It's sort of vaguely amusing how the "OpenOffice" fans come out of the woodwork whenever Microsoft Office gets mentioned. To be fair I like OpenOffice (and LibreOffice) but they are not the same thing as Microsoft Office for a number of reasons. I have had several clients try to run on OpenOffice with the notion that they didn't want to pay Microsoft's licensing fees for Microsoft Office. In most (but not all) cases they pulled the plug on that experiment after a month or three and bought Microsoft Office after all. They were tired of the compromises and little incompatibilities and found it was ultimately more expensive (by a thousand tiny cuts) to manage, maintain and train on OpenOffice than it was to just buy Microsoft Office.
In my experience most of those who are complaining about how Microsoft Office works haven't actually used it in a pretty long time.
The reality is that the most anybody could pay for Microsoft Office is $499 per seat and almost nobody ever pays that. In reality it's going to be more like half that. Microsoft Office is upgraded about every 3 years but most firms don't upgrade every time, most skip one or even two upgrade cycles. We have firms today who are considering a move from Office 2003 to Office 2013. That means they skipped TWO versions.
But let's assume you DO pay the full $499 for some reason and you upgrade every 3 years. That would be a bit less than $167 per year. For most of you that's about 1 billable hour. 1 Billable hour A YEAR for the software you use every day to get your work done. In the words of law practice management expert (and friend) Debbie Foster: "Shut up and buy it."
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Every few weeks I read another article about how we're in the "Post-PC Era" and "The PC is dead!" which then goes on to detail how factory orders for power cords have dropped 2% and that means nobody will be using PCs next week. And honestly, that's all just a load of manure.
I'm wrapping up the latest edition to a 298 page book right now. There is no scenario where I would rather do that on a 10" screen with a chiclet keyboard. None. My daily work, like many people's, involves a lot of content creation, a lot of online communication, reading a lot of documents online. Now the tech hipsters like to pretend that we all will be doing that on an iThing while sipping an overpriced latte at Starbucks but the reality is...most people don't have jobs that let them do that all day. And as above...even if I could spend all day working from a park bench I don't want to.
I *LIKE* my dual 24" monitors. I *LIKE* having a real keyboard and a real mouse. I don't want to buy an app that lets me sort of read Word documents and a screen cover that cuts down on the glare when I'm trying to work outside among the pidgeons. I want to use Word, in my very comfortable chair, with Pandora playing in the background, on a real keyboard and a big screen.
What we're in is the "PC-Plus Era" where people are still going to largely have PCs on their desks for getting real work done and they're going to have a smartphone that lets them check e-mail while they're waiting for their spouse to finish an errand or confirm movie times. And oh yeah, probably some kind of tablet device they can use to check e-mail from the breakfast table, read a book on a long flight, and do a little bit of work during half-time of their kid's soccer game.
Most of the professionals I know have a tablet device of some kind now. I can count on one hand the number of professionals I know who actually do (or even want to do) all of their work on a tablet device.
Now...there will come a day, some years in the future, when we have tablet devices that are powerful enough that we can use them as desktop replacements. We bring them to the office, snap them into some sort of docking station that connects them to real monitors, a real network connection and a real keyboard, and do our work. When we leave, we take them out of their docks and slip them into a traveling case. But even with that...the world is full of workers that companies don't want taking their work PCs out of the office with them. Every week I have companies, concerned about after-hours worker access, asking me how they can lock their systems down so their workers CAN'T do unauthorized work outside of the office hours. It's an HR headache, not to mention a potential security issue.
Of those workers who ARE allowed to take their PCs out...a lot of them simply don't want to.
There are hundreds of thousands of cubicles across America that are still going to have PCs in them for many years to come.
When people tell me "The PC is dead" I can't help but think a little bit of their credibility has died too.
I travel quite a bit, mostly for business, and so I was pleasantly intrigued to see a "Travel" app on the Windows 8 "TUIFKA-Metro" start screen. I clicked on it, hoping to find a rich environment for planning and managing my travel. What did I get?
Well, I got a bunch of travel articles and photos. Hmm. O.K. Mom might like that. I don't have time to read about Thailand right now. Can't I search for and book travel in this thing? I scrolled right. More articles. I scrolled left, more articles. Shouldn't they have named this the "National Geographic" app, I mused.
Finally, seeing nowhere else to go, I right-clicked in the desperate hope that might do something useful. Hey...it says "Flights!" Now we're getting somewhere. I clicked on that and got a simple-looking search box that lets me search for flights. Simple. Yes. The first simple thing about this process and it falls down in some important, and simple, ways.
1. The search field from the airports is not quite as easy as I'd like. This is the least of the sins. I need to check airfare from Flagstafff to Maryland. I don't know what airport so I start to type "Maryland" but that gets me nowhere. I guess "Baltimore". O.K. That'll get me to Baltimore, but maybe that's not the closest airport to where I need to go. Or maybe it's cheaper to fly into Reagan? I ended up having to go to Google Maps to sort out the closest airport to my actual destination then come back to enter the info. But...
2. There is NO option to search nearby airports. I can get airfare quotes from Flagstaff to Reagan...but not compare them to Baltimore. Unless I want to run a separate search. Next month I need to go to L.A. I can fly to LAX or Burbank pretty conveniently...but again no way to search flights that go to either.
3. There's no options for searching for alternate schedules. "1 day before or after" sort of searches to see how the fares might compare.
All of the power of Bing Travel at their fingertips (and Bing Travel is very good) and they give us this? It's like using WordPad instead of Word.
It's very pretty but ultimately there is no reason to use the Travel App when you get a LOT more features by going to any number of travel websites (Orbitz, Travelocity, Bing Travel, Kayak, etc...) Even if you figure out the secret password to get into the Flight search (WHY is there no obvious link to that right on the front page of the app?!?!) when you get there you find that the options are pretty limited.
Like so much of TUIFKA-Metro it seems that form was prioritized over function.
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This week Windows 8 RTM (Release to Manufacturing) shipped which means that DVDs of Windows 8 are being industriously burned, even as we speak, in advance of the October 26th official release date. I was able to download the RTM build from Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and I installed it on my desktop machine to give it a good spin. Here's my initial thoughts - and keep in mind I'm writing this for knowledge worker folks, not for teenagers who want to play games.
1. It's fast. Let me disclaim up front - I bought a new 180GB SSD hard drive to use as my boot drive and installed Windows 8 on that; relegating my 1TB drive that was my main drive with Windows 7 to be primarily my data drive now. That said I know, from running Windows 8 on other devices, that some of the speed I'm seeing now is just because of the operating system. With Windows 8 on an SSD though...boot times are amazing. I did a full reboot, from desktop to desktop, in under 90 seconds the other day. I've installed my applications (like Outlook, etc.) on the SSD and running those under Windows 8 is about as fast as you could want.
Want a blazing fast machine? Get an SSD, a healthy dose of RAM (I have 10GB) and Windows 8. It's a dream.
Even on a regular machine that just runs Windows 7, though, I think Windows 8 will be faster.
2. The "Windows 8 Style" (Formerly "Metro") interface is going to frustrate desktop users and give help desks a headache. It's very pretty, don't get me wrong. It's not hard to use, but it's very different from what you're used to and folks will have to get used to different kinds "swipes" and such to use it. On a tablet device that's fine. On a desktop with a mouse...it's taking a lot of getting used to.
Further complicating matters is that Windows 8 is a Jekyll & Hyde situation...you've got the Metro desktop and you've got a completely separate desktop that looks more like what Windows 7 looked like. It may not be obvious to user which one to use in which situation and, unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any way to turn one or the other off. This is going to be a pretty big problem, I think, for enterprise IT departments.
User training costs will be significant and the help desk phones will probably be ringing a lot.
3. Metro-style apps are difficult to work with. Not the actual USE of the apps. Navigating the weather app or the messenger app is plenty easy enough. The problem is...they're full screen apps for the most part. You can snap them into an awkward half-screen look, but you can't resize them the way we could always resize things in the past. If you're used to multi-tasking you're going to find Metro to be frustrating - you'll have to constantly switch apps back and forth.
For some users this will be especially frustrating. The Metro Messenger app is nice, but I don't want my IM client to take up the entire screen. With Metro Messenger you don't really have the choice. Furthermore, though you can install the Windows Live Messenger client we're used to from Windows 7, there doesn't seem to be any obvious way to turn Metro Messenger OFF. Which means that ever notification that pops up you get TWICE - once from Live Messenger and one from Metro Messenger. Very annoying.
Dual-monitor desktops will be almost essential.
It's also not obvious how you CLOSE a Metro-style app. (Press ALT+F4 or drag the top bar to the bottom of the screen...which is sort of a long drag on a mouse, if we're honest. You'll be longing for the "X" in the top right corner pretty quickly.)
I've been using Windows 8 full time for about 4 days now. There are some things I really like. The speed is great. Some of the "Metro" apps are nice. Certainly it's very pretty. It also feels like I'm still not quite where I was with my Windows 7 machine in terms of productivity. As a general rule I'm avoiding all of the Metro apps when it comes time to do work - and I've too often found myself trying to get Windows 8 out of my way (like the redundant messenger notifications, or the e-mail notification sound that won't go away no matter how many places I turn it off).
I think Windows 8 will be brilliant on a tablet. But most knowledge workers still do a great deal of their work on a real computer. A desktop PC with one or more (hopefully more with Windows 8) monitors, a real keyboard and a mouse. For those users...this OS may be a bit of a challenge at least initially. And I really don't look forward to running this OS on a laptop where I'm going to have to use a touchpad to fight with the OS to get my 14" screen the way I want it. Nobody wants their Twitter app full screen on a regular computer Microsoft. That's fine for a phone, but on a PC we want it tucked off to the side, not dominating a 24" monitor.
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Let's Talk DNS
By popular request I thought I'd give a quick overview of how DNS works since it's been in the news a bunch lately. In the interests of time/space there will be a few oversimplifications here but if you're a network engineer you should already know this stuff. This little primer is intended to help the novice understand the basics of what, how and why DNS does what it does. So let's get started....
Devices on a network (or a collection of networks, like the Internet) generally use TCP/IP as the protocol they communicate with. Each device gets a unique "IP address", vaguely like the postal address on your home or office. A TCP/IP version 4 address (which is what the vast majority of the Internet is still using, for the moment) would look something like 22.214.171.124. Four numbers, each between 1 and 254 separated by dots. There are some numbers in there that are reserved and 0 and 255 have special functions, but you get the idea.
In the beginning there were two machines on the precursor to the Internet and addresses weren't really an issue. Then there were three machines and people started to realize that typing in "126.96.36.199" was a minor pain and trying to remember it (especially when there got to be hundreds, never mind millions, of devices connected) would be a major pain.
So they figured out a way to assign friendly names to these numbers that humans could remember and type and the computers would just look up the friendly name to find out what the IP address is. That was done initially with static text files called "HOSTS" files. In fact your computer probably STILL has a HOSTS file though it's not usually used for much these days. The HOSTS files lists the names and addresses much like a phone book lists names and phone numbers.
And so forth. This was deployed to the handful of machines on the early "Net" so that people could use English machine names and there was much rejoicing! Until the network grew to hundreds of machines and new machines (and different addresses) were being added daily (Hourly!). Then the guy in charge of updating the HOSTS file and distributing the HOSTS file and keeping track of who had what version of the HOSTS file wasn't so happy.
So a new service was invented called DNS (Domain Name System). Basically it does what the HOSTS file does but it does it in a far more automated and easy-to-maintain fashion with a database maintained, distributed and updated somewhat more automatically. With a little tweaking it scaled nicely and once again there was much rejoicing! In fact it's what we still use today.
When you type "http://www.google.com" into your web browser your computer, behind the scenes, connects to whatever DNS server(s) it's been configured to refer to and asks what the IP address for that address is. (188.8.131.52, if you're wondering, though in actuality they have a LOT of addresses for scale)
Every device connecting to the Internet has been set to connect to one or more DNS servers to do address lookups. This is true of a lot more than just web browsing, by the way. It's DNS that tells your e-mail server how to resolve @rolandschorr.com when you try to send an e-mail message to me. There are LOTS of DNS servers out there - in fact many if not most companies even have their own.
Fun trick: You don't NEED the friendly names if you happen to know the IP address of the server you want to go to. Type http://184.108.40.206 into your browser and your browser will very happily open Google for you. (In fact, it may open very slightly faster because it doesn't have to look up that address in the DNS first).
Maybe next week we'll explain this topic in a bit more detail...or do a totally different topic!
Word Trick of the Week
I probably shouldn't call it the "Trick of the Week" because that implies there will be another one next week. Well, there might be. Anyhow..
Ever open a long document you were working on and find yourself having to do a lot of paging up and down to find the spot where you left off? No need for that. Open the document and press SHIFT+F5 and Word will take you back to the last spot you were editing. This also works if you're in the document and you've scrolled (intentionally or accidentally) up or down in the document and you want to go back to where you were working. It doesn't, however, work very well in Word 2007. A bug in Word broke the feature in that version, though the clever Word MVPs have a workaround for you here.
Where's YOUR Taskbar?
As monitors get wider users sometimes find that they're more likely to have free space on the left or right than at the top or bottom. For myself I found that the nature of the way items on the Windows Task bar display meant that they were much wider than they were tall. Either way it's a possible reason to move your taskbar from the bottom of the screen to one of the sides. Didn't know you could do that? You can! Just grab an empty part of the taskbar and drag/drop it to the side of the screen (or top of the screen) where you want it. It will happily snap into place. I dock mine on the left side of my right-hand monitor - which means it's roughly in the middle of my two monitors, easy to see and not a far mouse-throw from whereever I am.
If it doesn't move for you...right-click the taskbar and make sure you don't have it locked. You'll need to unlock it, then move it. Then you can re-lock it if you like.