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Microsoft Word is Desktop Software. Supposedly. Then Why Does it Fail to Load Offline?

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Dave Michels’ recent post, I thought I Was So Cloud resonated well with me, since I’m experiencing the same pain regularly, even without the dramatic experience of a cashed harddisk.   I’m now using 4 computers, not counting the iPad, and like Dave, "I am so Cloud", so moving between them should be seamless. It almost is. My data is always there and always up-to-date. But if I turn on a laptop I have not touched for a while, there is a painful process of Windows updates, Firefox updates, FFox plugin updates, Adobe or Java updates – just to name a few. Sometimes the popup windows from these suckers interfere with each other, the crazier ones want to reboot while others still install … yes, we still have too much stuff on the local computers. :-(

Little did I know my saga would continue this afternoon. Since I planned to spend some time in a medical office, with no wi-fi (Why is it that the smallest little dirthole garage, tire shop you-name-it services privide free wi-fi, but medical offices where you likely spend 10x as much don’t?  Oh, well…) I synced up a few Word documents to my thin little  Vostro 13, and was ready to stay productive offline.

If only the Gods in Redmond had agreed… Booting up in the waiting room.  Installing 4xxx 5xxx finally 6237 of 6237 updates.   WTF?  Even I’m not dumb enough to believe it actually installed 6k updates, but that’s what the display said. Oh, well, finally Windows boots… then spends a few minutes configuring updates. Done.  So now we can work.   Click the file, see Word load, then wait. Wait. Wait.

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Something’s not right.  I have the free Office 2010 beta version which downloads components on initial load, but this is taking forever. Oh, no:

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Abort.  Internet connection lost, Word cannot be opened.  Oops.  No, the connection has never been lost, there’s none at this place, which is why I keep Office and local documents on this laptop in the first place.  I understand it wants to update, but it should be able to start without anyway.  MS Office is a desktop, “offline” package, after all.

If I can’t use it without being online, I just lost the very reason to use it at all.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

 

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Netbooks or Notebooks? It’s Not Only About Size.

Hardly a day goes by without another new Netbook announcement, at lower and lower prices.  The first baby eee PC by ASUS was toy-like ( I returned it after a day), but the current crop are quite usable mobile computing devices. 

These new Netbooks are flying off the shelf, so much so that sometimes you wonder if manufacturers rush to re-label their notebooks to netbooks, just to ride the wave.  Whereas the first model had a puny 7” screen, the current standard is a minimum of 8.9, but 10” is becoming widely available, and when Dell recently announced their Inspiron Mini 12, ZDNet’s Larry Dignan rightfully noted that the netbook-notebook-laptop lines have just become blurry.

Dell’s divider line may very well be at the 12” screen size, considering anything beyond that a notebook.  ASUS CEO Jerry Shen clearly draws the line at 10” – a definition that fits his own eee PC line.  I think all these size-based definitions are meaningless. Size truly matters, but for another reason: when you pick a travel n*tbook,  you clearly need something small and lightweight, yet with a decent keyboard and screen.  But that’s not what differentiates Netbooks from any other computer.

The real divider is how you use it.  A Netbook is a light mobile computing device that allows you to process information, access the Internet, and that does not store a bundle of bloated programs or data

When computers first became personal, most of us only got one at the workplace, then years later the family PC appeared– one expensive computer shared by the entire family.  Now we often have individual PC’s for just about anyone at home, including the kids, and are moving to a new pattern, where individuals will have a number of purpose-oriented computing devices, be it a desktop, workhorse laptop, netbook or smartphone.  The fundamental change is that we’re not really working on the computer itself, but on the Net: the computer (keyboard, screen) is just our way to access the net. As Coding Horror’s Jeff Atwood says in The Web Browser is the New Laptop :

After spending some time with a netbook, I realized that calling them "small laptops" is a mistake. Netbooks are an entirely different breed of animal. They are cheap, portable web browsers.

We’re getting to the point where for most productivity task the computer’s performance or even the operating system won’t matter anymore: all we need is a decent screen and keyboard to get online. 

But computer manufacturers while jumping on this hot new trend, seem to be confused.  Minor flavors aside they typically offer two major configurations:

  • The uber-geek netbook:
    • Linux
    • Solid-state drive (SSD)
  • For the rest of the world:
    • Windows XP
    • Traditional hard drive

That’s not a very smart combination, if you ask me.  Statistics show the return rate of Linux vs. Windows based netbooks is 4 to 1. Buyers of the cute little netbooks are happy first, then they become frustrated that they can’t instantly do things they are used to – and a learning curve with a $400  $200 device is unacceptable.  Let’s face it, Linux is not friendly enough for most non-geeks – including yours truly.  But why can I not have a netbook with XP and SSD?

Typical netbook SSD’s are still in the 8-16GB range, while harddisks are up to 160GB.  That’s a trap that vendor themselves fall into: my sexy little netbook (an Acer Aspire One) came loaded with crapware, including trial versions of MS Office, MS Works, Intervideo WinDVD (on a DVD-less computer!) and who knows what else.  Once the pattern is established, and you have large storage, you will start installing your own programs and data, too, the temptation is just too hard to resist.  You no longer have a netbook, it just became a noteboook.

The New York Times ran an article this week: In Age of Impatience, Cutting Computer Start Time, discussing the problem of slow boot times.  Anyone who ever had a Windows computer knows this tends to get worse over time.  My own Vista desktop had a sub-minute startup time a year ago when new, not it takes 3-4 minute to boot it.  The two older XP-based laptops take 6-7 minutes to reboot.  This well-known Windows disease can only be cured by refreshing your system from time to time. It’s an ugly process, requires wiping out your harddisk’s content, re-installing Windows, then your programs and data.  PC manufacturers don’t exactly help by providing “restore disks” instead of proper OS CD’s: why would you start with a pre- SP1 copy of WinXP and reinstall a bunch of years-old obsolete crapware   when the objective was to cleanup your system in the first place?

If you want to avoid the pain, keep your netbook free of applications and data: use it as a NETbook, and it will stay nimble and fast (sort of).

Talk about fast, there’s a neat solution to reduce boot-up time: Splashtop, a quick-load platform by startup company DeviceVM can put you online within seconds, without loading the main operating system. Chances are you’d be using it 80% of the time, relegating full Windows to an as-needed basis.  DeviceVM charges manufacturers about $1 per system, so why is it that it’s often found in high-end notebooks, but not in the netbooks by the same manufacturer?   Splashtop should be a must on any netbook.

 Finally, a word on connectivity and prices:  Wifi gets you online almost, but not all the time, so obviously a 3G connection is a useful addition to your netbook.  But you will pay for 3G data usage, so why don’t carriers subsidize your netbook purchase, like they do with cell phones?   The day will come, as the WSJ reports, HP may be one of the first to introduce such a model:  H-P Mulls Service Bundles for Netbooks. When that happens, your notebook will not be too different from a smartphone, just with a larger keyboard and display.

 

(Cross-posted from CloudAve.)

 

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Project Management 2.0 – What’s Wrong With 1.0?

Let me quickly state that I don’t really know what the consensus definition of PM 2.0 is, but I do have a feeling based on my very 1.0-style experience.

In the 90’s I worked on a number of fairly large scale SAP Projects in a variety of roles, including Project Manager, and supervisor of several other projects.  The standard tool was Microsoft Project.  It was used for:

  • Planning a Project (initial Scoping)
  • Selling it
  • Periodic reporting to Steering Committee during the actual projects

What’s missing from the above?   Well, how about using it to help the actual daily work of project team members?

Project  team members did not even have access to MS Project, it only existed in a few copies on the PM and Team Lead’s computers.  Information-flow was one-way: feed the beast to be able to occasionally print charts that look impressive (scary) enough that Steering Committee members won’t question it.

Ok, I am admittedly sarcastic, but the point is:  PM 1.0 was all about planning, reporting and it served Management but did not help actual Project Execution.

My expectation of PM 2.0 would be that it helps all team members involved who can share information, collaborate on it and actually get clues from the system on where they are, where they should be, what their next step is, instead of just feeding the beast.

Is this the real promise of Project Management 2.0?   I hope to find out from an excellent set of panelists that I have the honor of moderating at the Office 2.0 Conference next week:

  • Andrew Filev (Wrike)
  • Bruce Henry (LiquidPlanner)
  • Mark Mader (Smartsheet.com)
  • Guy Shani (Clarizen)
  • Dean Carlson (Viewpath)

Of course this is just one of many exciting sessions – if you haven’t registered yet, you can grab a $100 discount by registering here.   Oh, and don’t forget to visit us at the Zoho Party – the address is #1 Cloud Avenue. smile_regular

(This article is cross-posted at the Office 2.0 Conference Blog)

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Office 2.0, a Most Irregular Conference – Get Your Discount Here

Nothing about the Office 2.0 Conference is even remotely ordinary.

Start with the organizer, Ismael Ghalimi, CEO of a VC-funded startup, Intalio.  That’s normally a full-time job – not when it comes to Ismael: he is also a scuba-diving instructor, a pilot, launched Monolab|Workspace, (is that Incubator 2.0?), launched the Extreme Productivity Seminar series, oh, and have I mentioned the annual Office 2.0 Conference?  ( I actually know his secret, he has two body doubles, I just haven’t been able to prove it yetsmile_wink)

Pressed for time he is turning a necessity into a virtue: year by year the Conference is a showcase of creating a successful event out of nothing in only two months. I remember the first event in 2006, when a couple of us Enterprise Irregulars were helping him plan the sessions only weeks away from the start.  A few days and a few blog posts later Ismael got flooded with request for sponsor and speaking slots.  This year history repeats itself: just a month ago the conference site was a placeholder and one could only wonder if … then a new site was born overnight, based on Jive Software’s excellent ClearSpace platform, and now it’s alive with user participation, sponsors, registration..etc.

What’s a Web-focused Conference without wi-fi?   It’s a joke that in 2008 conferences, including brands like Web 2.0, Gnomedex …etc.  still fail to provide sufficient connection.  Ismael’s solution includes laser beams to the top of the building, another one down to a terrace, then inside – making it happen with Swisscom was quite a project in itself.  Office 2.0 set the standard once and for all, anything less at major conferences is a failure.

Then there’s the issue of The Gadget.  I believe the iPod at the first conference was just more-then-generous swag.  The iPhones handed out at the second conference had an integral part at the event: several applications released specifically for Office 2.0 allowed participants to interact with each other, navigate the schedule and find sessions.  This time all paid participants will receive a the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.

Yes, the conference swag is not pens, stickers or t-shirts: it’s a mini-computer, which cost about half the registration fee.  It will clearly raise eyebrows, and many would prefer to skip the gadget and pay reduced fees.  I think handing out such an expensive gadget will have an interesting effect on the conference demographic: we’ll likely see an increase of corporate employees, who can expense the entire conference and are less price-sensitive than startups and freelancers – the original Office 2.0 crowd.

But that may very well be what the conference needs.   There’s a reason why this year’s theme is Enterprise Adoption.  The Office 2.0 movement wouldn’t go very far with only the early pioneers, evangelists talking to themselves, dissmissing enterprise requirements.  For the principles to become practice in business, we need a more balanced mix, and in a twisted way the gadget may just help achieve that.

Those who can’t afford the full registration are not entirely locked out: Socialtext CEO and top evangelist Ross Mayfield will facilitate Un-Conference 2.0 the day before the official conference, at a cost of $50.

Finally, startups have a chance to present the attending VCs, media, bloggers at  LaunchPad – Ismael announced this event over the weekend, and already has 10 particpants – get in there while you can.  Note to my (numerous) VC readers: I hope you will be there, too.

If you’re still hesitating, check out the Agenda, the list of SpeakersMedia representatives,  and if you haven’t done so, register now.

I’ve saved the best for last: don’t use the standard registration, save $100 by registering here.

Update: while I was typing here, fellow Enterprise Irregular Dennis Howlett explained why this is an Irregular (pun intended) Conference in more than one way.  Update to the update: see Susan’s excellent summary.

(cross-posted on the Conference Blog)