Happy 2010

Below a short Happy 2010 message for you all. If the video doesn't load you can also find it here.

Closing 2009 and looking forward to 2010

Cool - PowerPoint Online

For quite a while I'm already searching for a good online presentation tool. This started already when I was living without a laptop and more recently again when I found Prezi as a great alternative. However I work in an environment where Microsoft PowerPoint is the standard, complete with a strict corporate template.

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised when I was using the SkyDrive website and I received an invitation to try the Office web applications. It made me feel special, rewarded and happy, because I'm very curious and have high expectations. The invitation might have been there already for a while, unfortunately I hadn't noticed it yet because I usually use Gladinet to access the file storage. This time however I was using a Mac and needed to get a file and used the website. I immediately started to experiment.

The good stuff
1. The application feels solid (I didn't experience any crashes) and is responsive in most situations (all on Safari on the Mac).
2. It really looks nice, fresh and modern.
3. I really liked the 'Where is the Save button'.  Your presentations are automatically saved and you never have to worry about loosing some changes.
4. The view mode is really useful if you store a lot of presentations on your SkyDrive... as I actually do.
5. It's based on HTML and Javascript and not using any plugins

The Not so good stuff (where I still expect a lot improvements before launch)
1. The functionality is extremely limited. Many of the essentials are still missing, for instance copy/paste of slides between presentations, maintaining Master Slides, Changing the slide layout after creation... and a lot more.
2. The above means that I cannot yet use web application to create my presentations.
3. I'm still not convinced that the ribbon is the right solution. I'm not talking about the usability, but it just takes too much screen real estate and this makes the Online application useless on a smaller laptop (those that you use for traveling around).
4. I miss web collaboration features. I can't share, view and edit the presentation with others, but isn't that the power of the web and the reason for a presentation?

Some people told me that the Office web apps should not be seen as a replacement for the desktop version, but as a supplement. It's handy for making some last minute changes, correcting spelling mistakes etc. Well when I have to make last minute changes it usually is more about reshuffling and/or  copying some slides from an other deck etc. The current online version would not help me.
Instead I've some suggestions for some real supplemental features:
1. Collaboration around the presentation. For instance I request someone to review and this person has the ability to add notes to the slides.
2. View the presentation together and discuss content with IM (preferably web based too)
3. Embedding of the viewer in other web applications to allow publication of a presentation on another website or blog.

To summarize I do believe Microsoft has made a good start and a foundation for real web based Office applications is created. The current preview is still very far away from a fully functional web based PowerPoint and I'm curious to follow the progress and anxiously waiting for added functionality and the day I can finally say goodbye to my desktop applications.

Note: I've not reviewed Word and Excel, because I've no need for writing documents and creating extensive calculations sheets. I do however frequently create presentations.

Predictions for 2010

This time of the year it's always interesting to make some predictions for the new year. I've done it with a little presentation I like to share with you. If the presentation doesn't show below, you can find it here

You comments are highly appreciated.

The Mysterious Ways of Software Selection

Christmas we either spent with our relatives in Finland or together at home. This year we opted for the last option and we prepared well. We like to watch movies and have build up a fine collection, however it's always nice to have some 'new' ones to watch so in the days before Christmas we picked up a couple of additional movies. Unfortunately it has happened already a few times that we can't remember very well what we already own and end up with doubles. We spoke about this already a few times and fantasized that it would be create to have easily online accessible list of the movies we own. However we never really did something about it.

This morning I got up late and saw my girlfriend with her laptop next to the cabinet that holds our DVDs. I'm making a list of our DVDs she told me. This all doesn't sounds very strange, but let met explain that my girlfriend is not at all familiar with the availability of software applications and services. At work she uses the normal corporate office stuff and at home just a browser to get onto the web and for her web based email. Since there is no additional software installed on her MacBook I was curious how she was actually creating the list. I was impressed when I saw her working in Google Docs editing a spreadsheet and really curious how she got to this point.

I asked her and the answer was really simple. I just went to Google and clicked 'more' and then 'even more' and there I found a spreadsheet, because I was sure Google would have something. There was no doubt in her mind that Google could deliver the software she needed (while nobody ever told her anything like this) and there was no reason to search further. Without any further research she also assumed that the information would be accessible on a mobile device for easy access in the store. For a little longer she continued to work on the document before she shared it with me, again assuming this would be possible.

I was amazed to learn that she didn't go to Microsoft, while she does work extensively with Excel in the office, and she didn't search for a solution either, but went straight to Google assuming they would have something that would facilitate online sharing and mobile access.

Scrum at Exact Research

The Exact Research team implemented iterative agile software development already a long time ago, however only in the last half year we are formally doing this with Scrum. The team did a great job implementing this in a very agile way, every sprint the process gets refined and improved.

To mark their great achievement I followed them with a small Flip camera and documented the last sprint. I promised not to use their voices and put some nice music by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). I'm no good in making movies, but still I like the result. If the video doesn't show below you can also find it here.

Information Technology made me an Outcast

Information technology is all about bits and bytes, zeros and ones and has challenges dealing with different patterns. I'm living in the Netherlands and have a very common dutch name, however it doesn't fit in the rules of information technology. This makes me an outcast in today's world.

Let me explain my name, it's as a full name Aad 't Hart, with Aad being the first name and 't Hart the last name. You read this correct, my last name starts with an apostrophe, a small letter t, a space and then starting with a capital letter Hart. When sorting and searching in a list I belong in the 'H' section. It's not that difficult but let me share some of the issues that I've been running into in the last many years.

1. In the early days of IT sites often crashed when I entered my last name starting with the apostrophe. The root of this problem mostly laid in the apostrophe also having very technical internal meanings and dealing with them properly is difficult. Today many times a name starting with an apostrophe is just not excepted.

Needless to say that I entered my real name, but it just doesn't get accepted by the system.

2. Last names must start with a capital letter and are often automatically converted. You can also see this in the image above, but MySpace even replied to me that it was a feature of the site and apologized for the inconvenience it caused.

Nice, MySpace is sorry that I end up in an identity crisis.

3. The 't just gets stripped of as if it doesn't belong to my name. The Apple to Google address book synchronization is a clear example of this.


4. Since my name should appear at the 'H' in a list sorted by last name I often use only Hart for the last name and make the 't a middle name. Unfortunately this results in many other side effects, most of the time my full name suddenly becomes Aad Hart.

I challenge everyone working in the Information Technology to solve the gap between technical capabilities and the use and promotion of real identity and names. I'm just an example of the poor technical implementations for dealing with real identities and names.

My Phone Role-play

Yesterday I (temporary) switched my iPhone for a Nokia E72. I want to share the reason why and give you some first impressions on the change.

Let me first tell you my phone behavior over the last few years. Until the arrival of the first iPhone I never wanted to use a 'smart' phone, because they were all too big, bulky and hard to use. I chose to have a simple phone to make a phone calls. The first generation iPhone changed this, because it was simple, had a great screen and it's not a phone, it's a lifestyle device. It is not about making phone calls, it was about a fun experience. I use the iPhone mainly for instant web access, reading my RSS feeds, interacting with my social networks, occasionally as a camera and gaming device and a little bit for email and phone calls. I use it in it's most simple form and I'm very happy with the 'lack' of features.

Now I'm gonna do without this all for a while. Like actors that take odd jobs to get into their roles this is something similar. We are working on a simple mobile web application that targets the business user. The dominant phone in the target markets have keyboards and limited screen real estate. For the project we defined the Nokia E72 as the reference phone for the application.

Of course the application needs to be tested, but there is more. I value that it's important to really understand the capabilities and thus I'm going thru this experience. My first impressions are wide in variation. When I first unwrapped the phone I was impressed by the technical build of the phone, it's really nicely build. The form factor is nice, a little thinner than the iPhone and the screen looks good. Due to the keyboard, that takes some time to get used to, I do miss screen real estate. In the past when phones where just phones I liked Nokia, because their ease of use. Unfortunately they have lost this, probably as a result of adding a zillion features.

I'm impressed by the features and they go far beyond my needs and imagination. You can adjust the ringing volume based on how you position the phone on your desk, it has a flash light and I wouldn't be surprised if I can run a server farm on Hyper-V on the phone. I now study the manual, because I guess the target group for the phone needs them all, so I need to master them.

When turning on the phone I at first couldn't figure out how to make phone calls, because a green/red phone button is missing, instead their are symbols used that don't represent a phone. A little trial and error got me over this. The configuration of my email accounts was simply done with a setup wizard, however the huge number of confirmations and button presses irritated me for a while. After setup the email interface is great, easy to use and has more than sufficient functionality for me. The next challenge was to get on the web, by immediately getting disappointed by constant questions which connection to use, no proper zooming and a lot of confirmations on anything I do. Next to deal with was Twitter. Mobile web was a bit disappointing so I started to search for a Twitter client in the Ovi store. The choice was limited and the installation process very confusing, even asking in which memory to store the application. I chose all the defaults on all the questions and got it working. It might have been the application, but I was not impressed. I guess I'm spoiled by the excellent choice for the iPhone.

My initial conclusions are that it's a great phone for making calls and dealing with email and your calendar, but don't depend on the phone for keeping up with news and your social networks. I will continue to use the phone and update you in case I really start to enjoy the phone.

Bored with you standard presentation slides?

The human brain is not linear and I struggle quite often to get my ideas in a presentation. I like to use mind mapping techniques to sort ideas and create stories. Most presentation solutions today unfortunately are based on slides placed in a fixed sequence resulting in a lot of duplication with 'summary' slides. Cool animations and transformations try to cover up the non linear patterns of my brain.

While checking out some web based online presentation tools I found Prezi - The zooming presentation editor. This is something really different and extremely cool. Just to give you an idea check out the embedded presentation I quickly created based on some earlier created material. If it doesn't show you can also find it here.

Extending my Blogging activities

You might have noticed that it has been a bit quiet on this blog. The main reason is that I've busy and spend some time writing in other places. It's very likely that trend will continue and for that reason I will regularly provide you will links to other articles I've been writing.

The Exact Product Blog, a place where I will more regularly write about more work related material:
I also got invited to write for the World Congress on Information Technology in 2010:

It's also worth to know that I collect daily ramblings in my Posterous blog and if you are really keen on knowing what I'm up to check out my hobby Google App Engine lifestream project.

Image credit: salendron