AT&T rolling out the SaaS

To most consumers, the Cloud is a place to have offsite storage.  To designers, it can be a place to dump data to free up more hardware for other things.  How about adding retail space to the list?

AT&T is rolling out SaaS (Software as a Service) products to over three million of its small business customers.  Most notable on the list is the ability to access Microsoft Office suite programs over the Cloud.

This offers several advantages.  The first of which is the freeing of IT resources.  All the programs and the data you input into them are held offsite.  That means you need extra hardware to run an HD teleconference or require constantly looking for CD keys to give out when everyone upgrades to the latest version of Office.

The second major advantage is scale.  The SaaS is rolling out in two tiers.  The first one allows up to 25 users download and upload all the AT&T cloud services at any given time.  For smaller businesses, that means when a new employee is hired, you don’t need to buy yet another cd for Microsoft Office.  Instead, they can just download all the data they need and be able to look at and share all relevant documents.  Essentially, it’s like having your own server for only six dollars month.

The upper tier is basically the same save for unlimited users.  You’ll probably save on IT costs by having AT&T dealing with all that.

Yet, if you want your own dedicated cloud—you might want to check this out.



Enough Apps: Will Windows RT Survive?

Analysts say that for the near future, Windows RT will stay afloat.  Most of this positive outlook comes from the fact that RT rolled out with 9,000 apps.  Tablets, Microsoft’s Surface, live and die by their app stores.  The restrictions to their size simply dwarf any hardware that can be shoved into their handheld frames.

However, 9,000 apps, 5,200 of which are available to US users, are not enough to stave off the tech reaper forever.  The Surface has only been the on market for less than a month, not enough time to see if the tablet will outlast HP’s Touchpad and RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook.  Those two failed tablets were essentially dead on arrival, but the Windows RT and its source, Windows 8, are just out of the gate.

Microsoft rolled out with huge cheeks for app developers.  But will it be enough?  Only time will tell.  For now, we will simply have to suffice with the slightly substandard, but innovative hardware of the Surface.

If you’re planning on upgrading to Windows 8, be sure to have enough IT staff on hand.

Free Stuff: Microsoft’s Upgrade Offer

Attention: Free Stuff From Microsoft

From now until April 30th, 2013 customers who buy a retail copy of Office 2010 or one of several stand-alone applications will receive a download of the Office 2013 or the 2013 version of the stand-alone.  In a few instances, you can even get a free one year subscription to Office 365.  The offer is called the Microsoft Office Pre-launch Offer.

There’s no need to fear.  Microsoft has done this many a time before.  They did something similar with Office 2007 and the release of Office 2010.  The only difference this time is that there is a choice.

Should you choose to buy Office Home & Student 2010; you’ll be able to choose an ever-green license or a year of Office 365 Home Premium.  The 365 subscription will let you install Office on up to five Windows devices.

Office Professional 2010 purchasers will be able to choose between Professional 2013 and three months of Small Business Premium or one year of Office 365 Home Premium.

Beware though, if you have Office for Mac, there will be no upgrade for you.  You’ll simply get one year of Office 365.

If you need to get an Office suite, now is the time.  Office Home & Student 2010 runs about $100, and a new shiny copy of 2013 will cost you about $139.99 plus tax.  Should you choose to take the deal, you’ll need to redeem it by May 31st 2013.

Office 365: Embracing Software by Subscription

Instead of paying once for the basic world processing and database programs you use every day, how would you like to keep paying, month after month, for the privilege of using them? Microsoft is betting that’s actually going to sound like a good deal to its users.

The dominant workplace software company is trying what ZDNet blogger Simon Bisson refers to as a “bet-the-company strategy” in rolling out Office 365 not as software-plus-services but as fully functioning software as a service, with installed software as a minor piece of the deal.

Bisson notes that part of what makes this a big leap is Microsoft’s plan to let resellers bill customers directly for subscriptions to the cloud version of the software suite, Office 365 Open rather than handling the cloud service through a revenue sharing agreement.

Meanwhile, though, observers are wondering what this will mean for consumers. The current version of Office 365 includes various subscription plans for businesses, from $4 per user/month for a simple email-and-calendar setup to $20 per user/month for full access to Office programs both online and off plus hosted voicemail support, unlimited email archiving and other perks.

That’s all well and good for corporate users, but getting individuals to pay for a subscription to software is a different matter. PC World rounded up expert opinions on the subject and averaged their opinions out to predict that consumers won’t pay more than $6 a month for Office 365—and they’ll want to be able to install copies of the software on their computers. Even at that price, it might not be a great deal. PC World breaks down the math like this: The average customer keeps their software for five years. Office Home & Student 2010 costs $125 at a discount on Amazon and includes three licenses. That comes to $8.33 per license per year.

Something Windows 8 This Way Comes

As you may have heard, Microsoft announced that Windows 8 is coming out October 26th.  This release has a little more weight to it than previous Windows releases.  It’s a cutoff point for Microsoft on both the hardware and software front.  For example, the new Internet Explorer which has a vast market share will not be compatible with Windows Vista or XP.  Windows 8 will also have a full x86 tablet version which will support touch screens.  The down side is that the new operating system will boast the Metro interface.  It’s different and people don’t like different.

Microsoft has even added a few incentives to switch over to the new system.  First is price.  To upgrade from Windows 7 to 8 will cost 15 dollars and from Vista or XP it will take 40 dollars.  That’s pretty good deal, if you have a mind to switch.  Another incentive are the apps.  Microsoft has been offering up to sixty thousand dollars to developers to make programs exclusive to Windows 8.  And with the Surface on the way, Microsoft needs to show it can still innovate.  Hopefully, the upgrade won’t be an IT support nightmare.

The Gravity of the 80-inch Touch Screen

They say bigger is better, so the 80-inch made by Sharp must be the best touch tablet ever.  Well, maybe the 80-inch by Steve Ballmer might be better.  Windows 8, in theory, should support a touch screen of any size if has the right graphics driver.  That could be a game changer.  Smart boards already exist in class rooms, but image if it could also connect to the internet and cloud hosting services.  A computer is something that you derive information from, but a touch screen is something you interact with.  Just by the nature of its use, a touch screen is more personal.

The major advantage of having such a large touch screen is connectivity, not with the internet, but with other people.  Last week, I was sitting in a meeting with my laptop outputting to an LCD screen.  We all had spreadsheets open, but I was going over the data specifically on mine.  My co-workers commented on the data, and wanted to offer perspective by using their own data.  It became a bit of a mess.  They wanted point out things and cross reference.  We had to pass the cable around so they could show what was on their computers.  With a large touch screen they could have just gotten up and drew away.

That whole situation may make an 80-inch touch screen an overpriced toy, but a little bit of play mixed in with work is a dynamite concoction.  With Windows 8 support this kind of innovation, it may help Microsoft gain the “cool” edge over its competitor Apple.  Even though Microsoft controls almost 90 percent of the OS market, there’s nothing quite like escaping the dullard preconception of yourself.

Microsoft Goes Further Into the Cloud

For as long as most of us have been using computers at work, we’ve been using Microsoft products. Aside from a few handfuls of creatives on Macs and geeky types using Linux, being an office worker has usually meant being intimately familiar with Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

But, at least by many accounts, a new era is dawning. We’re no longer tethered to the programs installed on our hard drives. It’s often easier to collaborate with colleagues by sharing a Google Doc than by emailing a Word attachment. And more and more work gets done entirely outside of the constraints of an office computer, by coworkers accessing a shared company platform on the web.

In this environment, Microsoft is well aware that it needs to compete where its customers are working—in the cloud. In 2010, it rolled out Windows Azure, a computing platform that lets users run programs, store data and analyze information on remote Microsoft servers. That first generation of Azure is classified as a platform as a service product. It works together with the company’s software-as-a-service offering, which lets businesses use the familiar Microsoft programs in the cloud through Office 365.

Now, though, Microsoft is aiming squarely at the market for raw computing power currently dominated by Amazon. The most money in the cloud computing world today lies in that raw power, known as infrastructure as a service. The new Windows Azure offering, currently only available in “preview” allows users to rent virtual machines on the company’s servers by the hour or by the month.

Google also recently unveiled an infrastructure-as-a-service offering, which means the market is getting much more crowded with big-name players. That means customers may be able to find good deals as companies vie for their business. But it also means more to consider for anyone looking to sign up with a cloud provider, from making sure any given company will keep data safe and accessible to figuring out how to compare prices in an apples-to-apples fashion.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on major cloud computing players.

Scratching the Surface

Microsoft recently announced the release of the ‘Surface’, a laptop-tablet hybrid this Summer.  The Surface will come out with two distinct versions: one will run Windows RT which is optimized for tablet features and battery life, the other model will run a full version of Windows 8.  It’s the software giant’s first major foray into the laptop market, but will it be a success? It depends what Microsoft’s motives are.  Is just a business tool, a pivot point in the industry, or is it something else entirely?  That, all depends on the features.

The Surface will boast a full sized USB 2.0 port. It’ll also have an micro SD card reader. However, the most talked about feature is the kickstand, which allows users to prop the screen up. The second most talked about feature is that the Surface will have a 16:9 aspect ratio on a 10.3” screen that will support full HD.  Now the big question, should I order one for my business?

Well, I was on your IT team, I would say, I don’t know.  There are too many missing details about the Surface, chief of which is price.  How much this piece of technology will set you back has not been released, nor has the internal hardware list.  But it does have a keyboard, which gives a huge usability leg up on the iPad.  One member of the Surface development team said that the touch keyboard allows users to type at 50 words a minute.  With more and more offices converting to laptops only, this tablet could be an easy take-on-the-go machine, especially since it’ll have the full blown Metro system.  The user interface is not for everyone.  Windows Eight has the Metro system which has a bunch of tiles that display information and icons.  If you take the time to configure them, you can have the all the information you want at a glance.  All-in-all, I can’t recommend it either way.

Back to the Cloud

The rumor mills are on fire with possibility that Windows is relaunching its cloud services as an infrastructure-as-a-service plan. Okay, there isn’t that much buzz and probably very few people care. However, it is interesting news. The rumor boils down that Windows might offer Windows and Linux machine resources to be rented by the hour.

This move makes sense. Microsoft and Google are about the only companies that can go toe-to-toe with Amazon Web Services. They have the talent and the ability to create economies of scale. That one of the reasons why Amazon has gone relatively unchallenged in the cloud hosting arena. Competitors like Rackspace and Openstack just can’t slash prices like Amazon can. Some estimates place Amazon at nearly fifty percent of the market right now in cloud services. It’s commanding, but the mighty do fall.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re looking for cloud hosting services then you’ll have more choices. Infrastructure as a service allows you to get more computer power when you need it. If the rumors are to be believed (a recent tweet by Microsoft seems to confirm it) than you can pay for it by the hour. We’ll just have to wait until June 7th.

Make-Believe Reality

Imagine that you’re in the middle of the desert. The dunes stretch forever in every direction. There, on the edge of your vision you see a shimmer. Every fiber in your being tingles with the hope that you might find a reprieve against this endless assault by nature. Alas, it’s not a mirage it’s Microsoft’s new augment reality device, the Miragetable. In Austin, Texas, Microsoft unveiled its latest invention. The Miragetable projects images onto a warped piece of plastic. Cameras adjust the depth of images based on the user’s gaze. The device allows people to share tabletop experiences like showing off sketches and models. It has a lot of problems like rendering and texture issues. But it’s another step into the world of augmented reality. These are technologies that help bridge the gap between the digital and real worlds. Actually, the term real world is rapidly eroding.

Why does reality even need augmenting? Of course it’s not needed. It could be argued that we spend too much time plugged into devices and isolated even in public places. However, on the other hand, it could give one an edge. Imagine you’re working to work and you’re wearing Google Glasses. Your friend texts you that an ice cream truck has broken down on Bolyston Street and the driver is giving away free ice cream rather than watching it melt. The glasses analyze the message and display pertinent information like a map to the said location. You say a few commands and the glasses access a network of other maps and public transportation schedules. That way you can get you free ice cream and get to work on time. Nice.

That’s what life is about, right? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe all this sharing, networking, and connectivity is bad for our health. But once it gives someone an advantage. Once it makes an IT consultant more efficient or a first responder a greater chance of saving a life, augmented reality will stick.