Posts tagged iPad

Microsoft should grab Apple’s ‘Handoff’ for Office

Rival’s ‘Continuity’ feature would make a useful addition to Office on iOS and OS X, says analyst

There’s no good reason why Microsoft can’t adopt Apple’s “Handoff” technology in its iOS and OS X Office apps, an analyst said today.

“Office would be more useful if they did,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “I don’t see a good reason not to.”

Handoff, part of “Continuity,” a term that describes several new features slated to ship in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite this fall, lets users begin an activity — writing an email, browsing the Web, creating a document — and then resume it on another device. The feature relies on Bluetooth-powered proximity awareness to recognize Apple devices registered to the same iCloud account. Once that ad hoc recognition takes place, users can hand off in-progress tasks.

Apple will support Handoff on many of its own iOS apps and OS X applications bundled with iOS 8 and Yosemite, including the iWork troika of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. But it will also open up Handoff to third-party developers via several APIs (application programming interfaces), giving them a chance to bake the feature into their own software.

If Microsoft were to add Handoff support to its iOS apps — Office Mobile on the iPhone, Office for iPad on Apple’s tablet — and its desktop edition for OS X, a document begun on the iPad could be picked up on a MacBook Air at the point it was left when the two devices neared each other.

But Microsoft already has its own solution to the multi-device problem in Office, said Miller. “With OneDrive, Microsoft has ‘document continuity,” Miller said. “You can step away from one device and the document is saved in the background. Then you can open it on another device from OneDrive.”

There are differences: When Computerworld opened a Word 2013 document on the iPad — the document was last edited on a Windows 8.1 notebook — it was positioned with the cursor at the top, not at the location of the last edit. And neither OneDrive nor Office spawned an on-screen alert that pointed the user to the document-in-progress, as does Apple’s Handoff.

Microsoft’s desire to support Handoff in Office will largely depend on how the Redmond, Wash. company perceives its rival’s requirements. To use Handoff, an Apple device owner must have an iCloud ID, and be signed into that account on all hardware meant for content forwarding. (That’s how Handoff recognizes the devices owned by an individual.)

Naturally, Microsoft pushes its own identity system for accessing its services, ranging from Office 365 and OneDrive to Outlook.com and Skype.

There should be no concern in Redmond about document storage, even though Apple makes it much easier for developers who use iCloud as their apps’ document repositories. iCloud is not a requirement — as Microsoft’s own Office for iPad demonstrated — and Microsoft can continue to rely on OneDrive as Office’s default online storage service. There were no other obvious barriers in the limited amount of documentation that Apple’s published on the technology.

Microsoft would likely benefit in the public perception arena — or the subset composed of Mac, iPhone and iPad owners — said Miller. When Microsoft took nine months after Apple debuted a full-screen mode to add the feature to Office’s applications, some customers criticized the firm for not putting its shoulder behind the OS X wheel. By jumping on Handoff, Microsoft would shut up those critics.

The move would also let the company again demonstrate that it’s in the game with all players, not just those inside its own ecosystem, a point CEO Satya Nadella has made numerous times — notably when he introduced Office for iPad — since his February promotion. “They’re more open to being open,” said Miller, citing the new regime’s viewpoint as another factor that could tip the debate.

Miller expected Handoff to debut in Office, if it does at all, when Microsoft launches the next edition for the Mac. “I’d expect Office 365 to pick it up automatically, but I wouldn’t expect it on the Mac side until the back-to-school timeframe,” said Miller.

Microsoft would also have to revise Office for iPad and the iPhone version of Office Mobile, and if it decided to support Handoff between native and Web-based apps, modify the free online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.


 


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Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut

Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut
Amazon, NPD Group trumpet sales of the bare-bones laptops in 2013 to consumers and businesses
Chromebooks had a very good year, according to retailer Amazon.com and industry analysts.

And that’s bad news for Microsoft.

The pared-down laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS have surfaced this year as a threat to “Wintel,” the Microsoft-Intel oligarchy that has dominated the personal-computer space for decades with Windows machines.

On Thursday, Amazon.com called out a pair of Chromebooks — one from Samsung, the other from Acer — as two of the three best-selling notebooks during the U.S. holiday season. The third: Asus’ Transformer Book, a Windows 8.1 “2-in-1″ device that transforms from a 10.1-in. tablet to a keyboard-equipped laptop.

As of late Thursday, the trio retained their lock on the top three places on Amazon’s best-selling-laptop list in the order of Acer, Samsung and Asus. Another Acer Chromebook, one that sports 32GB of on-board storage space — double the 16GB of Acer’s lower-priced model — held the No. 7 spot on the retailer’s top 10.

Chromebooks’ holiday success at Amazon was duplicated elsewhere during the year, according to the NPD Group, which tracked U.S. PC sales to commercial buyers such as businesses, schools, government and other organizations.

By NPD’s tallies, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. commercial notebook sales in 2013 through November, and 10% of all computers and tablets. Both shares were up massively from 2012; last year, Chromebooks accounted for an almost-invisible two-tenths of one percent of all computer and tablet sales.

Stephen Baker of NPD pointed out what others had said previously: Chromebooks have capitalized on Microsoft’s stumble with Windows 8. “Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems, like Apple and Samsung, to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices,” Baker said in a Monday statement.

Part of the attraction of Chromebooks is their low prices: The systems forgo high-resolution displays, rely on inexpensive graphics chipsets, include paltry amounts of RAM — often just 2GB — and get by with little local storage. And their operating system, Chrome OS, doesn’t cost computer makers a dime.

The 11.6-in. Acer C720 Chromebook, first on Amazon’s top-10 list Thursday, costs $199, while the Samsung Chromebook, at No. 2, runs $243. Amazon prices Acer’s 720P Chromebook, No. 7 on the chart, at $300.

The prices were significantly lower than those for the Windows notebooks on the retailer’s bestseller list. The average price of the seven Windows-powered laptops on Amazon’s top 10 was $359, while the median was $349. Meanwhile, the average price of the three Chromebooks was $247 and the median was $243, representing savings of 31% and 29%, respectively.

In many ways, Chromebooks are the successors to “netbooks,” the cheap, lightweight and underpowered Windows laptops that stormed into the market in 2007, peaked in 2009 as they captured about 20% of the portable PC market, then fell by the wayside in 2010 and 2011 as tablets assumed their roles and full-fledged notebooks closed in on netbook prices.

Chromebooks increasingly threaten Windows’ place in the personal computer market, particularly the laptop side, whose sales dominate those of the even older desktop form factor. Stalwart Microsoft partners, including Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have all dipped toes into the Chromebook waters, for example.

“OEMs can’t sit back and depend on Wintel anymore,” said Baker in an interview earlier this month.

Microsoft has been concerned enough with Chromebooks’ popularity to target the devices with attack ads in its ongoing “Scroogled” campaign, arguing that they are not legitimate laptops.

Those ads are really Microsoft’s only possible response to Chromebooks, since the Redmond, Wash. company cannot do to them what it did to netbooks.

Although the first wave of netbooks were powered by Linux, Microsoft quickly shoved the open-source OS aside by extending the sales lifespan of Windows XP, then created deliberately-crippled and lower-priced “Starter” editions of Vista and Windows 7 to keep OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on the Windows train.

But Microsoft has no browser-based OS to show Chromebook OEMs, and has no light-footprint operating system suitable for basement-priced laptops except for Windows RT, which is unsuitable for non-touch screens. And unlike Google, Microsoft can hardly afford to give away Windows.

But Microsoft’s biggest problem isn’t Chrome OS and the Chromebooks its ads have belittled: It’s tablets. Neither Microsoft or its web of partners have found much success in that market.

Baker’s data on commercial sales illustrated that better than a busload of analysts. While Windows notebooks accounted for 34% of all personal computers and tablets sold to commercial buyers in the first 11 months of 2013, that represented a 20% decline from 2012. During the same period, tablets’ share climbed by one-fifth to 27%, with Apple’s iPad accounting for the majority of the tablets.

“The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change, said Baker. “It is no accident that we are seeing the fruits of this change in the commercial markets as business and institutional buyers exploit the flexibility inherent in the new range of choices now open to them.”

But when you’re at the top of the personal computing device heap — as Microsoft was as recently as 2011 — words like “change” and “choice” are not welcome. From the mountaintop, the only way is down.


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Tablet smackdown: iPad vs Surface RT in the enterprise

IPads are already making their way into businesses via bring-your-own-device efforts with Microsoft Surface RT tablets hoping to follow suit as employees lobby for their favorite devices. But which one makes more sense from an IT perspective?

Read Network World’s other tech arguments.

The two products are roughly similar in price ($500), run touch-centric operating systems, are highly portable and weigh about a pound and a half.

The two most significant differences are that Surface RT comes with both a keyboard and a version of Microsoft Office – Office 2013 Home & Student 2013 RT – which expand the potential corporate utility of the devices.

Third-party keyboards are available for iPads as are third-party versions of Office-compatible productivity suites but they represent more work for IT. A rumor says Microsoft is working on a client that will allow accessing Office from an iPad through Microsoft’s service Office 365.

Office on Surface RT has its limitations. It lacks Outlook but includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, and the Surface RT version requires a business license in order to be used for work. Still, having it installed out of the box is a leg up and gives workers the opportunity to tap into the productivity suite. The keyboard is a big plus.

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When it comes to numbers of applications iPad has far more than Surface RT, and neither one has the number of business applications that support traditional Windows operating systems. Surface RT is a Windows operating system that can’t run traditional Windows apps except for the Office suite specifically crafted for the platform.

Instead, Surface RT has its own class of applications called Windows Store apps, mainly because they can only be bought from the Window Store. They are tailored for touch tablets and must be vetted by Microsoft before they get into the store’s inventory.

They can be developed using XAML, with code-behind in C++, C#, or Visual Basic, and Microsoft has a provision for sideloading custom business apps to Surface RT without submitting them first to Microsoft. Even so, that’s a lot of work to get apps natively on the devices.

Both iPads and Surfaces support virtual desktops, which goes a long way toward making traditional apps available on them. Hosted virtual desktops (HVD) can be costly, Gartner says in a report called “Bring Your Own Device: New Opportunities, New Challenges”. Its research found that “shifting to an HVD model increases the onetime costs per device by more than $600.” Plus proper licensing of iPads for business use is complicated, the report says.

Managing Surface RT is possible via Windows cloud-based management Intune and Exchange ActiveSync for messaging. IPad also supports Exchange ActiveSync. Third-party mobile device management platforms can configure and update iPads as well as monitor compliance with corporate policies. They can also wipe or lock lost and stolen machines. OS X server can do all this as well.

Surface RT comes with security features iPad doesn’t. These include both hardware-based secure boot that checks that the system hasn’t been tampered with and also trusted boot that fires up anti-malware before anything else. That way malware can’t disable the anti-malware before it gets the chance to do its job. The same hardware security module can act as a smartcard for authentication, and Surface RT has full disk encryption.

The iPad has disk encryption but lacks the secure boot features of Surface RT. Its secure boot chain is based on read-only memory and its hardware security module doesn’t do double duty as a smartcard.

NOTE: There is another version of Surface that runs on x86 processors and supports any application that Windows 7 supports. It’s not available until next year, but is actually a tablet-sized full Windows laptop with all the touch capabilities of Surface RT.

That device would beat iPad hands-down if it cost the same, but it is likely to cost hundreds of dollars more than Surface RT.


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Microsoft unified communications Lync system moves closer to proverbial PBX replacement option

New Microsoft Lync features, services mean the unified communications platform will draw more customers; parity with Cisco, Avaya targeted

Microsoft is talking about its upgraded Lync unified communications platform, revealing client support for more devices, server features for better meetings and collaboration as well as integration with the peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype.

While it is clearly a good UC choice for customers with needs that align with Lync’s strengths, it’s not yet a platform that can jump in readily to replace traditional PBXs in environments heavily reliant on traditional desktop phones, experts say.

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USE CASE: Microsoft delivers missing Lync for telemed project

Still, Lync is getting closer and its new features are bringing it into closer parity with UC leaders such as Cisco and Avaya, they say.

In touting upgrades to Lync 2013 – no release date has been set – Microsoft highlights its adoption of H.264 scalable video coding (SVC), a video codec standard that makes it relatively simple to display video on a range of devices, meaning Lync can support participants on screens ranging from smartphones to room displays, says BJ Haberkorn, director of product marketing, Microsoft Lync.

In addition, video displays by Lync clients has been upgraded to show up to five participants on screen at the same time, an improvement from having just the active talker on displayed. The view of those five is optimized depending on the number of participants and what other conference tools are being used.

Lync 2013 adds voice and video over IP for all devices, meaning that a device connected to a Wi-Fi network can participate in audio and video calls despite being disconnected from a traditional phone link. So users equipped with smartphones and tablets can conference over IP networks.

This is especially important to iPad users, he says, because the devices don’t support cellular phone networks. So they can join conferences, register presence and instant message other Lync participants.

The latest Lync client supports Windows 8 with a reworked interface that embraces touchscreens, which he refers to as the Windows 8 paradigm.

Peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype is federated with the upcoming Lync server. That means a corporate user working off a Lync enterprise network could provide and receive presence information with users of Skype. They could also establish audio calls with Skype users, but not video calls. Microsoft has that ranked as the next feature it will work on after the initial release of Lync 2013, Haberkorn says.

Last summer, Microsoft added Lync to Phone, a service that lets Lync users complete calls to and receive calls from the public phone network using the Lync Online Client. Such services are available only in the U.S. and U.K. through third-party public phone network providers.

Microsoft is pushing Lync to the application developers to include UC tie-ins to the applications they write. An app could include links to information about parties listed in the user’s address book and enable connecting with them directly from the application.

Microsoft has already done this with many of its productivity applications in Office where communications can be tapped via what is known as a rich content card that lists contacts’ name, email, phone, instant messaging and presence information. That can include information about others sharing documents via SharePoint in the SkyDrive cloud.

For example, OneNote is better integrated within Lync meetings for taking notes, and within Outlook it is simpler to send invitations to meetings.

When Lync is upgraded, it will have clients for PC desktops including Windows 8, Macs, iOS, Windows Phone and Android. That will support tablets – used mainly within organizations – as well as smartphones.

Lync’s look will be streamlined, cutting out the chrome that is now regarded as visual clutter, and making the overall look in step with what has been done to Office applications.

All this adds up to an improved Lync, but one that still isn’t for everybody, says Phil Edholm, president and principal at PKE Consulting.

The reason is that not all businesses have uniform communications needs. He divides workers into three groups: knowledge, information and services, Edholm says.

The knowledge workers, such as engineers or financial analysts, are the ones that need the wide array of features UC can provide such as conferencing, collaboration, instant messaging and presence to get their jobs done. They don’t rely on strict business processes as much as the other two categories of workers, but they need to communicate a lot with each other.
 

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They also need to communicate with information workers who do rely on business processes and who need sometimes to communicate with knowledge workers. An example: a contact center worker who uses set business processes to finalize sales but who occasionally needs to talk to a subject matter expert – a knowledge worker – to supply information to a customer before a sale can be closed, Edholm says.

Service workers, such as delivery truck drivers, use information to direct their tasks, but don’t need a UC infrastructure to do so.

“Lync is a toolset, and you need to decide who needs the tools,” Edholm says, and sometimes that means deploying it to a select group

For instance, a Scandinavian police organization client of Edholm’s had 30,000 workers only 3,000 of whom were knowledge workers. Those 3,000 needed unified communications, but most of the rest didn’t, leading the organization to install Lync for some but not all.

In a company with 90% knowledge workers and 10% information workers the situation would be different. It would make sense to install UC for everybody just to avoid multiple systems and their maintenance needs despite the fact that some of the workers would use just the phone capabilities.

In a typical mixed deployment such as the police organization, the legacy telephony system could tie into Lync. Those with just desktop phones could reach those with Lync and vice versa, but the desk phone users wouldn’t require new gear nor would they have to learn new ways of doing things, he says.

Lync becomes a challenge when it is deployed to people who only use its telephony features. “Lync is not structured to be a telephony-only system,” he says. “You can do it but it doesn’t lend itself to being easy to use and easy to install if it’s just telephony.”

That’s because while it may perform all the necessary functions, there may be different ways of carrying them out, which requires training.

For example, multiple line appearances where a phone can ring on an individual’s desk but also at the receptionist’s desk would be replaced functionally by presence, a different way of doing the same thing.

“The biggest resistance comes with going from traditional telephony to Lync,” Edholm says. “This is changing somewhat and will change even more with [the bring-your-own-device trend],” he says.

Edholm says he did a comparison of Lync vs. Cisco’s UC for collaboration, and he found that an important factor is what the UC system has to interface with.

If the organization considering UC has a Microsoft directory system, Microsoft business applications and Microsoft databases, as well as Microsoft personal productivity tools such as Office, it makes sense to use Lync. It was built with Office, SharePoint and Active Directory interoperability in mind, he says.

If an organization doesn’t use Microsoft email, calendaring and productivity apps, then adopting UC from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel or Siemens might make more sense, especially if the existing PBX is made by one of these vendors, he says. “It’s not the UC system alone, it’s the kind of workers you have and the other systems you use,” he says.

Lync itself seems to be moving away from controlling the traditional desktop phone in favor of a UC system that includes telephony run from a desktop PC and a server in the data center or the cloud, which has service providers showing interest in the platform.

BT, for example, is offering a new Lync-based cloud service called BT One Cloud Lync that provides Lync as a service with the infrastructure based in the BT network.

Similarly, West IP Communications offers a Lync service that supports Lync edge, mediation and federation servers in West IP data centers. The upside for customers, says Jeff Wellemeyer, executive vice president of West IP, is quality of service. If these components are located on customer premises for a widely distributed Lync deployment, it makes it more difficult to ensure quality of service to all branches.

Hosted Lync isn’t for all customers, though, particularly those whose media traffic is intended to stay within the LAN, minimizing WAN QoS as an issue, he says.

Wellemeyer says that customers tend to progress in their use of Lync features, perhaps starting with just instant messaging, adding presence, conferencing, collaboration and connecting to the public phone network with some softphone use.

Moving to Lync as a PBX replacement is considered a move for “someday,” he says. “We’re not seeing a lot of customers tearing out their PBXs and putting in a Microsoft infrastructure.”

They might use Lync supplemented by PBX technology. “They think Lync’s not there yet,” he says.

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