’s worth rebooting Windows once the software has been removed—you’re now ready to install Skype again.

Download: Skype for Desktop (Free)

3. Update Your Webcam Drivers

If you’re struggling to get a video chat open on Skype, start by updating your webcam drivers. You’ll need to know the current driver version first.

Check this in the device manager—right-click Start > Device Manager.

A yellow exclamation mark on the webcam indicates your issue is a resource conflict with another device. To check this, expand Cameras to see the device name.

Right-click, select Properties > Drivers, and make a note of the driver date and version.

Check webcam drivers to fix Skype

To update, click Update Driver. If there is a new version of the driver available, this will be downloaded from the Windows Update servers.

In some cases, this may not work. For external webcams (connected by USB), check the manufacturer website for the latest driver update. If there is anything new to install, download, and follow the instructions.

4. Is Your Webcam Disabled?

Once you start a video chat with your friend, make sure that the webcam is enabled. Otherwise, Skype video calling will be disabled.

You can fix this in the Device Manager. Simply identify the camera, expand, right-click on the device name, and select Enable Device.

You may need to reboot your computer for this change to take effect properly.

5. Update DirectX to Fix Skype Video Calls

On Windows, DirectX is needed to ensure seamless multimedia performance. This covers mainly visual media, particularly games and videos. If your Skype video calls aren’t working, it’s worth updating DirectX as part of your troubleshooting process.

DirectX 9.0 and above is needed for Skype video calls. Press WIN+R and type dxdiag in the Run dialog to double-check your DirectX version.

Update DirectX to fix video chat issues in Skype

If it’s too old (at the time of writing, DirectX 12 is the current version), update it.

Check our guide on how to download, install, and update DirectX on your Windows computer.

6. Check If Other Programs Are Using Your Webcam

Other applications could be using your webcam. If the light was already on before you started Skype, then some software is already using your webcam. This may cause issues with Skype capturing the same stream.

You can fix this by closing other applications, especially any other IM and internet dependent applications, and then restart Skype.

Note: This shouldn’t be the case with tools like ManyCam, which allow the use of multiple webcams on Skype. However, it is worth taking a moment to shut such tools down to rule them out.

7. Is Antivirus Software Blocking Skype Video Calls?

Is your antivirus blocking Skype?

Modern antivirus software and firewalls can manage connections for individual devices attached to your computer. This feature helps to enhance your personal privacy, but sometimes it can be frustrating. If your Skype video call isn’t working, it could be because your security software is blocking the webcam.

To check this, open your antivirus software and check the settings for privacy protection. Look for a setting that is directly related to your computer’s camera and microphone.

Check the antivirus software documentation for the correct steps to permit Skype to access your webcam.

8. Is Your Webcam Broken?

If you’ve got this far and your Skype video call still won’t work, it’s possible that your webcam is defective. That’s a signal to replace your outdated cam with a new one that is guaranteed to work.

You can check this by trying the webcam with another app. Windows 10 has a built-in camera app for webcams, so try running this. Or launch another chat application and try the video chat option there.

Need a new webcam and don’t have time to order one? Check our guide to using your Android smartphone as a PC webcam.

You Fixed Your Skype Video Calls

With Skype’s video call feature working again, you’re ready to start making calls again. Perhaps you’re having a meeting with colleagues or recording a podcast. Either way, Skype is ideal. Just make sure you take the time to prepare so you can look good on your webcam.

Not happy with Skype? There are alternatives—try one of these online video chat apps instead.

Read the full article: Skype Video Not Working? How to Test and Troubleshoot Your Camera

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5 Free Zoom Alternatives for Video Conferencing and Online Meetings

Everybody wants to know, “What’s the best free video chat app?” The answer is, the one that best fits your needs. Here’s a look at some of the new and free video conference apps that you should be using.

When you’re working remotely and conducting video conferences, you need them to be easy to set up, secure, and fast for everyone. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to free video calling apps on both desktop and mobile.

Zoom and Skype are always popular choices. But it’s not without its flaws. This guide helps you pick an alternative video chat software for your requirements.

1. Skype Meet Now (Web, Android, iOS): Free Skype Calls for Everyone

Microsoft Skype Meet Now is a new free, unlimited time version of the popular video calling app

For the longest time, Microsoft Skype has been the gold standard for video calls. But it has always involved hurdles like paid accounts, registration, and installing apps. The new Skype Meet Now is free and makes it easy for anyone to join a Skype call even without an account.

The website is best used through a desktop web browser, but you can join calls through Skype mobile apps too. Skype Meet Now is packed with features for team meetings, which include sharing files and contacts, scheduling calls, creating a poll, recording video, and sharing your screen.

Participants in the room can also chat in text and search the text later, as well as record and send audio messages to each other. In fact, Skype is a fully capable chat messaging app to use for office discussions.

Skype Meet Now is easy to set up and doesn’t have any major restrictions on meeting time and participants. Plus, it has been around for so long and used by so many large corporations that you can rest assured Microsoft is taking care of security concerns.

Download: Skype Meet Now for Android | iOS (Free)

2. Zipcall (Web): No Sign-up With Picture-in-Picture and Live Captions

Zipcall is a free, fast, and secure way to make a video call without downloads or registrations

Zipcall is one of those fantastic calling apps without sign-ups or installations. It works entirely in any modern browser, on both desktop and mobile. As long as you have a functional webcam, microphone, and speakers, you can start a video call in seconds.

Go to the website and create a video conference room with its auto-generated links or key in your own phrase. You can mute your microphone, pause your webcam, share your screen, or chat in a text pop-up within the app.

Zipcall has a cool picture-in-picture mode that’s especially useful while screen-sharing or when you have a large grid of participants. Since it’s based on WebRTC and doesn’t require servers, the app is more secure and private than many others.

The Live Caption feature requires Google Chrome but it didn’t work that well in our tests. Nonetheless, when it did work, it was quite cool to see spoken words immediately translated to text. It might be a useful feature on bad connections where the voice breaks.

3. Touchbase (Web): 15-Minute Meetings to Stay on Topic and Build Connections

Touchbase forces team members to keep video call meetings on topic and imposes a 15 minute limit

Remote working has its benefits, but it lacks the relationships you build in office. It also seems like “a quick video call” can often last longer than talking to a colleague for a few minutes to update on projects. Touchbase wants to solve both problems with its approach.

Touchbase is a video call app that works only on desktop browsers, which is the first step in adding that “work feel.” You can’t be taking this video call on your phone while doing other things.

It also adds a time limit of 15 minutes for video calls (with a five-minute extension if needed, but the idea is to wrap it up in 15).

Before you set up a video chat, you’ll also have to pick a topic. Write a custom one or pick from suggested topics like quick catch-up, coffee, daily team stand-up meeting, etc.

The makers say that by adding intent, topic, and time limit, you won’t have those endless rambling calls. Plus, other team members can decide if they want to join for that topic or not, which is especially useful for casual conversations.

Touchbase allows for up to 10 participants at a time. You can share a meeting link or send out a Google calendar invitation. The video call itself is a grid of participants. The only sparse features are that you can mute your call or share your screen.

Download: Touchbase for Chrome (Free)

4. Team.Video (Web): Agenda, Non-Verbal Reactions, and Games

Team.Video is one of the best online meeting tools as it adds agenda, notes, and other useful work items to video calling, along with one-click reactions

Team.Video is still in beta, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the best video conferencing apps for office meetings. It has a lot of features designed to keep meetings on point and solve common video call annoyances.

For example, each meeting has a sidebar with an Agenda, to keep you on point. You can use this sidebar to also share files or add links. The pane doubles up as a shared notepad for participants to add minutes or put down any important discussions in text.

Team.Video adds a wonderful way to be silent and give reactions. Instead of someone always adding a “hmm” to indicate they’re listening or agreeing, you can send emojis.

Use keyboard shortcuts to thumbs up, thumbs down, conflicted, deference, and raising our hand to talk. Other reactions include things like “I can’t hear you,” which is a simple solution to one of the most annoying things about video calls.

While you’re waiting for people to join, you can play a quick game within Team.Video. The anagram word game gives you six letters and makes you guess all the words you can make with it.

Apart from all that, you get all of the usual features of a robust video calling app. You can share your screen, chat in text, mute audio or disable video, etc.

Usually, the free version lets you set up meetings of up to 60 minutes with up to seven people. But at the moment, the app has made it unlimited minutes for up to 15 people. Team.Video is one of the best free online meeting tools to collaborate with your team.

5. Video Conferencing Guide (Web): Compare Video Chat App Features in a Table

Video Conferencing Guide is a mega-list of video calling apps to compare their features

While this list talks about several new or little-known free video chat apps, you still want to consider some of the popular ones. After all, they’re more likely to be packed with the features you want. But what’s the difference between the best video chat apps? Find out at Video Conferencing Guide.

This website charts the major features of every popular video calling app in a table. You can easily compare many of the big names like Zoom, Webex, Hangouts, WhatsApp, and more.

The table tells you the difference between free and paid video chat apps, participant and time limits, and which platforms it’s available for. In a quick glance, you can also find features like screen sharing, recording, grid view, and encryption.

Developer Paul Schriber made the website to quickly find out which video chat app is best for your needs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple filter to sort lists by feature. If you want to do that, copy-paste it into a standard spreadsheet program.

Have You Tried Jitsi Meet?

While Zoom picks up in popularity, there are concerns about its security. When you’re discussing sensitive work information, you want to know that the data is safe.

One of the best free and secure alternatives to Zoom is Jitsi Meet. This open-source, no-downloads, no-registration video conferencing app encrypts all calls and doesn’t store them on its server.

Read the full article: 5 Free Zoom Alternatives for Video Conferencing and Online Meetings