Saturday, March 26, 2011

One week with my head in the clouds....

I’ve been pretty exclusively living the cloud dream for a week now. My email and office productivity applications are on google, Gmail and Docs. I even migrated one of our internal sharepoint sites to Google sites. My OS is Joli OS, which is a cloud PC, so no Windows 7 running underneath it all.

So far it has been a decent experience. 

I figure other people are looking at doing the same thing. I know Enterasys is working with Appirio to kick off a pilot next month with 30 or so employees. My experiment is a more of a proof of concept than a real pilot. These users will be shown Gmail and have their outlook replaced with this. We’ll setup calendar synch and free busy sharing so it won’t be that disruptive.


First I think most of us use web based email for our home emails anyway, so it really shouldn’t be that big of a change for most people.

Priority inbox is definitely my favorite features. I’m not sure how it figures out which emails are important, but it does a really good job of doing it. This allows me to focus on the emails that need a quick response first and then deal with the rest of it when I get time.

Labels are great. When I was on outlook I would file my emails based on sender instead of topic, because I could only choose one file to put them in. Arguably search is good enough that I can still find them, but having the ability to put multiple labels on an email is a better solution.

There are some cool Outlook 2010 features I miss, like mailbox cleanup, which removes duplicate messages in a thread. I really miss being able to easily insert screenshots and images. With Gmail I need to take a screenshot, save the screenshot then upload it to my email. It’s not horrible, but it’s not as easy as pulling down a list of my active screens and choosing one.

Generally I think the user interface is better in outlook. Performance seems to be about the same. Using Joli OS I couldn’t do offline mode for my email, which sort of stinks. I use cached outlook all the time since many times where I live connectivity is spotty at best. I suspect this is as much a problem with my OS as gmail.

Google Sites

Google sites works well. It was easy to bring up a new site and moving new content in was a breeze. I also have the option to share this with people outside of my domain, something I can’t do myself in Sharepoint. I need to have a new site created on an extranet site and that means I need someone in the IT Web team to help me.

It was easy to add new documents especially if they were already in google docs. they have a ton of templates and gadgets, though most of the gadgets seem more focused on consumers. I can’t imaging I need a pacman gadget in my intranet, though it could make the day go by faster.

Generally I like it. I do want to spend some time trying to build a google gadget. I was looking for one that let me grab part of a website so I could quickly “integrate” with legacy web systems. I’m dying to find one that lets me map cube or office locations on a map based on the username. I’m surprised I can’t find one so I can type in a persons name and have their location shown on an office map.  Looking for “google map office location” is not the way to find this.....

It is very easy for me to spin up  a site and start collaborating with people outside of my domain and it warns me when I try to share it with someone external to me. Nice....


Well I’m writing this in docs, and it works fine. Frankly I think most people that hate the ribbon will love this version since it looks like Word used to. I can link to URL’s, include images, do bullets, all the things I normally do in a document.

I haven’t tried doing fancier stuff like newsletters, but I don’t normally do that in Word either.

Presentations are, at least to me, about the same. It took me a while to figure out how to put the corporate template online, but I also had no idea how it was done in PowerPoint either. It seems to work a little differently and I essentially created 4 slides that look the new slides with the right header and footer and you have to duplicate them. In presentations, saying new slide, gets you a blank one not a branded one.

One cool feature when you insert a video, it automatically searches for a video with the title of the slide. It didn’t do that for images which would be nice.

The big win though is really with collaboration. I can share the documents externally or with others in my company and we can all, at the same time, work on the document together. We’ve actually stopped mailing copies around, wait for exeryone to make their changes than some poor guy, usually me, has to merge them all back together. Now we just send out the link and work on it. No need to check in and out like in sharepoint 2007. I think sharepoint 2010 is better than 2007 but still not as good as google docs.

The other great collaboration feature, that got turned on this week, is the ability to start a discussion in a document (or spreadsheet, presentation etc). The discussion remains with the document until it is deleted. You can also resolve the discussion and leave it with the document. I can imagine this being a very popular feature.

Joli OS

So this is actually one of the main reasons I love the google vision. I have an operating system that runs really fast (boots in something ¼ of the time) and since all it does is web, no other processes compete for resources. It’s way faster than my windows 7 box, which lately has had many processes running away and killing performance.

Even cooler though is the fact that since everything is in the cloud if this machine dies, I don’t lose anything. Now arguable you could do this with Windows too, but if you have space on a local disk, everyone uses it and none of us back it up.

Also I can get to my desktop from any machine. They are even working on an ipad and android version so I can synch my desktop between my ipad, my Dell and my EVO.

Now it’s by no means perfect in fact some things are just annoying. For example I can;t lock my screen. I can sleep or hibernate but neither of these options seem to come back correctly. Or it will lock if idle for a few minutes, when I need to go now, I like to be able to hit ctrl-alt-del and lock it up.

I also have some java applications that work fine in windows, but not in joli OS. I think these are application issues, but it’s still a pain.

The most annoying thing though is I can’t get dual displays working. I love having two monitors, so much so that I installed “Air Display” so when I’m home I can use my ipad as a second screen. If there is a way to do this, I can’t figure it out.


So after a week, I’d call it a success. I am able to work, some things are easier, some are harder, but I also think it will get better. Joli releases new updates every few months, Google every week has something new. I won’t see anything drastic from Windows 7 or Exchange until 2013. I’m pretty sure by then the cloud will be better and I won’t have to upgrade.

As much as I hate to say it, I’m a cloud believer....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Google cloud meeting thoughts

A few of us spent an afternoon down at Google’s Cambridge office. The topic was “100% web” and covered the Google vision of computing. I’ve been to some of these events with Microsoft both in Redmond and Waltham and have to admit, Google has a much better roadmap.

When we talk to Microsoft about the cloud and what it means the conversation turns to “opex vs capes”. While that may be interesting to some people, we are pretty clear that what we really want is faster innovation. When we told that to the Microsoft guy the response was “No, what you really want is a better QA process”, Uhm  no not really...

Will we ever realize Google’s vision of everything in the cloud? I don’t know, but at least it’s a plan that makes real sense to me. Why?

Everything is connected in the cloud.
I’d argue we aren’t there yet but everything is connectable is fair. I’m a big fan of “Innovation through Integration”. Interestingly enough I started saying this when I went to Redmond to see the “Home of the future”. Most of the really interesting stuff was integration of existing systems.

A few demos that Jeff Harris from Google showed really helped hit home with what can be done. The first one was in docs. As Jeff started typing “George Washington was born in” it automatically brought up 1732. Since docs and search are integrated, it can automatically suggest the right information based on what you already typed. Cool right? (I’m assuming 1732 is the right year, contrary to popular opinion I wasn’t there then)

The next demo was a mail merge. Jeff showed an email integrated with Google sets. This allowed him to drag down a column of cells and it figured out what the next answer would be. In his example it was adjectives to describe something. I think he had “witty, smart, clever” and google docs knew that “astute, intelligent” were also part of that set. He was also able to integrate google maps and could generate a unique map from the address for that user to get to the event.

Chrome OS rocks but can they really keep it to 8.5 second boot time? Google claims that this will only get faster. Not sure if that’s true, but since it doesn’t do anything except get me to the cloud it seems unlikely that I will need to re-install once a year to keep it running well like I do with my Windows PC. Plus it is always up to date and has no data. If I lose it, or break it, I don’t care.

Innovation can’t be installed or Speed kills
Amit talked about how one car company (local-motors?) can crowdsource a new concept car in 18 months. GM takes 6 years.  Collaboration is key to doing this and google docs helps with this with the ability to share a doc in real time.

One of the reasons innovation is so much faster with “real cloud” apps is the massive scaling and the fact that there is only one copy of the application that just happens to server millions of users. But the side effect is no customizations. You need to accept this if you want to be in the cloud. Of course customizations to SAP are what caused many companies to have problems 15 years ago, so not allowing that is probably a good thing. Plus since you are forced to upgrade you don’t get to delay it.

New ways to work are coming
Since multiple people can work on a document in real time you don’t need to make your changes, email them around, merge them in etc. Plus many web conferences are to review a document (or presentation) and that really gets merged into just regular working with a document.

HTML5 really will (should) help with web apps. I’m by no means an HTML5 expert, in fact the last time I did anything with HTML was when CSS was new and cool. But it’s supposed to let applications be more portable than they are now. VMware view, and Citrix can be written to HTML and work with any platform. This will definitely make innovation happen faster

Gadgets let you tie back into internal systems
Since not everything will be cloud for a number of years yet, gadget let you link legacy systems into gmail. We should investigate how these are built and start figuring out what users want to have “gadgetized”

Google apps are super scalable and redundant (and Geo load balanced?)
Build it once in google apps and it can scale to millions of users. Think of what that would cost if you had to build your own infrastructure for that.

IT roles may change
We really need to change from an “operations-driven” to a knowledge sharing IT org Imagine if 30% of operations staff could work with new cool technology and show people how to use it. 100% web would let us do that. The challenge with all of this is that there is sooo much new stuff it’s impossible to keep up.  If though we never had to build a new server, update an image, worry about DR, ediscovery, hardware repairs etc, we could and have cooler stuff to work on…

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tips for career growth

  1. Follow your boss. A wise person once told me you should always know what your boss reads and read the same thing. It will help keep you if not a step ahead, at least you won’t be completely off the page from the person that decides if you keep your job.

    In today’s social media it’s even easier to keep up with what your boss is thinking. Whether it’s reading any blogs that they write, or following them on twitter or chatter, knowing what he or she is saying can keep you in the loop.
  2. Know the “website guys” by sight. This is the executive team and board members that are listed on the web site.  No one wants to be the one that says “Who are you?” to the CEO. Make sure you can at least remember who they are, what they manage and as importantly, who their administrative assistant is. You should also know your management chain by sight, from your immediate supervisor all the way through to the CEO.
  3. Invest in new “geekiness”. I know everyone is busy and no one has time to do this, but much like exercise you actually can find time to be geeky. In many cases this will actually save you time. For example, say you need to make a mass change to something like sharepoint profile photos. You could manually do them all one by one and probably in a day be done. But if you were a geek and knew about some import tools, you can probably automate this in a few hours, and then be able to keep it up to date.

    Sort of like the saying “recognition doesn’t cost, it pays”, Geekiness in IT is the same way.
  4. Challenge the status quo, question decisions, but don’t argue. It’s OK to ask if we are doing things the best way. I once read a loser is someone who says “We’ve always done it this way” and a winner asks “Is there a better way?” Asking that question is a good way to show you want to make things better.

    It’s also OK to question a decision. In fact sometimes this is a great way to show you are actually paying attention. We recently started talking about moving our email to the cloud. While I am not opposed to moving stuff to the cloud, we just finished migrating to exchange 2010. I made the observation that since we just moved and won’t need to upgrade for 3 more years anyway, we may want to look at a major system that is due for an upgrade instead.

    There is a fine line though between being a person that questions decisions and someone who is disagreeable. Know where that line is and try really hard not to cross it. At the end of the day though, if you and your boss disagree that much, it may not be bad to find somewhere else to spend your days.
  5. Follow your company’s key technology. We are a big shop as well as SAP, Dell and Microsoft. Knowing what the vision from each major vendor is key to making sure you stay ahead of the pack.

    Unfortunately I am more in tune with Dell and Microsoft and less up on Salesforce and SAP.  So I’ll be spending the next few weeks reviewing the dreamforce presentations and making sure I at least know where they are headed. I think this is time well spent.

    Since we are also looking at cloud applications, Google, Zimbra and many others are on my hit list to catch up on. Also important is knowing how these can integrate so knowing about any free, cloud or other tools that help integrating is key. Use things like twitter, online magazines or other tools to keep up to date.
  6. Never say no. Many times if you think the answer is no, you didn’t understand the reason behind the question.  Now that said the answer isn’t always yes either. No one likes a “yes man”. Well some people do, but they are generally arrogant narcissists and their opinion is usually wrong.

    One example that hit this home for me was when an engineering manager came to me and wanted to connect our guest wireless, which uses no encryption or authentication to be able to connect to our engineering labs. I held my comments, which was basically “That’s stupid” until then end. Once he finished and I asked a few pointed questions, it turned out what he really wanted was a way to test a new ipad application he was building. I was able to show him a way he could do this using infrastructure we already had and that didn’t jeopardize our security.

    The answer wasn’t yes, but it wasn’t no either and we ended up both being happy with the outcome. Keep asking questions until you get to a solution that works.
  7. Network well. Many people think that this means signing up for linkedin and facebook and sending out invites. While that’s part of it, networking is way more than that. It’s about keeping yourself relevant as well. I really try to update something in my social networks so my connections see my name on a regular basis. Plus many times their connections may find me because of this. Does it work? I’ve got almost 900 linkedin connections and very often will get prompted for information from my network.

    You can’t just do online updates though, face to face is still a better way to connect with someone. I try to at least once a week go to lunch or have coffee with someone. It can be a co-worker from a different department, a peer from a different company, a recruiter or vendor.  We actually encourage folks to go down to the cafe and have a cup of coffee and mingle with their peers.

    This is so important that my review has a goal to spend 30% of my time to be “internally socializing”, also called business alignment, 40% external socializing, also called marketing, and 30% running IT. We are a technology company that sells to IT departments so these numbers are probably a little skewed compared to other companies, but it is important for everyone to spend some time networking.

The last comment on networking is around helping your network. A friend of mine recently was looking for work when his company closed the site he managed. I pointed him to a few recruiters I liked that had openings and also offered to review his resume. Some people call this good karma and who knows maybe it is. I like to think so anyway, but it also helps build relationships. If someone helps you out though, it’s important to let them know how you made out. They helped you for a reason, the least you can do is let them know if it helped.

Anyway those are my tips. I’d love to hear what others have found to help them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Google App inventor

I've been getting back to my inner geek a little bit this week and playing with the Google App Inventor. It's a pretty cool google lab thing that lets almost anyone build android applications.

I was able to build a quick and dirty tweet reader, that uses a Text to speech engine to read out loud tweets sent to you so you can get tweets without taking your eyes off of the road. Someone built a similar app for texting that would respond and say "I'm driving and will respond shortly. Currently I'm at " and insert the address you are currently at. Pretty cool stuff.

My master plan is to actually build a few cool apps, throw them in the android market (currently appinventor apps can't go into the market) and make millions. I doubt it will actually work that way, but it's good to have a plan.

I am going to work with our training department to build a practice test that people can take when trying to get their Enterasys certification. I might also build some sort of application for another side project called "No Pink Turkeys" which is an attempt to self publish some humor books. (