Mar 13

Windows desktop apps through an iPad? You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!

I ran across a piece yesterday discussing one hospital’s lack of success with iPads and BYOD. My curiosity piqued, I examined the piece looking for where the project failed. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it seemed that it fell apart not on the iPad, and not with their legacy application, but in the symphony (or more realistically the cacaphony) of the two together. I can’t be certain that the hospital’s solution is using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or Remote Desktop (RD, formerly Terminal Services) to run a legacy Windows “desktop” application remotely, but it sure sounds like it.

I’ve mentioned before how I believe that trying to bring your legacy applications – applications designed for large displays, a keyboard, and a mouse, running on Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier – are doomed to fail in the touch-centric world of Windows 8 and Windows RT. iPads are no better. In fact, they’re worse. You have no option for a mouse on an iPad, and no vendor-provided keyboard solution (versus the Surface’s two keyboard options which are, take them or leave them, keyboards – complete with trackpads). Add in the licensing and technical complexity of using VDI, and you have a recipe for disappointment.

If you don’t have the time or the funds to redesign your Windows application, but VDI or RD make sense for you, use Windows clients, Surfaces, dumb terminals with keyboards or mice – even Chromebooks were suggested by a follower on Twitter. All possibly valid options. But don’t use an iPad. Putting an iPad (or a keyboardless Surface or other Windows or Android tablet) in between your users and a legacy Windows desktop application is a sure-fire recipe for user frustration and disappointment. Either build secure, small-screen, touch-savvy native or Web applications designed for the tasks your users need to complete, ready to run on tablets and smartphone, or stick with legacy Windows applications – don’t try to duct tape the two worlds together for the primary application environment you provide to your users, if all they have are touch tablets.

Feb 13

The machines are coming for your job. Big deal.

This blog post is in response to the TechCrunch piece entitled Get Ready To Lose Your Job.

For my entire life, my father was a physician (until he retired). He had to subscribe to medical journals and take courses to keep his skills up to snuff, but medicine, and his specialty, did not evolve to such a form that his career has been replaced. That said, his specialty (gastroenterology) now has some amazing tools at their disposal that can obviate the need for some procedures or tools. But the point is – he never had to shift jobs, only keep skills up to date.

I recently read the book Punching Out about a steel stamping plant in Detroit being spun down over a year’s time. While the book left a little bit to be desired (still, a good read), the events were what got me thinking. As the author works alongside him, here’s a story from a worker who had been a part of Ford’s assembly line for a long time but had been let go:

 “They built a new assembly line. One day, we went over for a tour of the new line, and they showed me a machine that was doing my job. The line that I was working on was built in 1942, and this was in 1979. They turned the lights out, and the machine was still doing the job. So I said to myself, ‘Now I gotta learn how to build machines.’”

Humans are toolmakers. We find tasks that need repeating, and we find ways to make those tasks more efficient, cheaper, faster, or all of the above. Cotton gins. Threshing machines (or modern day combine harvesters which replaced them). Assembly line. Steel mini-mills. Scripting languages… All of them exist to make repetitive tasks less tedious.

Often when new technology comes along that makes these tedious tasks less cumbersome, the technology is called “disruptive”. Regardless of how disruptive it may actually be in the long run to society overall, when a piece of technology can replace a worker or two… or three.. or more… it becomes a socially significant event. The Swing Riots in the early 1800’s are a good example of technology leading directly to social complications.

However, even technology isn’t permanent. Let me tell you a secret. NOTHING is permanent. Nothing. Technology is ever-changing, ever-evolving, in a perpetual movement forward for better efficiency. As the thresher replaced people, the thresher itself was eventually subsumed by the combine harvester of today, which combined three previous innovations together in one – obviating the need for all three (and likely most manufacturers making them).

Innately, humans become comfortable, almost sedentary, in their ways. We think things won’t change, and the status quo will continue. However, I think Isaac Asimov said it well,

“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

It’s easy to look at technology like threshing machines or steel stamping machines – which both replaced individual, slow, labor with automation, and see how technology replaces the individual. But the same is true with software.

In my recent Task-Oriented Computing post, I mentioned this as well:

“Rather than making users take hammers to drive in screws, smaller, task-oriented applications can enable them to process workflow that may have been cumbersome before and enable workers to perform other more critical tasks instead.”

Software is a tool. We use that software to make our work more efficient, cheaper, faster, or all of the above. Does that sound familiar? The key value that people do, and always will add to any tool – whether it is a device or a software solution – is the human mind. The article I mentioned early on is similar to other articles we could find in the 1900’s about machines “stealing jobs” from auto workers, textile workers, and more. Yes. Many of the jobs of today will not be jobs for humans in the future. They will be jobs for machines and software. Get used to it. This isn’t a threat – it’s opportunity. Machines and software can free us from the rote tasks of our jobs, if we let them, and if we let ourselves continue to grow and learn throughout our lives. Don’t stand still. You shouldn’t be doing that, even if technology wasn’t coming to get your job.

I ran across this work that Alan Turing wrote  about machines, masters, and servants. As technology continues to accelerate and perform amazing things we would have thought impossible years before, we must not just innovate the technology. All of us – regardless of our role in society – must be constantly reinventing, reinvigorating, and renewing our own role in society. Not content to let our skills and thinking lie dormant, we must push to make a role for ourselves in the ever changing world. Don’t fear the machines. Don’t fear the software. Don’t fear the change. Be a part of it.

Feb 13

Microsoft Account – Bring Your Own Identity

When you start a new job, there’s only one you. You don’t get a new identity just because you started at a new company. You have the same Social Security number, you have the same fingerprints, same birthdate, same home town. You get a collection of credentials that give you access to company resources, but you don’t really get a new “identity”.

In fact, pretty much the only time you get a completely new identity is if you enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

What does happen is, you go in to a new job, and you tell them who you are, you provide your actual identity cards/passport to them, and they established a pseudo-identity for you within the organization.

For some reason, along the way, it became normal to have your corporate identity be who you are. When we look at Active Directory (AD), and any other LDAP based directory over last decade or so, a lot of their growth is been around trying to make that the single identity that you use within the company, and have it even be federated out when you need to connect to external resources outside of the organization.
But again, when you leave that company, you take your identity with you. The email address, the AD access, the server access, the application access, the database access – it was all part of your role in the company, and ceases to be, the day you leave.

Last year when Microsoft announced Windows RT, a lot of us… well… kind of freaked out, because Windows RT didn’t include active directory membership, let alone any ability to manage the device through Group Policy (GP). After over 12 years, Microsoft was saying “no… no… no… you don’t have to use AD to manage this machine. In fact, it can’t even join AD“. It was Windows 9X all over again in terms of centralized management.

What’s most fascinating to me about Windows RT though, is that your identity, when you log on to that machine, is a Microsoft account; the thing we used to call Passport, Live ID, etc. Microsoft has made your personal Microsoft Account the central hub of everything you do now – from Windows, to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Office, and the Windows Store – because the device is a personal device, which could possibly be used with work resources. Most importantly though, this account is yours. Your employer has no control over the account. Regrettably, that includes a lack of manageability for such things as password complexity, or how you handle data that crosses from company systems over the threshold of your device and out to the unmanaged SkyDrive service – or any cloud storage service.

A blog post I ran across a few weeks ago about “BYOI” caught my attention. That’s bring your own identity, for those of you keeping score of the acronyms at home. Microsoft hasn’t stated anything of the sort, but I have to look
at what’s in Windows RT, and wonder if BYOI isn’t indeed part of a bigger trend.

In many ways BYOI reflects the whole BYOD or COPE, or whatever we want to call it… the idea that IT doesn’t own or manage devices any longer, users do. And just as you never would’ve brought a home computer into your company and have it join AD then, why would you do that today? As I alluded to almost a year and a half ago in my post where I stated that hypervisors on phones were a bad idea, it’s not about managing devices anymore. At best, it’s about managing applications – and even more about managing access to data from within applications. Lose the device? Who cares. Brick it. Lose the application? Who cares – you didn’t lose the credentials. Lost the credentials? Nuke them and provide new ones to the user. We’ve lived in this world of device dictatorship not because it was the best way to create productive users, but because Windows was created as an “anything goes, all users are admin” world, with a common filesystem shared promiscuously by any code that can run on the system. We’re moving towards a world where data, not devices, are the hub – and identity, not devices, are the key that unlock access to that data.

The BYOI post that I mentioned earlier didn’t really talk about this aspect, it was kind of a different tangent – but my point is what if it doesn’t matter what set of credentials you use to log on to a device? Technologies like exchange ActiveSync and other mobile device management technologies give IT the ability to nuke a device from orbit if they want to. It’s not that AD Is dead, it’s just that Microsoft understands that AD isn’t an active part of users’ personal machines (those they personally acquired).

An iPad or iPhone never asks for credentials to log on to the device, but of course it never really establishes your identity either (there are as many as 1 users on any iOS device – they’re sharing a single identity across the OS – for better or worse). Instead, in iOS it really becomes the applications that hold your identity and authenticate you to assets of the company (or Apple, or Netflix, etc). An even better aspect of this is the fact that these applications then usually don’t hold much application state. What they do is allow authentication and state to be managed and secured by the application instead of by the operating system (just like Windows Store applications and many well-managed IT applications do). All iOS owns is the management and security of which applications are allowed to be installed and run on the device, and the secure storage of data. It also owns destruction of the operating system and all of the data on the device if the device is lost or compromised and the pass code is entered incorrectly or the device is forcibly wiped through Exchange or other device management software.

In a somewhat fascinating turn of events, even Office 2013/Office 365 do the same. While you can store data locally, your Microsoft Account or Office 365 account can be different than your AD account, and are used to license the software to you, and provide shared storage in the cloud (yes, an Office 365 account can be tied back to AD – but the point is that Office, not Windows, is providing that authentication gateway). Identity is moving up the stack, from an OS-level service to an application-level service, where you can just as easily bring your own identity – which can, but doesn’t have to be, a single directory used across a device for everything.

Feb 13

Delight the customer

At an annual Microsoft company meeting early in my Microsoft career (likely around 1999), Steve Ballmer interrupted the lively flow of the event to read a few letters that had been sent to him from executives around the world. As I recall, Microsoft technology was not working perfectly for these customers, and they weren’t happy. After he read the letters, Steve broke into a speech about “delighting the customer” – a mantra he adopted for some time, and I continue to use to this day. Unfortunately, while that credo ran for a few years, I distinctly remember not hearing it for the last several years of my career at Microsoft before I left in 2004. Instead, the saying I remember hearing more was about shareholder value. Perhaps I over-remember the negative aspects, but that’s what sticks in my head.

My father helped me land my first job as a teenager. I worked at a Taco Bell in Montana that was privately owned. While many corporate-owned and franchised stores had a very forgiving policy on taco sauce packets (the customer always being right and all) and offered free refills, we included only two packets of hot sauce unless you paid for more, and had the soda fountain behind the counter – refills weren’t full-price, but they weren’t free either. The owner was steadfast about these policies, and became quite irate if you violated them – even when a customer became upset at these policies that differed wildly from any other Taco Bell they had ever been to. I hated it, and so did my peers, and our customers.

As I’ve mentioned before, my first job after college was selling VW’s and Subarus. The dealership I worked at was notoriously stingy, and they would “roll you” as the terminology for selling you a car goes, without floor mats (even the ones that had come in the car from the manufacturer) or a full tank of gas – unless the customer specifically asked for them. Customers would inevitably leave the dealership pissed, and possibly in a position where they wouldn’t be likely to return to us in the future for sales or service. Inevitably, I decided to play a few games with the sales process, and began telling customers, “You’re going to want to ask me about floor mats and a full tank of gas.” Inevitably, they’d reply back, “What about floor mats and a full tank of gas?” – and I’d say, “Great! We’ll make sure you’ve got floor mats and a full tank of gas.” It didn’t come out of my pocket in the sale, and frankly, I felt it wasn’t the dealership’s money to keep. More important to me, I even understood then that sales is all about making your customer feel great about their purchase – not making your customer feel like they just got shafted. Customers don’t tell friends, “Hey, I got shafted at that dealership on floor mats and gas. You should buy your car there.” No. They don’t do that.

For the past year or so, my VW GTI has had a slow leak in a tire on the driver’s side. Whenever the temperature dropped, I knew that the tire pressure management system (TPMS) would kick in and tell me that the tire had finally dropped enough pressure to be a problem. For the last 3 days beginning on Friday, this has gotten progressively worse, and I’ve had to inflate the tire every day (yes, I’m getting it fixed tomorrow).

On my way to work, in the northern end of Kirkland, there’s a 76 gas station that offers incredible service. Most importantly for me, they offer free air and water for your car if you need it – no purchase necessary.

This last Saturday morning, I had to stop by my office in Kirkland to pick up a coat that I had left there before my eldest daughter and I went skiing. As we left, I realized I needed to inflate the tire before I left town. I looked in my wallet, knowing I would have to pay $1.00 at the nearby Shell station to fill up the tire. Only three quarters, and $3 in single bills. Digging deeper, I found two dimes and a nickel. I headed over to the Shell station where I would blow $1 on 20 lbs of pressure for one tire – for the day.

I pulled the car up, and – since the machine only took quarters, headed in to the station for a quarter. The attendant was talking quite loudly on the phone, and even though he saw me, continued rambling on his (personal) call while I waited at the counter… for a quarter. After a minute or so, he asked, “What do you need?” in a terse tone. I said, “Need to swap this change for a quarter for the air machine.” He huffed at me, got up, opened the till and swapped my change do a quarter. I left, filled up the tire, got in the car, and told my daughter, “I’m never stopping here again for air – or gas.

I don’t have a problem with someone charging me for air or water. It’s their business. But then don’t be an a-hole when the extent of my transaction with you for the day is that purchase of air. The 76 station in Kirkland gives away air and water. Not because buying that equipment or running those services is free. No, it’s a loss leader. You give those away and when a customer needs gas, they’ll keep you front of mind. Delight your customer. Tonight, as I drove home, I had to fill up my tire again before I can take it in for service in the morning. I stopped and filled up my gas tank while I was there as thanks to them.

When you nickel and dime your customers, you make their lives more complex, you can frustrate them, and make them angry and vengeful. They don’t forget that. When you treat your customers with respect – and go out of your way to help them – they also don’t forget that. Delight your customers.




Feb 13

Task-Oriented Computing

Over the past six years, as the iPhone, then iPad, and similar devices have caused a ripple within the technology sector, the industry and pundits have struggled to define what these devices are.

From the beginning, they were always classified as “content consumption devices”. But this was a misnomer then, and it’s definitely wrong today. Whether we’re talking about Apple’s devices, Android phones or tablets, Blackberry’s new phones, or devices running Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone, calling them content consumption devices is just plain wrong.

A while ago, I wrote about hero apps and promiscuous apps. I didn’t say it then, but I’ll clarify it now. Promiscuous apps hit first not because they are standout applications for a device to run, but rather because they’re easy!

Friends who know me well know that I’m often comparing the auto industry of the early 1900’s with today’s computing/technology fields. When you consider Henry Ford at the sunrise of the auto industry, the Quadricycle was his first attempt to build a car. This wasn’t the car he made his name with. But it’s the car that got him started. This car featured no safety equipment, no windscreen – it didn’t even have a steering wheel, instead opting for the still common (at the time) tiller to control the vehicle.

Promiscuous applications show up on new platforms for the same reason that Henry’s Quadricycle didn’t feature rollover protection and side-impact beams. It’s easy to design the basics. It’s hard to a) think beyond what you’ve seen and b) build something complex without understanding the risks/benefits necessary to build it to begin with.

As a result, we see these content portals like Netflix, Skype, Dropbox, and Amazon Kindle Reader show up first because they have a clear and well understood workflow that honestly isn’t that hard to bring to new platforms so long as the platforms deliver certain fundamentals. Also, most mobile platforms are “close enough” that with a little work, these promiscuous apps can get their quickly.

But when we look out farther in the future – in fact, when we look at Windows RT and criticize it for a lack of best-of-breed apps that exploit the platform less than 4 months after the platform first released, it’s also easy to see why those apps aren’t on Windows RT or in the Windows Store (yet), and why they take a while to arrive on any new platform to begin with.

Developing great new apps on any platform is a combination of having the skills to exploit the platform while also intimately understanding the workflow of your potential end-users. Each of these takes time, together they can be a very complicated undertaking. As we look at apps like Tweetie (Twitter for iPhone now) and Sparrow (acquired by Google), the unique ways that they stepped back and examined the workflow requirements of their users, and built clean, constrained feature sets to meet those requirements – and often innovative interface approaches to deliver them – are key things that made them successful.

The iPad being (wrongfully, I believe) categorized as a content consumption device has everything to do with those applications that first arrived on the device (the easy ones). It took time to build applications that were both exploitative of the platform and met the requirements of their users in a way that would drive both the application adoption and platform adoption. People looked at the iPad as a consumption device from the beginning because it is easy to do so. “Look, it’s a giant screen. All it’s good for is reading books and watching cat videos.” Horsefeathers. The iPad, like Windows RT, is a “clean slate”. Given built-in WiFi and optional 3G+ connectivity, tablets become a means to perform workflow tasks in ways we’d never consider with a computer before. From Point of Service tasks to business workflow, anytime a human needs to be fed information and asked to provide a decision or input to a workflow, a tablet or a phone can make a suitable vehicle for performing that task. Rather than the monolithic Line of Business (LOB) apps we’ve become used to over the first 20 years of Windows’ life, instead we’re approaching a school where – although they take time to design and implement correctly – more finite task oriented applications are coming into vogue. Using what I refer to as “task-oriented computing”, where we focus less on the business requirements of the system, and more on what users need to get done during their workday, this new class of applications can be readily integrated into existing back-office systems, but offer a much easier and more constrained user workflow, faster iteration, and easier deployment when improving it versus classic “fat client” LOB apps of yore.

The key in task-oriented computing, of course, is understanding the workflow of your users (or your potential users, if this is a new application – whether inside or outside of a business), and distilling that workflow into the correct discrete steps necessary to result in an app that flows efficiently for the end users, and runs on the devices they need it to. A key tenet here is of course, “less is more” and when given the choice of throwing in a complex or cumbersome feature or workflow – jettisoning the feature until time and understanding enable it to be executed correctly. When we look at the world of ubiquitous computing before us, the role that task-oriented computing plays is quite clear. Rather than making users take hammers to drive in screws, smaller, task-oriented applications can enable them to process workflow that may have been cumbersome before and enable workers to perform other more critical tasks instead.

When talking about computing today in relation to the auto industry, I often bring up the electric starter. After the death of a friend in 1910 due a crank starter kicking back and injuring him, Henry Leland pushed to get electric starters in place on his vehicles, and opened up motoring to a populace that may have shunned motorcars before then, do to the physical strength necessary to start them, and potential for danger if something went wrong with the crank.

When we stand back and approach computing from the perspective of “what does the software need to do in order to accommodate the user” instead of “what does the user need to do in order to accommodate the software” as we have for the last 20 years, we can begin to remove much of the complexity that computing, still in its infancy, has shoved into the face of users.

Jan 13

Good Times… Good Times… The book.

In 1992, I got my first Windows PC. For more than 20 years, Microsoft has been a central force in my life, and fundamentally shaped my career. From the time I joined in 1997 until I left in 2004, Microsoft would teach me lessons, frustrate me, make me happy, make me sad – and finally embolden me to leave the nest. Though I left frustrated and bitter as Longhorn was struggling and stumbling – eventually to become the much maligned Windows Vista, I have come to peace with Microsoft, and they’re still a pretty significant part of my life.

Beginning last year, I started writing a book about my experiences before, at, and since Microsoft. The current running title is simply Good Times… Good Times… though that may change. I’m a little more than half way through writing it, and my intention is to complete it during 2013. If you want status updates as I progress, I’ll be doing my best to reflect them here.

My intention with this book isn’t to write a tell-all. I’ll tell you many things you’ve never heard before, and especially if you’re a fan of Windows, I think it’ll be an interesting read as you get to reminisce – as I have while writing it – how Microsoft has grown and changed over the years. It also won’t be a nerd-fest. My goal is to make it something that non-geeks can read and still enjoy, as they enjoy my unique perspective of the company.

When the book is complete, I plan to self-release it as an ebook on iTunes, Amazon, and B&N. Complexity will determine whether I can hit all three and in what timeframe. I have no plans to publish a physical book at this time, but that could change. Follow my blog or follow me on Twitter for updates.

Jan 13

Office 365 and Office 2013 – A field guide

One of the most common questions I get asked – by our subscribers, by press, by my friends, by my family… by lots of people, is:

What’s the difference between Office 2013 and Office 365?

This is usually followed by the person meekly (unnecessarily) stating that they feel bad because they don’t get it.

Don’t. Don’t feel bad. Though Microsoft is getting better, the branding and packaging isn’t easy for people to digest (complex packaging and licensing is the cellulose of software?)

When I first started working with computers, the idea of Microsoft Office itself was confusing – as it packaged together applications that people were used to buying separately. In time, we got acclimated, though the many, often changing, flavors of the suite can still get befuddling at times

Before I break down the details, I’d like to offer an “elevator pitch” that describes exactly what Office 2013 is and what Office 365 is.

Office 2013 is the brand name of a series of product suites that you can pay for once and use forever.

Office 365 is the brand name of a series of products and/or services that you pay monthly for the rights to use. Quit the subscription, the software ceases functioning.

The former is a tangible software product. The latter is a volatile subscription service – Software as a Service (SaaS), even though some editions of Office 365 do include a special edition of the Office desktop suite.

The value you obtain from Office 365 (or any SaaS offering) directly depends on how you use the software and how often you upgrade. If you are a consumer or business that regularly updates to the next version of Office suite (or server applications in the case of a business), Office 365 may really make sense. For occasional updaters, or people who tend to buy and never upgrade again, perhaps not so much. You need to compare and contrast the offers with your typical usage, and see which makes the most sense for you. Before you ask, no – it is not easy to do a comparison of the two, especially when examining the editions for business. It becomes quite an apples/oranges issue with subtle nuances.

Prior to the unified Office 365 brand, Microsoft had used several different brands in order to attempt to drive subscription-based sales of Office clients and servers. I won’t go into that history here. The important thing to understand is that, where there are subscription services related to Office from Microsoft, they all exist under the umbrella brand of Office 365. Where there are perpetually licensed desktop applications, they exist under the Office <year> brand. In the case of the version expected imminently, that means Office 2013.

Take a quick look at this table, and it will hopefully help clarify the differences a bit more. Here, I have broken down the aspects of each offering, with a split denoting offerings for consumers versus for businesses. Note that as I was making this, I started adding asterisks all over the place for exceptions. But then I got rid of them. As a result, this is not an exhaustive table. It’s a quick draft, but I believe it to be accurate. You should check with Microsoft before signing up for, or buying, any software. If you spot any errors in the below, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them.

I’ll denote some of the exceptions below – but if you have further or deeper questions about licensing or packaging, we may have the answer over at Directions on Microsoft.

I have also specifically called out the 2013 variants of Office 365 – which is technically an oxymoron today. That will be changing soon. As of today, the non-preview editions of Office 365 are based around Office 2010 and 2010 server products (Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint)

Consumer Offerings

Business Offerings

Brand name

Office 2013

Office 365

Office 2013

Office 365

Office Suite

Office 2013

Office 365 Pro Plus

Office 2013

Office 365 Pro Plus




Exchange 2013

Exchange Online




Lync 2013

Lync Online




SharePoint 2013

SharePoint Online




SkyDrive Pro

SharePoint Online

License type
















Product Key

User ID

Product Key or License Server

User ID

Installations allowed


5 active


5 active

Standard install

Windows Installer


Windows Installer


Updates to next version of client & services

Not included


Not included


There are several key takeaways you should gather from this table:

  • Items in italics are not included. Some Office 365 subscriptions do not include some services listed. Man I sound like a lawyer right now.
  • The business editions of Office 365 generally include services based upon Microsoft enterprise software (Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013, SharePoint Server 2013). When a business buys a license to Office 2013, they have solely a license to Office 2013. The use of Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint from Office 2013 require licensing compatible versions of that software separately.
  • The consumer edition of Office 365 includes free services (Skype and SkyDrive, as well as using Outlook.com for e-mail), but also include additional calling time (Skype) and storage capacity (SkyDrive) above those free editions. The consumer variant of Office 2013 doesn’t inherently include Outlook.com, Skype, or SkyDrive – but a user can readily sign up and consume those free services.
  • Office 365 products include no year-iterative branding. This makes describing them quite complex, as you saw before the table. As I write this today, Exchange Online is based upon Exchange 2010. Within a few weeks’ time, it will be based upon Exchange 2013 for newly arrived customers (and during this year for existing customers). But the brand name, Exchange Online will not be updated to reflect that.
  • If you, a consumer or business, buy Office 2013, it is a perpetual license. You can use that software on 1 computer (a change from many previous versions of Office), but have no rights to the next retail version of Office. If you continue to subscribe to Office 365, you have rights to the next version of the desktop suite as well as services as provided in the edition of 365 you subscribe to.
  • Business customers can obtain upgrade rights for Office by acquiring Software Assurance (SA), which is an annual fee businesses can pay to receive product version upgrades and other benefits. SA on the client doesn’t give you any rights to the server software.
  • Client Access Licenses (CALs) are required for each user or device you connect to Exchange 2013, Lync 2013, and SharePoint Server 2013 on premises (or with some Internet-based hosters). CALs, as well as the Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint software must be acquired separately, and generally require SA to be maintained in order to qualify for an upgrade to the next major version.
  • CALs are not required when you connect licensed users to Exchange Online, Lync Online, and SharePoint Online.

I hated to include the discussion of CALs, SA, and licensing server software on premises here. But it’s important that if your head is buzzing right now, you think about why. That is exactly the appeal that many businesses see in Office 365 or other SaaS productivity suites. They can enable businesses to offset a chunk of their IT spend normally assigned to buying hardware, software licenses, management services, staff, and often datacenter space, and instead pay a single per-user, per-month fee in order to obtain the software. Since the software is self-licensing, I believe that Office 365 is also a good way for businesses who fear software noncompliance to obviate that risk.

Where Office 2013 generally limits your ability to install the software on a single PC now, Office 365 lets you install the Office suite (again, note that it is not branded Office 2013, but is that version) on up to 5 computers, and activates using user IDs associated with the Office 365 subscription. For business subscriptions to Office 365, this is 5 installs per user.  For consumer subscriptions to Office 365, this is 5 installs per household, regardless of user(s). Since these can now be streamed down using a derivative of the App-V application virtualization technology, these installs are fast! They’re also volatile – meaning you can visit family for the holidays, install Office on  their computer if they don’t have it but you need to edit a document, and it will cease functioning on it’s own.

Note SkyDrive (the service) and SkyDrive (the client) are analogs to SharePoint 2013 (the service) and SkyDrive Pro (the client). For more information on the difference between those and a deeper discussion, check out my article below.

As I stated, the table is not exhaustive. There are subtle difference between all editions – for example some Office 365 subscriptions do not include the Office desktop suite, only the Office Web Apps (see article below). In particular, I elected to avoid talking about the many editions of Office 2013 and Office 365, as well as their respective prices. To do that requires a much more exhaustive article, which was not my goal here.

I hope you found this article helpful.

Some additional, related resources:


Jan 13

Email 101

While talking with my wife the other day, I happened to mention Atos to her. If you don’t remember Atos, they’re the company that banned email at the tail end of 2011. I’m not sure how well that has gone, but I haven’t heard that they’ve reversed the decision – in fact they are still blogging about it as of last October. I thought the idea of banning email was illogical then, and I still believe it is.

I was thinking about Atos as a side effect of my last blog post. You see, email has gotten this bad rap. We hear, “email is cumbersome”, “email is a time waster”, or “email is inefficient”.

No, it isn’t. Email is remarkably efficient, if you use it right. It’s also remarkably useful, in ways no other communication medium is. I believe that email was crucial to my survival within Microsoft and helped me defuse issues rapidly in a way no other medium could either.

I’ve used Twitter for almost 5 years, and I think one of the most valuable skills I have learned as a result is the same focus on accuracy and brevity that I mentioned in my last post.

To that point, I believe that if email is broken in your organization, it isn’t email that’s broken. It’s more likely how your organization is using email that’s broken.

Imagine if someone asked you to have a 10 minute meeting with them, but gave you little foundation as to why you were being invited? If they didn’t tell you what their expectations of you were, and that they had action items for you? Would you go? If you said yes, I believe you need to rethink the mental decision tree you use for meetings.

Meetings can be incredibly wasteful if there is no order to them, and no clear ownership. It is the meeting organizer’s obligation to ensure that:

  1. A meeting is only held if it must be held to reach an outcome. If you don’t really need a meeting, don’t have one!
  2. The subject matter of the meeting is clearly understood.
  3. All attendees, and only those attendees that need to be there to come to closure on the outcome are invited.
  4. A clear agenda to the meeting is included in the invite.
  5. An appropriate, but not undue amount of time is allocated to the meeting.
  6. The meeting is not scheduled on too short, or too long, of an advance notice.
  7. The decisions to be closed upon are clearly understood ahead of, and closed during, the meeting.
  8. All attendees have materials they need before the meeting and understand action items they may walk away with.
  9. The meeting begins on time, stays on agenda and on topic, and ends on time.
  10. The specified outcomes are agreed to, the matter is closed, and the outcome is clearly communicated to everyone invited.
  11. All attendees with action items understand those action items and their due date.

If you have a meeting and there is no decision to be made, I have to ask you – why are you having a meeting? Meetings are incredibly expensive in terms of resources and time, and can be wasteful, if not borderline toxic to an organization.  You’re disrupting every single participant in that room for as long as the meeting runs (plus as long as it takes for them to get there and back to their real work). A few employees meeting weekly? Wasting thousands of dollars per month. I’d argue companies should kill meetings before they kill email. I personally believe that status meetings are a sign of an organization that is in pain, an organization that is having broader communication issues and may be in trouble.

So why did I just write about meetings when I’m talking about email? Because they reflect the same problem. Email is a meeting which is a few minutes long (but like bad meetings, bad email threads can run on far longer than they should). Every rule above has similar applicability to email. Observe the following. The email sender has the responsibility to ensure that:

  1. An email should only be sent if it must be in order to reach an outcome. If you don’t really need to send an email, don’t send  one!
  2. The subject of the email is clearly stated.
  3. All recipients, and only those recipients that need to be there to come to closure on the thread are included.
  4. A clear description of the issue to be decided upon, and all known potential conclusions are included in the email.
  5. The email is no longer than it needs to be to state the issue, potential outcomes, possible action items, and expectations for closure date.
  6. The email is not left open-ended in terms of objective or timeframe to reach the conclusion and assign any action items. (No response = no opinion on outcome.)
  7. The decisions to be closed upon are clearly described in, and closed during, the email thread.
  8. All recipients have either links to, or attachments of, background materials they may need to issue their opinion and understand action items they may walk away with.
  9. The email thread has the information recipients need to close on a decision, stays on topic, and ends on time.
  10. The specified outcome are agreed to, the matter is closed, and the outcome is clearly communicated to everyone on the original email thread.
  11. All recipients with action items understand those action items and their due date.

There is a quote attributed to many, but often to Mark Twain, which says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” As I’ve said before, it is important that communication be well thought out, organized, efficient, likely revised or considered several times, and sent. Make messages and action items clear, or you only have yourself to blame when a thread goes off the rails. Unclear message or potential outcomes? Don’t send it, at least not yet.

In many ways, it is a pain that Twitter has a limit of 140 characters, and brutally constrains the length of messages. But it results in a quick, fast dialog as a result. In many more ways, it’s a shame that email is such an open-ended device, that it enables users to create tomes instead of emails, and that users are given so little training to use email efficiently (and inadequately chastised when threads kill productivity). Today, Outlook has an “Ignore thread” button. I believe such a feature shouldn’t be there, as it is a sign of malignant communication.

Think before you send email. Don’t be afraid to do it – but be ruthless in your efficiency with it. Pretend that every email you send carelessly wastes money and time. Because it does!

Dec 12

When I worked at Microsoft

Few phrases would strike fear into the hearts of my co-workers in Austin faster than “when I worked at Microsoft”. I’ve since learned to keep my stories to myself a bit more. But recently I’ve been contemplating not what I learned at Microsoft, but instead what I’ve learned since.

At Microsoft, I was a horrible writer. I’ll be honest. I hated writing specs. Considering I was a Program Manager (PM), I think that was a bad thing (in hindsight). But I’ve realized since then that it wasn’t the writing that I hated, it was the process. I lucked out and worked with several devs for most of my career in Windows that were willing to work “on the fly” on features as we isolated the customer need. In particular, one dev and I did an immense amount of work on a key deployment feature primarily using his whiteboard and my whiteboard.

In particular, I hated the idea of creating a monolithic document that was often referred to as an “artifact”. Artifacts aren’t things that people use. Artifacts are something that archaeologists discover after great societies fail.

In 2005, while I worked at Winternals, I was offered an opportunity to write an article for TechNet Magazine. One article became 3, 3 articles became a year-long contract, and that was renewed. For many of these pieces, I largely just regurgitated knowledge about how deployment features worked based upon my deep knowledge of them. I built a quickie outline, filled it in with knowledge, made a few edit passes, and handed it off. For better or worse, most of my pieces went to publish with only a quick edit after that.

A few years later, as TechNet changed forms, my contract wasn’t renewed. For a while I wasn’t writing. In 2010 I joined Directions on Microsoft, who I had met in 2001 when describing a feature that I owned to my now colleague Michael.

Directions has a guiding tenet – the idea of uncovering the fundamental news for whatever topic you’re writing about. You have the obligation, as a writer, to describe to your reader what the feature or technology is, how it works, and how it could prove valuable to the reader (or what gotchas it brings). Many of us are ex-Microsoft, and understand the importance of approaching the idea of describing the technology not necessarily in terms of the marketing message, but instead in terms of the actual value customers can expect to find in the technology, or the complications that they may find as well.

The hardest part of becoming an effective analyst at Directions in fact has less to do with understanding how the technology you are covering works, and more with how to adequately, and accurately describe it to the reader, without overwhelming them. In short, like many kinds of sauces or foods, it’s not throwing things together quickly and eating. It’s a matter of finding the important elements, making an outline, reducing it to the important key components, and writing an effective piece. Sometimes this process takes days. sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes you have to go through the process of letting go after you realize that there is no story there. Then several comprehensive edits later, ideally, you have a piece you can be proud of.

In this video, one of my favorites on YouTube, Apple designer Jony Ive discusses Apple’s approach to design, and in many ways, towards manufacturing. I’ve watched this many times, and what I take away from it is that good technology is complicated, and good designers do their best to buffer the end user from that complexity. Either a good designer absorbs the complexity of the technology and makes the experience approachable for the user, or a bad designer fails, and passes along the complexity of the underlying technology to the user – producing technology that is unpleasant to use, and often largely unusable.

As I read a lot of content on the Web, sometimes it drives me a bit crazy. So many articles – like my old ones at TechNet were at times – aren’t planned well, aren’t edited, ramble on, leave key points unclosed while  wasting time on chaff. All too often I click through to an article – or often a blog post – and abandon it at the 1,000 word mark, when it appears sufficiently clear that the writer lost their way in the woods, and at some point simply said, “screw it, I’m done”, and pushed publish, when they should have either saved it as a draft or just closed their browser.

Earlier tonight, I stated on Twitter that I think many of the things I’ve learned that have made me a better writer today would helped me a better PM at Microsoft. In addition to writing and editing skills, part of this is likely my own maturity, and another part is surely me having the patience to do the best job possible and taking my time to do it – even if it means cutting key work I’ve done, or discarding an idea that is important to me personally. Finally, another part I’ve learned is that it’s okay to write with brevity – as I always wanted to do at Microsoft – as long as you manage to clearly and accurately get the primary points across to the reader – at Microsoft, the developers, testers, user assistance writers, among others. Whether you’re a PM at Microsoft, a writer, or a blogger, I think it’s important to understand who your consumer is, what you’re trying to tell them, and if you’ve successfully transmitted your message, or whether you’ve gotten lost along the way.

Dec 12

All I want for Christmas – my Windows v.Next wishlist

For almost two weeks, my main computer – a ThinkPad W510 (circa 2010) has been running Windows 8. Courtesy of the Logitech Touchpad T650 I’ve mentioned here and many times on Twitter, the experience has been – to me – much smoother than when I was trying to use Windows 8 (in a VM, admittedly) with a mouse during the previews.

Three things I want to say up front:

  1. I’m trying to be positive and fair, and give Windows 8 on a touchless system a shot.
  2. I’m writing this from the perspective of a person with a laptop (docked or other), or a desktop, without touch. Because that’s what I have and what I use most of the time – and for the next several years or more, that’s not a freakishly uncommon scenario.
  3. I’m almost not going to talk about apps at all. For a change. I have several installed, I’ll talk in a few weeks about the ones I really find myself using.

No, instead, I’ve got a wish list. It’s not quite Christmas, but I don’t think Microsoft can get me these this year. So perhaps over the next year?

In no particular order:

  1. Add back key system state to the Start screen (clock/battery/wireless). These three intrinsics are there on the desktop taskbar. They’re even there when you power on your Windows 8/RT device before the logon screen. They’re even visible on iOS (sorry – first of three times I’ll do this) with most applications, unless the application elects to hide the status bar. So why are they missing on the Start screen and while running applications? Hiding chrome is good. But you can go too far, and I think the loss of these three items exemplifies this. There are three important things to know on a computer – even a fruit-flavored one that fits in your pocket – 1) What time is it, 2) Am I connected to a network, and 3) When will this thing run out of juice. Don’t be shy about sharing that info with the users. I’m currently using Ze Clock to show a tile that displays date and time, but this is duct tape and should be in the OS – especially when I’m in an app.
  2. Add back a visual cue of some type for mouse users to indicate where to navigate to for the Start screen. If you’re using a tablet, you’ve got the Windows key front and center (literally). With my Logitech, I’ve got an easy gesture (three fingers up) to navigate to it. Yes, I know there is a button on the keyboard to open it. But users have been trained for 17 years to click a button with a mouse to launch apps – and the entire visual cue just disappeared, unless you hover over it. Proper behavior in my opinon? Show the start orb (even a sexy new one for Windows 8+) that pops the Start screen open. it’s okay that it opens the Start screen. But you’ve fundamentally disconnected the trigger that users on a desktop expect, and that novice users search for. When you find that the system supports touch, hide the orb. That, to me, is the best of all worlds.
  3. Add the Search charm functionality to the desktop through an Explorer band. Heck, you might even be able to skip item 1 if you do this. Equivalent to the old URL band in Explorer. I just wish without touch there was a single-step way to invoke the Search charm because it works really, really well.
  4. When you open the Charm bar – type ahead should automatically start searching. When you are on the Start screen, just typing begins invoking the Search charm and showing results. When you flick open the Charm bar, the same thing should happen. The Charm bar moves to the top of the Z-order, but it isn’t doing anything until you choose a charm. If the user just begins typing after they open it, I think it’s safe to assume they want to search. Can you tell I like the Search charm?
  5. Add intrinsic social sharing. On iOS (sorry – but hey, it’s only the second time I’ve invoked it, right?), it’s remarkably easy to share from iOS to Twitter, and now to Facebook – through the OS. When you want to share a URL from IE, in particular, this is remarkably hard. Even if Microsoft doesn’t want to build apps for Twitter or Facebook, I think building in first-class sharing to share links to Twitter, Facebook (and LinkedIn if you’d like, though I could care less) directly from the browser would be wonderful. Huge favor – do what Buffer does, and grab the title AND the URL automatically. I was originally going to suggest that IE needs some sort of new extensibility model that would work on Windows RT as well, but to me, this is really what I need that IE (especially immersive IE) is missing.
  6. Fix Favorites. Even when I worked at Microsoft years ago and advocated roaming favorites (1999, baby!) it seemed like Favorites were the cobbler’s child of IE. I get that in many ways the “Frequent” screen shown when you open a new tab has replaced them. But it isn’t the same. In both immersive and desktop IE, Favorites are all but dead… Tucked away in a shoebox like photos from 1978. You put all this love into the Start screen – how about something Start screen-like for Favorites in IE? There has to be something that can be done here, it’s just sort of broken and lost right now. No, pinning pages to the Start screen doesn’t count. That’s nuts. Semantic zoom or not, the human brain can only take so much load – plus, there’s no way to pin Favorites that I specifically want to launch desktop IE.
  7. Fix Internet Explorer modes. Explaining the modes in a modeless operating system is becoming challenging for me. Sorry, if you don’t like hearing that Windows 8 has modes, skip to my next wish. Windows 8 vs. Windows RT; immersive vs. desktop; immersive IE vs  desktop IE. Frankly, I don’t even get why there really are two modes of IE. You should really either detect touch and go all-in with immersive, or let the user select and have a default. I find that I use desktop mode far more in my scenario, and immersive is just frustrating to use on a system without touch. Third and final time I’ll invoke iOS here. On the iPhone, Safari hides the browser and goes completely “immersive” all the time. There are no cues to get it to open up again, but it’s there, and you learn what to tap. On the iPad, Safari always has the address bar and list of tabs visible, and has an option to show bookmarks as well. I get that chromeless browsing is the new teh sexy. But this is baby with bathwater stuff. It’s a pain to switch tabs. It’s a pain to open Favorites. It’s a pain to even open a new URL, especially without touch. This is one of the principal reasons I use desktop, not immersive, IE. Some chrome is okay. Really. Users will thank you for it.
  8. Let me pin Desktop IE to the Start screen. If you’re not going to make immersive IE less… well… immersive, let me pin an icon for Desktop IE on the Start screen. Believe it or not, that is the only remaining icon pinned on my taskbar now – because I do need it – but as far as I can find, there is no way to pin it to the Start screen. Add that and I’m all in on the Start screen. Seriously. All. In.
  9. Copy/Paste for WinRT Remote Desktop app. One of the most beautiful features ever added to RDP in Win32. Works on my Mac’s RDP client. I really wish it worked from the WinRT RDP client as well.
  10. Win32 Share charm integration. There’s an icky disconnect between Win32 apps and WinRT apps. You can’t readily share back and forth. Either the clipboard needs to be extended into and out of the Share charm, or Win32 apps (I’m looking at you, Office 2013) should get the ability to implement Share contracts in particular. Try getting a JPG file out of SkyDrive on Windows RT and pasting it into Word. It’s not pretty. As with the previous item, it’d be ideal if you could move files back and forth from WinRT to Win32 and back more readily. I get it’s V1, and this creates a security and workflow issue. But it needs to be solved, as it’s a fundamental disconnect on WinRT.
  11. Taskbar group. Especially on systems without touch that are upgraded from a previous version of Windows, create a group of items in the Start screen that is an exact mirror of the Taskbar, called “Taskbar applications” or the like. I did this myself, manually, and it really makes the transition to using the Start screen less foreboding.
  12. Startup group. I like to have Outlook start when I log on. I use it all the time. There should be a way to do this without doing that, and the somewhat cumbersome startup tools in Task Manager don’t let you add easily, nor should that be the way to do this. Perhaps add an option on the right-click menu for an app to Add it/Remove it, respectively, from the user’s Startup? Right-click, “Run this program when I log on” or “Don’t run this program when I log on”.
  13. Make (re)naming a Start screen group easier. If I right-click above a group of tiles in the Start screen, semantic zoom out, and pop up the dialog for (re)name. This easily isn’t easily discovered as it exists today.
  14. Sync my apps/Start screen. Easy, right? Not so much, and I get that. But this is huge. Once you use Office 2013 with SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro, you realize how awesome deep sync integration is. But this is a bit of a weird hole in Windows 8/RT. All of the advertising for Windows Phone 8 in particular talks about how you can make it yours… so as a user, you spend all this time tweaking your Start screen on Windows 8. Then you get a Windows RT device to test with. And you have to manually sync your apps (the Windows Store could do better here) and then recompose your Start screen. Get a replacement device? Do it again. I have ideas on how this could work that would be elegant – but I really think this has to happen.
  15. Don’t hide shutdown. One of the devs I worked with at Microsoft used to have this book on his bookshelf at the office. Much like that topic, it’s something most of us would rather not talk about, but the truth is, shutdown happens. Everything else under the main Settings charm is indeed a setting. But power isn’t a setting. It’s a state. Moreover, it’s not that different from the logged out or locked states that are already present under the user’s tile on the Start screen. Whether on a machine with touch or not, there should be a more discoverable way to reboot the device. It’s a fact of life that once a month you need to reboot a Windows PC, minimum (usually a bit more). It shouldn’t be this hard to do.
  16. Finish off the Control Panel. It’s a weird parallel universe – this setting is over there, this one is over here. Running Windows Update from here doesn’t always work, but from over there, it does. Ideally, the Control Panel should be nuked from orbit, except as it must be kept around for legacy/third-party CPLs that can’t run in the new world.

So there it is. Nothing too harsh, but I’m still primarily a desktop guy at this point. We’ll see what wishes I come up with as I spend more time in immersive land.