So I got a Motorola Droid from Verizon yesterday and wanted to do a quick post on my impressions of the device.
The device FEELS very substantial. It's small and not heavy but feels very solid. Quite a change from some of the plastic phones I've had in the recent past. The battery is easy to install and charges quickly.
One concern I had was how quickly/easily it would activate. Especially considering I picked it up at 5:30PM on a Tuesday and I was replacing an existing phone. I didn't want to have to wait until Wednesday with a dead brick of a phone because I couldn't get it activated. Turns out when I powered the device up for the first time it had a little wizard it ran through to call the Activation center. I entered my phone number, pressed a couple of buttons, confirmed my order number and within minutes it was activated. Very slick!
One of the first features I was keen to play with, and since I was driving home from the office at that point it made sense, was the Navigation tool. It took a few moments to figure out how to get into Navigation mode but the Droid's GPS quickly found my current location and showed me a handy map of my surroundings.
The Droid offers free turn-by-turn navigation, not only for cars but also pedestrians and, apparently, public transit as well. In addition to the standard maps you can also switch into "Satellite View" mode so you get that birdseye look at where you're going, and Google's amazing Street View is incorporated as well, so as you approach your destination the Droid can actually show you what it looks like from the street. No more driving past and realizing it was half a block back...we hope.
It even does a pretty decent job of showing traffic conditions on major roadways.
The thing I care most about in my smart phone is the synchronization with Exchange Server. To that end there is Good, Bad and Ugly.
The Contacts sync is excellent. If you have the Facebook add-in you can even aggregate your Contacts and Facebook information which adds a lot of rich content such as photos to your contacts list.
The Calendar sync flat out doesn't work. The mail and contacts work fine but when the "Corporate Calendar" tries to pull data from my Exchange account (the same account it's getting mail and contacts from) it fails with an "Authentication Failed" error. What?! It's the same account that you successfully authenticated to in order to get my mail and contacts - how could it fail for Calendar?
EVERY other device I have, even an iPod Touch, is able to successfully sync my calendar from Exchange. But the Droid does not. Whale Fail.
Checking the Google forums there were a number of reports of this problem. Suggested fixes included checking the message class of your appointment items - supposedly they need to be IPM.Appointment in order to work - and setting up Google Calendar to sync data from your Exchange/Outlook calendar, then pulling the data from that.
I'm not interested in sending my corporate calendar to Google (and Google Calendar) or in installing yet another sync add-in to suck resources from my computer. I just want to sync my Exchange calendar the way I always have with devices for years and years.
One suggestion, probably from a Google employee, was to dump Outlook and move entirely to Google Apps. Why would I dump Outlook when Outlook is NOT the problem here?!
Until Google fixes this problem I can not recommend this device to our corporate clients. I've heard a buzz that a fix for it may be in the works, and I'll be sure to post about it as soon as I know more.
The E-mail sync is decent. The bigger complaint I have with it - and maybe this is something that can be configured, is that it's sort of dark, monochrome and ugly. It's serviceable and I may get used to it. But it's not warm and pleasant - at least not so far.
One thing I notice is that it lists all of your mailbox subfolders alphabetically...NO hierarchy. That can be good or bad. In my case it means that finding the "Marketing" subfolder under my "Admin" folder means scrolling ALLLLLL the way down to "M" instead of just opening "Admin" and then opening "Marketing". I haven't discovered a way to quickly jump down to M yet, but I haven't spent more than 30 seconds on it so far. Maybe a way to quickly access those alphabetically challenged folders will present itself.
The other thing I did last night was download a BUNCH of free apps from the "Market" - Android's version of the App Store for you Apple folks. Twitter client, couple of networking tools, Facebook add-in...it's all pretty cool stuff, though so far I haven't found a free Twitter client that supports multiple Twitter accounts. I may just have to pony up the $3 for a paid Twitter client, or continue to kludge it by running two separate free Twitter clients.
Oh, yeah, this thing is a phone too. So far I've only had a couple of calls on it. It paired easily with my Motorola Bluetooth earpiece and the phone functionality seems somewhat similar to the iPhone. It LOOKS nice, but the actual call process is maybe not as smooth/easy as it could be. Maybe I'm just not used to it yet. Also the sound quality seems a little suspect - not bad but...just somehow not as clear as I might like. Again, I've only had a couple of calls so far so not much of a sample size, but I almost feel like I get slightly worse coverage with the Droid than I did with my Motorola Q. Like maybe I get half a bar or so less signal - even here in my home.
I'll have more on this later too.
Interesting device with a LOT of potential. The open source platform encourages development of apps and there are already a lot of very good apps available. Some of the native apps, see Calendar, fail badly, but overall I think this device, or maybe version 2.1 of it, could be a real challenger to the iPod.
My advice to Google would be to really NAIL the Exchange synchronization, security and managability. If they can get that right they have a good chance to steal market share from the Blackberry and eat into the iPhone's market too.
I'll have more on the Droid as my usage continues. On with day 2....
When it comes to your computer going green generally means using less electricity and there are a couple of tricks you can do to reduce the amount of juice your computer will use AND reduce the amount of heat it puts out as well – which may slightly reduce your other electrical needs.
The first two ways I want to highlight are: shut down the monitor and shut down the hard disks.
There are two basic kinds of computer monitors: CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) and LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays). CRTs are the big, heavy, old box monitors that were common even just a year or two ago. Today they’re fairly hard to find and that’s because they’re clunky, heavy, use more energy, produce more radiation and put out more heat. LCDs are the flat panel screens that nearly all new computers come with today. They’re sleek, elegant, perform well, use less electricity and put out far less heat.
Whichever monitor you’re using, however, it represents a substantial portion of the electrical usage of your computer. So when you’re not using it…turn it off! You can have the computer do that for you automatically and I’ll tell you how in just a minute….
The hard disk is like your computer’s filing cabinet. It’s where long-term storage occurs; all of the programs, games, pictures, documents, videos and other digital content and software on your computer are stored on the hard disk.
The hard disk is essentially a set of platters spinning like a record player (some of you may actually be old enough to remember record players) which means that it’s a mechanical device. And like all mechanical devices it requires a relatively large amount of electricity (relative to the rest of the computer) to operate and it puts out a lot of heat. When your computer is idle there is no reason the hard disk needs to keep spinning so the green solution is to let your computer put the hard disk “to sleep” during those idle times so that it uses less energy. Not to worry, you don’t have to kiss it to wake it up. As soon as you try to do anything on your computer that requires the hard disk your computer will wake it up and spin the disks automatically with hardly any delay.
The Whole Computer
In addition to putting the individual elements like the monitor and hard disk to sleep, you can also configure your system to put the entire computer to sleep. When you want to wake it up just touch a key on the keyboard and it’ll come right back to life.
How you do these things depends upon what operating system you’re using. If you’re using Windows (including Vista or Windows 7) go to Start | Control Panel and look for the “Power Settings” or “Power Options” applet. In there you’ll find the settings to put the monitor and hard drives to sleep after delays that you determine.I usually have the monitor go to sleep after 15 minutes of idle time and the hard disks after 20 or 30.
If you’re using Mac OSX you’ll find these settings under System Preferences on the Energy Saver pane.
If you’re in a firm with a network and Active Directory these settings can be configured for ALL of your computers in your Group Policy settings. Whomever manages your network should be able to configure that for you fairly easily. A firm of 25 computers can realize some pretty good savings just by configuring all of their machines to be more energy efficient.
Did you know that copiers, printers and possibly even your telephones can be configured to use more energy efficient modes when not in use?
The other thing you can do to reduce the amount of energy you use is to reduce the number of devices drawing power on your site.
Watch Out for Vampires!
Vampires may be a hot subject for teenaged girls these days, but they’re not doing your electric bill any favors. Look around your office…do you have any device chargers that aren’t actually charging anything right now? Common culprits are chargers for mobile phones, MP3 players, cameras, laptops… If they’re plugged into the wall they’re probably drawing a little bit of power even when they’re not actively charging the device. Does your charger have a little red light on it that still glows even when the phone or camera isn’t plugged into it? That's a sure sign that it’s a vampire – sucking power (and money) out of your walls even when it’s idle.
Luckily you don’t need to drive a wooden stake through its heart. Just unplug it when you’re not using it.
Virtualize Your Servers
Another way to reduce the amount of energy your computers use is to actually reduce the number of computers. For a decade or more computers have been more powerful than the users in front of them – your computer spends the VAST majority of its time actually idle. This is certainly true of servers as well and it’s why virtualization has taken off.
Virtualization is the user of specialized software to actually run TWO (or more) server instances on a single physical box. You have just the one box sitting there, but there are multiple operating systems running on it so to the network it looks like multiple servers. The machine has the horsepower to do it, and it’s less expensive than having separate physical boxes. There are a whole host of other advantages to virtualization and firms all over the world are rushing to do it.
In the context of what we’re talking about here the advantage is obvious…fewer physical servers means less energy usage. They not only draw less power, but they put out less heat…and anybody who has built or managed a data center knows that a BIG part of the operational costs of the data center go into cooling the data center. Having fewer physical boxes makes it easier and less expensive to cool.
Virtualize Your Users
Look around your office. Do all of those people NEED to be there? No, I’m not talking about layoffs, I’m talking about telecommuting.
An increasing number of our client firms are allowing some of their people to work from home one or two days a week. By rotating the “Work at Home” days they always have some percentage of their staff that aren’t in the office and, thus, not using office resources.
One firm selected 12 users who would get to work at home one day a week. They split them into four teams of 3. On Mondays one team works at home. On Tuesdays a different team works at home. On Wednesdays everybody comes in. On Thursdays a different team works at home…you get the picture. They do their company-wide staff meetings on Wednesdays and the rest of the week only 75% of the staff is in the office at any given time.
Less staff means fewer lights on, fewer computers on, fewer people using the microwave, even a few less cars in the parking lot. The work-at-home staff loves it because, among other things, it cuts their commuting costs by 20% - one day a week they don’t have to burn any gasoline to drive to work.
The firm also gains the advantage of business continuity. If somebody isn’t feeling well they can choose to work at home – assuming they feel well enough to work but just not well enough to come in. In the past those folks might have dragged themselves to the office, and taken the chance on getting their coworkers sick too.
Green up your computers and conserve energy. Configure your workstations (don’t forget your copiers, printers and other devices too!) to save power, keep an eye out for vampires and virtualize everything (and everyone) that you can. It’s a good thing for the environment and it won’t hurt your electric bill either.
Just a quick note that Hawaii has finally got a new TechNet event on the schedule. It's going to happen on December 7th (yes, we know) from 1:30PM to 5:00PM at the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki.
For more info, see Harold Wong's blog at the link above.
O.K., so lately folks have been asking me "But Ben...we really WANT to use Cloud Computing or Software as a Service (SaaS) in our firm. What do we need to do to make it work?" And I've even had one or two Cloud vendors ask me what they could do to get on my good side. So here are two things that would go a long way towards resolving my reservations about doing business in the cloud.
1. Allow the customer to get a local copy of their data, in an easily portable format (like .XLS or .CSV), anytime they want to. A simple menu item along the lines of "Create Offline Copy" that does an export to their local drive would do it.
Why? Because I want the customer to have control of their data without being at the mercy of the SaaS vendor. If the vendor goes out of business, loses the data, has a billing dispute with the customer or if the customer just wants to leave that vendor and go somewhere else I want the customer to have the ability to have their own copy of the data that they know is safe and accessible.
2. GUARANTEE that the data is only stored in the United States. The customer should be able to get a list of all of the Zip codes where their data could possibly be stored and the SaaS vendor should guarantee that none of their data (and that includes backups or indexes) will EVER be transmitted or stored outside of the United States.
Why? Because different countries have different laws and allowing your data (or a copy of your data) to reside on a server physically located somewhere else may subject you to the legal jurisdiction of that country. Certainly if your data is located on a multi-tenant (that means a server that hosts data for more than one customer) architecture (which nearly all of them are) then you might find your data seized even if it's somebody else on that server that the government in question is going after. That's bad enough when the government is the U.S. government. See how easy it is to get satisfaction if it was Pakistan or Argentina that seized your data.
So there you go SaaS providers and customers. If those two conditions were met, most (but not quite all) of my concerns about Software as a Service would be alleviated.
Today Microsoft officially launched Windows 7. For those of you who have been diligently avoiding Vista you can breathe a sigh of relief. Even though Windows 7 has been oft-described as "Windows Vista R2" the reality is that it's a big step forward from its ill-fated predecessor.
Here are three features of Windows 7, that you're going to like:
1. The Speed. On my 64-bit desktop machine with 5GB of RAM, Windows 7 64-bit is noticeably faster and more responsive than Vista Ultimate 64 was on the same machine.
2. The Taskbar. The new taskbar is similar to the old one but with one very big difference - you can pin applications, including apps that aren't currently running. That makes it about as easy as possible to get to your commonly used programs. Additionally when you right-click the icon for your commonly used program you'll see a list of recently opened files for that program - yet another great time-saver when you need to get to that document or spreadsheet you use all the time. That feature is called a "Jump List".
3. Driver and hardware support. My machine is not basic. I have multiple monitors, multiple hard drives, a KVM switch for my keyboard/mouse, a Hauppage TV card and a bunch of varied USB devices. When I first installed Windows 7 it complained and cautioned me that I might not have the right drivers for all of this stuff and that some things might not work right. I nodded and clicked o.k....and everything just worked. Even the TV card - works beautifully.
Other features in Windows 7 are worth noting: The 64-bit version is on the same DVD so you don't have to worry about which version to buy. The built-in backup/restore tool is better. Bitlocker (disk and file encryption) is significantly better.
All in all Windows 7 is a significant improvement over Vista and, for the first time in years, I'm finally comfortable advising my clients to upgrade to a new operating system.