‘You’ The Brand and ‘Social Media.’

Social Media Iceberg

Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

James D. Miles (1830 – 1914) Steamboat Captain in the Northwest

Some of you may remember, the television shows of the 80’s where TV series/serials, used to start with, ‘Previously on xyx.’I felt a bit nostalgic today, so I will start the same way. Previously on my blog, I have written about Social Media (SM) in various contexts. I wrote about the effect of SM on a friend’s daughter – The ugly side of social media, the conundrum facing CIOs – The Social Networking dilemma and the CIO, a quick primer on SM – Social Media Primer – Succeed by using LinkedIn and blogs, Toyota and its failure to use SM – How Toyota became the werewolf and the three step process to embrace SM: Organisations “Don’t get” social media (UPDATED, RECOMMENDED READING FOR THIS POST, with ALL NEW SM monitoring tools for both personal and business use). It is becoming evident though that some organisations have become adept at SM, as witnessed by Ford’s recent Ford Explorer, campaign. “We couldn’t think of launching a vehicle today without launching it early using social media,”Jim Farley, Ford’s Vice President for Global Marketing – Courtesy of Social Media Explorer.

Senior management need to understand the business and how IT can be utilised to provide competitive advantage – Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? The problem these days is that many CEOs start working at new employer’s without taking the time and effort to understand and appreciate the business and its culture. Without understanding fully, their business, there is no way for them to realise the potential within their existing or future procured IT systems. In addition, many businesses still have their IT chief’s reporting to CFOs. Without board level representation, IT cannot deliver any benefits to the bottom line. Within that context, Terry Leahy fully understood the impact of IT and allowed his CIO, Philip Clarke to analyse and innovate. In effect, Philip Clarke, successfully created, ‘Philip Clarke, the brand.’ Can anyone create a successful brand, using the Internet and Social Media? The answer has to be a resounding ‘Yes’. I will now outline the steps. The secret to leveraging the success of SM is to integrate, disseminate and monitor SM (automate as much of this as possible, especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints).

Integration: If you are thinking of setting up a new business or personal brand, Google Apps could be the ideal platform for you. I covered this previously, Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality. Google Apps Premiere edition was recently named as  Google Apps for Business and now incorporates all the FREE apps that used to be available to personal Google/GMAIL account holders, such as my favourites, Google URL shortener and Alerts. Regardless, of whether you are a small business or corporate, the website needs to provide analytics to ascertain demographic analysis, page views, referrals (Which sites are referring your site) and statistics and words used for searches conducted, using tools such as Google Analytics. The website also needs a blog feature (Or if you are building your personal brand, enable a personal blog using WordPress/Blogger (Free)). The blog needs to auto connect with SM to deliver posts (Such as, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, MSN and YouTube) automatically.

Dissemination: A decision has to be made on which SM will be most effective in disseminating information (News/blogposts/articles) to your target audience. For example, with the launch of the Ford Explorer, Ford decided to use Facebook.  Appropriate profiles for various SM (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc) need to be created. There is plenty of information available on the Internet, to help in creating these profiles but the rule of thumb is that all of your SM profiles, need to be as similar to each other as possible, across all SM. Again, automate as much of this as possible, (especially if you are building your personal brand – due to time constraints)

Monitor: Once SM has been integrated and dissemination profiles/channels are completed start monitor ing‘key people and blogs and setup appropriate RSS feeds’ for content/people that your business needs ‘to follow’ in order to keep abreast of trends in your field. Monitoring also needs to be setup for adverse comments, as the case with Toyota (See above) highlights. As SmartPhones are prevalent now, appropriate phone apps need to be setup to provide the ability to monitor, regardless of location.

Finally, I wanted to leave you with some Twitter cheat sheets that also include other SM tools etc as well (Courtesy of the following):

Geneabloggers.com-Twitter-Cheat-Sheet

@gminks of Adventures in Corporate Education’s Cheat sheet

The Social Media guide.com’s Cheat sheet

The public you.com and Rich Sauser’s Cheat sheet

Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

Image via Wikipedia

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Babe Ruth (1895 – 1948)

The quote above is apt when you are up against a person but what happens when you encounter organisations that are trying to outdo each other? 2010 was certainly interesting in that respect. Hunter Richard’s blog post on Microsoft (MS) is “All In” for the Cloud, but What About Dynamics? outlined Microsoft’s dilemma that is not limited to just MS Dynamics.

Microsoft is still trying its best to innovate as its key visionaries, such as Ray Ozzie (View Ray Ozzies’s – Dawn of a new day OR BBC’s summary) were falling by the wayside. At face value, it could be argued that MS is reinventing itself, as it has done so quite successfully in the past (WordPerfect vs. MS Word, Netscape vs. Explorer,……list continues),  but this time around, there is a caveat. Is MS actually listening to its own visionaries and customers?

MS knows that history is repeating itself once again as it has done so many times before and MS is trying its best to change and adapt, as it knows very well that if it doesn’t, it could wither away and die, just as it had slain Netscape and WordPerfect in the past. The secret to Apple’s and Google’s success is that they listen to us, the customer. They are finely attuned to what, we, the consumer want and need, just as my previous blog post Leveraging IT for competitive advantage, has alluded to. Secondly, this battle is not just about the hardware and software anymore, as all three companies go after our hard earned cash. Even Apple overtook MS, in terms of revenue this year.

Microsoft is a giant in the software world and one of the penalties it is paying for its enormous success is that:

1.        Its products are now so diverse that only IT experts can make any sense of them. Need convincing. Ask any non IT personnel to visit any Microsoft site and ask them to explain a particular Microsoft site’s products and what they can actually do for them.

2.        Sheer confusion. As a business owner, for my Microsoft IT system, where do I start? Microsoft Licensing and its payment model – Again, this is an open challenge to Microsoft. How many Microsoft employees can explain Microsoft licensing without referring to a price model manual? The correct answer should be at least half its workforce. Why? You cannot sell what you don’t understand (Microsoft have actually done remarkably well then!). Ah, would an employee be able to explain it all in a pub, though?

3. Microsoft’s entire business model is built on desktop/laptop client installation and as long as it has enough businesses that utilise that legacy because they have no other option, for the short term, it faces no financial problem. Office365 is a step in the right direction but unlike Google, MS products were never designed to ‘run in the cloud’ whereas as Rajen Sheth, Google’s senior product manager for Google Apps said, “It will be tough to build up the cloud expertise that’s been built into Google’s DNA since day one.”

So, where does that leave Google, Microsoft and Apple? They should all acknowledge their key strengths, concentrate and focus on those and licence each other’s products. That can be hard to acknowledge by ‘massive’ organisations such as these three but the reality is that sometimes other organisations just do it better than you can.

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. Novell was the King of network software, had the opportunity to licence its NDS to MS for its Active Directory, failed to strike an agreement and MS ended up killing its business because they could do it better. So, in hindsight, an effective licensing agreement by Novell would have been better. Then, we have Apple. MS Office is one of the best sold software for its desktop/laptop equivalent and Apple decided years ago that it would not concentrate its efforts on a ‘war’ to decide who could create a better office type software suite. Google became the king of search and MS decided to ‘take it on.’

I would argue that all of these companies need to innovate more. Apple and Google innovate, quite successfully. I would argue though that as innovation is stifled at MS, MS have not released a single innovative product in 201o. MS did finally catch up with Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) with a WM7 marketplace though! We even saw new releases of old software, such as Windows Mobile 7 and for those who want to argue and labour the point, did anyone release anything groundbreaking as Apple’s iPhone equivalent in 2007 or the iPad this year?

Oh and let’s not forget, Office365 still has no marketplace equivalent!

For more:

What is Cloud Computing? Its Pros/Cons and making it work

Microsoft announces Office 365 beta: test new cloud-based Office one year before its launch

Office 365 Beta: a first look

Steve Ballmer speech at UW: “We’re all in” for cloud computing

Microsoft Straightens Out Cloud Strategy — Finally

The 7 sins of Windows Phone 7

Apple iOS vs. Google Android

Top Tech Company of 2010: Apple

Will Google Apps survive Office 365?

The road to Office 365: The future

Office365 vs Google Apps

A guide to Office 365 versions and pricing

Windows Marketplace

Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) management style and CIOs

Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Choosing technology over customers

Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality.

Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour

Steve Job’s (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs

Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning

Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

Microsoft and Apple Tablets, pens and swords

The wonderful world of FREE Windows 7 applications

Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

The future is bright but is it mobile?

Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10

Image via Wikipedia

“Wisdom knows what to do next, skill knows how to do it, and virtue is doing it.”

David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) Eugenicist, Ichthyologist and peace activist

Forgive me for the long winded and confusing title. Well, it was deliberate, as I wanted to create a title that reflected the confusion that most people face when they purchase a phone. Well, we don’t purchase phones anymore, do we really? We are sold features that most of us never use by the clever marketing departments of both the phone manufacturers’ and the mobile operators.

Additionally, most of you out there by now must be totally confused by all the different mobile phones (Hardware) and their operating systems (OS) (Software). Now, before I go into my short story of selecting an appropriate mobile (or is it a Smartphone now?).  I would like to explain, in layman’s terms, for the uninitiated, what the hell, I am on about.

Well, in a galaxy, many lights year away from our humble abode and before Star Trek hit our screens, we, as earthlings, were managing quite well, with, err, telephones. Yes, that’s right, that piece of plastic that is still sat in the corner of some homes and occasionally goes, tring, tring or is it bing, bing (maybe Microsoft have bought the rights for the old plastic phones now aswell).

Anyway, these evolved into phones that we could carry around and then started to be called ‘mobile telephones’ or ‘mobiles’ (Americans had to be awkward and called them ‘cellular phones’ or ‘cells’). Currently, though, we don’t use them for phones anymore. They have become ubiquitous with carrying a ‘pocket computer.’ Now, there are five OS’s these ‘Smartphones’ use.

Symbian – Used by various manufacturers,  based on ‘open source’ software and founded by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, Motorola, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics and AT&T

Android – Used by many manufaturers’ and is Google’s attempt at creating a mobile phone OS, based on ‘open source’ software.

Iphone OS Used by Apple Iphones, based on Apple’s proprietary OS.

Palm WebOS – Palm, based on Palm’s proprietary OS, was recently acquired by HP and they have been busy creating the Palm WebOS.

Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft’s proprietary OS and the re-incarnation of Windows Mobile, used by various manufacturers’

Blackberry OS6 – Used by Research In Motion (RIM) on all their proprietary Blackberry phones with their latest OS6 platform and new        Blackberry Torch models and others.

So, you can already see the direction that my blogpost is heading towards now. You can select many smartphones (hardware) but they can arrive with many different mobile OS’s (Software).

Selecting the phone, was quite an easy decision for me, as all I had to do was find the phone that could, ‘beam me up, scotty.’ Naturally, I was disappointed when I found out that in this technological era and with all that competition between hardware/software providers, my key criteria of being teleportated across galaxies couldn’t be met.

As I still needed a Smartphone and my provider could supply all of the above, a decision had to be made. I was already a customer approaching the end of my 18 month contract. I didn’t really want Symbian, as in the past whenever I have tried ‘syncronising‘ my Outlook, contacts etc, using Symbian, it has always, quite successfully deleted or amended my most important information and subsequent ‘syncs’ were painful.

Okay, I will admit that I did want to buy the IPhone but I just couldn’t see the logic of contributing a sum of money towards it and paying approx £20 more per month, just for the privilege of owning a proprietary phone. Especially, as other phones can do the same now and more. Yes, I know, there are 300, 000 applications out there for the Iphone. However, I don’t think, I need that many and I will probably be dead by the time I went through the entire list, anyway.

That leaves the Palm WebOS, Windows Phone 7 and RIM phones. No one in my circle of friends, so far has mentioned HP’s re-incarnation of Palm, however, I will admit that many years ago, I was absolutely fascinated by the Palm devices and my past fascination in today’s fast paced technological world, just wasn’t enough to even justify it. As you can see, my selection criterion wasn’t very logical, but, hey, it’s my life and my choice, so I can select according to whatever criteria, I see fit.

Now, then, finally, we have Windows Phone 7 and RIM’s blackberry. Windows 7 wasn’t launched when I bought my handset in early October as the release date for Windows Mobile 7 was 21st October 2010. That said, Microsoft is renown for ‘bugs’ in its early days, so probably best to buy Windows 7 phones, after at least a year, anyway.

Even though, I still think, Blackberry are the best phones for email, I wanted more than just email, so Blackberry was also eliminated.

Yep, as you can guess by now, I settled on the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 phone powered by Google’s Android OS. An additional reason for my selection was that Google now powers my personal (Via igoogle, web browsing history etc) and business life (IT system), so it made sense.   I won’t launch a review of the X10, suffice to say that I am happy with it, so far and it takes nice photos.

For more information, please read:
Android Beats Apple–In One Small Corner of the Mobile Ad Market
Apple Has $51 Billion and a Shopping List. Is Facebook on It?
Jobs on Android: The Fight Isn’t Closed Vs. Open, but Integrated Vs. Fragmented
Get smart: What makes a clever phone?
Comparison of Android vs iPhone vs Nokia vs BlackBerry vs Windows Mobile 7
iPhone vs Android vs webOs vs Blackberry vs Windows Mobile vs Symbian
Ultimate Mobile OS Showdown: iPhone vs Android vs webOs vs Blackberry vs Windows Mobile vs Symbian
Palm WebOS 2.0: Now This Is Multitasking
Enterprise Java: Oracle’s real reason for suing Google?

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Bill Gates selling windows

Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

“There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.”

Douglas MacArthur(1880 -1964) American General

Bill Gates (1955 – ) Microsoft Chairman and philanthropist

Today’s article is the fourth in a series of articles (1stSteve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, and 3rd was written on  Warren Buffet, analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

Gates has led Microsoft from start-up to‘software giant’ with quite an unorthodox style of management. On Microsoft’s website, he measures Microsoft’s success as, “We’ve really achieved the ideal of what I wanted Microsoft to become.”

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Gate’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Create and nurture ‘the correct culture.’ – ‘John Battelle co-founded Wired Magazine. He says Microsoft was the pioneer of the new-agey workplace, making work as comfortable, inspiring and fun as possible so workers would spend lots of time there.

John Battelle: And as a matter of fact, at Wired we adopted that stuff. We had a chef and a masseuse, all sorts of services, because we wanted our employees to stick around. I believe Microsoft gets a lot of credit for that.

Bill Gates didn’t even finish college, but the office culture he created at Microsoft is now being taught at the country’s top business schools.’ – Courtesy of Marketplace

2. Develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It. – From the beginning, he dreamed of developing Microsoft into a corporate giant. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

3. Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees. – CIOs usually have exposure to many different environments and come across many employees. Some will be better than others, while some will be outstanding. Gates has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’

Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and you personally know whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

4. Relax and feel at home - According to Matt Richey, ‘Microsoft has a simple way of maximizing its employees’ productivity: It allows each individual’s office to be as individualized as one desires.

That means making the office more like home. Everything from real offices (not cubicles) to windows in most offices, from free soft drinks to no dress code, from an open supply room to anything-goes work hours. Quite simply, these policies improve employee morale, and thus increase overall productivity.’

5. ‘Image’ is everything. – Gates has successfully changed his image over the years from a geek to corporate leader and philanthropist.

CIOs need to change their image from just being technology leader to leaders who understand business and can apply their strategic IT and business skills to the wider business.

6. Successful innovation and success in general may be built on failure: Yep, Gate’s has constantly had Microsoft innovating along. Currently though, as many large IT businesses employ smarter and smarter employees, time will judge who can innovate the most and bring to market technologies that have ‘stickiness.’

The question these companies have to ask themselves is that can employing ‘smarter’ employees stop the next Google , or Microsoft from raising its head?

For those who have been following my blog, I mentioned this ‘war’ state in Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality , Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour & Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Microsoft has proved that failure can lead to success and continues to innovate by investing in many technologies. Some will inevitably fail while others maybe huge successes. Many businesses lack of innovation is due to their fear of failures.

7. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – Gate’s, is known for his sharp cross examination of employees who present new ideas, innovations etc.

He analyses information quite quickly and gets to the bottom of the matter at a rapid pace. Employees have criticised this approach and associated quick, sharp, snappy analysis that at times is uncomfortable (in employee’s views). These qualities of Gate’s have enabled Microsoft to dominate personal computers (PCs). CIOs need to understand employee perspectives and ‘effectively quiz’ their teams on solutions being proposed.

8. Ruthlessly protect your ‘budget.’ – According to Matt Richey, ‘Even with its billions upon billions in cash, Microsoft is as frugal as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a company that buys canned weenies for food, not shrimp. Until last year (1999), even Bill Gates and his second-in-command Steve Ballmer flew coach. (For scheduling reasons, the company purchased its first corporate jet.)

Bucking the trend of most large, wealthy corporations, Microsoft remains in start-up mode where tight budgets are the rule. When you sit back and think about it, this frugality is less surprising and even explain how a company can come to accumulate such great hoards of cash.’

9. ‘Stop’ the ‘mad bureaucracy’ - I have mentioned this before in a post (can’t think of which one though) and it gets reiterated again by Microsoft. As Matt said, ‘The plague of most big companies is bureaucracy and stupid rules. Thielen gives the example of an un-named high-tech company that sent a four-page memo to all of its employees on proper security badge procedure, including infinitesimal details on how and where to wear the badge.

To that, Thielen states, “Does Microsoft manage to avoid this type of inane garbage? By and large, yes.” Unlike most companies, Microsoft actually assumes its employees are smart. Rules at Microsoft are few and far between, and the ones that exist tend to make sense. Having only a few important, logical rules means that employees actually remember and follow them.

Some Sources of Information and further reading:

How to be the next Bill Gates

Former MS employee recalls Bill Gates’ management style

The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management

Fiedler Model and Level 4 leadership

Microsoft and Apple Tablets, pens and swords

It doesn’t really matter whether I take a look at Microsoft’s (MS) Courier dual screen booklet/tablet or Apple’s itablet; I quickly arrive at the same conclusion. I will explain as I go through this article. Obviously, an official statement has not been made by either camp and nor have the names for both products been released as yet.

It was in 2001 when I enthusiastically unwrapped my Windows tablet complete with stylus. I was enthused as I had imagined my world to be free of paper and totally digital. The price I paid for the tablet was probably equivalent to 2500 paper notebooks but I didn’t really care as I was too tunnel visioned by the allure of the future promised by this technology and the MS marketing hype.

I spent some time mastering the stylus functionality and went to my first board meeting. This was the first time I felt a misfit. It suddenly dawned on me that I was the only one in the room with a tablet. The meeting started while I was being scanned by all these eyes that seemed to be under a trance by the tablet. It was just great, I was writing notes and didn’t have to retype them either as the handwriting to type function would quickly create a document for me when I needed it. Then it happened. The tablet crashed. The meeting continued and as I started taking notes on my paper notebook, I realised the trance had been broken, replaced by bewilderment. The tablet rebooted but it was too late, I decided to continue to write on paper.

Well, why am I sharing this with you? I am not at all convinced that these new technologies will be as successful as the iphone or can convince people to part with our love for writing on paper. That said, I would love to be proven wrong as there is a big part of me that wants to use a digital equivalent, if it is indeed practical enough.

Here is my list of reasons why I think these technologies can’t replace our love for paper and why the pen will remain mightier than the tablet and sword: 

  1. I don’t need to start the pen and paper.
  2. If I drop the pen/paper, it doesn’t break or stop working.
  3. Paper does not need to be rebooted.
  4. It is considerably cheaper.
  5. The next version of paper is always the same.
  6. The next version of paper does not require retraining.
  7. Nobody wants to steal my paper notebook.
  8. I know how to locate my information contained within my paper notebook.
  9. I don’t need to migrate my entries in the paper notebook to the next version.
  10. My paper notebook seems at home in any boardroom (for now, anyway).

I could probably go on but you get the picture.

Would you like to add to my list or defend the new technology? Feel free to add your comments; I do look forward to reading them.

The wonderful world of FREE Windows 7 applications.

I know I said last week that I would be covering Microsoft’s Courier dual screen booklet OR How an organisation can leverage IT to create competitive advantage and I promise that I will cover these in the near future. As you know, recently, I wrote a blog on Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7 and as I became aware of applications that are either free/considerably lower cost than their mainstream rivals, I decided to cover them now, rather than later. That way, readers can be equipped with the knowledge that there are more FREE/ Cost effective versions for usage with Windows 7.

The following software is usually free (utilises the GNU LGPL or equivalent licence) and/or open source. The distinction between free and open source software can sometimes be quite blurry and I would urge users, especially, organisations of any size to check the licensing terms for usage. Some software may seem free but many software applications can sometimes expect the users to pay a token amount for usage of the software (seems fair, after all they developed it). These applications will mostly be completely free for private users and for organisations will cost considerably less, if they aren’t free.

The first area that everyone, regardless of whether they are office users or private individuals, need to address once they have bought Windows 7 are applications that they rely on to do their everyday job:

Desktop applications:

  1. OpenOffice (Free GNU LGPL Licence). This is a free equivalent to Microsoft (MS) Office, offered by Oracle and offers word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It started life as StarOffice in 1999 and is quite a mature product now that allows documents to be saved in MS formats.
  2. Firefox web browsing, software is provided by Mozilla and again is an established provider with a mature product.
  3. An alternative to MS Outlook (email/contacts/calendar) is Mozilla’s colurful offering, Sunbird.
  4. There are a variety of free email offerings but I will recommend, GoogleMail.
  5. For free PDF readers, use Adobe or Foxit FREE Readers.
  6. For times when you need to reduce the size of documents and bundle them together, for example, for emailing, use   7-Zip (WinZip/WinRaR equivalent)
  7. CD burning can be accomplished by CDBurningXP .
  8. Home movie and photo slideshows can be created well with, DVD Flick .
  9. For equivalent to Google Earth/Maps and MS Bing maps platform, use Marble
  10. You can even store your documents online and retrieve them from anywhere in the world, courtesy of MS Skydrive

Desktop (Graphical) applications:

  1. At the top, I have to place GIMP (Photoshop/PaintShop Pro equivalent). No matter where I have gone on the Internet, the reviews for this application have always been outstanding, again, a mature product and one of the best.
  2. Vector graphics applications can be created with the assistance of, Inkscape.
  3. For 3D graphics, Blender is a good alternative to applications such as AutoCAD.
  4. For diagram creation use the tool, DIA (MS Visio equivalent).
  5. For multimedia player equivalents to Windows media/Real’s Real players use, SM Player or VLC Media players.

Computer Security:

Windows 7, just as Vista, provides free spyware in the form of Windows Defender and a pretty good firewall, Windows Firewall. Essentially, this means that your computer should be well protected. That just leaves the question of, which Anti Virus (AV) package should I install?

  1. I use Avast and I rate it as the best free AV package out there currently. I have tested this piece of wonderful AV software and it has always delivered. I even managed to rid a few computers of viruses that I couldn’t eradicate even with the established players and the free providers in general.
  2. AVG Free gets a lot of attention in the press but it failed my tests of getting rid of viruses, so I will still mention it as it gets pretty good reviews elsewhere.
  3. A new one that I have come across is Avira. It is relatively a newcomer but seems good for the job.
  4. Microsoft has also jumped on the free Anti Virus bandwagon, as part of its security essentials.

Communications:

  1. Free VOIP communications including teleconferencing is available via Skype .
  2. Chatting can be enabled via XChat and Pidgin (Allows to integrate the popular ones into it, such as MSN, Yahoo and others).
  3. Instant messaging, including twitter, is available by using AIM
  4. For web conferencing (see David vs. Goliath clash on web communications technologies), use Dimdim , Yugma or Ekiga .

Entertainment:

  1. If you wanted a way of listening (legally) to music without paying for it, head to Spotify. The only thing that you can’t do is to download it to your hard drive.
  2. For TV channel viewing, use the various channel players, such as, BBC , ITV , Channel4 , Five and Sky.
  3. Free encyclopaedia, if you don’t know already is available from Wikipedia.
  4. How about some free books?

Sources of information:

  1. Open source freebies for Windows 7 – ComputerWeekly, 17-23/11/09.
  2. Set yourself free – Which? Computing, November 2009.

Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

I was sat quietly rocking away the other day and started to think whether it would be a good idea to do a review on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (As benefits to organisations cannot be realised without a Windows Server 2008 backend infrastructure). As is always the case, any version of Windows attracts pundit reviews galore, so I am doing a different kind of review. A review that touches on the key features of Windows 7 and provides some links to Server 2008, for in depth coverage. As ever, Microsoft has never been good at reviewing its own products, as is evident from their website, top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7! Windows 7 is also the first operating system to offer native support for Multi Touch .

Home Users:

First things first. Home users will be happy to learn that the Windows versions have been simplified.  There are three versions for home users, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. For most home users, the premium version should suffice. For home users who need multiple installations, there will be a family pack that can be installed on upto three machines. To decide which version to go for, click here

Windows Vista came with quite a few applications; Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, Windows Media Center, and Windows Movie Maker. Windows 7 has scrapped bundling Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker and moved them into an add-on pack called Windows Live Essentials . The two major applications that arrive with Windows 7 out of the box are Windows Media Player, now at version 12, and Windows Media Center. To download Windows Live Essentials, click here. Paint, WordPad and calculator have new versions in Windows 7 but nothing that I consider worth roaring about.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for home users (arguably for organisational users as well) are:

  1. Better wallpapers, better user access control (UAC) that avoid annoying pop ups,
  2. Libraries are a welcome addition and allow one library to show the contents of several folders. For example, store your music in the Public Music folder, and those tunes automatically appear in every user account’s Music library.
  3. Device stage is a concept whereby all connected devices, such as Bluetooth, USB etc all appear within the devices and printers control panel. This removes the confusion experienced by earlier version of Windows where different devices appeared in different places within the control panel.
  4. HomeGroup, enables easier networking within the home and automatically finds other PCs/laptops on the same network. It was much needed as users with little IT experience always found hard to network their home PC’s together and as a result couldn’t share files and printers etc.
  5. Shortcut keys in Windows 7 are quite creative and are a sign that the Windows 7 team had opportunity to look at the minor details as well as the major overhaul and is quite welcome and useful. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse manoeuvring in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left arrow on the second window, and you’ve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.
  6. The new taskbar melds the old Quick Launch toolbar with the traditional taskbar, providing a single place to both launch applications and switch between them. Replacing the mix of small Quick Launch icons and large textual buttons, we have simply a row of large icons. Left clicking an icon either starts or switches to the app. If the application has a single window, clicking the icon switches directly; if it has multiple windows, clicking the icon presents a thumbnail view of each window, requiring a second click to switch to a specific window.
  7. Jump lists are special context menus shown on the taskbar and Start Menu icons that allow quick access to application-specific functionality.

Organisational Users (Mostly excerpted from Computing 21/10/09):

I have taken the following from Computing’s article as their version was quite succinct and easy to follow. For large organisations, Windows 7 Enterprise Edition adds several potentially significant new technologies, including AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache, federated search and Bitlocker To Go. However, pretty much all of these features require a server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 before they can be enabled. Windows Server 2008 also supports virtualisation.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for organisational users are:

  1. DirectAccess (One of my readers, Han Coumans, has explained DirectAccess very well – Click here) is a new way of accessing a corporate network, DirectAccess, avoids VPNs entirely DirectAccess uses globally routable IPv6 addresses and IPSec to provide direct, secure end-to-end connections between client and server. Unlike other VPNs, which require a kind of “dial-in”, DirectAccess connects automatically and transparently; in fact, even prior to logging in, DirectAccess authenticates the machine with the remote network, allowing system policies and software updates to be rolled out. It is disappointing though that Windows Mobiles cannot be controlled and continue to be managed by Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (MSCMDM 2008). Future DirectAccess technologies may incorporate MSCMDM as well. That would be welcomed by organisations as that would make a truly complete offering.
  2. AppLocker gives administrators the ability to apply a white list of applications that are allowed to run on client systems using Group Policy settings, while DirectAccess provides laptop users with the means to connect securely to the corporate network without needing a virtual private network, using an IPv6-over-IPsec encrypted connection.
  3. BranchCache is a new feature designed to offer better access to information for workers in a remote branch office. As the name suggests, it caches data transferred over the network, with cached data either held on a server or distributed among the client PCs at the site.
  4. Federated search (see sample screen above) extends the search capabilities seen in Vista to allow users to search not only their own computer, but to send out the search request to data repositories such as SharePoint and have the results merged with those from their own computer.
  5. Bitlocker To Go extends the Bitlocker encryption technology introduced in Windows Vista to support removable media such as USB Flash drives. Administrators can also set a policy that requires users to encrypt such media before they can be used.
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