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BPOS to be rebranded as Office 365

Office365I am a HUGE fan of Microsoft’s suite of Office & Business suite – Business Productivity Online Suite – BPOS. For just $10 per user per month, I get Exchange, Sharepoint, Live Meeting and it all integrates smoothly with Microsoft Office.

This has saved me untold amounts of time and money compared to buying, installing, configuring and operating the equivalent services in-house.

Well, the news today just got even better! Microsoft today announced it is re-launching a significantly upgraded online business suite: “Office 365”. 

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Office 365 includes the long-awaited upgrade to Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010, and also introduces Office Online and Microsoft Lync:

Introducing Microsoft Lync

Office 365 introduces Microsoft Lync Online – Microsoft’s latest and recently unveiled business server that integrates what used to be Office Communication Server and Live Meeting into one coherent business server product. Lync also sports a client application that replaces Office Communicator and the Live Meeting client.

Microsoft says:

Lync Online provides intuitive communications capabilities across presence, instant messaging, audio/video calling and a rich online meeting experience including PC-audio, video and web conferencing. Transform your interactions with colleagues, customers and partners from today’s hit-and-miss communication to a more collaborative, engaging, and effective experience.

As someone who lives and breathes in a virtual, interconnected world, Lync is a breath of fresh air!

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Using Lync to collaborate on a document via video and voice-calls with colleagues

Importantly, the Lync Server product also offers enterprise-class PBX features enabling your business voice calls to be routed via VOIP if the callee is on a SIP-enabled VOIP system at the receiving-end too. We’ll have to see how deep the PBX features of Office 365 are, but if full PBX features are enabled, it could be a killer feature that dramatically decreases your business telephone costs and increase productivity!

Office Online

You’re probably familiar with Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Outlook – the core of most business’ IT systems today.

Office 365 introduces Office Online – a version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that all run entirely within your browser so you can work on your documents even when you’re away from your normal PC or you’re using a PC (or Mac or even Linux) which doesn’t have Office installed!

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Accessing Exchange email via Outlook Web Access

 

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Working on an Excel document in Excel Online hosted in Internet Explorer

Office offline too!

In addition to Office Online, Office 365 includes an option to pay $24 per user per month for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Online … but also gives you the right to install and use Office Professional Plus 2010! This is a killer suite and price point for the majority of businesses.

It’s not either or, it’s a continuum

One important point to get across is that, while others would have you believe otherwise, Microsoft truly does understands the reality of operating a business in these ever changing times.

If an entirely hosted infrastructure suits your business, then great, they’ve got an awesome offering for you. But if you have complex needs and need to host some of your own infrastructure in-house, then Office 365 will also suit you down to the ground, allowing you to push some of your selected services into the cloud, but retain other services that must remain hosted internally.

There are few cloud offerings that span the continuum from hosted entirely in-house to hosted entirely in the cloud, and every point in between.

“But surely, this costs a lot, no?”

Actually, no! Today, BPOS costs $10 per user per month. But Microsoft have just unveiled new pricing structure which benefits both larger customers as well as smaller clients. In true Microsoft fashion, Office 365 will come in several packages priced at different levels depending on the scope and features included:

At the very lowest end, the “Deskless Worker” edition, primarily targeted at the people within an organization that need access to email and documents, but little else, the price is dropping to $2 per user per month.

For smaller companies of 25 people or less, Office 365 “Lite” will be priced at $6 per user per month.

In Summary, Office 365 is a bargain!

$24 bucks a month per user per month for a world-class hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Communications and Collaboration platform with Office-online AND a full install of Office on your PC? AND you get to add/remove users as your business scales up and down and just pay for what you use.

Office 365 is a bargain!

For more details, visit the Office 365 website and sign up for the beta.

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley also posted some more details on Office 365.


Categories: Office | BPOS | Office 365
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Adobe STILL not shipping a PDF iFilter for Windows 7 64-bit!

AdobeIt still surprises me how many companies – especially those who should know better still don’t ship the necessary 64-bit componentry for their software.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not for a moment suggesting that all software companies port all their apps to 64-bit for the sake of it. After all – unless an app requires more than 2GB RAM, there’s relatively little benefit to be had from porting to 64-bit.

The exception to this rule are apps that integrate into 64-bit versions of Windows. Things like drivers and Explorer shell extensions must be ported to 64-bit.

So must iFilters. These are the software components that allow Windows to index the contents of documents you store on your PC so that you can quickly and easily search for documents containing specific terms. Windows ships with iFilters for many common file types, and many 3rd parties offer iFilters for their proprietary file formats.

One particularly popular proprietary file format is Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF). Adobe has offered an iFilter for 32-bit Windows since the advent of iFilters back in the early days of Windows Vista. Adobe also shipped a 64-bit iFilter back in December 2008, but this OLD iFilter only worked on 64-bit editions of XP and Vista!

What about 64-bit versions of Windows 7?

Rather surprisingly, Adobe had this to say in the comments attached to their blog announcement of the old 64-bit iFilter:

http://blogs.adobe.com/acrobat/2008/12/adobe_pdf_ifilter_9_for_64bit.html

By Aman Deep Nagpal - 4:55 AM on June 28, 2010

Thank you all for your feedback. Adobe is working on the next version of iFilter which will support Windows 7 64-bit. But we don’t currently have an availability date to share.

Seriously?

Considering that 64-bit versions of Windows 7 are outstripping 32-bit versions by a large margin, you’re only now working on an iFilter for your own document format?

I mean, it’s not as if Windows 7 was suddenly thrust upon the market without AT LEAST a year of public beta. And it’s not as if Windows 7 was met with a luke-warm reception.

Come on Adobe, your customers deserve better.


Categories: Adobe | 64-bit | Windows 7
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I almost bought a MacBook Pro

Although I am not a fan of OSX or Mac desktops, one has to hand it to Apple – they do know how to design elegant portable hardware. The iPod largely buried all the other MP3 players, the iPhone set the mobile phone handset market alight and the MacBook Pro is a beautiful laptop.

Choices, choices

Recently, I was in the market for a new laptop. So, I wrote my list of requirements:

  • Great battery life – I am tired of having to be within an easy-reach of a power source
  • Decent Core i5/i7 CPU
  • GPU - I will rarely be playing games so don’t need bleeding-edge graphics
  • SSD would be nice – perhaps as a post-purchase upgrade
  • Able to expand to at least 8GB RAM – again, post-purchase upgrade likely
  • Non-glossy screen … I *HATE* glossy screens!
  • 15” screen would be fine – if I need more space I can plug into an external screen
  • At least 1600x900 resolution – I write code a lot so screen real-estate (even at smaller size) is a necessity
  • Backlit chicklet keyboard – am really starting to warm to these vs. conventional buttons

I then tracked down the possible contenders and came up with the following list:

I also looked at various laptops from Acer (e.g. Bamboo and similar), Asus, Gateway, etc. but they were either too underpowered, over-power-consuming, too heavy, too glossy-screened or had too little resolution.

I then weighed up my shortlist:

Machine Pro’s Con’s
Lenovo T410s Portable
Powerful
Switchable graphics
4+ hour battery life
Expensive with 128GB SSD option
No backlit keyboard
Takes 3-4 weeks to arrive!!!
HP Envy 14 Beautiful
Portable
Powerful
Good battery life
Glossy screen ONLY! :(
Takes 3-4 weeks to arrive!!!
Dell Vostro 3400 Beautiful
Powerful
Portable
Matte screen :)
Takes 2-3 weeks to arrive!
3 hour battery life :(
1366x768 :(
MacBook Pro 15 Beautiful
Portable
Powerful
Matte screen :)
Custom order takes 2-3 DAYS to arrive (if not already in-stock @ store)
Good battery life
Pricey
Relatively few ports
No MMC (SRSLY? C’mon Steve – you don’t use digital cameras?)
Apple doesn’t enable MBP’s Switchable graphics on Windows :(

So which one did I buy? None of them!

While I liked the Lenovo, I dislike it’s nipple & trackpad button combo and I really did want a backlit keyboard, plus it would take several weeks to arrive. The Dell’s screen was too low-resolution and the battery life was relatively poor.

That left the HP and the Apple. HP’s Envy was almost everything I was looking for – except that damn glossy screen!!! Seriously … I really do hate glossy screens. Heck, even Apple woke up to this and got a standing ovation when they unveiled the updated unibody MacBook Pro’s with matte screens! HP – provide a matte screen option and ship within a week and you’ll gain at least one more customer.

That left the Apple MacBook Pro 15 with matte screen. The plan was to buy an after-market 8GB memory upgrade ($200) and 256GB SSD ($600), putting the overall cost at around $3300 ish all-in.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Apple store (University Village, Seattle) …

I walked past the Sony store to take a look as I'd not been in for over a year.

To my astonishment, I walked out with a Vaio Z Series!

Sony’s Vista issues

I'd sworn never to buy a Vaio after helping my father in law with the Vaio he purchased when Vista was released. To say that he had a dreadful experience doesn't even begin to describe what he went through! It took a complete re-install of Vista to free the laptop from the mountains of crapware Sony had buried it under. Ed Bott did a great write-up on just how bad Sony screwed up back then, their dreadful Out Of Box Experience (OOBE) and what it took to fix the issues.

Sony’s rise from the ashes

Thankfully, Sony have learned their lesson and have significantly trimmed back their pre-installed software and now actually include helpful software (Adobe’s Creative Bundle) and massively improved their OOBE. It also has a great software recovery and OS reinstallation process.

Mark my words, the Vaio Z Series is utterly stunning:

Vaio Z Series 004At just 3lbs, it is unbelievably light - it's lighter than most of the books I read! Pick this notebook up and you’ll think it’s a demo box that is missing its innards!

Stellar Performance

Light usually means slow. Not in this case – the Vaio Z Series is incredibly quick.

The Core i5 540M is a wonderful CPU that is the right balance for processing horsepower and power-consumption. Yesterday I was running two (VirtualBox) Windows XP guests, one Ubuntu guest and an OSX guest atop the Windows7 host ... simultaneously while working on some code in Visual studio on the host! Unless you work at CERN, you're unlikely to push the Z Series' CPU to it's limits and if you do, there's a core i7 option should you want it :)

SSD Goodness

What really surprised me is that the Vaio Z Series comes with 256GB of SSD space! In fact, it comes with two 128GB SSD’s in RAID0. Why this odd combination?

SSD vendors primarily improve performance by increasing the number of chips they can write to in parallel. Sony have taken the pragmatic and effective approach of installing two SSD's which are striped together into a single volume. This means that all reads and writes are performed in parallel and thus you get a noticeable performance boost vs. writing to a single SSD since each SSD is only having to write half the data they otherwise would!

The result? Blindingly fast disk performance. I mean REALLY quick! Windows boots in around 20s! Applications like Visual Studio that usually takes around 30s to start on my desktop with spinning disks takes less than 4s to start on my Z Series!!! Word, Excel, etc. start almost instantly. Outlook runs like lightning. Even GIMP opens from cold in under 5s!!!

Don’t underestimate the value of saving a few seconds a few hundred times a day!

Keyboard and Screen

Design is one thing, but GREAT design is a hard thing to find.

TestShots 001The Keyboard on the Vaio Z Series is almost perfect! The chicklet keyboard is fabulous. This is my first laptop with a non-traditional keyboard and I am completely sold. They keys are perfectly sized and perfectly pitched.

Better still - the auto-dimming back-lit keyboard is a life-saver for anyone like me who prefers working in dark environments.

What about the screen? It is BEAUTIFUL!

What I love most about this screen is that it is semi-matte, not glossy! Did I mention that I *HATE* glossy screens  ;) The Z Series’ semi-matte screen is a tiny bit more reflective than a full-matte screen, but MUCH LESS reflective than your typical glossy screen. The up--side is that the screen image is just as clear as a glossy screen but is as easy to read as a matte screen - even outdoors!

Seriously - whoever made the decision to fit this screen - I owe you a beer!

I opted for the 1600x900 screen - I tried the higher-resolution 1920x1080 screen in the store but you’d need binoculars to use it. Yes, you could bump up the DPI settings, but then the UI often goes a little wonky in many apps which don't honor the DPI settings.

Battery life

I regularly manage to squeeze 5 hours out of a single charge. This isn't some made-up benchmark - this is actual real continual use - Outlook, browsing, watching a few videos, writing & debugging code and websites, photo and image processing. If I was to work a little less intensively I think I could get 6-7 hours out of a single charge!

What would I change?

First and foremost, Sony needs to fix the firmware and enable TPM. Without TPM, Bitlocker etc., are impractical. This is a big deal - ask anyone who's ever had a laptop stolen! PLEASE FIX THIS SONY!

 

 

Honestly, other than that, I had to rack my brains to come up with constructive suggestions:

      
  1. Have an option to replace the DVD drive with a battery instead! I almost never need a DVD drive these days, but could always do with more battery life
  2. Move num-lock and prt-scr keys to buttons above normal keys, make insert = fn+delete. Then add two dedicated keys for page up and down
  3. USB3
  4. At the Z Series’ price point, these machines should come with 8GB as standard

Conclusion

All-in-all, for a machine this beautiful, light, thin and portable, one would never expect so much performance and horsepower. They keyboard and the screen are a DELIGHT and the "real--life" battery life is impressive.

Well done Sony - you've finally won-back a customer! Keep it up!


Categories: Devices & Gadgets
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Can’t buy Azure services using IE9

imageToday’s facepalm, brought to you by Microsoft:

We all know that supporting future technologies can be costly in terms of time and resources. Why spend the money, time and energy modifying your application, site, etc. to support every new whizz-bang OS, app, platform or browser – I mean, it’s not as if THAT many people adopt this cutting-edge technology, right?

Imagine that you run one of the world’s largest computer software companies that creates and sells the world’s leading operating system, world’s leading browser and that you also offered some pretty cutting-edge services that you offer to customers to buy online using your own browser, amongst others.

Now imagine that your company was spending HUGE amounts of time, energy and money to built a next-generation browser that is likely to not only stem your browser's increasingly rapid decline in browser share, but actually reversed it AND set the pace that the rest of the browser vendors now have to follow. That’d be pretty good news, right?

Because this is such a big deal to your company, you’ve just launched Beta1 of said browser after a well-executed tech preview program. These efforts combined have generated ENORMOUS interest from almost everyone in the web development community. So much so in fact, that your browser has been downloaded 6 million times in two weeks – that’s more than the number of iPads that Apple sold in an it’s entire first quarter since launch, and your browsr isn’t even done yet!!

Someone in your company has earned his/her bonus this year Winking smile

However, someone else shouldn’t be getting a bonus this year!

Who do you suppose is the primary customer for your whizzy new cloud services platform? Web developers, right? Yep. Absolutely. Those same web developers who are flocking to download the beta of your spanky new browser. So imagine what it looks like when those developers turn up to purchase a new account only to find that they cannot do so using your new browser because they see an error like this:

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Embarrassed? YOU SHOULD BE!

And your embarrassment should be amplified 100-fold when you come to learn that said customers have to use a browser from one of your major competitors who are seeking to put you out of business in order to buy your cloud services.

What would you do to the (ir)responsible party who tarnished your company’s hard work and effort by being so unprofessional and ineffective? Suggest appropriate actions in feedback comments below!


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Internet Explorer 9 Beta1– Download Now!

Internet Explorer 9 Beta1 has just been released for download

To summarize: WOW!

Performance & standards

IE9 is quick. Not just a bit quicker than IE7/8. I mean “Holy cow, Batman, you just shredded the tires on the Batmobile” quick. It is as quick as IE7 is not.

I’ve been testing the tech previews of the new IE9 rendering and Javascript engines for a while now and have been much impressed with the sheer raw speed, quality, stability and power.

IE7 and IE8 were both good releases that focused on users’ safety and security, stability, but they only made minor improvements to IE’s performance and standards compliance. And all the while, Firefox, Chrome and Safari continued to make rapid progress in making their browsers markedly faster and more standards compliant.

However, it looks like with Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft might not just have caught up with the competition, but it might actually leapfrog them!

I’ve been testing the tech previews of the new IE9 rendering and Javascript engines for a while now. I have been mightily impressed with how jaw-droppingly quick IE9’s rendering is. But perhaps even more important is IE9’s enormous improvements in standards compliance. Make no mistake – not only is IE9 now blindingly fast, but it is now a leader in support of web standards.

But a tech preview of the rendering & script execution capabilities of a new browser are only part of the story: The browser’s user interface and features are just as important.

As Ed Bott said – I’ll leave it to others with the time and tools to generate the inevitable perf comparisons, but I can honestly state that IE9’s performance surprised me - in my testing, IE9 is easily as fast as Chrome and markedly faster than Chrome, Firefox or Safari on graphically-intensive sites.

Less is more - the new IE9 User Experience

Let’s face it, IE has been looking a little tired and dated ever since Google out-Apple’d Apple and released Chrome with its minimalistic … well … “chrome”. Out went the toolbars, search boxes and UI gadgets and in came the single combined address & search box:

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Here’s IE9: You have to squint to see the difference between Google (above) and IE9 (below)!

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I love the fact that Microsoft appear to be following Google’s lead and reducing the IE shell to the minimum “chrome” necessary for most users. Many of IE’s traditional features are still there if you want to turn them on, but Microsoft is opting for simplicity and cleanliness by default.

Features

IE9 is also littered with a number of important features that I encourage you to explore:

Tear-off Tabs

Navigate to a page. Any page. Now open another page in a different tab. Now open a new tab, go to YouTube and play a video. Decide that you want to watch the video while you’re reading one of your other pages.

Now click the YouTube tab and drag it off to a different portion of your screen (or different screen if you have more than one monitor). Notice that your page drags smoothly, the video continues uninterrupted and doesn’t miss a beat.

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Zoom

It still amazes me how few people know how to do this: Open a page. Any page. Now press and hold your CTRL key while you scroll your mouse wheel backwards and forwards. Notice that your page zooms smoothly in and out, all elements remain where they should be. All text renders properly …

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… even when you zoom all the way in:

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Look at how clean that text is even zoomed in THAT far!

Aside: Hey, Amazon, you DO know that you don’t need to use bitmaps for your headings, right? I mean, the <hn> tags are there for a reason, render more cleanly and require less bandwidth for you and your customers. Just sayin’ Winking smile

Internet Explorer 8 introduced full-page zoom, but it didn’t work as well as this, many controls didn’t render properly when you zoomed in, etc. It’s flawless in IE9 Smile

Site Pinning

Storing and managing browser Favorites can be a real pain. Over time you just end up collecting a huge catalog of links which, if you’re anything like me, you often forget about and rarely use. I tend to use a small number of sites very frequently. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pin your favorite sites to your Task Bar? Now you can:

Open a page. Click and drag the page’s icon in the left of the address bar …

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… and drop it into your taskbar:

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Now your pinned website will appear in its own icon on your taskbar …

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… and IE9 will reopen your new pinned web page in its own IE9 browser window color coded to the primary color of your pinned site’s icon – red in this case:

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If you’re a site owner, you can add metadata to your site that IE9 uses to not only name your site and its hover-over tooltip, but also provides you a way to specify any number of site-specific “tasks” that appear as shortcuts in your pinned site’s context window (right click on your pinned site):

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Further Reading

If you’d like to delve further, I can recommend reading the following:

User Experiences: Site-Centric Browsing on Windows

IE9’s Page Content Hardware Acceleration

Putting sites at the center of the browsing experience

For some great in-depth reviews of IE9, go see what Ed Bott @ ZDNet, Joanna Stern @ Engadget and Paul Thurrott have to say about IE9 Beta1.

This is only Beta1. Can’t wait to see how

Post Feedback

Post feedback on what you think of IE9 so far. Do you like it? Do you think MS have simplified IE9 too much? Is IE9 fast enough for you? If not – where is IE9 too slow?


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