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.
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The CIOs agenda and memberships

Being a CIO is quite a lonely existence. When a CIO starts his/her new role, they are expected to provide an organisation with an IT vision and then have to work towards that vision. The CIO then becomes a salesman and proceeds to sell that vision to his/her own teams, at board level in an easy jargon free language but also to all the internal and external stakeholders of an organisation as well. As he/she drives the team towards that vision, he/she also has to ensure that systems are stable, reliable and maintainable to support business activities with minimal downtime. In addition, he/she has to be aware and ready for emergency situations with disaster recovery/business continuity plans. It is no wonder then that the CIO, as the ultimate IT authority within an organisation can feel isolated and alone at times.

Well, that was the legacy that we all inherited. In 2004, a group of CIOs got together and discussed whether it would be possible to have tools and resources at a CIO’s disposal that could remove this isolation and add real value for not only the CIO but for the organisation as well.

So, how did I get involved and where is the CIO Executive Council (Council hereon) heading? Well, I got involved quite accidentally, to be truthful having, bumped (cyber equivalent of) into a senior executive on a social media site. Once I saw the potential of the membership and knew how helpful the membership was for CIOs, I felt proud and privileged to assist and further the profession by welcoming CIOs within the UK to become active members.

To the CIO, there are many memberships available but there is currently no membership available that is by CIOs, for CIOs. The uniqueness of the CIO Executive Council is that it is comprised of hundreds of leading CIOs globally, who together form a reality-tested peer advisory resource. There are no vendors, consultants, analysts, or hidden agendas, just IT leaders. The common denominator is that they are all committed to helping members save time and money, avoid mistakes and make better leadership decisions.

CIOs don’t have to walk alone anymore as the Council, at the request of a member will instigate and establish a match, with, for example a CIO with “been there” experience to help mitigate risk and share a treasure trove of knowledge and insight. Humans are unique as we like to share the knowledge and experience that we have gained, for the wider good and it is indeed this quality that has allowed mankind to conquer water with dams and to reach for the stars. The CIO Executive Council recognises this and allows CIOs to learn and share knowledge directly with each other to remove the necessity of “reinventing the wheel”. This knowledge sharing is continued by providing members the opportunity to speak at global events and sourcing authoring, if they wish, in CIO magazine. Mojgan LeFebvre, CIO of Biomerieux said, “There’s nothing more reassuring than picking up the phone and calling another CIO who has faced the same challenges and the right solution. The readiness of peers to share their experiences and knowledge is incredibly valuable – more so given the global reach of the Council and access to peers all over the world.”

The Council’s Future-State CIO program was developed by a group of thought leaders from many global companies and the goal was to define the future of the CIO role and then to offer a path forward based on essential executive leadership competencies.

In the past, CIOs have spent the majority of their time managing their time for operational excellence.

Today, most CIOs are expanding their focus to include partnering with business on business transformation.

The future state CIO will spend the majority of his/her time driving business strategy and innovation for competitive advantage.

Finally, I want to take some time to discuss the IT Value Matrix. This was created by dozens of Council members joining forces on a schematic that would highlight the key characteristics and activities that optimise the value of IT to the enterprise. CIOs have used this to influence business stakeholders and explain to their staff how to focus and organise the IT function. I could list other benefits and value for the CIO, such as content/research/whitepapers, suffice to say, the CIO Executive Council membership is as valuable to the CIO, as tools are to a workman.

In summary and to finish with a quote, the CIO Executive Council works for the CIO, as it is by the CIO, for the CIO and the “secret sauce” of the Council is the extensive encrypted database of members’ needs, interests, goals and expertise. David Wright, CIO Europe, Capital One PLC said,” Council resources and peer discussions help us refine our strategies and develop key leaders.

Now, that is a powerful concoction!

I welcome UK CIOs to attend the CIO Executive Council’s next European Regional Meeting, 2 Dec 2009, in London.

Please click here to register your interest to attend (CIOs only, please)  or contact me directly, as below.

For further information and to become a member, please contact me via:

Email: ahmed@itfindit.com

Mobile: 07771 776752

Next week, I’ll be discussing either Microsoft’s Courier dual screen booklet OR How can an organisation leverage IT to create competitive advantage?

Yep, I haven’t actually decided, yet, who knows something else may catch my attention and I may decide to write about something completely different. Why not, after all, it is my blog!

David vs Goliath clash on web communication technologies

The Internet continues to expand, evolve and develop. Born as a technology out of a military requirement, Arpanet, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet has meant that mankind has developed all kinds of uses for this communication medium. I sometimes think what would happen, if one day we woke up and found that the Internet was gone. The Internet has managed to permeate and touch our lives unlike no other technology. We are increasingly becoming more and more reliant on it to satisfy our insatiable urge for knowledge and entertainment. We can now, even watch our favourite television programmes across the Internet and stream our favourite programmes across continents ourselves using technologies, such as the Slingbox.

For this blog, as with most of my articles, I won’t reinvent the wheel, and as always will use existing web related resources, wherever, possible. In today’s blog, I am aiming to:

  1. De-mystify web conferencing, webinars, teleconferencing and video conferencing.
  2. Provide a list of web conferencing/webinar solutions/teleconferencing/video conferencing for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger businesses.
  3. Provide further resources/reviews for informed decision making.
  4. Explain the difference between web conferencing/webinars and teleconferencing.
  5. Explain the benefits and features of online meeting software.

One of the problems that bloggers like me and indeed the general public/businesses are facing these days is the old adage, big fish, eat small fish. The IT solution arena, faced with global competition and diminishing returns, a desire by the big players to have monopolies etc has led to the IT market undergoing significant reshuffle and consolidation. This has led to a great deal of confusion on who owns who, especially if you are not actively following the IT industry. For the uninitiated and for the benefit of everyone, the Internet infrastructure is already largely managed by Cisco routers. To provide Cisco with competition in this arena and to strengthen its other networking products, last week HP purchased 3Com.

Let’s stick with the theme in the previous paragraph. Within the web conferencing, webinar, teleconferencing and video conferencing solutions, the demarcation of what now signifies a particular solution is becoming blurred as they all seem to be morphing together, so in the not too distant future, what this morphed technology will become and be called, is open to speculation. This thought is further strengthened by the acquisition of WebEx by Cisco in 2007 and the recent offer in October, this year, of video conferencing solution provider, Tandberg ( UPDATE – This offer, incidentally, has been upped again in November). Within the video conferencing arena, telepresence, has been touted as the next killer application, although while gaining some ground within larger corporates, it hasn’t really taken off. That may change with Polycom’s new telepresence solution. Polycom has created a clever alliance with Microsoft by licensing its technology, thereby protecting its position. As Tandberg bites the dust, in this David vs Goliath battle, so far the Goliath’s seem to have the upper hand as these solutions move into the lucrative world of Smartphones.

Best solutions for SMEs

Dimdim (Recently acquired by Salesforce – 2011) is free for up to twenty users as a hosted solution and free for upto 50 users if a business hosts it on its own servers. I was quite impressed with their clever use of YouTube for their tutorial videos. One site that I visited levied some criticism of its features and I was quite pleasantly surprised to view the first comment submitted was by one of their employees informing the reviewer that his criticism had been submitted to the developers for further investigation. I predict that Dimdim is the web conferencing platform to watch for and should very soon be giving the big players a run for their money.

Yugma is my next free solution and is free for up to 20 people as well. Again, Dimdim and Yugma are the rising stars of the web conferencing world and both offer Pro versions for businesses.

For teleconferencing, I haven’t been able to find many solutions (I admit, I was researching web conference solutions in more detail) but having used BT MeetMe in the past, I believe it is available cost effectively for SMEs. Skype, does allow for upto 25 users to have a teleconferencing call across the Internet FREE but be wary of the possible loss of quality on calls. Skype Video conferencing (requires a web camera) and is currently limited to a one to one session.

Best solutions for larger businesses

It is worth reading Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for web conferencing 2009 2011, prior to making any decisions as it is a great in depth report and to view a comparison of the top ten (In their view). For other reviews, please click on the following: Review 1, Review 2.

For larger businesses the names that are most recognised are (in no particular order), WebEx MeetMeNow, Microsoft’s Office Live Meeting, Citrix GoToMeeting, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, Fuze Meeting, Intercall, iLinc, MegaMeeting, Glance, WiredRed e/pop, Zoho Meeting, Elluminate Live, IBM Lotus Sametime, Unyte Meeting, PGi Netspoke webconferencing, and others.

‘Boring’ label shows industry is ignorant about GCSE ICT – A CW Readers response

Over the past few months, quite a lot has been said in Computing/IT magazines/forums and discussions on the state of affairs of the current GCSE in IT/ICT within the UK. That includes me as well, as I have referred to the state of IT education etc in previous blogs – Nurturing future IT Professionals and leaders and The future graduate and the IT and computing skills shortage. I was trying to catch up with my obligatory reading and had just reached page 14 of ComputerWeekly (CW 3-9 Nov 09) when I came across Ruth Nuttall’s letter. I found it was a breath of fresh air and an interesting read as it’s not often that we receive the views of teachers on this important subject. I could have just inserted a link to the page but in spite of my best efforts to find the article on CW’s site, I couldn’t locate it. So, I have actually done it the hard way as I just wanted all of you to read it, so I have actually sat down and re-typed Ruth’s entire letter. Reproduced thanks to ComputerWeekly and Ruth Nuttall, ICT teacher and computing co-ordinator Hazelwick School, West Sussex. Ruth said:

I read with increasing irritation the article “Boring IT GCSE must go”. I am a computing and ICT teacher at a school in West Sussex, and this article summarises all of the assumptions and lack of knowledge typified by journalists and certain types of business people. The headline itself displays a basic ignorance of ICT/ computing in education – there is no such qualification as a GCSE in IT.

We teach GCSE ICT and an equivalent course called OCR Nationals (ICT). In an educational context, the subject is called information and communication technology. There are many different qualifications at GCSE level that can be opted for, including the courses we offer, the DiDA course, BTECs etc. I am not disputing that the subject of ICT has suffered in recent years – in the past it has been taught by non specialist teachers, as it was not possible to train as an ICT teacher until relatively recently. This use of non specialist teachers is one of the main reasons that the subject has come to be seen in some schools as boring and out of date.

In my department, most ICT teachers did a degree in an ICT or computer science field, or have worked in the IT industry and trained as ICT specialist teachers. We are constantly updating what and how we teach to engage and inspire the children who do an ICT GCSE at my school. Most GCSE syllabuses allow schools the flexibility to adapt the course to suit their needs – the GCSE course that we follow has four coursework projects, two are proscribed (spreadsheets and databases) but the other two are free choice, and could be on any topic from programming to web design to animation or game design.

However, due to the lack of subject specialists in some schools, often teachers choose to do topics such as word processing and desktop publishing as their free choice. This is what can lead to the idea that ICT is boring. It is not clear from your article what role E-Skills has in the development of future syllabuses. The GCSE ICT offerings from each of the major exam boards are already changing next year, and these specifications have been finalised and approved.

There is an IT diploma that is being developed and is in its first year of delivery – this is something that E-Skills has been heavily involved in. Is it possible that you have confused this with the GCSE ICT offerings? The diploma is aimed at 14- to 19-year-olds and can be taken at three levels, and so could be equivalent to GCSEs or A-levels. There is also a GCSE in computing being offered by the exam board OCR as a trial in September 2010. At this point it is worth noting that ICT and computing are related but very different subjects, somewhat like the difference between business studies and economics, or geography and geology. Not all ICT teachers have the academic background required to teach computing.

You seem to use the terms ICT, IT and computing interchangeably in your article, and to have confused all of these different types of qualifications. The final comment in your article from British Airways CIO Paul Coby is deeply offensive to me and my fellow teachers – “GCSE IT teaching is appalling and out of date”. How precisely does he know this? How many schools has he been in and seen what is being taught? Or is this based on anecdotes and preformed opinions?

We work hard at school to motivate and inspire pupils, and we have a large and successful ICT department that offers a variety of ICT or computing courses. We may be the exception that proves the rule, but to dismiss all teachers and a whole subject area out of hand and without a voice from teachers is foolish and lazy.