Good morning all, it's nearly Halloween and the Monday Morning Technologist can't decide between dressing up as Siri or Watson. So let's talk tech while he ponders it...
HP Primes Their Own Pump?
A recent article pointed out a pair of interesting initiatives from HP who lately seems to be reading from Charlie Sheen's book of management. First off they're going to set you up with a subscription plan for new ink. Yep, for $5,99 (or a bit more) a month your printer can automatically tell HP when your ink is getting low and they will send you more ink. Of course, how many of us actually get new ink cartridges every month? Not too many, I'm guessing, and anybody who has ever used an HP Inkjet printer knows that they tend to report "low ink" weeks before they actually run out of ink.
Folks, the inkjet printer industry uses the same business model that the shaving industry does. They practically GIVE you the handles because they want to sell you the blades. The reason inkjet printers are almost disposably cheap is because the ink for those printers is more expensive than human blood. With this new plan you'd be paying Gillette to tell you when to replace your razor. Hmmm....
The second thing HP is doing is that they've teamed up with magazine publisher Conde' Nast so that if you subscribe to one of Conde' Nast's magazines (like Self, Glamour, Wired...) you can have those magazines send articles to your printer...automatically and any time they want to. Leaving aside the question of why you'd want random articles sent to your printer without warning (Can't I just read the article on the website and print it myself if I choose to?) it seems like a good way for HP to get you to use more blood...err...ink, which means you buy more from them sooner.
You don't think Bic and Gillette wouldn't LOVE to get you to shave 3 times a day? Rinse, repeat.
Removing Excess Space in OneNote
If you've suddenly got a bit too much white space in OneNote you could manually drag and drop all of that content up to remove the white space, but there's an easier way. This quick tip from OneNote-Tips.com explains how...
Are Property Managers Sweating the Cloud?
This article from Forbes suggests that the Cloud is contributing to office space vacancies by enabling a more mobile and distributed workforce. There's probably a lot of truth in that - office workers increasingly have technology at home that rivals what they have at the office and it does save money if a company needs a smaller office (and fewer paperclips, less electricity, fewer parking spaces...) because some portion of their workforce is working from home.
Keep in mind though that not everybody is well-suited for telework. There can be real productivity issues when you send workers who aren't self-motivated to an environment where they have their pets, their treadmill, their TV set, their PlayStation... It CAN be done, of course, but some people just do better in a traditional office environment.
So while I agree that the cloud and remote work *IS* having an effect, I think there will be some level of equilibrium reached where firms will have migrated as many people to remote work as they practically can. There also may be more of a migration away from the downtown spaces as firms start to realize that they can maintain a very small office with a prestigious downtown address but migrate most of their actual offices to sites in the far less expensive suburbs. The Cloud and remote technology means that it's pretty easy for a firm to have a Manhattan address but almost all of their staff actually works in Jersey. Or Nebraska.
Finally one point the article makes that is indisputable...there are a LOT of empty cubicles when I go into offices these days too. Either via remote work or just layoffs I rarely walk into an office that doesn't have a substantial number of empty desks. When the lease comes up for renewal there will be a lot of firms thinking hard about if they really need 20,000 square feet or if they'd be better off "right-sizing" to 15,000.
The good news from that is that smaller firms who previously didn't think they could afford "a real office" will likely find a lot of great deals on smaller spaces that have been chopped out of downsizing larger firms.
The Battle for Your Voice Has Been Joined
Apple has released the iPhone 4S and more than any other feature the one that is on everybody's lips - so to speak - is Siri. Siri is the iPhone's new voice-activated "personal assistant". You can now talk to your iPhone and ask it questions like "What's the temperature in Flagstaff today?" or have it do things like call your mother-in-law or put an appointment on your calendar.
Siri isn't quite everything we'd like it to be yet, but it's a heck of a good start AND...it's shifted the voice recognition and AI game into the next level. Already there has been a response for the Android as a product called "Iris" has been released. Iris is free in the Android Market but be forewarned...that "Alpha" in the title doesn't mean it's the big dog...that means it's a VERY early version. And it is.
Iris just uses the default Android voice, which isn't especially pleasant to converse with, it's still pretty limited in what it can do and it still has a lot of trouble recognizing what you say. But...that's what Alpha software is - an early prototype. What's exciting is that there are now legions of smart people working vigorously on both the Apple and Android sides to develop a richer voice interaction with our devices. Between Google and Apple there are a LOT of resources they can bring to bear to work on this problem. AND...one of the founders of Siri has just left Apple which means that yet another capable competitor is probably lurking out there.
...there are still a lot of times when you DON'T want to talk to your device. For example: Are you really going to tell Siri to schedule an appointment with your proctologist while you're having lunch in a crowded restaurant? Are you going to dictate a confidential e-mail to your business partner while you're sitting on an airplane? Do you really WANT to live in a world where everybody around you is constantly chattering to their devices? If that happens I'm buying stock in Bose because sales of noise-cancelling headphones is going to skyrocket!
Voice control of your device is handy in many cases - especially a device that doesn't have much of a keyboard. But let's pause a moment before we rush to a talkie-talkie world. Look around you and decide if you really want everybody within 20 feet to know exactly what you're doing on your device...and even if it's not confidential, let's have a little common courtesy and decide if everybody within 20 feet wants to hear you talking to your device.
Siri Plays Around
Before you get too emotionally involved with Siri you should know something about her...you're not her one and only. Siri will respond to anybody who talks to her and, by default, she'll respond even when your iPhone is locked. What that means is that if you lock your iPhone 4S and leave it laying around somebody else can grab it and, even if they can't unlock the phone, they can tell Siri to do all sorts of things...like access your Contacts, read your e-mail...even send an e-mail as you.
You can fix that problem by going into settings and setting Siri not to respond when the phone is locked but most people won't do that. It's just too convenient for YOU to be able to use Siri without unlocking the phone.
Of course, that assumes you've set your phone to lock at all. You have turned on the lock haven't you? Haven't you?
The Next Steps
As long as we're talking about voice commands in devices there are two big steps that need to happen before it truly starts to recognize its potential:
1. It needs to be able to seperate out your voice from all of the other noise in the room. Right now if you're dictating or using voice recognition you need a fairly quiet environment. If you drive a garbage truck for a living don't count on Siri being that useful to you when you're at work. If you have a lot of other people around, or the radio on, voice recognition software can get confused about what it's hearing. Humans have the ability (most of them) to distinguish between the person speaking to them and other people in the room or just random noise. So far most of the devices do not.
One of the folks on This Week in Tech commented that he tried to use Siri on the streets of New York but quickly gave up - it was just too noisy and Siri couldn't understand much of what he said.
2. It needs to have a way to always be listening. At least with Iris you have to press the button to tell it to listen each time you speak. A more handsfree mode where you can just address it and have it recognize that you're talking to it would be a great step forward.
Office365 Limits Your E-mail?
One item that came out last week cast a little bit of a shadow over Microsoft's new Office365 service. It seems that if you have the professional-level (P1) plan of Office365 that Microsoft's servers are going to limit you to sending e-mail to 500 recipients per day. There was an immediate twitcry (that's an outcry on Twitter) from people who think that's going to hamstring businesses from using it. Let me clear up a few things and put some (but not all) of you at ease:
- The limit is on recipients, not on messages. You can send 1000 messages to the same recipient - that only counts as one. There are some questions about how distribution lists get handled but if you think of a distribution list as a separate address (even though it includes a bunch of addresess) that's probably smart.
- The limit is PER MAILBOX. Not per company. If your company has 10 mailboxes on Office365 that doesn't mean that each mailbox only gets 50 recipients per day. It also doesn't mean that one user could send to 480 recipients and the other 9 of you would only have 20 left between you. It's 500 recipients per mailbox, per day.
- This only applies to the P-level plans. The E-level plans get 1500 recipients per mailbox per day.
I'm a pretty heavy e-mail user and I haven't stumbled over this limit yet. I seriously doubt it will affect many people - though I recognize it may affect a few. For those of you who e-mail THAT heavily and to that many different recipients per day you should probably consider one of the E-level plans.
They implemented this as an anti-spam and traffic restrictor technique. It would be nice, however, if Microsoft would provide:
- Clarification on when the count resets. Is it at midnight? Some other time?
- A way for the firm administrator to temporarily override the limit in certain cases. If it's a simple anti-spam tool then the firm administrator should be able to confirm that the 501st message is a legit message and let it go. If Microsoft is worried about total traffic volume perhaps the administrator could allocate some of another mailboxes' daily quota to help make up for the user who has the occasional 503 recipients in a day.
Roland Schorr & Tower are Office365 resellers. If you have questions about it or would like a free trial of Office365 just let us know and we're happy to see how we can help.
@Colinsteele asked a good question this morning.
Good question and it presents one of the advantages that the iPhone has over Android. With Android there are an increasing number of flavors of the operating system. You can be sitting right next to somebody who has the exact same phone you do and you could have different versions of the operating system. You could be on 2.2, he's on 2.3. Or worse.
Our firm has standardized on Android smartphones but not all on the same device - there are some Thunderbolts, some DroidXs...even an original Moto Droid I think. And there could easily be 3 or 4 DIFFERENT versions of the OS in our firm. Which does sometimes make support a bit tricky. And it's just going to get worse if Google doesn't figure out a way to get a handle on it.
It's not just that people are choosing not to upgrade - like a PC user stubbornly clinging to Vista - but rather that the upgrades just aren't available. Verizon seems to roll out Android updates as slowly as somebody who would roll out updates really slowly. The guy at the Verizon store gave me a winning smile and told me that my shiny new HTC Thunderbolt was the top of the line and that it would be the first to get new updates as they came out. That was quite a while ago and here I sit with 2.2.1 still while some of my friends frolic with their 2.3 (or later) devices.
Every now and then I actually do click the "Check New" button to see if there is an update silently waiting for me...but that's the triumph of hope over experience. They might as well rename that button "Don't Expect Much".
And the new Kindle Fire, which I'm excited about, promises to tweak the issue in a different way - its version of Android (which is open source, so anybody can fiddle with it) is reported to be a pretty major fork in the code. A fork is where a developer breaks off from the previous stream of code and from then on future versions of his code is fundamentally different from the same version (i.e. 2.5 vs. 2.5) from the original development stream. Which means that it won't be enough to say "Hey, I'm on Android 3.7!" You may have to know if you're on Amazon Android 3.7 or Google Android 3.7. (or maybe Motorola 3.7 or HTC 3.7 or...)
Open source is exciting and leads to some exciting (and a lot of awful) development. But it also can be a support nightmare and tends to chase the neophytes who just want the thing to work without wondering why their screen looks different from their coworker's screen.
In that regard Apple's monolithic iOS, with its homogeneous devices marching in relative lockstep, can be appealing.
Anyhow, I'm going to go be disappointed again...Menu...Settings...Software Update....<sigh>
Some of you have Columbus Day off...but the Monday Morning Technologist doesn't.
Experts Explain Greatest Threats to Cloud Computing (Network World)
What I find most interesting about this article is not the conflicting opinions about which is the greatest threat to cloud computing, but that they got together a bunch of experts who each identified different threats to cloud computing. Companies considering a move to the Cloud should consider ALL of these issues before moving confidential or mission-critical data or systems to the Cloud.
ThunderBolt Users Get a Glimpse?
There was a report that the HTC ThunderBolt was finally going to get an OS update and that the update actually DID release...but only very briefly. Apparently a couple of bugs that affected certain features caused the update to be pulled again until those bugs can be fixed - no idea what the timeframe for that is. Some users are frustrated because the bugs in question would seem to affect only a small subset of users, but Verizon/HTC is probably doing the right thing to pull the update back until they can get it right.
I can only imagine how challenging it must be for developers of Android Apps by the way. Not only do you have dozens of different devices out there with different processors, memory and screen sizes, but you've even got a whole bunch of different flavors of the operating system.
Microsoft Patch Tuesday
Microsoft's Patch Tuesday will be tomorrow and there are going to be 23 new patches out, of which 2 are rated critical. Be sure to take care of your patches for all of your Windows systems!
Of course, one thing that's harder to patch is your users. Many of the high profile hacks/breaches we've seen lately have been the direct result of a careless or uneducated user doing something dumb - like clicking a malicious link or opening an attachment from a suspicious source. Be sure to invest in your users - give them the training they need, don't get complacent. It will pay off for you.
Encrypt Those Portable Devices
Just another reminder - because I'm *STILL* seeing unencrypted portable devices in the field with company data on them. It's not hard or expensive to do. But it IS hard AND expensive to deal with a data compromise that results from a lost, unencrypted, device. Here's an article that might help: "Encrypting Your Portable Devices with TrueCrypt"
I wonder how many people have just said "Uh, o.k.!" and opened the attached file anyhow? <sad sigh>
And no, it didn't really come from a GMail account.
Today on the Monday Morning Technologist...iPhones, FireFox, Voting Machines and more...
Laptop Theft Exposes Data on 16,000 Patients in Minnesota
The unemployment line should have just gotten a little longer in Minnesota. Whomever was responsible for IT security at Accretive Health needs to be on the street. There is absolutely NO excuse for allowing an unencrypted laptop with sensitive data out the door. I've been saying this for YEARS! Am I just talking to myself? Well, yeah, I probably am. In the event somebody other than my mother is reading this, however, ENCRYPT YOUR MOBILE DEVICES. It costs almost nothing and it's a heck of a lot easier than having to send letters to all of your customers telling them you've lost a laptop with their health records or credit card information or other personal data on it.
Don't know how to encrypt your laptop? Here's how you can do it for FREE....
Diebold voting machines can be hacked by remote control
Speaking of stories I've been shouting at the wind about for years... You know, it almost seems like they're TRYING to make voting machines that aren't secure and reliable. I mean seriously...can you give me any other good reason for there not being a paper trail on these devices? I outlined a plan probably 10 years ago or more for a way to make voting machines that would be secure and efficient.
It involved ATM-style machines that printed TWO paper receipts when the vote was recorded. The receipts sat, in plain english, who and what the voter had voted for (or against). The voter could confirm, at a glance, that the receipts were correct and have an opportunity at that time to raise a concern with the voting official at the site. Assuming the vote on the receipt was correct they would drop one receipt into a control box with all of the other receipts. The other receipt they could keep for their own records.
The electronically recorded votes would be spot-checked against the control boxes periodically to ensure no funny business - or if a recount was initiated it could be performed against the printed receipts rather than the electronic votes; again as a security measure. It's a simple system to implement and as secure (if not moreso) than our current system of voting.
But the companies that make voting machines, and the beaurocrats who approve them, don't seem to want a more secure system. I wonder why that is...
Want more granular control over permissions and security in FireFox? Go to the address bar and type "about:permissions" (you might want to do that in a new tab rather than this one). You'll get a control panel that lets you manage saved passwords and cookies and configure a few other security settings.
Office365 - Company Calendars and Contacts
Last week we mentioned Microsoft's Office 365. Did you know that if you're an Office365 user you can use the SharePoint team site to create a company calendar and/or a company Contacts list, both of which you can sync with your Microsoft Outlook on your local computer?
It's pretty easy; just go to Lists, and create a new List. One of the types of lists it will offer you is a Calendar and another is a Contacts folder or address book. Create the list then on the Ribbon of the new list you'll find a "Connect to Outlook" button. Click "OK" on a couple of confirmation boxes and your Outlook will begin to sync the new Calendar or Contacts folder. You can add/edit/view items in Outlook without ever going to the SharePoint site if you want to. And your teammates in the company can do the same.
Got more Office365 questions or want to take it for a spin? Get in touch with us and we can set you up with a 30-day free trial or answer any other questions you might have. Just e-mail Roland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Latest iPhone 5 news!
This just in! It's bigger and smaller! It's cheaper and more expensive! It's got 4G and 5G and 6G! Every time it rings, an angel gets his wings! Anybody else finding the breathless, incessant, blubbering of iPhone 5 rumors from the tech press to be a little absurd? Seriously? It's a freakin' smartphone people. It's not the messiah. Sit down, take a deep breath, finish your Sudoku. It'll be along soon and then we'll all know how big it is, what it costs and what it does. I haven't seen such a pointless media feeding frenzy since Anna Nicole Smith.
The Kindle Fire
On the other hand a device that actually HAS been introduced is the new Amazon Kindle Fire. While we haven't actually gotten our hands on one yet, and apparently the rumored free Amazon Prime membership didn't materialize, this device DOES change the game in the tablet market. Is it an iPad killer? No. But it may well be a Xoom and PlayBook killer. Granted it only has a 7" screen but having a capable tablet device at the $199 price point suddenly sticks a knife in all of those $499 Android devices.
Drawbacks? No 3G is going to be an issue for some folks; but for $199 you could spend $50 and get a MiFi device to tether it to.
The 7" screen is a bit of a drawback, but it's not critical.
The lack of Amazon Prime isn't as big a deal as we thought - for only $199 you could spend the $79 to subscribe to Amazon Prime and you're still under the originally rumored $299 price.
Already we're seeing the other tablet makers scramble to respond. ASUS didn't drop their price but now you can get the docking station for free. RIM is allegedly dropping the price on the PlayBook substantially. Motorola will almost certainly have to respond in kind with the Xoom.
The iPad will be fine. Having a legitimate competitor at a significantly lower price point will make EVERYBODY raise their game (and keep downward pressure on pricing). Customers win.
Now go encrypt your laptops.