Office 365 a first impression

While I'm living the Apple and Google lifestyle I'm still very curious what powerhouse Microsoft is doing with their cloud offering. I'm a believer in the cloud, because it provides convenience in our already busy lives and I already use as much cloud services and web applications as possible. This morning I was very happy that after waiting for almost for a week I found my Office 365 beta access code. Being curious I got right into it, and I was happily surprised.

The email provided a link to get started. It opened my favorite browser (more on that later) and the sign-up process asked me only a few simple questions. Unfortunately there was an annoying captcha that I had to try at least 3 times, but after that the environment was quickly up and running. This was a great improvement on previous BPOS experiences and it's a big plus that the requirement for a spammy MS liveID has finally gone.

After the sign-up it still takes a few minutes to provision the different services, but it's an easy wait. Navigating around feels good, it feels like an integrated environment and not like the old BPOS a set of independent applications. I did run into a browser warning telling my that my favorite browser (Chrome) is not supported, but software should be like women: accept me the way I am and don't try to change me. I obviously ignored the warning and until now haven't experienced any browser related problems. It feels good and I haven't experienced any problems accept that performance could be better. Especially going to the mail (outlook) section there is a significant wait. The only nagging thing is reminders for newer SilverLight versions. I'm not a fan of SilverLight and Mac, Chrome and SilverLight aren't a great combination. I just ignore them and I don't seem to miss anything for not having SilverLight.

The overall user experience requires for someone who always hated the Outlook desktop client and never really worked with SharePoint some time to get used to. Big plus is that Office 365 doesn't open a zillion tabs in your browser and really feels like one application, but of course the load performance requirements go up when quickly switching between your email and documents. I'm not in favor of the old windows inspired popup windows that happen when you create for instance a new mail message, because they can easily disappear to the back of your window and you loose them forever. This could have done a bit more web like, but probably is just something to get used to. It also took me a while until I figured out the need to double click to open an email. I guess my almost exclusive use of web applications made me forget the double click in Windows.

Besides messaging and email it's also about document management. For people who are used to SharePoint it's probably very easy to understand, but I miss just a simple list with my documents. I probably need to configure and customize the default teamsite to bring the simplicity I like. Unfortunately the office web apps haven't improved yet compared to the current SkyDrive versions. They offer sufficient functionality for simple documents, but creating a nice presentation with a custom template is not yet possible. My search for the perfect online presentation tool still continues.

Cloud solutions have one key advantage over on premise solutions and that is the ability to have frictionless sharing and collaboration on documents. I'm used to share a document, but Office 365 uses the concept of storing a document in a shared location (the way SharePoint works). I right now can't yet over see the advantages or disadvantages over the two different methods. My first impression is that sharing a document with individuals or groups of individuals works best when there isn't a formal collaboration structure and the shared location works best in a more formal organization and collaboration structure. I'll write about this a bit more in the future.

My preliminary conclusion is pretty good. Office 365 is a solid offering and complete enough for a small business to manage their messaging and collaboration. Depending on your document and presentation feature requirements you might have to add the Office desktop client. When Office 365 matures a bit more it's absolutely a valid option for businesses to evaluate when they see the need to off load some of their IT infrastructure.

Will 'aadjemonkeyrock' move from Google Apps to Office 365? Not for now and ask me why in the comments below.

Cloud Mania

Sunny TerrasRecently there isn't a day going by without getting confronted with the message that the cloud is the best thing since sliced bread. However the cloud is, like a real cloud, so blurry that it's by now only getting more and more confusing. What is this cloud? All I know, it isn't clear.
  • Microsoft is 'all in', whatever that might be. Recently with lot of buzz around Office 365, unfortunately I've to wait two to four weeks to test drive the recent beta release of Office 365. This can mean that it's a done deal and people are jumping on it immediately and I'm just too late with my adoption and have to wait in line, or it's a trick to create the impression that traction is huge, either way it's not yet clear what it can mean for my business.
  • Gone Google, not a day goes past of I read another impressive 'Our Gone Google Story'. Well, when I went to Google I didn't get further than the reception desk. Note: Aadjemonkeyrock runs Google.
  • VMWare launches Cloud Foundry, the first open Platform as a Service (PaaS). Many buzz words in the value proposition 'No Obstacles: Deploy and Scale Your Applications in Seconds', showing again focus on convenience.  
  • Microsoft is aggressively promoting the Azure Platform. It's too complex for me to understand, but it makes heaps of sense and has many advantages to build your solutions on top of a real cloud platform. You don't need to manage servers, get scalability and redundancy and combined with 'pay as you go' pricing it creates new business opportunities. 
  • Product Software companies are all evaluating how to fit the cloud in their product roadmaps. I notice a lot of interest in a transition toward Software as a Service solutions, but many of them  just don't know how to fit it in their existing business. If you need help figuring this out now, contact me, or wait until I focus an article on this specific topic.
  • Many traditional Information Technology service providers are fighting for your attention for their cloud solutions. They want to extend their service portfolio and provide you more convenience by hosting your existing solutions so you can focus on your core business instead of IT.

... and this is just the peak of the cloud iceberg and already shows the cloud embracing various and probably almost all aspects of information technology. It's about...
  • replacing on premise software with cloud based solutions consumed through the browser or in a hybrid model based on the traditional desktop applications.
  • outsourcing existing IT solutions to a solution provider.
  • changing the focus of software product development toward cloud solutions and possibly on top of an existing cloud platform.

The cloud and all the attention it's getting is driving me crazy. I prefer clear sunny days over cloudy ones at any point in time, but unfortunately the clouds will come and disrupt my current habit of outdoor lunches in the sun. With the IT cloud it's going to be the same and you should get prepared now.

What are you doing for your cloud adoption? Leave a comment below

The Perfect Office

I was thinking about what the perfect office would look like, this inspired by a Foursquare buddy shouting 'at the office' with a bar check-in. In a way this made a lot of sense, more on that later.

What do I expect from an office: It needs to be a place to find inspiration, to meet, challenge and coach people. An office should be about people and less about work, what can be done much more effective in many other places anyway.

Inspiration

It can be found anywhere and when I need to find inspiration I like to get out of the box. An inspirational office needs to be open, lots of windows to look outside and easy to get out for new impulses. I prefer people as impulses, just looking and observing behavior triggers my mind. So when getting out of the office box I look for people.

Meeting

When meeting people you want to be comfortable, have a drink and some food to enhance the comfortable setting. Depending on the meeting topic and size of the group you want a different kind of setting with various configuration options of tables, desks and lounge couches.

Location

The office must be easy to reach, a short commute and easy accessible with different means of transportation and if necessary parking must be easily available. It also needs to be located in an inspiring environment, so when getting out of the box you don't need to go for for new impulses.

Office

During the last six months of my nine to five employment I worked in the near perfect brand new Exact Headquarter. It was an open office with a very comfortable homey atmosphere, unfortunately it was in the middle of a field along the highway so getting out of the box didn't really inspire. Still it was the best office I ever worked in.

Nowadays I mainly work from home giving heaps of freedom, good coffee and a nice view. I actually work at different location on different tasks depending on the weather. Does this make sense? Probably not! When the sun is shinning in the morning the real home office is getting too hot and I work in the cosy dining room. The work gets done efficiently, but what about inspiration and meeting people.

I found a solution for this, coming back to the very first point in this post. What about a bar as an office? I actually do most of my meetings at 'Moodz eten & drinken'. It's only a five minute walk from the home office, it's in the middel of town, close to rail and bus station and next to a parking garage so easy accessible for external visitors. Depending on the occasion and weather there are various ways of sitting, lounging, eating or drinking while having an effective meeting. When the meeting gets stuck and new inspiration is required you can always catch a movie at the opposite of the street or go to DOK Delft, a library concept center for new impulses.

So, my perfect office has two locations, Home and Moodz. What is your perfect office? Leave a comment below.

iOS versus Android first development experiences

A while back I shared my first experiences developing an Android application and now I will also share my iOS development experiences for the same application. The application is simple and it just connects using OAuth to some JSON web services to retrieve and update information. It involves a tabbed interface with a few edit screens to navigate around. It's recommended you first read the Android experiences before continuing.

I'm already working on a Mac and already had XCode installed so that took out already a big hurdle for iOS development, because it's Mac only and XCode is a massive 4+Gb download. XCode and actually everything related to iOS development takes a little while to get used to (unless you are already experience in Mac OS development), but the whole development environment is solid, capable and feels really mature. This last can't be said of the Android development environment that at times is a bit buggy.

The first hurdle to take when getting started is to understand the concepts of iOS development and getting used to Objective-C. I have to say this is a bit of a steep learning curve and compared to Android and Java I couldn't dive into development immediately, but needed to read up on the concepts to get an understanding of the unlaying principles and architecture. Depending on what kind of developer you are this might be a bit of a put off, but can also be a plus to gain more understanding of the the system. Objective-C is weird and it takes some time to get used to the syntax and to me it felt a bit dated, due to all the manual memory management I had to do. The 20 year ago plain C experience came in handy. Fortunately the excellent and powerful intellisense and documentation integration of XCode help here a lot.

The simulator and debugging is really great, it's fast and responsive. This is one of the key differences with the Android simulator that I actually hated, because it's slow to start and often not very responsive. In iOS you can have a really quick turn around with writing some code, running, testing and debugging and move to the next part.

Now on to the application that covers 3 clear areas: The user interface, OAuth authentication and the consumption of JSON services.
  • The Interface Builder is significantly better and more mature than the XML layout concept in Android. It now takes you just a few minutes to compose a compelling user interface and get it running (once you have mastered how to link the user interface to the code). Interface builder really helps you in a visual way to make something that is really part of iOS.
  • For the OAuth implementation I was again surprised that the iOS framework doesn't support this natively. I again had to rely on a third party library, fortunately Google delivers a great framework with very clear examples and it was very easy to implement. I was a lot easier than on Android and the result is nicer, because no external browser is launched to do the handshaking.
  • The consumption of JSON services was harder, because instead of Android it's not natively supported and and external library is required. It took some time to find something that is widely accepted, well documented and easy to implement. With so many mobile applications just being endpoints for web services I don't understand why OAuth and JSON aren't supported by the frameworks. 

Both the iOS and Android applications are both working prototypes on feature parity. Many have already asked me which on was easier to develop, but that is hard to say. I worked on the Android version a few full days in a row, while the iOS version was build in a very fragmented way and I even has a 10 day vacation somewhere in the middel. Still I believe that Android prototype was a bit quicker to build, but iOS will catch up when finalizing it in a production version. The iOS devices are all the same, except for a bit of retina display extra graphics, while the variation of Android devices is huge and requires more artwork, testing and exceptions.  

What is next? I learned that I need to improve the API the devices us. This combined with improvements on the web part of the services will be first priority and next I will then create more polished versions of the iOS and Android applications. As a side track I'm also pretty keen to develop a Windows Phone 7 version of the application, but that is still pending on an investment choice!

Cloud, Mobility and Generation-Y

During the preparations of a few upcoming presentations I noticed a recurring pattern. The presentations all center around the changes we see in information technology and the effects on our lives.  Technology and especially information technology has always been very good in selling us the latest and the greatest in technology development, currently it's all about cloud and mobile computing. For me these technology developments are nothing more than the logical evolution of what we already had, what really excites me are the new opportunities they are creating. With generation-Y, the first fully digital educated generation, getting into decision making positions results in identifying and capturing new opportunities.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing according to the Wikipedia is the provision of computational resources on demand via a computer network. Cloud computing can be compared to the supply of electricity and gas, or the provision of telephone, television and postal services. We have come to a point where we realize that it's more convenient to buy computing from a service provider instead of producing our own computing.

The technology is mature, but adoption is still in its infancy, due to perceptions of security, control and other political reasons. This is normal for fairly disruptive technologies and is just a matter of time to remove the barriers. I already see adoption getting good traction and it will most likely accelerate in the next few years. Cloud computing is going to happen and everybody should give it a place on their agenda en roadmaps. The key question is not so much anymore whether you should move towards the cloud, but much more how you get there step by step and create constant value on the way.

Let's all decide to get this done quickly so we can move towards clear sunny skies again.

Mobile computing

It's about 15 years ago that I got my first mobile phone because I was going to travel around Australie and New Zealand and wanted to stay in touch. I realized that a mobile phone was technology that allowed me to travel around at the other side of the world while still being only a phone call away. It's hard to imagine that this was actually easier than email, what wasn't very well adopted at that point in time.

Today the mobile technology has matured and the term mobile phone has become misleading, because instead we can carry around tiny little multi-media super computers with permanent high speed data connections allowing us to do much more that just making phone calls. Communication, collaboration and interaction between people becomes real-time, independent of time and location.

Mobile computing is there to stay and sooner or later, depending on your information technology solution, it becomes the primary computing platform for your solutions.

Generation-Y

What I realized 15 years ago, a whole generation is realizing today. The mature and available new technologies create new opportunities to live our lives in a different way. Instead of the information technology revolution of the 80's and 90's that focused around using new technology to optimize the efficiency and productivity of existing processes, the generation-Y is using using new technology to do new things in new ways. This will be very disruptive, as we can see from the music industry, and will touch all of us. It's now the time to innovate and break with the past, because if you don't do it someone else will.

The innovation and disruption has already extensively started in consumer services, but for business services we are only at the beginning. While in the past innovations started in organizations and dribbled down into the consumer space, it's now the other way around and business services are lacking behind. The consumerization of business services is only at the beginning. Exciting times a head for all of us.

What do you think, do we get more of the same or is the world really changing?