Author Archives: dbainum
Running into an interesting situation in the local area recently, wanted me to stop and pause and ponder the following interesting “head-scratching” observation:
Why do some retail stores, like Best Buy, make it almost impossible to directly call individual stores in their chain anymore? They pretty much force you to call a centralized number, which then either has to call the stores directly, or awkwardly try to transfer you, or otherwise act as an intermediary.
We’ll probably have to chalk this up as something that probably looked good “on paper” on a management executive’s business plan somewhere (“We’ll save tons of money and labor on telephone-based distractions!”) – but, probably didn’t really pan out that well in practice. Like, when you’re trying to scour the local area for a hard-to-find item, and then have to call each individual store to verify inventory.
Oh, and for those who really want to call a Best Buy store directly in the DC Area, here’s the handy list of numbers that we generated (below).
Special thanks to Selene B. and Mallory W. for this tip! Enjoy!:
Fair Lakes – (703) 631-3332
Fair Oaks Mall (BB Mobile) – (703) 218-4884
Fairfax – (703) 764-7440
Tysons – (703) 748-9814
Reston – (703) 787-3760
Springfield – (703) 922-4980
Falls Church – (703) 671-0184
Manassas – (703) 257-7474
Woodbridge – (703) 490-7499
Arlington (Hayes) – (703) 414-7090
DC (14th St NW) – (202) 387-6150
Sterling – (703) 430-2150
DC (Wisconsin) – (202) 895-1580
Rockville – (301) 984-1479
Leesburg – (703) 669-4100
Alexandria – (703) 519-0940
What Microsoft did (and didn’t) learn from the auto industry / New PC for business Dilemma? / Why retail isn’t always best… And, will “Windows Blue” cure the Windows8 Blues?
One phenomenon we continue to observe here at RiteTech is what we call the “New PC Dilemma”. Specifically, how a business handles PC replacements and upgrades during the “Windows 8” era.
At RiteTech, we offer a very simple guideline here. “Just say No” – to Windows8. Seriously. There are only 1-2 very limited exceptions to this guidance, that will typically not apply in 99% of business scenarios.
First, let’s briefly recap the many reasons why we believe “No” is the right answer to Windows8. Then, we’ll further describe what to say “Yes” to.
Windows8 (amazingly) removes the familiar “Start” menu and desktop graphical metaphor that pretty much everyone using a PC has been trained in, and grown accustomed to in the past 18+ years, since Windows95. (Wow, 18+ years? Has it really been that long? I remember waiting in line at a “midnight madness” shopping event at a Staples in College Park, Maryland on the night that Windows95 was released to the general public… Ah, memories… but, I digress…)
The most common adjective that we continue to hear over and over when either end-users – or, even experienced IT technicians and systems administrators – attempt to describe getting used to Windows8 is – “frustrating.”. We’ve heard multiple times from clients who have purchased Windows8 (or from their staffs, who have done the same) – the very long litany of complaints and frustrations about it, from everything about its user interface, to the fact that it seems to have incompatibility and reliability issues.
Microsoft’s stubborn, technically-unnecessary, and horribly wrong-headed decision to so radically alter Windows8’s default graphical environment has been – and is being – called many things – including “the worst new product fiasco since New Coke” (one of my favorites) – as well as simply, well, “essentially unsellable” in a business scenario – which is how it’s starting to look across business and corporate environments. And, for good reason. Most businesses now look at PCs as a necessary utility or a commodity – almost like purchasing a vehicle. First of all, most businesses typically don’t want to purchase new vehicles until or unless they absolutely need to. End users (e.g. individual drivers) may choose to “upgrade” or “get a new car” for personal satisfaction reasons (or maybe just to show-off?), but there typically isn’t the same motivation in a business setting. Continuing that analogy, a business doesn’t want to purchase a vehicle and then find out that many of the standard controls they’ve gotten trained and used to – such as the gas and brake pedals, the ignition slot, etc. – have all mysteriously and inexplicably either been entirely removed – or placed in strange, awkward, different locations – or are operated differently.
In fact, when placed in that kind of a situation – where the driver of a new vehicle has to try to familiarize themselves with radically different controls (while, most likely, being in a hurry to get somewhere – I’m sure) – guess what term they probably would use to describe the experience? “Frustrating.”.
“Frustrating” is probably not the term that you want your latest software product to be well-renowned for. And yet, here we are with Windows8 – the essentially unsellable, ill-advised, very difficult to love Operating System.
So, what do we do about Windows8 – this horrible, horrible release of Windows that is very hard to love?
The good news is that there are still many well-made business-class computers that are available to be purchased new, from their respective manufacturers with Windows 7 Professional. That is precisely what most businesses will want to do, who need to purchase a new PC. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach as long as the manufacturer and specifications of the PC are carefully chosen.
Note that this pretty much rules out purchasing PCs in a retail setting – since Windows7 has essentially been removed from the retail channel altogether at this point. The only exception you may run into may be some refurbished PCs, or possibly an occasional clearance item here and there still lurking – however, for the most part, you will not see Windows7 PCs – or even the old Windows7 upgrade or Operating System discs – available in the retail channel anymore.
Another option is potentially to go the “non-PC” route. This could include tablets, Apple devices (e.g. Macs or iPads), or related.
To be clear, at RiteTech, we don’t advocate people jumping completely to Apple just because of Windows8 – although there are a lot of positives to the Apple platform. However, Windows7 Professional on a well-designed, well-equipped, and well-supported PC will honestly solve most business needs quite well, for a very long time.
Now – there are 1-2 exceptions of where Windows8 may be a good fit. These, not surprisingly, would be on Windows Tablet PCs or other touch-sensitive devices- such as Microsoft Surface – which is really the type of hardware that Windows8 was designed to operate on. We’ve work with helping to set clients up with Microsoft Surface and Windows8, and they were extremely pleased with it for their specific projects that called for Windows tablet computing.
However – for the vast majority of business-related tasks and business environments that don’t involve regular touch- or tablet-based work styles – the traditional approach of Windows 7 is definitely the way to go. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, at all – just like there was absolutely nothing wrong with “Classic Coke”.
Lastly – the latest rumors about Microsoft is that their next release of Windows – Code Named “Blue” – or Windows 8.1 – and rumored to be available late this year – will supposedly re-add the “Start” button. Whether or not it re-adds the full, traditional Windows7 Desktop or Start MENU experience, remains to be seen (I certainly hope so!). However, it will be interesting to see how things progress once it is released – e.g. will it be embraced and cheered – or will it simply be shrugged off as “too little, too late”, particularly with trends towards non PC-platforms (e.g. smartphones and tablets) already accelerating.
Happy computing to all…
How to pick a “good” display: And, when (and why) 2 Screens are better than one: Pretty much, always!!
Being on the road for a few days, I’m once again reminded about the “taken-for-granted” ness that we sometimes feel when we “only” have access to a single display device.
As some background information – even though RiteTech/ModernHOA.com is a small company, pretty much everyone in our organization has at least two display devices (or is given the option for same) as part of their standard-issue company equipment. For desktop PC users, that means two displays. For notebook PC users, it means the option of plugging in their own (or a company-provided) display. Why is that?
Well – in a quick simple word, it’s the productivity. One of the discoveries I made years ago when I worked as an IT Security Administrator for a quasi-governmental financial services organization (which also had dual displays for most staff at the time – at this was years ago, when it was not common to do this) – is that in many roles, providing this type of amenity more than paid for itself in terms of improved employee productivity. It’s similar to providing more “desk space” in a traditional sense – if a person has more screen real estate to spread their work out on, they can typically get more accomplished. Granted, the person or resource in question also needs the proper attitude, motivation, support, and training/supervision to make the most of these features. However, when used properly, the dual-display can be a game changer in terms of productivity.
Even in situations where having a dual-display is not practical – a few tips we’ve learned along the way can help even when picking out a standard (primary) display. One thing we’ve learned is to pay close attention to the display resolution. This determines how small or “fine” the display elements, or dots, are displayed on the screen – similar to how small, or fine, little grains of sand (or other material) may be in the physical world. The smaller (or finer) the resolution, the more crisp and precise the display elements can be.
Lately, the best (or finest) displays tend to be ones made by Apple – whether it is in their built-in Retina iMac computers, or their external displays (like Thunderbolt).
However, there are many other very good non-Mac displays out there, both in laptops and traditional displays. Sony laptops often tend to have very good, fine built-in displays. When choosing an external (traditional) display, also confirm that it supports all of the latest connection standards, such as HDMI or DVI.
Some of you may well recall that I was one of the so-called “Tablet Skeptics” when the iPad was first released. As the computing industry begins to enter a new phase where purchases of new tablets may exceed traditional PCs and Macs – which will occur either this year (2013) or next year (2014) depending on who you ask – I think it is an appropriate time to reflect on the trends that seem to be driving this phenomenon.
First, I personally don’t believe that tablets or other mobile devices will ever fully replace traditional desktop or laptop PCs. However, I do believe they will continue to *displace* them in selected functions, particularly for personal and portable computing.
While tablet computing power and display technology will continue to evolve to the point where most limitations with current tablets are addressed, at the end of the day, there are still several practical limitations of using a tablet to create new content, rather than to “access”, “read”, or “consume” content. In addition, physical security and maintenance of the devices can be a challenge, particularly in a business or corporate environment.
While trends such as B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) will continue to push the “tablet envelope” and I’ll certainly concede that we’ve probably hit the “peak oil” moment in terms of traditional PC or Mac purchases within mature markets for a while, desktop and laptop PCs will never fully go away. Sometimes, you just really want (or need) a full PC (or Mac) to get your work done efficiently.
More next time…
This morning, while in the process of setting up one of RiteTech’s newest staff additions to our team on our CloudPBX phone system, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to reflect upon a simple, yet very productivity-enhancing feature that most people probably don’t use: Automated Voicemail transcription.
The concept is simple. Traditional voice mail systems drop a message onto a traditional phone system’s mailbox. The end user then has to (typically) manually rifle through the various voice mail messages that may be awaiting them.
Some phone system users may be lucky enough to have an option that e-mails the voice messages as an attachment, as they arrive, into the user’s normal e-mail Inbox. That’s definitely better than the old-fashioned, “manually rifle through the voice mail messages and listen to them, one message at at time” approach, but it still suffers from a lot of the same limitations of the old approach. And that is where the end user has to stop, play the message, and listen to it to get a better sense of who exactly is calling, and/or the purpose or the level of urgency of the call. If you then have to forward the voicemail message to someone else for them to take action on it, this same process tends to repeat itself over again.
Enter the wonderful world of voicemail transcription. This takes the concept of the e-mailed voicemail attachment one step further. Voicemail transcription transcribes the voice mail message into a typed text email and/or a SMS (text) message. The user can then read the voicemail message, without even needing to play it – unless they really want to. This makes it oh-so-easy for the user to just glance at the message visually – e.g. most often than not, while in the middle of a meeting or some other situation or obligation which caused the call to originally go to voice mail in the first place. This needs helps the recipient prioritize the message, and/or redirect or forward it to another team member efficiently – if appropriate. Here’s an example of one such transcript (note – Personal Identifying Information [PII] has been redacted):
“Hey, David. It’s Shaq (??). I was trying to contact you to try to setup our 1 on 1 that we talk the other day. I’ll be available by cell today at 703-217-xxxx. And really any other day other than Monday all day or Wednesday morning I’m available most of the week. So just give me a buzz back and we’ll set that up. Thanks. Bye-bye.”
In the example above, the transcript turned out pretty well. The service frequently can tell when a transcribed word may be inaccurate, in which case it enters “(??)”. Now, just as is the case with human beings, the transcriber is not going to always successfully understand and interpret every word of every message with 100% accuracy. However, most frequently when it has trouble, is when the caller is mumbling, has a very thick accent, and/or is calling from a noisy area – which, well, would cause challenges even for human listeners as well. 😉
As an aside, I remember that some people may have soured on the concept of voicemail transcription due to certain low-quality offerings that they’ve encountered, such as Google voice. To quote the old adage – “you get what you pay for”. At RiteTech, we do not recommend “free” or “ultra-cheap” communications solutions, such as Google Voice, for many reasons. We have been using a professional (paid), yet affordable voicemail transcription service at our organization for over 4 years, with minimal issues or adverse affects. It enjoys a very high transcription accuracy rate, and in the rare occasions when it “goofs up”, it’s normally because the caller wasn’t speaking clearly, was in a noisy location, or etc.. And on the rare occasion when it does “goof up” a transcript, the mistaken words or the resulting sentence(s) can sometimes be highly amusing to read – and in the worst case, you can just play/listen to the whole original message.
For more information about RiteTech’s voicemail transcription and other telephone system solutions, feel free to contact us.
As the “Snowquester” event starts in the greater Washington, DC area – we have a bunch of updates to share:
RiteTech recently completed its first project using several brand new Microsoft Surface tablet PCs. These devices will be used to help collect and correlate survey data for a large client of ours who performs international development consulting (and related activities) on behalf of USAID. The tablets, not surprisingly, were pre-installed with Windows8. As a result, I felt it was an appropriate time to share our first impressions – particularly since our team’s experience (and preference) had largely been in favor of other, lower-cost tablet devices – such as iPads or Google Nexus tablets (see prior postings for examples).
I must say that the Windows Surface tablets definitely well exceeded our initial impressions. Even though I’ve always been skeptical of Windows8 (and still am for non-touch devices – more on this in a moment), the Surface tablets definitely seem to meld the “best of both worlds” in terms of delivering a full Windows experience, while providing a tablet form factor with touch-sensitive features. For instance, it was very neat being able to use the standard suite of Windows software – including a fully capable Kaseya for remote systems management and maintenance – on a tablet device.
Another big “win” was the new Office365 subscription which our client had also purchased with their Surface tablet PCs from the Microsoft Store. This featured electronic distribution and download – basically, a single subscription code allowed installation of the product on a total of 5 PCs. The software downloaded very quickly and was probably one of the most painless, and fast, Microsoft Office installations I’ve seen in some time. While I’m still missing some of the colors and other visual treats that Office 2010 provided as opposed to Office 2013 [which is one of the reasons I continue to use the older version of Outlook 2010), the Office installation went very, very smoothly.
The only main hiccup was the attempted setup of Skype. Our client uses Skype heavily, to help its consultants stay in contact with other colleagues and co-workers, literally throughout the world. Skype did come pre-installed on the Surface Tablets, however it is a different version of Skype which requires (essentially) either requires an integration with the Windows App Store or a “consolidation” between the person’s Skype account and the account used for the Windows App Store (or a similar Microsoft account). In other words – the “normal” Skype logon which a Skype user on PC (or other devices) will not work with the built-in version of Skype on the Surface Tablet – and attempting to run the built-in version of Skype on the Surface will prod the user to attempt to migrate or consolidate their Skype account with the Windows account or App Store account. This arrangement is, frankly, quite awkward. We ended up downloading the “PC” (non-tablet) version of Skype – which we had to do on a non-Tablet device, since any attempts to do so on the Tablet device continued to point us to the Skype for Surface download – then, running that Setup program on the surface tablets.
So far, the Skype behavior was really the only “low note” in the whole experience to date. While the Surface is definitely not for everyone – particularly due to its cost – we were definitely pleasantly surprised by how well it worked, particularly in a multiple-device deployment scenario. Windows8 on the Surface worked well – or at least “well enough” – which is to be expected, given that the Surface device supports touch.
And that brings along my mandatory “Windows8 rant”. While Windows8 is what I would term “tolerable” – if not optimal – on a touch device, I am still adamantly opposed to it (Windows8) on non-touch devices. In particular, I have very disdainful feelings for it in corporate or business environments, unless it’s on a touch device. As mentioned in prior blog postings – a very simple “legacy mode” or “Win9x mode” option for the User Interface (UI) to allow users – particularly non-touch device users – to continue to enjoy the traditional Win9x interface, would have been far more advisable. Instead, I continue to find it difficult to envision how most CIO’s or other IT decisionmakers of large organizations (both commercial and governmental) will rapidly or enthusiastically want to adopt Windows8 in their organizations, when quite honestly, Windows7 works just fine – and often times, better – than Windows8 does in terms of meeting their business or organizational needs or objectives. The most common word I seem to hear from others regarding Windows8 who attempt to use it on a non-touch device is – “frustrating”. Truth be told, there are a few people who also claim to love Windows8 (although, they generally also have touch-devices to run it on!) – although, I think it’s potentially problematic when a new OS release solely generates such “strong” or polarizing reactions from its users, ranging from extremely negative (e.g. frustrating, hate it) to the other extreme. I haven’t seen this level of reluctance or potential disdain since Windows Vista and/or Windows Me, to be honest.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think Microsoft would have done well to take a cue from Apple – who has been very careful in preserving the overall “look and feel” of their Mac OS X Operating System, to ensure that they don’t inject too many radical design or UI changes into it, too quickly. They have carefully and incrementally added some touch- and iPad/iPhone-device inspired capabilities and features into the core OS X UI, but nothing to the extreme of the change in UI from Windows7 to Windows8.
And, that’s it for now. For those in the greater Washington, DC area – be safe, and enjoy the “Snow-Quester”. 😉
Hi Blog Fans,
We’ve had, unfortunately, a couple of hiccups with our CloudPBX (virtual phone system) in the past week. While highly unusual (as well as tremendously annoying), it is a good and illustrative example of some of the various “pro’s” and “con’s” of “Cloud-Based” technology – and also helps explain some of the pro’s and con’s of the same.
To take a step back, back “in the old days”, traditional business phone systems tended to be on-premise – unless they were very small installations, or ones with such basic needs, that it would be on par to what would be used in a home (residential) application. In either case, any scenario where the “guts” or the “brain” of the phone system resides in a physically different location from the premise, can be considered an “off-premise”, or “Cloud-based” system. For instance, the “plain old phone service” used in homes, functions in that fashion – the “brains” of the overall phone system don’t reside in an individual house. The “dial tone”, etc. that you hear when you pick up a line all comes from a distant, off-premise (off-site) location. A small business could also obtain an enhanced, traditional system – sometimes referred to as a Centrex system – where the actual physical lines were similarly configured as they would be in a home (or residential) application, but the “guts” or the “brain” of the small business phone system was leased from (and programmed by) the local phone company. For a lot of smaller businesses, this approach (Centrex) would make a lot of sense. The phone system’s brain, in essence, resided with the phone company. It was, in general, very reliable – since the actual equipment resided with the bulk of the other “phone company equipment”, in a very highly controlled and regulated environment.
In the business world, the numbers of lines, actual physical handsets, and other technical requirements tends to get pretty large (and complicated) fairly quickly. This led to the creation of business-class Private Branch Exchanges, or PBX’s, which would reside within the business office itself. The PBX would then connect to the off-site telephone provider (or service) to provide the actual telephone service inside and out of the business. This provided various pro’s and con’s – on the plus side, the business got more control over their own telephone infrastructure within their own premises. On the minus side, they had more equipment to now maintain and administer, compared to the off-site model, where a telephone company (or other provider) was doing it for them.
With the proliferation of the Internet, Voice over IP (VoIP), and high-speed data lines (e.g. Broadband), CloudPBX’s are starting to really take off. They offer the potential for some significant cost savings compared to an on-premise traditional PBX and traditional voice lines, as well as some of the potential benefits of the older-style Centrex arrangement as well. Once again, the “brain” resides off-site – only the endpoints (the actual phone handsets) typically reside at the location. However, the reliability and quality of the CloudPBX/VoIP arrangement is still mixed. While it’s true that Internet and Broadband have significantly reduced the costs and increased the number of potential features and choices for various voice and data transmission options, the reliability and call quality is not always consistent across all carriers and arrangements.
As a case in point, we’ve suffered a failure of our CloudPBX now twice, during business hours, in less than the course of about 7-10 days. Since we are a small organization whose staff tends to be out of the office a lot and/or working from remote locations, this has not been as catastrophic as it might otherwise have been in larger or more static organizations – however, it’s still tremendously disruptive and troubling. While we would have occasional outages or failures of our on-premise PBX before we had the CloudPBX, at least in that scenario, we always had more immediate and direct insight as to what the outage or problem cause(s) were, and how to resolve them. When a CloudPBX outage occurs (or other Cloud outage – such as e-mail, web, or similar) – often times, there’s not a whole lot that can be done apart to wait for updates from the carrier. Affected customers will then frequently take to Twitter (as we did) in an effort to find out more about what’s going on.
As with any unplanned, potentially disruptive incident where large numbers of customers (or people) are affected, the key concerns are (a) the way that communications are handled during the outage itself, (b) how the “post-event” or “post-mortem” of the outage is handled (and communicated), and (c) how frequently such outages occur – e.g. is the overall track record of the system’s reliability getting better, or worse?
In our case, our faith in our current CloudPBX is a bit shaken in the past few days. We like a lot of things about it from a features perspective – as well as because it’s familiar to us, having worked with it and trained on it for over a year now – but doggone it, the reliability lately has been painful.
Let’s hope that the wizards within our Internet Provider/phone carrier fix what they need to in order to get things stable and calm again. So say we all! 😉
In the words of Stephen Colbert from a few days ago, “Merry Cliff-mas!” 😉
That, of course, referring to the upcoming “fiscal cliff” potentially facing the country. While that topic in and of itself could warrant quite a ranting, we’re here to talk more about items of broader interest than the usual Washington, DC-area political dysfunctions. Such as, what’s going on in the Tablet and mobility world.
Which brings me to our first topic – “Why Apple Hardware Support Rocks”. Blog followers will remember the dilemma that I had earlier this year regarding “which iPhone to upgrade to” – e.g. the iPhone 5, or the iPhone 4S. I ended up getting the 4S (even after the 5 was released). Won’t rehash the reasons here – there’s an older blog entry for that.
Said iPhone, unfortunately, started having an odd problem a few days ago. Audio stopped working out of one of the channels (the left channel) – this was for music, as well as phone calls (headset). At first, Apple tech’s thought it may have been the headphones (reasonable first suspicion), but it turned out to be the unit itself. So, here’s an example of just how positive and efficient a retail computer/hardware tech support experience can be:
– I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment at the local Apple Store to have the continuing problem diagnosed (after receiving replacement headphones via FedEx and that not solving the issue)
– Within about 20-30 minutes of arriving for said appointment, a tech ran some diagnostics on the phone right there in the store
– He quickly determined that there was something wrong with the phone itself
– Within another 20 minutes, I was out the door with a replacement, identical phone
Of course, I had backed up all of the phone’s data, apps, etc. before going to the appointment – on the suspicion that an exchange was likely. But, this is a very good example of how (and why) Apple does such a good job with customer service at the retail level. While there are some aspects of the Apple retail experience that I find a bit quirky (I still don’t like the whole “no designated cash register or line for checkout” thing – it reminds me too much of the free-for-all, Lord of the Flies-esque behavior that happens when renting a car from National Car Rental – where you “get to pick your own car” out of the rental car lot – which means, of course, the slower and clumsier travelers loaded down with way too much electronic equipment, like me – will always end up with the suckiest vehicles in such a competition) – this vignette I think very nicely illustrates a lot of the things that the Apple retail and support experience does well.
Now, in respect to Microsoft – we’ve also have very good retail (and repair) experiences at their Microsoft Store, as well. It’s just that we’ve had to use Apple’s more often, because we have more Apple devices for a longer period of time – as opposed to only having gotten one PC (a laptop) from the Microsoft Store to date. That laptop, incidentally, was/is a Sony VAIO VPCSA that is probably my favorite computer for routine use right now – whereas I use a MacBook Pro for Apple-related and other creative assignments (movies, video production). That said, it’s just so happened that we’ve had multiple MacBooks and Mac Air’s both repaired and evaluated at Apple stores over the past 3 years. Each time, it was always a very positive, efficient, and straightforward process.
So, that brings us to “what’s going on” with tablets this year. As mentioned before, I’m still a huge fan of the Google Nexus 7 tablet. You may recall that I purchased it a few months back after selling my original iPad. It’s small and light (more so than an iPad mini), affordable, and the screen is gorgeous. While it doesn’t run iOS (which is what I would say is its biggest “shortcoming”), for what I need to do with a tablet – which is mainly e-mail and web browsing – and some occasional device remote control – it’s perfect. I had expected that by the time the holidays came around, that I probably would have gotten around to getting an iPad mini to replace the original iPad that I sold earlier this year – however, surprisingly, I’m still just not too impressed by the mini. The screen (Retina) on the “full” iPad is notably better, and when you hold up the Google Nexus compared to an iPad mini, it’s an amazing contrast – in terms of how much nicer the screen on the Nexus is.
At this point, I think I’ll hold off on my replacement iPad until a good special comes along, most likely from the Apple refurbished store, or possibly from eBay. I don’t “need” to have a new iPad as opposed to a refurbished one- I just want one to help further support and practice RiteTech’s clients.
We’ll have more to say about Apple-related stuff, including an exciting announcement, soon… Until then, happy and safe computing – regardless of what device or OS you’re using… 😉
Well, as time permits, we’ve been trying out a few new things over here at RiteTech, including Office2013, an iPad Mini (at least, in the Apple store down the street from our office), and so forth.
Prior Blog readers will see my initial impressions (some may say, hesitations) about Windows8 in a prior post. Those have not changed at all. I still stand by my assertion that Windows7 is the better way to go, for a majority of corporate and business environments. And sadly, that’s mainly due to the appearance issues related to Microsoft’s insistence on removing the traditional “Start Button” or “Start Menu”, and related “Classic Mode” for the operation of the Windows desktop. I won’t rehash my extended rant on that topic, any further.
More concerning, however, is that the same “Let’s make the User Interface WORSE than it was before” philosophy, seems to carry over into Outlook 2013. This was the first of the Office2013 applications that I spent some time with, being my favorite, and most frequently used application, apart from Lync.
Outlook 2013 lasted about an hour on my PC until I had to uninstall it, in favor of Outlook 2010, in horror and disgust. As I posted on FaceBook a few days back, my reaction was much like the scene in Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston screamed, “You MANIACS! You Blew it Up!”. The main reason that I had to yank Outlook 2013 off of my PC – and quickly – was its absolutely ugly and difficult to read graphical interface. Gone are all of the nice colors that graced Outlook 2010. There appears to be only three “themes” of color available – ugly gray, black, and white. Some Ribbon Menu items now show in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, which is (unfortunately) a similar trait to other Office2013 applications as well. This is quite puzzling to me, because many ergonomic and other typographic research has shown time and time again, that having mixed case helps people read language much faster, and with less eye strain, than ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE DOES BETTER, THAN SAY, LATIN, WHICH HAD ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, AND OFTEN, NO PUNCTUATION AND/OR MINIMAL SPACING.
Running Outlook 2013 was just, well, SAD to me. It felt like de-evloving, going backwards, etc.. Add the ugliness to the fact that it also ran SLOWER than Outlook 2010 (notably so), and also that a critical Outlook 2010 plug-in did not work in Outlook 2013 (which I was expecting would be the case), and Outlook 2013 had to come off, quickly.
Now, that said, there are a couple of rays of sunshine peeking from behind the Office 2013 “Cloudscape”. First, Lync 2013 is a fairly good release, at least it seems to be – although it does look slightly uglier, and runs slightly slower, than Lync 2010. However, it’s usable, and I have no SERIOUS problems with it – as I do with Outlook 2013. The difference is that I can see some potential benefits to the new version of Lync. More on that in a future post. Other applications that I’m spending more time on include Word 2013 and Excel 2013. These also look promising – so far – in particular the enhanced support for Cloud services, better sharing of documents, and a better awareness of the user’s identity and security permissions. All good things – but they are tinged with some sadness, in that performance definitely seems a bit sluggish compared to Office 2010, and there again is the “only 3 themes of color and ALL CAPS MENUS” thing. However, these are not nearly as poorly implemented in the other Office applications, as they were in Outlook 2013.
I will have more to add in the coming days. In the meantime, if I had to summarize this year – 2012 – in terms of IT technology developments, the summary would definitely be “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” – in a number of product releases and categories. To recap, here’s what we’ve seen:
– iPhone 5 release: Somewhat lackluster, issues with the Maps application, still don’t understand why they put the Audio jack on the bottom of the phone, etc. I decided to get a 4S instead.
– iPad Mini Release: Again, somewhat lackluster. Why no Retina display? Yes, it is a nice size compared to a full iPad – but compare the screen’s resolution, cost, etc. to a Google Nexus 7 – and wow, the Nexus 7 blows away the iPad Mini. The Nexus 7 is a smaller unit, less expensive, and has a much better display. It’s only downside is that it can’t run iPad app’s – but hardware-wise, it’s definitely superior – at least, in my opinion.
– Windows8 – I won’t beat that horse any more dead than it already is.
– Server 2012 – This still looks to be a winner, but I do definitely have mixed feelings about its User Interface as well. Granted, not as severe as Windows8, but it definitely is requiring an adjustment.
– Azure (Microsoft’s Back-End Server Cloud Services, VM’s, Hosted databases, etc.) – Lots of good things here. Very positive release.
Stay tuned for more in the near future…
One of the newer trends we’ve observed in e-mail marketing, concerns the use of graphical characters in the Subject lines.
For example: ✈ (an airplane) – which came to us from an e-mail blast from PriceLine.com
We’re seeing more of these as time goes on. Although still not horribly common, they are fairly easy to implement, but do represent a double-edge sword of “pro’s and con’s”. On the “Pro” side, the limited use of graphics characters (like having a single ✈) may help entice recipients to read or open the message. On the “Con” side, there is not a guarantee that all devices will display those characters correctly. And, the excessive of use of them (e.g. too many in a single subject line) could potentially trigger “SPAM” or “Junk Mail” filters.
We generally suggest that these enhancements be used sparingly, and in a small test group first – to see how well they work in encouraging Open rates for an e-mail campaign. Analyzing the results of a small, meaningful test group should then help determine their effectiveness in future campaigns, or for larger numbers of recipients.