Battle in the Cloud: Microsoft vs Google

There is a lot of buzz around businesses getting into the cloud. Storing data off site offers many advantages from always having access to your work to cutting costs. The question then comes down to which cloud service do you use? It seems these days that there’s a new cloud host popping up every other hour. There are two giants in the field at the moment: Microsoft and Google. Microsoft offers Office 365 and Google has its cloud apps like Google Docs. Here are some factors to consider when picking one.

Microsoft began its journey into the cloud over twenty years ago with its Exchange Service line. In all that time the software has been battle hardened and honed for enterprise purposes. Office 365 is a collection of all the Office Suite programs that you know, like Word and Powerpoint. These programs are then given sharing capabilities that allow them to communicate with the Cloud. These programs can also be used offline which is probably Office’s biggest advantage over Google. The downside is, as with most Microsoft programs, price. Office 365 comes in many forms and the version that contains the most useful tools like Sharepoint cost extra.

Google Apps’ standard version is free. All that is required is a Google account. It offers is own versions of spreadsheets, presentations, and a word processor. One of its bigger strengths is its ability to mesh perfectly with the Android platform, giving it greater mobility with smart phone users. However, its all online and that comes with its own problems. Google Apps are a bit clunky and lack the polish that Office 365 has. There’s also an issue with ease of use. Office has been around a long time and has had much more time to be tested and rendered for users. Though it may take some getting used to, Google Apps can be accessed by anyone anywhere with an internet connection.

It would take a week and a hundred thousand words to go into detail about these two cloud services. There are hundreds of variables to consider when addressing a businesses cloud service needs. More information can be found by talking to your IT department or here.

Google vs Oracle

Google is one of the largest tech firms in the world. It’s a rule of thumb in the business world that the big you are, the bigger the target you are for lawsuits. The search engine giant is no different. Currently, Google is being sued by Oracle, the proprietor of the computer language Java, to the sum of one billion dollars. Oracle contends that Google’s mobile platform, Android, uses patented aspects of Java. Google contends that the aspects that they used are open source and therefore not subject to copyright law. It’s an interesting case, revolving around the linchpin of the nature of modern intellectual property law.

Former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, testified that Java APIs were not subject to copyright since Google didn’t use the Java name in their products. The company Sun Microsystems, created Java and was then acquired by Oracle in 2010. However, Chairman Scott McNealy of Sun, claimed that Google did violate their patents. He also claimed that Google’s actions were hurting his company. It should be noted that in the five years that Google has released platform based phones no law suit was filed. It was only after Oracle bought Sun were motions filed.

This is an interesting case. Everyone from IT professionals to ice cream truck drivers will be indirectly affected. This lawsuit is more than two companies fighting over bits of codes. At the heart of the matter is a debate on how we treat and share data. We live in an age where data can be copied without a track. Data is as real as it is intangible.


New Google Tools For Ads

Anyone who’s ever taken a look at what Google Analytics has to say about their website knows there’s a lot of data out there. You can find out whether people are clicking through online ads to find your site, how long they’re staying once they get there and whether they’re clicking through to buy anything you’re selling. In fact, you can end up wasting hours and hours delving into details about unique visitors and bounce rates.

But all this information doesn’t necessarily add up to a real understanding of how your online branding is actually working. Do people like or trust your company more than they would have if you’d never spent a cent on your online presence?

Now, Google is promising it can answer questions like that. Its new Brand Activate Initiative is designed to offer insights on how effective online ads are that are comparable to traditional measurements used for television advertising. It is setting its sights squarely on big brands that have been slow to move their advertising dollars from TV to the Internet.

So far, the company has introduced two new products as part of the initiative. Active View promises to count not just “impressions” of an ad, but “viewed impressions,” meaning that the ad is at least 50 percent viewable on the screen for at least one second. Active GRP, a measurement analogous to the “gross rating point” measurement used in TV campaigns, provides real-time data that makes use of anonymous user data.

Neal Mohan, vice president of display advertising for Google, explains the new products in a blog post:

Is a particular ad in your campaign especially useful at improving brand recall in Illinois? You should be able to immediately increase your coverage throughout the Midwest. Is one ad slightly less effective at driving purchase intent and in-store sales? Tweak the creative, straight away.

So far, it’s unclear how much traction the new products will have. Advertising experts interviewed by marketing news site Clickz said they’re reserving judgment until they know more about the technical details behind the new tools. Meanwhile, many companies may want to seek IT consulting help to figure out the best way to make use of the information they can glean from the new metrics.

What’s Fun with Google Play

If you have a Google account, you may noticed that there is something new. Most notably, the introduction of Google Play onto your navigation bar. Put simply, this service is Google’s answer to Apple’s iTunes. Google Play was once called Android Market, but it lagged heavily behind iTunes in both visibility and sales. This re-branding seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the trends in digital media consumption. According to the Pew Research Institute in 2010, 56% of all adults went online for leisure purposes. That’s double that said they did so in 2000. The research seems to suggest that a lot of this has to do with the ease at which people can personalize their internet experience. Google is aware of this and Google Play has several key features that address this yearning.

All purchases done on Google Play will be stored in the cloud which can be accessed by both your mobile and web devices. Anywhere you are, your purchases can go with you. Because they are stored on a cloud server, movies and books won’t eat up your hard drive space. That’s an advantage over iTunes which requires the additional iCloud services to do such a thing. Also, Play Music, Google’s audio arm allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs for free. Apple’s iTune’s Match costs 24.99 a year. All the things that you upload and purchase can be announced in status updates, another key aspect of a personalized internet experience.

The internet was first created as a communications tool for the US Air Force. After all this time, it hasn’t strayed too far from its roots. Social networking is an idea as old as time, but it is only recently that we can do it with such ease and over such distances. What has changed over the years is the brightness of consumer identity. Less are people defining themselves by race or birthplace, but more by what they buy. We all know that people who purchase nothing except Apple products and guys who wear V neck T shirts are saying something about themselves. Google Play delves into this dynamic. Users can post purchase updates to let their friends know what they are listening to and what they are watching. This is thanks to a wide array of other Google services that support what Google Play’s mission.

Any IT Consultant can tell you that e-marketing is about ease of purchase and security. Google has a near spotless security record. As for ease of purchase, they’ve got Google Wallet for that. The service makes purchasing goods, especially Google goods, just one click away. What could be easier? Sign into your Google account and you’ve signed into Google Wallet, Youtube, Google Play and much more. When it comes to leisure, simplicity is important. I don’t want to waste what little free time I have trying to watch a movie online.

Google Play represents a great chance for Google to cut into Apple’s commanding market share. It seems to play into every facet of a good e-business of the social marketing age. Purchases are kept in the cloud for ease of access anywhere. It allows purchasers to share their experiences with other users. Finally, it’s easy to navigate and even easier to buy things. Time will show us if Google Play is as fun as it says it is.

Of Websurfers and Writers: The New Googlebot

Search Engine Optimization – it’s a buzz world. SEO is a set of techniques used by writers and website editors to make their content have better page rankings on search engines like Google and Yahoo. The end result is the attempt to generate more site traffic. Since Google is the world’s largest search engine most SEO techniques are aimed at appeasing the revered Googlebot. Googlebot is the algorithm that Google uses to categorize websites. Its sophistication is why you can type in beetle and car into the search bar and get websites about Volkswagen instead of insects in cars or a mish-mash of cars and insects. Web developers have used tricks to attempt to game the system. For example, typing in Beetle and car can give results about insurance and other unrelated search terms because the web developers used tags in an attempt to link to the two terms. Google has proclaimed that they want to level the playing field between sites that naturally pop up because of relevant content, and those who used tags and fake traffic to gain their page ranking. This new system has many implications for content writers and web users alike.

One of the major changes in the prolific search engine has been coined semantic search. It’s Google’s hope that their new search engine will understand how words work together to provide more poignant results. You may notice that sometimes when you type in common questions like: “How many feet in a mile?” that the search engine will display an answer for you: “1 mile = 5280 feet”. In the coming months you should expect more of that. Google plans on displaying more direct information in this manner. The hope seems to be to decrease time looking for information and increase the search engine’s accuracy. Google is strengthening the core of their customer satisfaction: finding quick and accurate information. The upcoming changes are a boon to web surfers, but it may have mixed feelings within the web content writers’ community.

SEO is a skill. Everyone who writes web content professionally boast about their SEO techniques, myself included. Over the years, I’ve learned that writing good content is the best SEO trick. If you build it they will come, but if you build it well you will have a repeat customer. Under the new system, businesses will be linked to what they are about. This effects everyone from IT consultants to book sellers. If you were to type in an author’s name, with semantic search, information about the author will pop up as well as a list of books and where they can be purchased. Searches can further be narrowed down by locations since Google now has access to all profile data. This may cause small to medium businesses to have more exposure. However, it is unclear how content makers will capitalize on the changes. What is clear, is that users are becoming more information savvy. They are more discerning about where and what they look at on the web. In the future, writing good relevant content maybe the only SEO trick. That works for me.

Windows Azure, Leap Day and Cloud Computing

On Feb. 29, many users of Microsoft cloud computing service Windows Azure found their systems unavailable, and, for some, the outage continued into the next day. Microsoft has apologized, issued refunds to affected customers and promised to learn from the incident.

The company says the problems were the result of a “Leap Day bug,” an error related to date/time values. In a blog post, Bill Laing, vice president of Microsoft’s Server and Cloud Division, wrote that the problem emerged from the system’s attempt to create “valid-to” dates one year in the future, which Azure figured would be February 29, 2013. Since that day doesn’t exist, the certification creation failed, and users ended up being shut out of their cloud systems.

Then, Laing wrote, Microsoft inadvertently sent out an update package that wasn’t compatible with some companies’ host agents, which meant a delay in getting back to business.

The issue occurred at a time when many businesses are considering whether to go the cloud computing route, and for what operations. Azure is a prominent name in the space, along with products from Amazon, Google and other companies.

It may not be surprising that there would be bugs in cloud systems. They’re complicated, and pretty new. Windows Azure only became generally available in 2010. Then again, there are also plenty of potential pitfalls in storing data and software on-site. Keeping multiple computers updated with new software and security systems isn’t easy, and local servers—not to mention employees’ laptops—are vulnerable to all sorts of disasters. IT support firms can clarify these issues and help businesses choose the best tools—whether local or virtual—for their needs.

In response to the Leap Day problems, Microsoft has promised a number of improvements to its methods. Among other things, Laing wrote, the company will test its offerings better to avoid problems related to time and date values, work to detect errors more quickly and make customers’ dashboard interfaces more consistently available. The company also pledged to improve customer support and communications tools so that, in the event of an incident, those affected will have quicker access to better information about what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is giving a 33 percent credit for the affected billing months for all users of the affected services—Azure Compute, Access Control, Service Bus and Caching—even if their service wasn’t interrupted.

Microsoft must be hoping the slip-up won’t hurt Azure, especially since cloud computing is more and more on the minds of businesses that are choosing how to deal with their data most simply and affordably. In its quest to win over those potential customers, the company also recently cut the price of Azure, following Google and Amazon, which have done the same for their cloud offerings.

Privacy in the Google Age

Google has launched its new privacy policy which streamlines all of its data collection from its various services. In theory, this will allow Google to have better grasp as to what you want. For example, Google will be able to see what your friends on G+ like and target you with ads appropriately. To put this in perspective, Google won’t know any more than they do now; however, it will be able to use what it knows more effectively. There has been a lot of paranoid in the digital age regarding privacy, but there are some simple thing that you can do to thwart Google’s attempts to learn more about you. Google’s most popular services, its search engine and Youtube do not require you to be signed in to use them. Another thing you can do is to go to your account settings and click on Web History. From that tab you will be able stop the recording of your web search history. Even with all the tricks to avoid Google’s detection, there is still trepidation about privacy on the Internet. What to know more?

Yesica Toscanini, a fashion model from Argentina, is attempting to have exercise her Right to be Forgotten. She’s attempting to get certain pictures removed from coming up in search engine queries. This is not an isolated phenomenon. There are 27 countries in Europe that are creating similar legislation. The whole situation does raise an interesting question: Do we have the right to be forgotten? On the one hand, the right to be forgotten seems like the memory hole in Orwell’s 1984. He who controls the past controls the future. For example, in Germany two convicted murders want their names removed from Wikipedia since they’ve paid their debt to society by serving time in jail. On the other hand, actress Junie Hoang is suing IMDB, owned by Amazon, because she claims that the website went through her credit card information to obtain her birthday. It’s a tricky balancing act between privacy and free speech that is playing out right in front of our eyes.

In the digital age, it seems that privacy is a dwindling resource. IT consultants are at odds about how much information too much or not enough. How do you target consumers with meaningful information without invading their privacy? These are the questions are a matter of ethics and open to interpretation. Ultimately, it will be about how businesses and individuals wish to conduct themselves on the Internet.



Hotmail Gets a Makeover Part 2

In the second part of our blog about the improved Hotmail, we’ll continue by discussing one more handy new feature available.

One such feature now available in the revamped email server is ‘instant actions,’ a tiny little change that might actually save you a lot of time in the long run. Instant Actions provides you with customizable icons that show up when you hover over each email, allowing you to do things like move or delete a message with one quick click.

Why The New Hotmail is So Exciting:

It is fascinating to watch Microsoft not only catch up and make its own versions of handy Gmail features for Hotmail, but also come up with things Google has yet to think of. Microsoft is trying to bust Hotmail out of its funk and make it a worthy, modern, relevant email server once again, an effort they deserve at least a pat on the back for.

When the changes role out in a few weeks, dust off your Hotmail account and take a peek inside—you might just like what you find.

Hotmail Gets a Makeover

Hotmail?! Ugh.  A virtual storage space equivalent to your garbage can: spam, spam and more spam. That’s what you’re thinking, right? Who, besides your grandmother, uses that old, orange, ugly monster of an email server anymore?

But maybe, just maybe, you should consider revisiting your good old Hotmail account soon, because it is finally changing. Within weeks Hotmail will be rolling out a set of shiny new features. The changes are long overdue but it seems Microsoft has finally decided it will attempt to give Gmail a run for its money.

What’s New in Hotmail:

One significant improvement of the new system is the inclusion of categories, much like in Gmail.

Hotmail users can now label messages or senders into a particular group, either automatically based on content or sender, or manually. Users can also ‘flag’ messages, which automatically moves them to the top of your inbox and marks them with a little flag, much like Gmail’s ‘star’ system. Hotmail will also now automatically recognize newsletters and put them into a separate folder.

What’s Different from Gmail:

One totally unique and very welcome feature of the new Hotmail is the ‘scheduled cleanup.’ Scheduled Cleanups allow you to move or trash messages from specific senders after a set time period. You want all those irritating Facebook notification emails to be automatically trashed every three days? No problem. You want your banking statements to magically appear in their own folder at the end of every week? Done. It might not sound very exciting but the scheduled cleanup is actually a refreshing and much needed tool that allows you to easily keep your inbox neat and tidy.


Google+ and its New Features – Part 2

How Google+ Differs

But Google has taken extra steps to add value, enabling group video chat through a ‘hangout’ section, and by identifying topics users might be interested in with a ‘sparks’ page – a front-end to Google Search.

The service is also integrated with Google’s Profiles, Buzz and Gmail functions, so it’s simple to roll in any existing social connections. Users will notice a new Google+ panel in the upper-right-hand-side of any Google page after logging in.

In a strategy that worked wonderfully for Google’s Gmail offering, Google+ is currently invite-only, so you may have to wait for access to trickle down through your best-connected friends and colleagues.

Until then, Google+ is definitely worth keeping an eye on.