Microsoft Office 365, A Google Apps Killer?

Microsoft is working hard to supplant Google in its dominance in the online office suite arena. They have announced a beta program for Microsoft Office 365. The service includes Office Professional Plus, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and a communication service called Lync Online. Currently it appears this service is geared toward schools and businesses. It also looks like you'll need to install a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 Pro Plus to utilize the service. The service also looks as though it will be subscription based. Why can't Microsoft get out of their own way? Again, they've taken a great idea and made it so complicated that it will drive away more users than it attracts. First, requiring the installation of Office 2010 Professional Plus is simply ridiculous. Where's the convenience in an online tool when the first thing you need to do is install a huge software suite? Secondly, Microsoft has some of the most painfully convoluted licensing options I've ever encountered. This just piles on to an already despised Microsoft business practice of gouging organizations (and individuals) through licensing. No word yet on pricing. I admit that when it comes to office suites Microsoft Office is superior to anything else. That being said, it is bloated software and most users only use a very small percentage of the functionality in each program. Instead of an inexpensive, streamlined cloud service, Microsoft is offering its behemoth applications online in a subscription model. I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't go with Google Apps for the enterprise. It's free for up to 50 users, $2.00 per user per year beyond that. An administrator can have their organization up and running in minutes and there is nothing to install. I really try hard to pull for Microsoft in many of its initiatives, but sadly once again, Microsoft has missed the boat.


Which Smartphone is Right for You?

Let's face it, when it comes to smartphones the choices are endless. It seems each week there is a new phone hitting the market, and then the ensuing option paralysis. So how does one go about picking the right phone? After all, once you get pass the marketing hype, technically speaking, they are all roughly the same. All the carriers promise blazing speed and kicked-up networks, but to be honest, I find all cellular networks to have the same slowness and general lack of responsiveness. I think in selecting a smartphone you should consider yourself and not the phone. Think about what you are looking for in a phone. Will you primarily use the phone to browse the web, respond to email, instant message friends, or stay tapped in to your social network? Luckily, when broken down to this level, each phone shines a bit more than the others in each area:

Simply put, Android phones are for geeks. By that, I mean someone who will enjoy building a phone to their liking by installing each app and designing the layout of each screen. Sure the carriers put their own tweaked version of Android on each phone, but I find these phones are more for folks looking at the raw capability of the phone and its applications, not so much how slick the interface is. Some folks argue that the Android interface is even clunky. Also, developing for the Android is like the Wild West. Yes there are some standards and a bit of oversight in the Android Market, but because of the open-source nature of Android the barrier to distribute Android applications and the ability to tinker with the operating system itself lends to some not-so-ready-for-prime-time results.  If you are a techno jockey and love being on the cutting edge you should consider Android.

The iPhone is considered by some the gold standard of smartphones. After all, they started it all. Starting with the phone's form factor all the way to the slickness of its interface, the iPhone has been winning over consumer hearts and minds since its release back in 2007. The person who selects an iPhone should have a bit of the geekiness of an Android user but not really be concerned with cutting edge operating system distributions and bleeding edge applications. Apple keeps a close guard on iPhone development. They ultimately decide which applications get released in the iPhone App store and all operating system releases come through Apple. The iPhone is also about form factor. It boasts the slickness in form factor and user interface that Apple followers have come to expect and love. If you don't mind using iTunes and being in the Apple eco-system then the iPhone is a solid choice. If you're interested in just picking up a phone and having it work without much tinkering, and you enjoy trying out lots of applications, as well as, having a great web browser, then think seriously about the iPhone.

The Blackberry is the work horse of all the smartphones. If you need to be connected all of the time then you should consider this smartphone. Blackberry has a long history in the business environment. As a result, with many companies being email-centric, most users who gravitate to the device are using it to send and receive email. The Blackberry is king when it comes to communicating via email. This is why most Blackberry devices still come with a QWERTY keyboard. Blackberry App World is the official app store for the Blackberry. There aren't as many available applications and the store user experience leaves a lot to be desired. These facts notwithstanding, you can still find solid applications for niche tasks. Browsing the web on a Blackberry can be a horrific experience. It tends to render slowly and breaks quite a few websites. You are better served sticking to sites specifically developed for mobile devices or Blackberry specific web applications. Research in Motion, the company that develops the Blackberry, has had to do a lot of catching up with Android and iPhone. In recent months they've released new form factors for the device, upgraded the Blackberry operating system, and tried to promote its app store. They are making strides but aside from email and decent Facebook and Twitter applications I don't think there is much to attract the average user to the Blackberry. That being said, if you want to stay connected with email and social networks, plus enjoy the convenience of using a QWERTY keyboard, the Blackberry is a tried and true choice.

Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 is the new comer to the fray. While it took Microsoft some time to get into the phone space, some are saying that it was worth the wait. Microsoft based their new phone operating system on that of its Zune player. The home screen is made up of programmable tiles which show at a glance the status of email, messaging, etc. Early adopters of the phone have reported how easy it is to use the phone right out of the box. Just sign in with your Windows Live ID and instantly the phone begins to populate itself with pictures, email, and information from other Microsoft based services. Windows Phone 7 also plays nice with Facebook. Although some report feeling a lack of control over what they see on the device from Facebook. For example, once you log in to Facebook, the phone begins to populate itself with Facebook photos, to include photos from people you may not even know. With no real way to control what you see from Facebook this seems a bit disorienting and unnerving to some. Windows has its own Marketplace to sell apps. The general consensus is that the Marketplace is a good start but it has a long way to go to match the offerings of Android and iPhone. In addition to apps, users will also find games and music in the Marketplace. And speaking of gaming, reports are that Xbox Live integration with Windows Phone 7 is awesome. Finally, tight MS Office integration is making business users take notice. In general this phone is snappy and crisp with a well-integrated touch screen keyboard. Some say it's better than that on the iPhone. This phone is an excellent choice for someone who typically lives in the Microsoft eco-system, to include gaming, and who wants an alternative to the iPhone, but not the open-source feel of Android.

What about call quality? These are phones after all. Well, I have heard no major issues regarding call quality on Android, Blackberry, or Windows Phone 7 devices. I'd have to say that the iPhone pulls up the rear in this area. I hear complaints all the time about dropped calls on the iPhone. Of course your mileage may vary based on location, carrier, and typical phone use.

So, as you can see there are no clear winners in this space. They all basically do the same thing. The differentiating factors are how well each does those things. Picking a phone is simply a matter of personal choice, expectation, and communication preference. To me all of these phones are as they say, "Six of one, half dozen of the other".


Facebook Announces "Seamless Messaging"

Facebook announced a revamping of its messaging system calling it "Seamless Messaging". The system apparently integrates chats, SMS messages, and e-mail. They are also offering email addresses. The selling point of this new offering is that it allows us to choose how we receive our messages regardless of how they are sent. The other selling point is "Conversation History" which according to Mark Z. will allow us to have a transcript of our lives. Ahem... well, I dunno. I sort of think we are already doing that with our mobile devices. Basically, everything is being routed directly to our "love 'em or hate 'em" smart phones. Email, SMS texts, and IMs, all right there, ensconced in our pockets and purses. So, after watching the video announcement delivered by Facebook I wondered, what had they really just announced? The answer is quite simple... another way to aggregate our personal information and leverage it to make money. We build the social graph and they pull in the bucks. This is an interesting initiative by the company, but I really don't see it as anything revolutionary. And about that "Conversational History" that they are selling to us, which will allow us to "track relationships back to the beginning", I say there are a few people and events in my life that I really don't care to reminisce about. I really wouldn't want them as part of my permanent digital foot print. Would you?


The Early Verdict on Google TV

Television meets search engine with Google TV. The Android powered device lets you seamlessly search across channels, applications, and the entire web. It integrates with cable boxes and has even tighter integration with DISH Network. Just like a phone, applications can be installed on to the device. Although early reports are that currently there are slim pickings in the Google TV app market. The device can be controlled by an Android phone, has web browsing capabilities, and also has a customizable home screen for quick access to your favorite shows and web sites. Of course it has access to Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, and Youtube. Currently the big networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) are actively blocking their content. Presumably so they can build their own applications for the device (or maybe they are just greedy). The early overall reviews for the device have not been so stellar. There are reports that it takes too long to configure, the interface is spotty, and the integration with cable boxes leaves a lot to be desired. Some say the device is just plain pokey, being slowed downed by resource hungry Flash. The general consensus is that it feels like a 1.0 version, good potential but coming up short. There's no doubt that with tighter integration with cable boxes and more work on the user interface, along with major networks eventually unlocking their content, Google TV just may find its way into many living rooms. But for now the consensus is to wait, see, and spend half as much money on a Roku or Apple device.


Sell or Recycle Old Devices with Ebay Instant Sale

Ebay has launched an Instant Sale service that could help move that pile of used electronics it seems we are all collecting. The first step is to search for your particular gadget on the site. Then, you answer a few questions regarding the condition. After that, an offer is generated. Once you accept the offer you receive a shipping label for your item. Once the item is received and verified the funds are placed in your PayPal account. Items deemed as not having any value are recycled for free. I ran a test listing a Blackberry Bold 9700 described in excellent condition (working and out of the box new) with charger. I was offered $131. The same Bold described in good condition (working with some signs of use) was $98. You probably won’t make a ton of cash via this service but every little bit helps… right?

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