A few weeks back, I finally had a really good chance at stress testing our company's still-fresh hosted Lync solution from CallTower. Merging calls. Transferring calls. Starting ad-hoc conference calls with clients. All the while IM'ing my internal staff and fellow clients, and checking voicemails that were coming through as MP3s in my email along with associated text transcriptions.
If you think I was sitting at the comfort of my desk with the power of a desk phone at my side, you guessed wrong. I was nearly 900 miles away from our home base in Park Ridge, out in the beautiful city of Stamford, CT helping clean up a messy VoIP rollout for a customer who needed some dire help.
As overused as it may be, the old mantra still holds definitively true: you're only as strong as your weakest link. This goes for sports teams, business divisions, vehicles, and most anything else in life where multiple links make up the entity at large. It shouldn't be surprising that IT systems and networks follow the same logic.
Yet this very notion is what causes me to cringe when in discussions with new and existing clients. There is a large disconnect when it comes to the average small business owner, as to what technical improvements will actually lead to better stability and resiliency -- all encompassing what they truly care about: uptime.
Of all the mobile platforms out there, Windows Phone 8.1 was literally the absolute last option I ever thought I would land upon. I had a burning hatred for Windows on the mobile side, seeing that I was forced into using a Pocket PC 6700 (Windows Mobile 5) years ago while working for a former employer. To say that experience soured my opinion of Windows Mobile is an understatement.
Frankly, and I don't care what the diehards say, Windows for phones prior to Windows Phone 8 should very well be erased from memory for anyone who had to deal with it. From unintuitive interface design, to cludgy touchscreen navigation with a stylus, it was a Picasso of a mobile OS for exactly all the wrong reasons.
For many organizations under 100 users or so, there has been a trend on the rise that is either decimating formal IT departments entirely, or trimming them down to bare minimum levels. Many in the IT industry wouldn't notice it, because, of course, they may likely be working for such a department themselves. It's hard to have an objective viewpoint when you're part of the status quo.
As an outside consultant, who works with a variety of organizations small and large, I see my clients and their support structures from a different lens. Being an outsider here has its advantages, namely in being able to see many of these IT departments for what they are.
After Google chopped off the umbilical cord from the oft-used Free Edition of its Google Apps suite back in late 2012, users were left wondering where they could take their custom email domain needs to. One of the best remaining alternatives was by far Outlook.com, Microsoft's free email service which I use in place of Gmail now. I penned an extensive how-to piece on getting Outlook.com working as your own custom domain host for email last year.
How the tables have turned in just over a half year. In an about-face, Microsoft recently announced on its custom domains page for Outlook.com (called the Windows Live Admin Center) that it is no longer accepting new applications for the service. PC World and ZDNet actually reported on this back in April, but I have been so busy with client work that I forgot to post this news over here for all the curious potential Outlook.com custom domain converts.
As we enjoy the restive Memorial Day weekend here in the States, I finally have a chance to relax from the hustle and bustle of tech consulting life. In my leisurely net browsing, I came across an interesting conundrum raised in an article I stumbled upon at ArsTechnica by Peter Bright titled simply "Lync 2013 is everything that Skype should be. Why do they both exist?"
It's a very intriguing question that led me to think a bit deeper about this admitted two-face coming out of Microsoft. This is especially true for me because I've had the chance to get knee deep into Lync since we ditched Google Apps in favor of Office 365 last year.
As a yearly event geared towards my neck of the woods, the IT pro community (non-developers!), TechEd is the sort of Microsoft-focused conference that resonates with me. It's the one large event solely dedicated to the products and technologies I am knee deep in consulting customers on.
While most Microsoft watchers may not have caught it outright, did anyone notice the subliminal theme that arose? All of the major product announcements at the conference were planted in some facet of Microsoft's growing cloud landscape. Before anyone jumps on me for being technically inaccurate, yes, they did announce a few news items based around their traditional on-prem products.
While Apple and Google are fighting a FUD war for the hearts and minds of K-12 campuses, there's one area of education that neither has been able to penetrate with success: higher ed. Specifically, I'm referring to the conglomerate of colleges and universities across the US (and likely abroad).
That's because for all their love in the media, tablets have yet to prove their weight when it comes to deep research and content manipulation in the classroom. Real student work comes in the form of content creation, not consumption -- an area Google and Apple are endlessly infatuated with.
Microsoft's timing on a blog post released today, provocatively titled "Outlook Web App provides more efficient calendar delegation and management than Gmail," is rather ironic. That's because I was gathering some thoughts on the areas in which this tool still needs improvement and is lacking. So while Microsoft is busy tooting it's own horn, I'm going to turn up the heat a bit for a reality check on the part of 365 I spend the most time in daily, which is OWA.
Don't get me wrong -- I absolutely love OWA in Office 365 and have been using it primetime since my IT company ditched Google Apps late last year. But it's not without its rough edges.
Healthcare.gov: How Washington's IT project Leviathan failed us, and here's how we fix a broken system
Government IT projects have a tendency to fall on their rear ends more often than not. After the miserable debacle that was Healthcare.gov last October, I made the case for why the larger than life public face of Obamacare had zero chance of succeeding in original form. Fast forward six months, and after some contractor firings and a public about face consisting of a "tech surge", the website is finally working at nominal levels.
That's not to say no one didn't take the fall for the mess of this bungled IT project gone haywire. The former head honcho of the US HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, had no choice but to step down and take the hushed blame for the mess that unraveled under her command. Publicly, the story goes that she stepped down on her own will. Behind the scenes, I highly doubt this was the entire story.
Microsoft shocked the IT world this past week by making the cardinal mistake: releasing another XP patch after support officially ended. While I think Redmond makes a lot of mistakes, from licensing nightmares to marketing blunders, this particular move really irks me.
That's because it not only sets the wrong precedent, but it's a direct slap in the face to those fighting the good fight in helping eradicate XP. Specifically, IT pros like myself. As a consultant for my clients, I've been knee-deep in the conversations that Microsoft can't have directly with its customers. You know, the ones actually in the trenches -- not those just sitting in the comfort of their Redmond offices?
It's tough for me to get too excited about TVs these days. I'm past the glitz of the 3D craze. And "large" 60 and 70 plus inch screens are neat, but after enjoying a 114" viewing area thanks to my home projector the last few years, anything smaller pales in comparison.
Yet when I got to try out an 82" Perceptive Pixel touch TV at Microsoft's Chicago offices earlier today, I couldn't resist wanting one for my own condo or even office. It's that unique of a TV screen, and if when it goes mainstream, it will completely change the way we view interactive entertainment displays.
Aside from a lack of backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games (which is being worked on as I write this), what's the other big reason I am holding off on a first gen Xbox One? A TV streaming & DVR experience that was much talked about in the buildup to launch, but has fallen short in reinventing the way we manage and consume TV content today.
When I first heard about Microsoft's Xbox One plans at E3, I was thinking the same thing so many others probably were: my Tivo (or cable box) days are numbered. But my lofty plans for a simplified entertainment center were quickly killed, when I learned that Microsoft had no plans on replacing your DVR, but merely piggybacking onto it.
Does anyone remember Nintendo's Virtual Boy? It was an overpriced, underpowered 3D gaming system from the mid 1990s with little content and awkward hardware to justify its high price tag. Other pesky limitations, like the fact that you could really only play on it comfortably while seated at the dinner table, drove Nintendo to shut this commercial flop down before it became laughing stock for competitors like Sega and Sony.
I'm not interested in strolling down gaming's memory lane here. I never owned a Virtual Boy myself, as my Sega Genesis was enough to keep my gaming heart fulfilled at the time. While the premise of 3D was appealing, the means to getting there were impractical in every sense.
My girlfriend was on the prowl for a new vehicle not too long ago, and decided on a Subaru. Not only do the company's vehicles arguably receive some of the highest safety ratings in the States, but their policy of across-the-board all wheel drive is another nicety I love about them. Even so, she wouldn't think of ditching her safety belt, no matter how safe the cars claim to be.
Likewise, sizable portions of American society lives out in rural areas where crime and theft are almost unheard of. Yet they most likely still use locks on all of their doors, and keep them locked shut at night. Their risk of forced entry or other crimes are leagues lower than in congested urban areas (like my neck of the woods, Chicago) but they still follow plain commonsense.