Tag Archives: business

Mobile apps for business are on the rise

businessmanIn today’s app stores, there are thousands, if not millions of downloading choices. There are games, reward programs, platforms to help keep us up on sports, and other options most have yet to discover.

With all this success, the professional field has begun to take notice. No more are apps only for-fun, now users can file their taxes, sync multiple email accounts, and IM clients with these ever-growing business-friendly models.

Growing Technology

While, in theory, these options have been available to users since the induction of the first app, it’s taken updated versions and more user-savvy designs to put them in the spotlight. Advances in technology have also allowed more apps to be invented, such as those that use cloud storage or scan documents (GeniusScan, for instance). With clearer, more sophisticated cameras, smartphones are able to capture small text and reformat them into readable data.

These advancements can also be credited for geolocation, which, through network Internet, allows users to pinpoint colleagues or meet up with professionals in new locations. Apps like Brosix allow users to exchange coordinates through their business platform, which is also transferable to one’s computer.

Encryption-enabled platforms and voice recognition – such as Dragon Dictation – have also brought on a new layer of professional smartphone apps.

What it Means

With the growth of these for-business apps, more and more workers can perform tasks while on the go. Mobile offices can become much more efficient, cutting traveling costs or office expenses. In many cases, people are able to work from home, eliminating the need for an extra set of bills or commuting time and fees. Office equipment also becomes less expensive, as more and more electronics become unnecessary. With a smartphone alone – before apps are loaded – users can take out the need for an office phone, camera, calculator, phone book, and more.

These lowered costs allow companies to run more efficiently, and will even further advance the need for business app technology. Thankfully, the field doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, providing for more and more software inventions to come into play.

Whether using a smartphone for document scanning, geolocation, or email synchronization, the number of helpful app programs is on a steep rise. To get the most out of your mobile device, head to the app store to see what platforms are available for your needs – personal or professional.

Why I think businesses will ignore Windows 8

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning; I’m no Microsoft hater. I’ve designed networks around Windows for many years and happily supported them. I have many client companies going about their business with no Apple products or Linux boxes in sight.

But, I’m going to stick my neck out on one thing: I think a large number of businesses will completely ignore Windows 8.

Windows 8’s user experience represents the biggest change to how the operating system works since Windows 3.1 evolved to Windows 95. Ever since the first developer previews of Windows 8 hit the scene, I’ve chatted to fellow-techies and canvassed their opinions on the new OS. Their views range from indifference, to total bafflement as to exactly what Microsoft is trying to achieve.

Here’s why I just cannot see my clients taking an interest in Windows 8.

The Windows 8 Start Screen
The Windows 8 Start Screen

1. Users don’t care

When an individual gets to the office, they don’t really care what their computer’s user interface looks like – they just want to get their work done without the machine slowing down or crashing.

If you want proof of this, just consider the fact that Computerworld recently reported that 41% of the world’s PCs still run Windows XP – which does everything any business needs it to do. Yet, I don’t hear users complaining that their machines are “out of date.”

2. Users don’t like change

I’ve recently migrated a number of user groups from XP to Windows 7. Sure, the users do become familiar with it quickly, but they don’t embrace changes and enjoy new features in the way that computer enthusiasts do.

Remember that the fact you are reading this article places you in the small percentage of the population interested enough in technology to visit an IT website. Many corporate computer users are still getting their heads around copy and paste.

3. Businesses have no intention of buying touch screens

None of my clients will be easily persuaded to buy touch screens, just because they allow Microsoft to do things in a more “modern” (or more iPad-like) way.

Businesses spend money to do new things, or so they can do existing things better (or more quickly). They don’t spend money just to do things differently.

4. Windows 8 doesn’t know what it wants to be

Is it a tablet operating system, a touch operating system or a desktop operating system? To me, and to many of my associates, it’s trying to be all the above and not succeeding particularly well at any of them.

The way that, in its default state, Windows 8 keeps flicking between the tiled Metro view and the traditional Windows desktop is strange and illogical. If it stresses me out as a techie with Microsoft certification, I know what the users are likely to think.

Sure, there are already plenty of published ways to disable Metro – but if you’re going buy Windows 8 only to turn it back into Windows 7, then what’s the point? Why not just accept that…

5. Windows 7 does it better

I’m sure there will be plenty of home users and enthusiasts with touchscreen PCs who’ll grow to love Windows 8. Business users, however? I just can’t see it. With years to go before support for Windows 7 is withdrawn, consultants like me will edge them towards safety and supportability.

And what happens then? It’s quite simple. Windows 7 becomes the new XP, and Windows 8 becomes the new Vista.

Why Microsoft is wrong to discontinue Small Business Server

Small Business Server 2003

As an IT consultant who delivers services to small and medium businesses, I have spent a vast amount of time with Microsoft’s Small Business Server product range. Early versions of SBS (the original “Back Office” incarnation and SBS 2000) had various quirks and problems. Since SBS 2003, however, Small Business Server has been a refined, solid and well-behaved product – the kind of product you can put into a business with confidence, with a good set of features and a high level of configurability.

With this in mind, I was actually quite sad to hear the news that Microsoft decided to discontinue the product range, on the grounds that “small business computing trends are moving in the direction of cloud computing.”

I don’t deny that there is “trend” toward the cloud. Indeed, I have clients who have migrated to Office 365 instead of moving to SBS 2011. However, just as many have no interest whatsoever in migrating to the cloud.

One client said,

“Our last system has been perfect for four years, we just want the same, but newer, and we’re not interested in the cloud.”

Another took one look at how long it took to save a large file via Office 365 on their broadband internet connection and laughed in my face.

Then there are the clients who cannot risk the data protection implications of cloud storage, those who simply have an objection to paying a monthly fee and those who are put off by the fact that, with the best will in the world, it’s going to take weeks to migrate their existing 500GB of file data.

Microsoft have effectively decided to abandon all these customers, and I’m sure that every one of the thousands of IT consultants just like me have plenty of them.

Now, I have no doubt people will be keen to point out that Microsoft has announced an “Essentials” version of Server 2012 aimed at small businesses. I accept I could recommend this to some of my clients, but it only supports up to 25 users. What about the 25-75 user segment of SME who could previously use SBS? They are now on the same licensing model as a large corporation, which doesn’t seem very fair. And what about Exchange and SharePoint?

Let’s be clear: I’m not “anti-cloud.” I use hosted Exchange myself. I have migrated companies when it has been a good fit, and I would recommend it to plenty of startups, but I think Microsoft’s decision to try to force SME in the Office 365 direction is misguided and out of touch with reality. What it will do is lead them to discover simpler, cheaper alternatives like iCloud, Dropbox and Google Apps.

Small Business Server allowed me to swoop into a company and give them an IT system that made them feel like they were working for a large corporation. When they wanted to use features like public folders and decent shared contact lists, they were there waiting. I’m sure people will disagree, but working on an Office 365 is simply not the same.

Microsoft has taken away my ability to provide the perfect system without compromises. If I have to cobble solutions together for clients, then I may well end up doing so without so many Microsoft products. Given that Apple seem to be winning over the consumers, it seems insane that Microsoft seem willing to risk letting go of the SME market too.

Microsoft Office 365: Reasons for Caution

I came very close to calling this article “Why Office 365 Sucks.” I refrained from doing so because I think the cloud-based office collaboration suite CAN be a good fit for some small businesses.

However, as an IT consultant working with small and medium enterprises (SMEs), I will think very carefully before I let it near another one of my customer sites.

Here’s why:

Migration is horrible

Office 365 is great for start-ups who don’t already have a load of data. Everyone else will have gigabytes of file-level data (that probably hasn’t been cleared out in years), and thousands of historical emails.

There’s no way to make the process of moving this volume of data to the cloud anything other than slow, laborious and frustrating. It doesn’t help that Office 365 is very fussy about certain characters within filenames.

While these characters are likely to have been avoided by IT-types, familiar with them since the DOS days, you can’t expect the same from the less technical. Who’d have known that a migration could turn into a nightmare because a client uses lots of ampersands in filenames?

Office 365 is Not Perfect
Office 365 is Not Perfect

Desktop Integration is Flaky

If you want Office 365 to work well, you really need a fresh Windows install on each machine to start with. Try to migrate a PC that’s been previously connected to a domain or has used other Outlook profiles, and all kinds of weird stuff can happen.

While this clean-machine approach is good practice, it does add on migration time. When coupled with a slow data migration, a move to Office 365 can end up using more consultancy time than, for example, a move from Small Business Server 2003 to SBS 2011.

Key functionality is missing

Ask Microsoft how to implement a shard contact list and they’ll tell you several options, including using SharePoint or setting people up as “external contacts.”

However, if you want a shared contact list, available to everyone as an Outlook address book and editable by a whole team, it just cannot be done without clunky workarounds. This is functionality that all of my clients have had for years. It doesn’t go down well when you have to take it away.

Poor support

Support calls can take days to resolve satisfactorily, if they get resolved at all. You can also expect to have to re-explain the problem several times.

The support forums are hugely frustrating too. In the case of the shared contacts issue above, expect to see copy/paste answers that repeat the options that are available and fail to acknowledge the shortcomings that exist.

You have no control

When you reach the point of frustration, you eventually have to tell your customer that there is nothing more you can do – that the issue is in Microsoft’s hands. You can’t remote it and tweak the server any more. Those days are gone.

Conclusion

I’ll repeat what I said at the start: Office 365 CAN be a good fit for some businesses – especially start-ups who haven’t done things differently before. Others, especially those who have become used to the flexibility of something like Small Business Server, should tread very carefully – a migration to Office 365 could feel like a huge step backwards AND make your clients think you have become worse at your job!

The year of the Angry Bird, and what’s next for Rovio

Rovio, developer of the immensely popular Angry Birds series, announced that their earnings for 2011 topped $100 million resulting in over $65 million in net profit, up from approximately $10 million in revenue from 2010. Merchandise sales alone accounted for 30 percent of that. Those numbers don’t even include their newest, record-breaking creation, Angry Birds Space, which released earlier this year and gained over 50 million downloads in 35 days.

Rovio’s 2011 lineup consisted of Angry Birds, Angry Bird Seasons, and the movie-themed Angry Birds Rio, all of which raked in almost 650 million downloads in 2011.

Rovio was founded in 2003 and didn’t gain a lot of popularity until late 2009 when they launched Angry Birds for the iPhone. Now, the Angry Birds series has seen over 1 billion total downloads and around 200 million active users as of the end of 2011. Rovio’s many versions of Angry Birds have stayed at the top of the charts ever since their releases.

Rovio expects 2012 to be another great year for them. CEO Mikael Hed says that they “are very optimistic about 2012 due to significant investments in product development, cutting-edge branding, brand protection and corporate infrastructure.” Hed also said that Rovio needs to be “continuously developing new and innovative products and services” in order to ensure continuous success.

Hed mentioned that they plan on releasing several more games in 2012, including a non-Angry Birds title called Amazing Alex, which will be a reboot of Casey’s Contraptions, a long lost mobile game from developers Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut. It turns out, Rovio bought the IP to the game, so they’re currently re-working and re-branding the title to fit within their style. Amazing Alex will be released in approximately two months and will include an educational element, as well as being a fun and entertaining game about constructing Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to complete a variety of objectives.

Because of Rovio’s immense success, the company is also preparing itself for an IPO next year, according to Reuters who cited that Anders Lindeberg, Rovio’s head of investor relations, said that the Finnish-based company is “is preparing itself and getting ready” for a stock market listing in either New York or Hong Kong.

Will 2012 be another great year for Rovio like CEO Mikael Hed claims? It certainly looks that way so far, but only time will tell to see if the developer still has it in them to come through with fun and entertaining titles.

Image Credit: Yaniv Golan

Netflix Pulls The Plug On Qwikster Service

Remember a few weeks ago when Netflix decided to split its instant streaming and DVD-by-mail services into two separate entities and introduced Qwikster? A lot of people were pretty peeved, to say the least, and it looks like Netflix has finally received the message.

Basically, Netflix was going to move the DVD-by-mail service into a whole separate operation and call it Qwikster, meaning customers would now have two accounts and two queues to manage. This was shortly after Netflix hiked up the price of their service from $9.99 per month for one plan to $15.98 per month. After an upheaval from its customers, the company decided to pull a 180 and scrap the plans it had for the two separate operations.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had this to say about the matter:

“It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.”

While it might seem that Netflix gave into the angry customers by backpedaling, the company said that it expected to lose around one million customers if they continued with the plans and their stock price would have dropped significantly. It’s probably a good call on Netflix’s part that they decided to call it quits with Qwikster, since their stock has risen almost 7% since the announcement.

Hastings said that, business-wise, the DVD division of Netflix would still be separate from its instant-streaming, but customers will not see any difference. Their DVD division will be moving to new offices nearby in San José, CA.

While customers are glad that Netflix will stay Netflix, it has to be said that this whole ordeal will most likely go down in the books as another one of those ridiculous technology blunders.

Image Credit: Mychal Stanley