Tag Archives: microsoft

On returning my Microsoft Surface Pro 4

I’m finally returning my Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’ve been traveling for a few weeks out the country and so it hasn’t been possible, but now it’s time.

It’s also definitely mixed feelings; I’ve come to almost like the little beastie.

The Surface Pen, and OneNote

The pen on the SP4 is a little glimpse into the future. A few weeks ago, I needed to run a customer workshop at short notice, and I used OneNote to draw on a screen 1300 miles away.

You could do this with a tablet on any machine, sure, but the SP4 was very elegant: I flipped the kick stand and used it like a notebook.

There are frustrations with OneNote, like the SP4 version doesn’t do handwriting recognition, but drawing on the screen brought the meeting alive.

Windows Apps

As a Mac user, you’re a second class citizen when it comes to Microsoft products, and Windows 10 with Office 2016 provides a better experience, especially for search. 

Oddly though I didn’t find myself installing a lot of apps on the Surface, partially because it is a high definition screen and apps often come up shrunk on it. Microsoft still haven’t done a good job of scaling most 3rd party apps.

That Screen

I was doing a remote workshop this week and we used one Dell laptop for the video conference, and the SP4 for sharing PowerPoint.

Wow, the Surface screen is amazing. It’s so clear and sharp and the colors pop. I’d go as far as to say that it’s better than my MacBook Pro screen, although that one is nearly 4 years old…

Windows Hello

Is also amazing. It recognizes me every time, even in low light, and unlocks in a snap.

The only annoyance is I frequently lock my machine and without the keyboard attached that isn’t as easy as it should be, plus Windows Hello will immediately unlock unless you walk away. Grr!

The SP4 is a 21st century device

I’ve got to admit, my MacBook Pro feels like a last-generation device now I go back to it. To be fair, it is a mid-2012 model, but the current model for sale in 2016 is almost identical.

But… The Stability still sucks

It still has stability problems and crashes frequently. I had to disable Sleep because that made it even worse, so you have to wait for it to come out of hibernate to use it.

Honestly that is what makes the SP4 a deal breaker.

I spoke to a coworker who was sent a Surface Book, and it is sat in its box, eschewed by a Lenovo Yoga. For anyone in the market for a convertible, the Lenovo Yoga Pro is a sweet device.

In conclusion

The SP4 feels like a window into the devices of the future, just as the MacBook Pro is a rear-view mirror into the past.

But the key is, I will always prioritize a device I can trust for my primary work device, and I can’t trust the SP4, so it has to go. It’s that simple.

The question is… What’s next? I find myself increasingly using my iPhone 6S Plus (this blog was written on it), and I just purchased a 12″ MacBook for my other half, and it is amazing. Plus there is the iPad Pro, the forthcoming 2016 MacBook Pro, or even a Lenovo Yoga, which I loved when I had one on loan.

One thing is for sure, 2016 will be an amazing year for computing. Happy New Year!

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 First Glance – a heart breaker and a deal breaker

As those that know me will know, I’m a big fan of Apple products. Some call me a fanboy – but my view is that I like them because they work. I’ve owned my Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15″ since… Mid-2012, and have barely lost a day of productivity. The last time the MBP was out of action was when I dropped it on the corner onto granite, and dented it. Apple took it in and replaced nearly everything, a process which took a few days.

That said, 3 years is a long time in technology, and the MBP has seen better days. It’s out of warranty and some of the connectors have stopped working, and it’s getting a bit slow. It’s time for a replacement and the rumors are that Apple will have a new machine in Q1 of 2016.

And here it is that I find myself browsing the world of computers.

Why not the iPad Pro or MacBook?

I love the new MacBook, it looks great. But, for me it is underpowered and the keyboard is a little cramped, and I’m certain that it’s not well built enough to survive the pounding that anything I own will go through. I went through 3 MacBook Airs before I was smart enough to move to the Pro, and those light machines can’t handle it.

As for the iPad Pro… it’s just a big iPad. That will suit some people, and the screen and battery life are glorious, but I can’t download 20GB of email from Office 365 locally, or curate complex documents. A few of the reviews have said the same – the iPad Pro is an awesome consumer device, but it’s no laptop replacement.

A Mid-2015 MacBook Pro isn’t an option – it’s way too incremental an improvement over what I’ve already got. So Apple… you’re out!

Then it must be the Microsoft Surface Book?

The next logical device is the Microsoft Surface Book. On paper, it looks like it’s the ultimate laptop convertible. There seems to be no downside to this thing! It’s a laptop… it’s a tablet… with 12h battery life and no downside.

My take on the Surface Book is that it’s very much a first generation device. Is it the future of computing? Hard to tell. Certainly, it appears to offer the best of both worlds, but the battery as a tablet is very limited, for example, and it can’t charge from base station to tablet – you have to be plugged in. I also heard various problems with docking and undocking the base.

I walked into Best Buy and they admitted that whilst they did have Surface Books in stock, I couldn’t see one because their demo device didn’t power on any more and they were awaiting a replacement from Microsoft. That sealed the deal.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

And so it is that I find myself writing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’m sat on the sofa, tapping away on the keyboard on my lap, with the kick stand propping up the screen. The keyboard case is remarkably stiff and I find myself typing remarkably quickly, though I’m still not quite used to the offset keyboard, so accuracy is off.

For the last week I’ve been traveling with both my SP4 and my trusty MacBook Pro, so I can be sure not to lose productivity. I’m not ready to make a final conclusion yet but I think you’ll find the initial findings interesting.

It is conceptually amazing

The concept of the SP4 is amazing. It’s light, it’s a tablet, and it has a detachable keyboard. It claims a 9 hour battery life and Windows 10 is convertible-friendly, so you can switch in between use cases on a dime.

The screen is fantastic – detailed and crisp with great colors, and the kick stand means you can get comfortable on any surface. Microsoft Edge is a good browser and is quite effective in tablet mode, which is very nice browsing on the sofa, where you can detach the keyboard and save all that weight.

I’ve got the i5 version so it’s not got the raw power of a MacBook Pro, but I find it responsive and speedy enough for my needs. I figured the i5 version would have better battery life, and it’s far less expensive. Office 2016 is also awesome, and can be downloaded via your Office 365 subscription.

It excels at some things

The SP4 absolutely excels at some things. For example I just ran an off-site, and I used OneNote with the pen to take notes, taking pictures of white boards with the camera, and it was awesome.

Same with being used for email in a café or train station – you can pull it out, and the keyboard is remarkably good to get out content quickly. I used the iPad Pro keyboard and was much less impressed. It can’t match a full size keyboard like the MacBook Pro, but it’s not far off.

It misses the mark in the real world

I’ve been trying to work with the SP4, but so far it’s not met my expectations. See, there are deal breakers.

First, the Wi-Fi is flakey. This is well documented on the web, and running all the updates in (which takes 4 reboots and over an hour) helps. But I still can’t access my iPhone hotspot, which means I get no internet on the go.

Second, the claimed 9 hour battery life is simply not true. In very modest use, it’s 3-4 hours of browsing and email. I don’t understand how a consumer product company is allowed to make statements like this. I guess you might be able to get 9 hours of video playback with the screen turned off.

Third, the usability is off. I put the SP4 down and then pick it up some while later and open the keyboard flap. It doesn’t turn on, you have to press the button for this. And depending on how deep it has gone to sleep, you have to wait several minutes for it to come to life. Or sometimes it doesn’t come to life at all and you have to hard reset.

I’ve taken a hard line – I must try to use the SP4 first, and use the MBP as a backup device, but too many times I’ve got frustrated with the SP4 because I had actual work to do, and pulled out the MacBook Pro.

Fourth, the tablet mode isn’t quite right. I had a Lenovo Yoga, and that converted automatically between tablet and PC mode when you flipped the keyboard. Not so with the SP4, you have to manually switch, which is frustrating. What’s more, many apps (Slack, for instance) aren’t tablet-enabled, so they aren’t responsive and the on-screen keyboard gets in the way. Slack is my primary messaging tool, so that’s another deal breaker.

And last, the so-called lapability factor of the SP4 is off. The kick stand means that the keyboard is 3″ closer to you than in the MacBook Pro, which means that the SP4 is horribly uncomfortable on an airplane or train, and because it doesn’t have a hinge, the keyboard and screen don’t support each other. On a flat surface, it’s awesome, but elsewhere, it’s really unpleasant.

Final Words

I’ll be traveling with the MBP and SP4 over the next few weeks and I’m hoping I come to like the SP4 more. Perhaps it will come into its own in situations I haven’t encountered yet.

But for a fourth generation device, the SP4 has too many deal breakers.

The ten reasons I still hate Microsoft Lync

Around two years ago, I wrote The ten reasons I hate Microsoft Lync the most. It’s either a sad reflection of my blog, or a sad reflection about what people think of Lync, but it’s the most popular article on here. Either way, I read a marketing blog on the SAP website about Lync and figured it was time to update this.

1) No improvements

In the last 2 years, there has been no discernible innovation in Lync. Microsoft released Lync 2013, but it didn’t make anything work any better. Despite the cries for help from customers, Microsoft haven’t done anything measurable to fix the product. Instead, they seem to have invested R&D in extending the product to create more broken features. Great.

2) Mobile is still unusable

In the last 2 years, mobile devices have become pervasive – I don’t know about you, but I do around 50% of my work on a tablet or smartphone. I did try installing Lync 2013 on my iPad and iPhone, but it’s unusable. In a world where the tiny startup Viber has produced an app that works on all my devices on any network, the fact that Microsoft can’t do the basics in mobile is sad.

3) Messages don’t sync across devices

When I get a Viber message, it appears on whatever device I’m on. When I read the message, it appears read on all devices, obviously. Not so with Lync. If I am desperate enough to sign into Lync on my iPad, I inevitably end up with a pile of messages that I find a few weeks later.

4) Notifications don’t work

Notifications don’t even work, either on Mac, iPad or iPhone, losing yet more messages. And whilst we’re there, if Lync signs you out, which happens every time you lose network connection, then it closes all the windows and you lose the messages.

5) Screen sharing and sending of files don’t work

I have a high-resolution screen, and Lync 2013 doesn’t scale, so if I can get screen sharing to work, I have to sit and squint at my screen to see what’s going on. Maybe Microsoft can make a line of magnifying glasses to hold in front of your screen? But then 2 minutes into the call, you lose screen sharing anyhow, and that’s the end of that. My solution – a join.me subscription, which works great on any device and network.

6) Call quality

I’ve used plenty of other systems, and phone quality is never a problem. But with Lync it’s usually a problem. The most reliable way is to setup a call, and then dial in from my cellphone, but this has a lot of background noise. I’m unable to reliably join on a PC connection, despite having excellent Verizon FIOS internet at home. But I regularly talk to colleagues and friends in Europe and Asia on Viber and FaceTime Audio – even when driving on a cellphone.

7) Lync doesn’t work at all on Mac OS X Yosemite

Yeah, it just crashes.

8) No chat rooms

You can argue that Viber is a consumer app, but they have a tiny R&D budget and they have innovated way beyond what Microsoft has done. Probably my favorite feature of Viber (WhatsApp have this too) is the ability to create rooms, which work across devices. For projects this is great – we add a bunch of people to a Viber chat room, and everyone is up to date. And I just checked, and managed to send a picture just fine with Viber.

9) The increasing pervasiveness of Lync

Despite the user experience, Lync seems to be gaining ground in the market. This is horrible because it means that I get and send Lync meeting requests from other companies. Since it doesn’t work in my organization, the idea that joining meetings from other companies is comic.

10) The comments on my last blog

One of the things that disappointed me were the comments on my last blog. On the one hand, it was nice to know I wasn’t alone with Lync misery, but the sad things were the comments from what appear to be Lync administrators – mostly telling me that my company was doing it all wrong, some being plain abusive. But we have a pretty good IT team, and we employed a specialist consultancy for the implementation, and we’ve had it reviewed. I don’t believe it’s our implementation that’s the problem.

Final Words

It’s sad that two years on, Microsoft have done nothing to address any of the concerns I wrote about before, and it’s clear that many people feel the same way that I do – the comments below are testimony to this.

The only people that seem to think that Lync works well are the people who install and configure it. Many of them feel passionately that Lync is a good solution. To them, I suggest they listen to feedback from the people who use it.

Lync sucks.

The ten reasons I hate Microsoft Lync the most

Edit: I updated this in “The ten reasons I still hate Microsoft Lync” in October 2014.

I’m stuck with no Microsoft Lync connectivity again, and in my frustration I thought I’d give my top 10 reasons why I hate Microsoft Lync. Maybe someone from Microsoft gives a crap and will do something about their awful collaboration suite.

It’s worth noting that I’m a huge Lync user. I setup tens of calls a week with 1-100 people on them. I call it from my cellphone, from my Mac, from everywhere. And I hate it, unreservedly.

1) Unpredictability

This comes top. I never know if it’s going to work. Each time I set up a conference call I have a moment of Russian Roulette as I click the “join” button. And 50% of the time, there is some kind of problem (see below).

2) Wasted Time

It’s impossible to get a call started on time so you end up wasting an average of 3 minutes at the beginning of a call. That’s 5% of every call, wasted because of people joining late, technical problems etc.

3) Hello? Can you hear me?

This is the Microsoft Lync mating call. Because you’re never quite sure if the other person can hear you. Or whether groups of people can hear each other.

4) Regression Testing

Each time you get a Lync update, you can never be sure what’s going to break. With the current version, for example, I can’t join calls unless I quit and restart the Lync client. And every other call, I can’t hear the other person until I quit and restart the Lync client. Not minor things!

5) Call Quality

The quality of calls is so incredibly variable. Cellphones can play a part, but even with straight PC to PC calls, you never know what’s going to happen.

6) Dropped Calls & Messages

“No Response From the Server” when you send messages. Calls dropping randomly. All of this is a day in the life of Lync.

7) The need to spend time setting up Lync

If you’re an occasional user, forget it. You won’t be able to setup your microphone right, it won’t work, you have to download software to join calls. To use Lync effectively you need to spend time configuring and tweaking it.

8) Mobile Clients

These are abysmal. There is an iPad app but it’s got 2% of the functionality of the Skype iPad app. No calls. No video. No sharing. Why even bother?

9) Collaboration Features

These are the least reliable of all. I can share my screen if I’m on my company VPN and so is the other caller. Sometimes. For some of the call. Sharing PowerPoint? Why bother even trying. Send a file? Never seen it work. All of this stuff works flawlessly on other software like Adobe Connect.

10) Pace of Change

I sort of assume I’m not the only person that feels this way, but Microsoft don’t do anything about it. The rate of change with Lync is zero and it’s as if they don’t invest anything in it. Or care.

Conclusions

I don’t know what to conclude, to be honest, but Lync makes me miserable on a daily basis. So I’m thinking that the best thing to do is to get rid of it and use some other piece of software. But that means change and investment and we have already paid for Microsoft Lync.

It’s also worth noting that I came up with 10 reasons really easily. And probably forgot a bunch. So let me know your top reasons for hating Lync. Do you think Microsoft would give us our money back? 🙂

Why does the tech community hate Enterprise IT?

I have a serious case of writers block, and a more serious case of insomnia. I wrote an blog on Tuesday entitled Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad, and it went viral. I received more page views in a day, than my combined page views on my blog, ever. It was read by people from individual developers and the SAP management team alike. And now, like a musician writing a second album, I don’t know how to follow it up.

15 years ago I was studying Computer Science at Cambridge. These were heady days. We theorised on Richard Stallman and The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The open source community was starting to rear its head and we felt on the cusp of a revolution. We installed Linux by hand and RedHat was just starting to emerge. We hacked code until 5am, drinking Jolt Cola and listening to 80s rock, exposing vulnerabilities in Windows NT. I had a Digital Alpha running Linux under my bed. Microsoft was the devil. Times were good.

And I remember the process of leaving college and receiving interviews. CSC, Oracle and Microsoft would woo us with their graduate programs, offering booze, pens and the promise of the good life. We scorned them and took the junkets. Colleagues went off to banking, software development. The lucky ones went off to startups where they applied their Linux skills and programmed in ML. Some sold their soul to the devil and went to work for Microsoft, SAP or Oracle.

In the meantime, I went through a career where I have done many things. I spent some time in Analytics, I’ve programmed C++ and perl and 20 other languages. And now, I’m a parody of myself, running a consulting practice in SAP Enterprise IT. I’m sitting here wondering what my 19-year old self would think of me now.

So it came to pass that for some reason, my article hit Hacker News and it went viral; as a result I got a very different audience reading my content. When I write about enterprise, I get a small but engaged audience reading about SAP. They say nice things about what I write and I feel warm and fuzzy. On Tuesday, I found a new audience, and some of what was written is akin to hate mail:

“Get a life, stop wining about how a tech b2b company that you are more interested in isnt getting the same amount of press… it is a boring company. and seems like less profitable too.”

I know why this is and I’m pretty certain my 19-year old self would have chimed in with the accusatory language. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I believe – like in 1996 – we are on the cusp of another revolution; one where the Enterprise IT and tech communities can – if they want to – meet in the middle ground of the Consumerization of IT. Here’s why:

From what I can gather, the tech and open source communities hate SAP for a number of reasons; the worlds evil and antichrist came up a lot in my blog comments. My inner hacker knows exactly what they are:

1) Idealogical. SAP protects software patents, has an army of suited sales executives and lawyers. It’s not cool.

2) Community. SAP is implemented by armies of consultants charging high day rates. It’s a boys club and the community is hard to get into.

3) Integration. SAP is an information silo and it is hard to get stuff in and out of it.

In order for any of this stuff to change, there have to be socioeconomic factors which are a catalyst; I think in 2012 we will be in exactly a time where an inflection point is possible.

1) Economy. Let’s face it, the global economy is screwed. Budgets are tighter than ever and there is no end in sight. It will be business as usual to work to get Even More for Even Less.

2) Pervasiveness. SAP is here to stay; 65% of the world’s business transactions touch SAP. It is the most successful Enterprise IT software. Even if SAP becomes irrelevant like IBM AS/400, many SAP environments will be around for 20-40 years.

3) Consumerization of IT. We all expect Android and iPhone user experiences. We want it for our business interactions. I use my personal MacBook Air as my primary business machine. The dam has broken on this and we can’t fight it. This is a real pain as SAP’s user experience traditionally sucks.

4) Business Networks. Much of the world now operates as a living breathing business network. Invoices, sales, supply chains – many of these operate automatically and electronically. Integration is necessary.

5) Big Consulting. SAP want to break up the Big Consulting Systems Integrator model of the 1990s. For every $1 of SAP license spent, there is $7 spent on consulting and hardware. The big consulting houses have been ripping off customers for years. Customers clench when they hear the words “change request”. There is an irony that SAP and IBM created this business model, but the world has changed.

You may be able to see where I’m going here. If you are in the main tech industry let me tell you what is going on in the SAP world that makes it relevant:

1) Open Standards. SAP’s relatively recent CTO, Vishal Sikka, has been championing open standards. The new in-memory database, HANA, only runs on Linux and on commodity x86 hardware. The modelling tool is Eclipse-based. It supports ODBC, JDBC and MDX for integration. The new Gateway integration layer allows REST-based integration with any SAP function.

2) Developer Ecosystem. Work is afoot to cut red tape and open the ecosystem. This is very hard in a big organisation and I don’t envy them, but it is happening. I challenged the SAP management team to measure how long it takes to become a SAP developer from start to finish – and make it as good as Apple and Google. The new developer website – SCN – will be launched on Monday 12th December. It too supports open standards.

3) Technology. SAP have produced technology with big developer potential. The Unwired Platform allows secure integration for mobile devices and supports open standards like REST, Apple, Android etc. Plus, systems will be available in the cloud for developers to use without having to install gobbing great big SAP systems at home.

You may get the sense that I’m pro-SAP here; I am. And I think, with good reason. Because, SAP have – unlike any of the other Enterprise IT players like Oracle – listened to the advice that they have been receiving over the last few years. And I think this dramatically plays into the hand of the wider tech community.

Because, if you are willing to put aside your ideological problems with working along side The Antichrist, there are enormous and interesting opportunities out there. For instance, you could write a Ruby on Rails web app that exposes a web shop – continuing to use an existing SAP ERP system for sales order processing and pricing. Or mobile apps for time and expenses that run on iPhone and Android. Don’t let me constrain you – you can do anything your mind can imagine.

And the wider tech community already has the skills and will be able to get into the SAP Ecosystem easily. The issues around community and integration can evaporate. And we can do away with some of those awful legacy interfaces that people have to put up with. SAP has embraced design thinking and is making much better looking solutions lately, but imagine the power of a community which is 10 times the size that it is now?

The question is – are people willing to put aside the ideological problem? I’m not sure what the 19-year old John would have said. Bring on the hate mail.