Saturday, November 23, 2013

Surface 2 design changes make it more difficult to crack open and repair

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Surface 2 and finds a redesigned interior that makes the tablet difficult, time-consuming to open and repair.

On the outside, the Surface 2 may look like its predecessor, the Surface RT. But Microsoft dramatically changed the tablet's internal design. And in doing so, made it a real pain to crack open and repair.

The Surface 2 is ever-so-slightly thinner and lighter than the original Surface RT. But from the outside, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. That doesn't mean however that they're identical. Far from it.
The Surface 2 a new two-position kickstand, the microSD card slot has been moved down slightly, and the case screws are no longer visible on the back of the case. These subtle, external differences however, pale when compared to the massive internal hardware and design changes Microsoft made on the new tablet.

For more information on the Surface 2, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Eric Franklin's full CNET review.
Unfortunately when making all these hardware upgrades, Microsoft also completely reworked the tablet's internal design, and in doing so made the Surface 2 much more difficult to crack open and repair than its predecessor.

Cracking Open Observations

Glued-on front panel, plastic body make opening difficult: Opening last year's Surface RT, began by removing the tablet's back cover. Not so with the Surface 2. Like the Apple iPad, cracking open this tablet requires heating the edges of the front panel to loosen the adhesive that holds it to the tablet's body. While heating the panel, you'll need to gently pry it away from the body with thin tools. Unlike the iPad however, some of the Surface's internal components and external trim pieces are made from plastic, which can warp if overheated.

Redesigned interior: The internal hardware is mounted to the Surface 2's body, with the front panel and display being a single, removable unit. The Surface RT's hardware on the other hand was actually mounted to the front panel and display assembly, which also served as the tablet's body. There's also a new plastic bezel that runs around the tablet's outer edge and serves at the mounting surface for the front panel/display assembly. The Surface 2 is built more like the Surface 2 Pro than Surface RT, which makes the tablet more difficult to open and repair.
Filled with hardware upgrades: Along with the radically changing the Surface 2's internal design, Microsoft also gave the tablet lots of hardware upgrades. The Surface 2 has two microphones (compared to the Surface RT's one), stereo speakers, a USB 3.0 port, better front-facing (3.5-megapixel) and rear-facing (5.0-megapixel) cameras, a new 1920x1080 display, and a faster 1.7GHz Tegra 4 processor.


Difficult, time-consuming to open repair

The Surface 2 is definitely an improvement over last year's model when it comes to hardware specifications and performance. Kudos to Microsoft for that.
But it has also officially become the most difficult to crack open tablet I've ever worked open. The front panel adhesive is incredibly hard to work around, there are more than 60 screws inside the case (of all different sizes), and most of the motherboard connectors are extremely fragile and easily broken. I can only hope Microsoft makes some major design changes for next year's model. Unfortunately, I doubt they will.


Internal Hardware

Our Surface 2 test unit had the following internal hardware:
  • 1.7GHz NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC
  • SK Hynix H26M64003DQR 32GB NAND Flash
  • Atmel AT32UC3L0256 32-bit AVR UC3 RISC microcontroller
  • 324 D81 EW
  • Micron Technology 2GB DDR3 SDRAM (3NE77 D9GLJ QLV5)
  • Texas Instruments TPS65913 processor power management unit (PMU)
  • Texas Instruments TPS 650
  • Marvell Avastar 88W8797 Integrated 2x2 WLAN/Bluetooth/FM Single-Chip SoC
  • Multiple RF Micro Devices ICs
  • Wolfson Micro WM8962BE Audio Codec
  • Atmel maXTouch mXT1664S capacitive touchscreen controller
  • Texas Instruments MSP430 ultra-low-power microcontroller
  • ZUF 37K CDYF
  • 7.6V 31.3WH Li-ion battery
  • 3.5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 5.0-megapixel rear-facing camera

Open your wallet and bring your buying power to open source

Find out why Jack Wallen finally bit the bullet and paid a premium price for a desktop machine with pre-installed Linux. He suggests that you also bring your buying power to open source.

Open source

I've been writing about Linux and open source for nearly 20 years. In that time, a good number of desktops and laptops have graced my office. Some of those desktops were hand-built by me, and some were purchased from big-box stores. Embarrassingly, it's taken me this long to bite the bullet and purchase a desktop machine with Linux pre-installed.
Why has it take me nearly 20 years? At first, it was a matter of cost. If you've shopped around for such a machine, you know that it can be cost prohibitive. There's a reason for that -- the companies that sell pre-installed Linux machines tend to be smaller shops, so they don't have the ability to offer the rock-bottom discounted prices that the likes of Lenovo, Dell, and HP offer. But let's get one thing straight -- nearly all of those big brands are using ODM parts to piece together their machines. So, in the end, you're just paying someone who can purchase ODM components in serious bulk, slap them together, and offer you the end results at high discounts.

The likes of System76 and ZaReason can't compete with those manufacturers. To that end, their machines are a bit higher in price. The trade off is that they customize the machine to your specs, support open source, and... just work.

Early in my career, I simply couldn't afford such a computer. No matter how badly I wanted to support the cause and help keep the lights on at these resellers, it just wasn't in the cards. Later, a sense of pride crashed the party, because having the ability to piece my own machines together meant I could hand-pick every component, and I knew the machine would perform to expectations. Eventually, pride gave way to convenience, and I resorted back to the name brands and big-box stores for my computer purchases.

That brings us to now. My Lenovo recently died (after just over a year). I could have warrantied the machine, but I know the challenges inherent with accomplishing such a feat: Endless phone menus and  hoop jumping (just to prove that there is, in fact, a reason why my machine would only stay on for minutes -- after replacing nearly every component in the machine). So, when I finally accepted my fate, I had the decision narrowed down to three solutions:
  • Buy an iMac
  • Run to the big-box store
  • Finally put my money where my big mouth has been for years
Over the course of a weekend, I weeded out the iMac and had my browser open with two specific tabs -- and I was looking at two very different machines:
  • Asus M51AC-B07
  • System76 Leopard Extreme 4
The latter machine is nearly twice the price of the former. That's right, twice. The specs of both machines are solid:
  • Asus: 4th gen Intel i7, 16 GB RAM, 2 TB hard drive
  • Leopard Extreme 4: 4th gen Intel i7, 8 GB RAM, SSD
The difference between the machines comes when you start digging into the details. First and foremost, the Leopard is water cooled, so it's perfectly silent (a big plus for a machine that will be primarily used for audio recording). The System76 system also has Quad Channel RAM and an SSD to give it a serious performance increase. Another big bonus is that you can configure the Leopard exactly how you want it -- more RAM, bigger SSD, optical drive, etc. The icing on the cake is that the Leopard comes tested and pre-installed with Ubuntu 13.10.

For me, that icing was the real deal maker, even though that icing might be adding to the cost in the end. The final result was a Leopard Extreme 4 with an extra 8 GB of RAM for just under $2,000.00 (USD). High? Yes. Worth it? Well, the machine has yet to arrive, but System76 has been giving me updates on the status (it's now on the way to me). When the desktop machine finally arrives, I'll immediately put it through the paces and report back with my impression.

Ultimately, the final decision came down to purchasing a machine that would avoid the headache of unsupported hardware. Although hardware support is less and less of an issue, there are instances (such as with the Lenovo's on-board sound chip), that can cause you to pull your hair out. Companies like System76 help you to circumvent that issue by ensuring every piece of hardware works with the installed OS and that, upon first boot, the end user should have nothing but a grand experience.

To me, that alone is worth the price of admission. No, you don't have to spend $2,000.00 on a liquid-cooled desktop like I did. Of course, if you want some serious bragging rights, why not go with the most powerful Linux pre-installed machine on the planet? Or you could find yourself with a nice System76 desktop starting at $699.00 that's pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux. With any machine you purchase, you also get a year of support (or you can purchase two to three years). That support is key. Why? Because when you have an issue, you pick up the phone or send an email and you know you'll actually speak to a person who gets your platform of choice. You'll no longer have to deal with hearing "I'm sorry, but we don't support that operating system." Or worse, you won't have to worry that -- by removing Windows and installing Linux -- you've voided the warranty on that machine. And, ultimately, you know your dollars went to help support a company that supports open source.

Thankfully, companies like System76 and ZaReason exist so that people like me and you can avoid the continued payment of “Windows tax” and poor support of larger companies. Of course, there's another issue that's plagued Linux and open source from the beginning, and that's the scores of end users who simply refuse to pay for anything. To those people, I say this -- if you really, really want Linux and open source to grow, you have to be ready to support the cause with more than just waving a penguin power flag. It's time to crack open that rusty wallet and bring your buying power to open source.

Pro tip: Stop the iOS 7 Control Center from appearing while in app

Follow these steps to turn off access to the iOS 7 Control Center so that it doesn't appear when you're in an app.

iOS 7 Control Center
You're playing your favorite game or using an app the requires the swipe up gesture, and what happens? That's right, the Control Center appears. This new feature in iOS 7 is actually handy (for when you want quick and easy access to controlling certain apps, such as the music player), but when you're in the middle of work or play, that Control Center can be annoying.

If you're unsure of what I mean, give it a test run. Swipe up, from the very bottom of the screen, to reveal the Control Center (Figure A).
Figure A
Figure A
iOS 7 running on a Verizon-branded iPhone 5.
You can slide the Control Center back down with a downward swipe or by pressing the home button.
Now, what if you want to turn off the Control Center when using apps? It's actually quite easy. Here are the steps:
  1. From the home screen, tap Settings
  2. Scroll down and tap Control Center
  3. Tap the Access Within Apps on/off switch (Figure B) to turn the feature off
Figure B
Figure B
You have control of when this feature can appear.
You can also turn off Control Center access from the lock screen in this same window.
For users who like to access controllable apps (such as Wi-Fi, music, calculator, and more), the Control Center is a great tool to have available. But when that feature starts to interrupt other applications, it must be dealt with swiftly. Thankfully, the developers of iOS 7 saw to it to give the end user control over when this feature can be accessed with a simple upward swipe.

20 Excel tips for creating stylish spreadsheets

Formatting is an overlooked skill when it comes to Excel. It is essential for communicating results clearly and powerfully.

By Carlo Pandian

Most Excel users would probably agree that the program is a godsend when it comes to creating spreadsheets, yet the results can often be boring to look at. Thankfully, Excel also provides the tools to make your spreadsheets look polished, professional, and pleasing to the eye. Chris Littlewood is Strategy & Research Director at Filtered, an online learning platform for Excel, and he says that "formatting is an overlooked skill when it comes to Excel. This is a shame because it's essential not only to communicating results clearly and powerfully, but also to reducing the risk of error. Consistent and meaningful formatting makes formulas more comprehensible and bugs more apparent".

Create style

Here are a few ideas, suggestions, and tips to get you started.

1. Check out a template

If you're not sure where to start, there are plenty of templates available on the web. Have a look around for inspiration.

2. Choose the right font

Choosing a clear, readable font such as Arial or Calibri is a simple first step towards creating an attractive, business-like spreadsheet.

3. Limit use of different fonts

Two different font styles can help to differentiate between headers and main text. More than two, however, can be distracting.

4. Center your title

Use the "Merge Cells" or "Center Across Selection" options to create a professional, centred title for your spreadsheet.

5. Start in b2

Leaving row 1 and column A blank is an easy way to create some space in your document.

6. Bold your headers

Headers that stand out from the main text can help to make your spreadsheet easier to read. Bolding them is a quick and easy way to do this.

7. Vary your font sizes

Using a larger font size for headings and sub-headings makes for a more readable spreadsheet. It's also a good idea to keep your basic font size large enough to read clearly.

8. Align text

Format your cells and select options that allow you to align your text as best suits your needs. For instance, text aligns to the left by default, while numbers align to the right - so you might need to tidy up tables by giving headings the same alignment as the table contents.

9. Create space

You can manipulate the height and width of cells to keep your spreadsheet from looking too cramped.

10. Leave some cells empty

If your spreadsheet is fairly complex, leaving a row or column empty at appropriate breaks in the data can help to improve readability.11. Play with grid lines
All those lines separating all those numbers can look very confusing. By opting to show only the lines around your results column, for example, you can make a big difference to the readability of your spreadsheet.

12. Use color sparingly

Colors can be used in Excel to highlight key rows or columns, making the spreadsheet more attractive and easier to read. Don't overdo it though, as this can produce the opposite effect.

13. Keep to dark text on a light background

If you do choose to introduce color, be sure to stick to dark text on a light background, as this is easier to read and prints better.

14. Try some subtle decoration

Simple background decoration such as an understated dip-dye effect can make your spreadsheet more visually appealing. However, be careful not to insert any decoration that might distract from the data.

15. Consider zebra stripes

If you're creating a spreadsheet with a lot of columns, it can sometimes be difficult for readers to match up data on the far right of the document with the categories listed on the left. Subtly shading alternate rows helps the eye to follow information across the page.

16. Use the table function

If your data requires it, you can insert tables into your Excel spreadsheet, giving the eye a break from the main information in the document. Use an accent color to connect the table with the rest of the spreadsheet.

17. Align any graphs or tables

If you're creating a document with multiple tables or graphs, take care to line them up so that they start in the same row. This will make your finished document easier on the eye.

18. Add an image

A simple image such as your company logo can help to make your spreadsheet look professional and attractive.

19. Name your worksheets

While this won't impact the look of your spreadsheet, it certainly helps to keep everything well-organized and professional.

20. Exercise restraint!

Once you start experimenting with Excel's design features, you might be tempted to get a little too creative. Keep in mind that your main objective is to make your spreadsheets look professional and easy to read, so stay away from anything too elaborate.

Use Google AdMob to promote your mobile applications

Find out how Google AdMob can help advertise your mobile applications and gauge the results.

I've written about advertising in the past and how it can be used in a relevant and tasteful fashion. We live in a society inundated with ads, many of which completely escape our attention due to distractions, our conditioning, or other ongoing activities at the time. This means ads have to be the best they can be to score any chance with us.
I think it's safe to say that there are three scenarios where advertising has a measurable impact on our daily life.

Best use cases for champions of the public cloud

Despite ongoing concerns about compliance and governance, the public cloud offers tempting benefits for some use cases. Here are the ones worth serious consideration.

Public cloud solutions remain mired in a sea of distrust because of their inability to overcome enterprise governance and reliability concerns. Yet, these solutions are still finding inroads into enterprises if they can present specific business solutions to line of business managers who are championing them. In today’s business settings, where are public cloud solutions most likely to succeed, and what can public cloud providers learn from this adoption to enhance their chances for future adoption?

First, offer a solution that delivers economy that enterprises can’t resist!
Several public cloud solutions are gaining traction in this area. Among them are:

#1 Application testing and staging

Public cloud IaaS (infrastructure as a service) enables enterprises to forego building new data centers or expanding existing ones. They do this by offloading their application development, testing and staging to third-party cloud providers. Since they can pay a baseline subscription that increments or decrements on a pay-as-you-go basis, enterprises incur no new capital expenses and they also reduce the risk of resources that sit idle during times when application development, testing and staging activities are slow. As long as a cloud provider has governance and data protection policies that meet enterprise standards, outsourcing is an option that can be extremely attractive to CIOs and CFOs.

#2 Temporary processing and storage needs

During peak processing times like the holiday retail season, enterprises can increment processing and storage by “renting” the resources they need from the cloud. The financial benefit is much the same as it is for application testing and staging.

#3 Data archiving

Again assuming that the cloud provider can meet corporate governance standards, some enterprises are opting to offload historical data from their data centers to the cloud. This assumes that the data will not be needed for big data trends analytics, and is for long term storage purposes only.

#4 Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

The jury is still out on VDI, which began as a “hot” idea to reduce office software licensing fees, but resulted in both performance and management issues for VDI--but it is still on corporate CIOs’ radars.
Next, offer a solution that solves an issue that enterprises can’t solve on their own!

#5 Supplier management

ERP (enterprise requirements planning system) was designed for internal processes and operational integration within the walls of the enterprise. Unfortunately, businesses going global need to manage thousands of suppliers worldwide through a series of external business processes and data exchanges that their internal systems are ill-suited for. A number of cloud-based providers are making a splash in the supply chain area by offering integrated networks of suppliers and companies—all with secure access to a uniform data repository.

#6 Back-office optimization

So much work has gone into revenue generation that enterprises still find themselves losing on profit margins because of inefficient back-office operations that eat up profits, and that they can’t seem to fix. Especially in industries like brokerage and financial services, there are now cloud-based analytics solutions that determine where back-office “profit bleed” is occurring—and stop it.

#7 Sales force management

Field-based operations like sales are another example of an external business function that is difficult for traditional enterprise systems to address. A plethora of cloud-based solutions are being utilized by enterprises that enable real time access to sales management and customer relationship management systems, giving everyone in sales, marketing, service and the C-Suite 360-degree visibility of the customer and of sales progress.

#8 Project management and collaboration

Project management activities in enterprises have suffered for years because of inefficient and monolithic project management systems that depended on a central project administrator to keep tasks updated as information came in. Needless to say, the accuracy of project status suffered—often spelling disaster for project timelines and deliverables. Now there are cloud-based solutions that link together every project participant and stakeholder, enabling real time updates to projects and real time collaboration that project managers have never seen before.

While these use cases are promising for public cloud providers, it doesn’t change the fact that many public cloud providers are still struggling to attain the market shares they want because of continuing enterprise skepticism over the strength of their governance—and their ability to deliver solutions that are significantly better than what the enterprise already has. No doubt, these perceptions will continue to haunt public cloud providers in the near term. This makes it more important than ever to fill a need that enterprises can’t meet—or to deliver a cost savings proposition that is so compelling that it is impossible to ignore.

Make the successful transition to actionable predictions

Does your organization need to use predictive analytics? What lessons have you learned?

 Homeowner insurance claims in 2011 were a record-setting $105 billion, according to Marsh's 2012 Insurance Market Report (PDF). This made it challenging for insurance companies to manage their policy risk, and the risk exposure was further amplified by the fact that homeowners insurance (when compared to auto) was historically more volatile in its claims performance.
The business challenge created an opportunity for big data analytics that insurers could apply to their homeowner insurance portfolios in order to better assess risk - and to predict where claims are most likely to occur.

Enterprise tablet apps: Swiss Army knife or sniper rifle?

Should your company build a single application that provides a multitude of functionality or multiple, single purpose apps? Patrick Gray provides some insight.

Swiss Army or sniper rifle app
As tablet applications become more prevalent, many companies are struggling to decide if they want to build a single application that provides a multitude of functionality or multiple single-purpose apps. This debate occurs both with customer-facing applications and internal use apps.

The "one app" approach

A single application delivering a multitude of functions has some immediately compelling benefits. Users searching for applications from your company are not presented with a confusing array of different application choices, and you’re able to present one user experience and set of branding. From a technical perspective, you can employ a common set of functionality that can be reused across different application functions and have only one codebase to maintain and update. In short, one "tool" serves a variety of functions, much like the popular Swiss Army knife.
This makes a great deal of sense if your organization provides a relatively cohesive set of services. For a company like an airline, a single application that ties flight searches, bookings, check in, and airline information benefits from a cohesive experience. For companies that have a broader set of products or services, this begins to make less sense, especially as you consider internally-targeted applications. Suppose you want a single internal application for your company. How do you integrate functionality that might be as diverse as displaying financial performance, booking meeting rooms, or entering a new IT support ticket?

The single purpose application

Much like a purpose-built sniper rifle that's designed to hit a narrow target, some companies choose to create purpose-built applications that serve a very narrow function. Your sales force might require a very different user interface and functionality than your supply chain staff, and thus different applications may make perfect sense. For public-facing applications, highlighting specific products might drive a purpose-built application or a desire to get some piece of functionality, however small, to your customers sooner rather than later.

Deciding between the two

To decide between the two broad categories of applications, start with the following questions:
  • Who is my audience? Determine the audience for your application, and if they'll have similar expectations for your application and similar requirements for information. While the aforementioned airline app has a very broad audience, they all represent travelers on my airline.
  • What are their expectations? While your audience may be in the same demographic -- for example, people who work for your company’s European office -- they may have dramatically different expectations as to what they hope to accomplish with your mobile application. A current customer for your company might expect deep support and troubleshooting capabilities, while a prospect would expect flashy imagery and product information. Internally, someone in the back office might expect internal support functions, while someone in field sales would expect access to customer and product information.
  • What's our timeframe? A "Swiss Army knife" may sound like the right approach initially, but sometimes getting some functionality out the door is better than getting complete functionality. Conversely, if the resources are available, shipping an app that offers minimal functionality and low benefit might sour your customers to future apps, steering you toward a more complete solution.
There’s really no perfect answer as to whether a highly functional single application trumps optimized, point solutions in every case. Spend the time considering the three questions above and, like most areas of technology, you’ll find the solution that best suits your company and its current circumstances.
Which is the best fit for your organization and why? Share your feedback in the discussion thread below.

10 old-school technology strategies that CIOs should not forget

Technology races ahead with new methods and capabilities, but that doesn't mean that CIOs should forget some of the management strategies that have always worked.

CIO image.jpg
A host of new and reformed practices have IT departments reinventing themselves: collaborative software development; rapid application prototype development and placement in production; new project meeting methodologies; the growth of BYOD, which encourages democratic device usage in the field; and more. Nevertheless, the fundamental requirements for quality systems that work right the first time are not going to go away. The rudiments of IT asset protection, disaster recovery, and business continuation also remain. Consequently, many tried and proven “old school” IT practices still make venerable companion strategies for emerging IT trends. Here are ten “old school” technology strategies that CIOs should not forget:

1. Project management by walking around

IT is a project-driven discipline. However, no matter how collaborative and informational your project management software is, it can never replace just walking around to see how staff is feeling about the projects they are working on. Body language and face to face communications will tell you much more about the health of a project than any software can. The technique worked thirty years ago, and it still works today.

2. Data retention and access meetings

A myriad of rules can be built into automated systems that patrol for security clearances to applications, or that automate the data backup and purge operations. But none of this means anything in the context of enterprise data governance if business units aren’t onboard with it. Data retention meetings can be long and arduous, because everyone these days is mindful of promulgating regulations. Understandably, users are hesitant to get rid of data. They are also cautious about who gets access to sensitive data within their own work groups. Discussions and decisions about data retention and access are still best facilitated in old fashioned, face to face meetings because of the complexity of issues that can arise. A system portal with fill-in parameters for data retention and security can never do the process justice.

3. Tape and slow, but cheap, hard disks for backup and archiving

We’ve been hearing about the impending demise of tape backups for decades, but tape is still here and companies are continuing to invest in it. Slow, but cheap, hard disks also grace the field of data backup and archiving as faster flash storage (and in-memory storage) occupy the field for rapidly accessed data. It is doubtful that older disk and tape storage will be replaced anytime soon in the province of data backup and storage because of their dependability, economy—and the number of backup systems and procedures that enterprises have built around them through the years.

4. Life cycle “spend downs” of old servers

Workstations of power users can be redeployed as they age to average or light users, and aging “workhorse” servers in IT production can be redeployed for testing applications or even for use as network proxy servers. The object is getting every ounce of capability out of IT assets. In the “old days,” this meant “spending down” resources even after their depreciation cycles were met. The practice still works.

5. Respect for the traditional software development life cycle.

It’s not uncommon for some companies today to design applications on the fly, briefly test-drive them, and drop them into production. In these cases, users and IT know that apps won’t work perfectly—but they concede that it’s better to be fast and agile than to drag out software development and deployment. Especially in Web app environments, this can work to competitive advantage. However, for mission-critical applications that must work right every time and also comply with industry regulations and security standards, software has to be of very high quality. Accordingly, it is important to cycle this software through requirements definition, application design and development, quality assurance and deployment to production. These steps are codified in traditional software development methodologies that have been in place for over thirty years. With so much at stake, the checkpoints for quality that are inherent in these traditional methodologies shouldn’t be overlooked.

6. Application stress testing

The U.S. website is the latest example of a software application that didn’t work because it was never adequately stress-tested. When you are under the gun, it’s easy to skip important steps in the quality assurance process, such as ensuring that your application can handle the maximum number of users or transactions that could potentially ever arrive at one time. Today as in the past, there are proven and automated test tools that simulate maximum application stress loads. This QA checkout point should never be skipped.

7. Change management and version control

Documenting changes to systems and applications and ensuring that software on distributed workstations and mobile devices is synchronized to latest release levels continue to be weak spots in IT—despite the fact that change management and version tracking software has been around for years. The problem is not lack of tools to do the job, but loose enforcement of IT practices and policies that ensure that change management and version control are always done. As part of the process, application developers should be given guidelines on how they should document the software they develop—and documentation review should be part of QA checkout. Often, software documentation is skipped in the effort to get software out quickly. This places a great burden on the software maintenance staff, which now must deal with software that is almost “black box” in nature at the same time that they are trying to troubleshoot a production problem.

8. IT asset and mobile device tracking

There is software on the market that tracks IT assets and also “moving” assets such as mobile devices in the field. What’s more challenging for IT is crafting user policies for usage of company-owned devices, such as what (if anything) should be stored on these devices, whether (and who) makes upgrades to devices, and who may use the devices. Ten years ago, it was relatively straightforward to enact these policies—but with BYOD (bring your own device) and changing attitudes about personal use of devices, IT needs to revisit (or in some cases, enact) policies that will meet corporate security and regulatory standards. Older policy statements can be helpful in new policy formulation.

9. In-person system and application walk-throughs

Despite breakthroughs with collaboration software, nothing is better for a technical design review of a complex system or application than to get every expert in the room and to go through a detailed walk-through of the system. When you have the DBA, the network specialist, the application developer, the business analyst, and the system specialist all collected together in a “live” and interactive environment, it’s still the best way to flush out hidden problems in technical design that couldn’t be seen in individual or virtual design reviews.

10. Manual procedures

Ten years ago, banks still had “old hands” on board who remembered how to use a paper ledger to record bank transactions when the core banking system went down. This need hasn’t changed. Although we now have many automated failover systems and methodologies, organizations are also more dependent on IT than they were a decade ago. The likelihood of a major Internet or technology outage increases in this context. This is why individual business units including IT, should be encouraged to maintain a set of manual procedures for operation. Hopefully, these guidelines will just gather dust in desk drawers—but if you ever have a total outage, you will appreciated how valuable it is to have “old fashioned” methods of doing business—and employees who are trained to operate “by hand” if they have to.

Five more apps for screen capture in Windows

You can never have too many options for taking pictures of your desktop and windows.

Last month, I shared with my take on five effective tools for capturing your screen in Windows, and it has attracted quite a few comments with suggestions for different utilities to check out. You can never have too many options for something as seemingly pedestrian as taking pictures of your desktop and windows. For this next round up, here are my five picks sourced straight from the TechRepublic community.

Five Apps

1. PickPic

This one definitely caught my attention amongst the suggested apps to look at. In addition to effectively snapping in whatever I desired, I could also send files directly over FTP to a remote server, enable automatic file naming (which can include the time, date and computer name), and a plethora of functions which can easily be mapped to hotkeys. Heck, there's even a protractor tool, for measuring angles of objects on screen! A fresh and modern user interface is a nice added touch as well. PickPic is definitely made out to be a winner. PickPic is free for personal use, with a license fee required for commercial use, starting at $21.99 a copy with volume discounts.

2. FullShot
Part of a good screen capture product is the ability to stay out of the way and be easy to access at all times. FullShot aims to accomplish this task, by integrating key options, like dialog and desktop capture, straight onto the title bars of any window. Need to snap a shot of an error message dialog? No need to precision aim your mouse over the message. Simply click the "W" button and your dialog box will be sent over to the editor just like that. The shortcut buttons don't show up on the resulting output either. FullShot is available for a 30-day trial period, with full usage licenses starting at $49.99.

3. FastStone

So everyone knows that you can capture content that is directly visible on-screen. But not everyone knows that tools like FastStone can fully capture documents and webpages, including off-screen content. In addition to regular image snagging capabilities, you can acquire an image of an entire scrolling file or online resource with a few simple button clicks. The process can be automatic or you can perform a custom scroll operation, so that only the content you scroll to will be copied out. FastStone is available for a 30-day trial period, then for $19.95 thereafter.

4. PrintKey-Pro

File this one under the oldie-but-goodie department. Based on its popular predecessor, PrintKey2000, PrintKey-Pro is a rather capable app. With regular, selection, and timer-delay capture also comes configurable hotkeys and an accessible system tray icon for good measure. You can also print directly to a printer after capture and send through email right from the main window too. PrintKey-Pro is available for a 30-day trial period, then for $19.95 thereafter.

5. Ashampoo Snap 6

And lastly, Ashampoo, a purveyor of fine software products, with generous free licensing for older versions of their commercial titles, offers the minimalistic Snap 6. You can access all capture functionality through a toolbar that tucks itself away at the top of your screen. You can capture video, scrolling pages of content in web browsers, enhanced image editing, and multi-shot. Snap 6 is available as trialware for 40-days, then $19.99 for use thereafter.

Acer and Microsoft: A tale of mutual decline

In three years, Acer has fallen from the world's second-largest PC vendor to hitting a 12-year low. James Sanders explores Acer's recent misfortunes and how this affects the industry at large.

With the recent departure of Acer's CEO, JT Wang, the good fortune of OEMs appears to be ending, as Microsoft is now encroaching on their territory with their own devices like the Surface and Surface Pro. Despite the Surface receiving a lukewarm reception and being a $900 million write-down for Microsoft, the state of the PC market has shifted significantly from where it was before the launch of Windows 8. For this and other reasons, Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, has abruptly announced his intention to leave when a successor has been named. While it appears that the root of these problems is Microsoft, there is plenty of blame to go around for the present state of things.

A brief history of Acer's decline

If one was to hasten to pick any one decision that ultimately resulted in Acer’s fate being sealed, it would be the 2011 exit of CEO Gianfranco Lanci. Under Lanci’s leadership, Acer’s valuation doubled from $10 billion to $20 billion. In addition, Acer’s global market share increased substantially and led to the purchase of Gateway Inc. (and by extension, budget manufacturer eMachines) in 2007, to increase their presence in the United States. Packard Bell, which had a thriving European operation, despite shuttering U.S. operations in 1999, was purchased by Acer in 2008 for the same reason.

Lanci’s departure was a result of his desire to reform Acer to widen their focus to mobile phone and tablet products. This strategy was presumably to counter HP, who had then recently acquired Palm and was preparing the release of the HP Pre 3 smartphone and TouchPad. Other PC vendors, such as Lenovo and Sony (then Sony Ericsson), were also preparing Android phones and tablets at the time. 

Ultimately, expanding these operations required more engineers and global talent to be hired for product design and engineering. The interests controlling Acer feared this was a “de-Taiwanization” of the company, which led to end of Lanci’s tenure at the firm. Somewhat reflexively, Lanci’s successor, JT Wang, declared in August of 2011 that “tablet PC fever is starting to cool down.”

Under Wang’s leadership, Acer ceased production of netbooks at the end of 2012, in favor of similarly-functioned Chromebooks sans the Microsoft licensing fee. Acer has increased their tablet offerings, spanning both Windows and Android products, but sits at 2.5% market share as of Q3 2013. With the release of the iPad Air, Samsung Note 10.1 (2014), Kindle Fire HDX, and possible refresh of Google’s Nexus 10 in time for the holiday season, Acer’s market share in tablets is expected to decline. 

For Q3 2013, Acer’s PC market share was 9.8%, which is a 22.8% decline from Q3 2012, according to Gartner. Acer isn’t the only one suffering, because PC sales have declined over the last six consecutive quarters. The problem of shrinking sales is an industry-wide problem, the root cause of which may be Microsoft.

Microsoft's hardware initiatives and new software direction

With the exception of Microsoft’s range of input devices, such as the Natural Keyboard and SideWinder joystick, Microsoft’s attempts at producing hardware have been lackluster, fraught with quality control issues, and generally poorly received. The Xbox 360 had failure rates estimated at 33%, with issues surrounding bad heat dissipation to the improper use of lead-free solder unsuited to the temperatures the device reaches. The Microsoft KIN smartphone was discontinued after 48 days for simply being unwanted. The Zune, Microsoft’s answer to the iPod, was not quite a failure as much as it was a bumpy transition; it was incapable of playing music wrapped in Microsoft’s own PlaysForSure DRM scheme.

Given these less-than-stellar results from previous hardware ventures, the announcement of the Surface came as something of a shock to the industry at large. Microsoft and OEMs have heretofore subsisted on a mutual partnership, one that Microsoft seems to be abandoning. They have doubled down with the release of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 but have been struggling to unload their first-generation tablets on consumers. Over the summer, Microsoft was giving away Surface tablets to attendees of the ISTE conference and announced education-exclusive pricing of $199 for the 32 GB Surface RT. This Black Friday, Best Buy will offer the 32 GB Surface RT for $200.

Aside from Microsoft’s foray into hardware, the case can be made that the problem is that consumers do not want Windows 8. Recall the aforementioned Gartner survey, which indicates that Q3 2013 is the sixth consecutive quarter of worldwide PC shipments. Windows 8 hit RTM on August 1, 2012, with general availability on October 26, 2012. The first full quarter after general availability, Q1 2013, was met with a 14% drop in sales compared to Q1 2012, according to IDG. The interface changes that accompany Windows 8.1 are not a substantive improvement

Windows 7 reached general availability on October 22, 2009. According to NetMarketShare, the market share for Windows 7 in Q4 2010 -- approximately a year from release -- was 20.27%. At present, we are slightly over a year from the release of Windows 8, and the combined market share of Windows 8 and 8.1 this month is 9.25%. Windows XP, which faces the end of extended support in April 2014, remains at 31.24%. Windows 8 is not a successful product by any meaningful metric, and perhaps the toughest challenge any company can face is when their biggest competitor is their own back catalogue.

Final thoughts

Acer’s misfortunes are a symptom of an industry-wide ailment, for which there is no immediate hope of a correction. The only vague prospect of salvation is the eventual naming of Steve Ballmer’s replacement as CEO of Microsoft. Who do you think would be best suited to run Acer or Microsoft, and how would you change the present state of things at those firms? Let us know in the comments section below.

IceWarp Messaging Server for iOS 7 email

Will Kelly looks at IceWarp, an email messaging server that supports iOS 7 notes synchronization.

Google Apps for Business, Gmail, and Office 365 get the lion’s share of market buzz for corporate and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) iPhone email support. In fact, it can be hard to remember there are other email options available for enterprise mobile users. I recently had a chance to check out IceWarp Messaging Server, a corporate email server offered in on-premise and cloud versions that challenge Microsoft Exchange. Most notably, IceWarp Messaging Server offers iOS 7 users a method for syncing their iOS 7 notes to their email account.

IceWarp recently got in touch with Us, offering to demo the new iOS 7 note-syncing features for iOS 7. I spent some time testing out IceWarp email and its notes syncing feature using a test account that IceWarp setup for me on one of their cloud servers.

IceWarp server features and mobile support

IceWarp Messaging Server includes the following mobile support features:
  • Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync
  • Open-standard SyncML
  • PIM synchronization and Push
  • Global Address List (GAL)
  • Remote Wipe support
Further information about IceWarp Messaging Server features and purchase options are available on the IceWarp corporate web site. IceWarp takes a nice unified communications approach to enterprise communications with the following options:
  • Email Server
  • Instant Messaging Server
  • VoIP / SIP Server
  • SMS Server (text messaging)
It would be nice to see IceWarp bring more of their unified communications features to the iPhone and iOS 7. While IceWarp touts some impressive client numbers on their web site, they are still a bit of an unknown player in certain markets. However, their corporate goal to bridge the gap between cloud and on-premise email should appeal to enterprises.

Setup your IceWarp account on an iPhone

Setting up an IceWarp email account on an iPhone follows the standard process for setting up an Exchange email account in iOS 7.
To setup your IceWarp account on an iPhone or iPad:
  1. Tap Settings, and the Settings screen will appear (Figure A)
    Figure A
    Figure A

  2. Scroll down and tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars (Figure B)
    Figure B
    Figure B

  3. Tap Add Account, and the Add Account screen will appear (Figure C)
    Figure C
    Figure C

  4. Tap Exchange, and the Exchange screen will appear (Figure D)
    Figure D
    Figure D

  5. Enter the following information:
    a.  Email address in the Email field
    b.  Password in the Password field
    c.  A short description for the account in the Description field
  6. Tap Next, the email client will verify the account, and a new screen will appear (Figure E)
    Figure E
    Figure E

  7. Enter in the following configuration information:
    a.  Server name in the Server field
    b.  User name in the username field
  8. Tap Save to save the account configuration, and a new screen will appear (Figure F)
    Figure F
    Figure F

  9. Tap Save, and the Mail client will save the new account

Sync your notes with IceWarp

Evernote, Simplenote, Intellinote, and other iOS note-taking apps drown out the default iOS 7 Notes app for many iPhone users. The potential for IceWarp to lend some new functionality to a default (and underutilized) iOS 7 default app is a bonus in my book.
When I had a briefing from IceWarp's Chris Knott, director of technology, and Ian Marshall, director of marketing, they admitted to me that they came across the potential for note-syncing by chance.
To sync notes from iOS 7 to IceWarp:
  1. Tap Notes to open the Notes app, and the Notes Accounts page will appear (Figure G)
    Figure G
    Figure G

  2. Select your mail account from the list
  3. Tap New, and a blank note will appear
  4. Enter in the text for your note, tap Done to complete the note, and the note is synchronized automatically with your IceWarp account. Figure H shows a view of my test notes in the IceWarp user interface.
    Figure H
    Figure H

I give IceWarp credit for the simplicity of its notes synchronization feature through Microsoft ActiveSync. My only qualm is that it might be a little too late, as third-party note taking apps get all the attention in the iOS world. However, I challenge IceWarp to build out their Microsoft ActiveSync support and extend it to other enterprise functions.


One of the hidden benefits of writing for Webtechorigin is finding companies like IceWarp who are rolling out interesting products but don’t get the buzz like Google or Microsoft. IceWarp shows there’s still some life outside of cloud-based email for enterprises with iOS users. If you have a mobile workforce using iOS 7, IceWarp is worth a look if you want to explore mobile email options outside of the major vendors.