It's Thanksgiving day here in the states and, with the turkey not yet in the oven and football having not kicked off, I thought it appropriate to take a moment to give thanks. No, not for my family or for the chance to live my life the way I do, though all of those are on my list, but for tech products -- this is a technology news site, after all.
I've given careful consideration to this and looked at what I used most over the past year -- the products that got the most hands-on, that provided the best experience. I've whittled that list down to just five, and now its time to share, to give each a hearty thank-you. I'd offer them a bit of pumpkin pie if I could.
This week, November 12th to be precise, is that holiday we have come to call Patch Tuesday. It's the day when Microsoft rolls out fixes for bugs, both small and large, in its software, from Windows to Office and more. This month's releases are of particular interest, not because of what the company is fixing, but what it has chosen to leave unpatched.
November's update includes eight patches, three of which have been tagged as 'critical'. Microsoft even promises it "will host a webcast to address customer questions on the security bulletins on November 13, 2013, at 11:00 AM Pacific Time".
Microsoft has introduced a major update for Office Web Apps, meant to improve collaboration on documents. At the same time, the latest update also allows the service to better compete against its arch-rival, Google Docs.
The Excel, PowerPoint and Word cloud apps are getting real-time co-authoring, a feature that has been available for quite some time in Google Docs. Put simply, this means that users can perform simultaneous edits, with the said cloud apps also informing folks whenever someone else is altering a certain part of the document. The real-time co-authoring is augmented by the ability to see text and formatting changes in files as they are being made.
In the mid-2000s, walking into a college classroom holding a laptop that came with a stylus for the purpose of note-taking was without a doubt out of place. The smartphone craze was still years away, and for all intents and purposes, touchscreens were relegated to two platforms: the Nintendo DS, and the last hurrah of Palm devices like the Treo. So when I sat in my undergrad classes taking notes in OneNote 2003 on my Thinkpad X41, people looked at me like I was an alien. Professors even asked from time to time whether I brought my paper notebook to class, so I wasn't playing with my "toy" the whole time.
Tablet PCs had a real personality dilemma way back then. Aside from OneNote, they were a sort of a pariah in the PC industry. Cool, sleek, powerful, and usually fairly light -- but they were held back in one major way: the operating system. I bless Microsoft for taking chances in areas where no one else dared, which undoubtedly led us to the current revolution being driven by Windows 8.1, but the first wave of Tablet PCs had real potential. The hardware was there, but the operating system was the large bottleneck by far.
It may be hard to believe, but OneNote was released in November 2003. To many mature users of Microsoft's Office suite, it still feels like a "new" addition. Sadly, many people do not use the note-taking, collaboration solution, likely from a lack of education on the software. I am only a few years removed from college and never observed a single student leveraging OneNote in the classroom; they all used Word. This is unfortunate as it is a great cross-platform solution -- Windows, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone are now all supported.
To celebrate the 10 year anniversary, Microsoft is launching the One Notable Decade campaign. This should hopefully raise awareness of the powerful software. Today, Microsoft shares some examples of how OneNote helps people be successful in their lives.
I am the sort of person who values a versatile device, that lends itself well both to productivity work and content consumption, in a portable package. In my opinion, Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 strikes the right balance and is definitely the tablet that I would buy if I were in the market for such a device. On the productivity side, it is an uncompromised machine that can run every piece of software that I want or need. Unquestionably, it puts Apple's new iPad Air to shame in this regard.
But the same cannot be said about the Surface 2, that ships with Windows RT 8.1. The tablet is not as good as the Surface Pro 2 when it comes to productivity work as it cannot run the same software nor is it as good as the iPad Air when it comes to content consumption, due to a still inferior app selection. But what happens when the Surface 2 is compared to the iPad Air, from a productivity standpoint?
Google, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and my company Zoho have all offered free office suites for years, and on Tuesday, Apple announced that its productivity suite iWork will now also be available for free on all new Apple Macs and iPads.
Given that Microsoft Office has long been the de-facto monopoly, none of these rival companies have anything to lose in commoditizing the office suite market. That is the nice thing about facing a monopoly in an adjacent market -- every player other than the monopoly would win if they get a non-zero share of a massively shrunk market. If the $20 billion market shrinks to $2 billion, we at Zoho would celebrate it, as long as we can hope to get a share of that shrunken market. In fact, competitors would win even if they don't get any share of the shrunken market, because it denies the monopoly the ability to use its cash cow to dominate adjacent markets they do have an interest in.
With Android handsets and iPhones taking the lion's share of the smartphone market, Windows Phone is quite often overlooked by most consumers in their purchasing decisions. The popularity, or lack thereof, of devices running Microsoft's mobile OS likely plays an important part but it also detracts folks from getting the smartphone that may be right for them. Ask yourselves how many of your acquaintances have been in this position.
Many do not even take Windows Phone into consideration and the ones that do easily find a couple of reasons to dismiss the platform and jump on the Android or iPhone bandwagon. Yes, Windows Phone may not be the right answer for everyone but it might be for more people than naysayers think. And I have got 10 good reasons why consumers should give Windows Phone a chance.
Children are the future and they all deserve a great education. However, as the world trends towards being digital and paperless, students are not always fully empowered with the right tools. Sadly, this largely comes down to cost -- while a student can download LibreOffice or use Google Docs for free, they are just no match for the perennial Microsoft Office.
Don't believe me? According to a new study by IDC, "the only software package called out within the top 20 skills across all occupations is Microsoft Office, explicitly required in 15 percent of high-growth, high-salary positions. Microsoft Office is No. 3 on the list of skills most required, and Microsoft PowerPoint and Word are No. 11 and No. 13 most required skills".
Steve Ballmer's departure from Microsoft will be a series of epitaphs written over the coming months. Many arm-chair pundits and analysts will scrutinize his 13-year tenure as chief executive, and you can expect him to be the scapegoat for all things wrong with Microsoft. Most assuredly, Ballmer could have done many things better, but he also contended with forces out of his control: government oversight for anti-competitive practices conducted under predecessor Bill Gates' leadership; maturing PC software market; and rise of the Internet as the new computing hub, among others.
For all Microsoft's CEO might have done wrong, he was right about something dismissed by many -- and I among them: Google. Ballmer started treating the search and information company as a competitive threat about a decade ago. Google as Microsoft competitor seemed simply nuts in 2003. How could search threaten Windows, particularly when anyone could type a new web address to change providers? Ballmer was obsessed, chasing every Google maneuver, often to a fault. Execution could have been better, but his perception was right.
For Microsoft, Windows 8 is a necessary evil. The operating system has two main purposes: to usher the software giant into the modern mobile computing era and, at the same time, to get existing users on board with the changes on the new platform. So far, it is not difficult to see how the OS (and, by implication, Microsoft) has failed on both counts: its tablet market share is low and the growth of Windows 7 is higher than its own. Remember that Windows 8 is close to being a year-old while Windows 7 will soon have its fourth anniversary.
Despite what some might believe, Microsoft really had no other option but to bring something completely new to the table. It does not take long to realize that Windows 8 has been a step in the right direction, as Windows 7 was primarily designed for devices prior to the tablet era. But despite being well-intended, Microsoft has been facing an ongoing backlash over the efficacy of the new approach, which has led to severely crippled chances for mass market appeal. That is a place where no company wants to be, especially in a period of transition. So, as a result, the software giant is responding to the criticism with Windows 8.1, that now has, among other purposes, a different task: to change people's perception of its predecessor.
Microsoft is locked in a battle for your note-taking needs on mobile devices. Evernote is the perceived king of the field, but OneNote is certainly a strong competitor and today the software giant announces improvements to the iOS version of the Office app.
The latest update allows users to create notebooks on the iPad as well as create, delete and rename sections. Microsoft claims this was one of the most requested features from customers already using the previous version, but it is also not the only enhancement made to this build.
For those in the States, the mad dash to compliance is unquestionably on. After years of taking a "wait and see" approach to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations surrounding medical office technology, healthcare providers (and related covered entities) are scrambling to get their systems and procedures in order. Big Brother has officially set a September 23, 2013 deadline for most new rules that put into place heightened protocols for how patient information (PI) is shared as well as how notifications about breaches need to be handled, among other things.
Naturally, a lot of my consulting clients in the healthcare industry are reaching out for professional help on how to get their IT systems in line as these deadlines approach. One of the biggest facets of the new HIPAA laws, which affects companies like mine that provide hands-on IT consulting, is that for the first time ever we are being considered "covered entities" in the same boat as the healthcare outlets themselves.
I am a very heavy Excel user. I organize my life and finances in spreadsheets for easy calculations and sorting. Quite frankly I enjoy the software very much for such nerdy reasons -- it is my favorite. However, not all people are excited by pivot-tables like me.
Yesterday, on Microsoft's official Excel blog, the software giant highlighted some creative ways that the software can be used. "One of the things that is incredibly satisfying about working on the Excel team is seeing how people use Excel in unbelievably cool and unexpected ways for work and for fun. There have been a few great examples of this floating around the internet and the news recently, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites", says Excel Program Manager Carlos Otero.
Emergency surgery is the appropriate analogy for the firing of the iconic CEO. Yes firing. Microsoft announced Steve Ballmer's departure today, quite unexpectedly, and in his own words "within the next 12 months, after a successor is chosen". Meaning: Soon as there is a replacement, he is gone. Vamoose. Adios. We'll send Christmas cards. Not!
Unless Ballmer is in ill-health, or something bad happened to someone he loves, he wouldn't just walk away whistling to the wind. The man is too passionate about Microsoft. There is but one interpretation: The board of directors gave Ballmer his pink slip.