Windows 8: Is it right for you?

Sanchez Williams, Systems Engineer – Network Management Group, Inc.

Ever since Windows 8 was released in October of last year I have been asked several times when I believe companies should consider upgrading to Windows 8.  Is it faster, better, and most importantly will it increase production are the most common questions I receive.

Let’s start off with the most important one; will it increase production out of my current staff?  Like all things technology this is best answered with “it depends.”  For most users my experience with the product would lead me to answer no.  In fact I would expect production to reduce and user frustration to increase substantially for the first few months of use while users get used to the new Metro Interface.  The Metro Interface completely changes how users access their applications by placing a series of tiles on the main screen in lieu of a Start Button.  The Metro Interface can be extremely frustrating and downright confusing to use.  Even after forcing myself to use Windows 8 for several weeks I still didn’t have navigating through the Metro Interface down and would commonly bypass it to get
my work done more quickly. Many people wonder why Microsoft switched to this interface and the short answer is they wanted the same Interface/feel through all devices (ie. Smartphone, tablet, laptop, PC) so that users can seamlessly move between them.  There is an obvious emphasis on mobile devices which is what makes using it as an everyday workstation so awkward.

The flip side to this design is that it works incredibly well with touchscreen devices, and not just tablets and smart phones.  If you work in a factory that uses touch screens instead of a mouse and keyboard Windows 8 is spectacular.  It is easy to navigate the Metro Interface with a touchscreen device and is quick and responsive.  Internet Explorer is available in the Metro Interface as an “application” instead of just a web browser, making it easier to use and overall better looking when using a touchscreen.

So did these major changes translate into a faster experience?  Boot times are noticeably increased along with login times.  During my testing it took about half the time to get from CTRL+ATL+DEL to a usable Desktop than it did in Windows 7.  As far as the experience once logged in there wasn’t really a notable difference in speed or performance.

This brings us to the final question and a great way to conclude, is it better?  If you are a company that heavily uses touchscreens throughout your company that I would give it a solid yes.  Windows 8 was clearly designed for use on a touch screen and both the feel and appearance confirm this.  However, if you are using it for everyday office use I can’t say I would recommend it just yet, at least not on a large scale.  I would get a test workstation or a Virtual Machine setup for users to play with and get comfortable before expecting solid production out of them.

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Microsoft Surface: What’s It All About?

 

Time will tell if the speculation that Microsoft’s Surface is indeed the “iPad killer”. The launch of Surface was met with mixed reviews; Microsoft’s Windows division president Steven Sinofsky’s demonstration showed Surface encountering issues surfing, playing games and smoothly playing media. Despite the frustration of a less than perfect first look, Surface still looks like it will live up to Microsoft’s hype.

At first sight Surface looks like the offspring of a laptop and a tablet. It is sleek and slim at just 9.3-millimeters thick with what Microsoft calls a “revolutionary” 3-millimeter keyboard/cover. The pressure sensitive cover magnetically attaches directly to the tablet. The integrated kickstand eliminates the need to purchase an additional cover with a stand. Built tough, Surface has a VaporMg casing that is made to protect the hardware inside and boasts a smooth finish.

At 10.6 inches the 16:9 widescreen HD display is large enough to share a viewing experience with a co-worker or friend. Surface is media friendly with auto-adjusting screen intensity and an SD card slot. Microsoft notes that Surface’s screen can be seen indoors or out. Surface is being promoted for use at home, in the office or on the go. Microsoft is calling the battery “great” but not revealing how long the battery actually lasts. Surface features a USB port for printing, charging your phone or sharing.

Surface will come in two different versions running different operating systems, one geared towards business clients and the other geared towards home users. The business version will run Windows Pro 8, and the home version will run Windows RT. RT is designed to run Metro Apps and will not be able to run full programs that Window’s users are accustomed to. However, those who have and use a Windows phone will find RT very easy to understand and use. Surface tablets that are running Windows 8 will offer a 42 W-h battery and options for 64gb or 128gb storage. The storage options for Windows 8 Pro models offer double the storage of RT models. Additionally the Windows 8 Surface is 13.5-millimeters in thickness, slightly thicker than the RT model.

Beyond tech, Surface has a fun side and has covers available in five vibrant colors. All in all, there are still many unknowns regarding Surface including ship dates and the all-important price tag What we do know is that Surface looks great and offers several standout features that may not make it the “iPad killer” but may make it a contender in the tablet market.

*Used with permission from Microsoft at Work

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How to delete an Excel table without losing data or formatting

Let’s say you’ve created a table in Microsoft Excel. You don’t want the table, but you want to keep the data or formatting. The solution is simple: convert the table back to a data range.

Note: For this to work, you need to have an already completed table. You can also watch the video version.

  1. Click anywhere on the table. This displays the Design tab under Table Tools. A cell in the table must be selected for the Design tab to be visible.
  2. On the Design tab, in the Tools group, click Convert to Range.
  3. Click Yes. Now you have a data range without table options.
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The Most Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

Not all of us are typing pros. If you’ve ever found yourself typing the same thing over and over again or feeling like there’s got to be a faster way to save or print, it’s time for keyboard shortcuts! Here are some of the most commonly used keyboard shortcuts (also known as hotkeys) that work in many programs.

Cut, Copy, and Paste

If you need to repeat something a million times—don’t type it out! Just select the text you want to copy, and hit Ctrl+C. If you want to cut it and move it somewhere else, hit Ctrl+X. To paste your selection, hit Ctrl+V.

These shortcuts are especially helpful if you typically right click on selected text to copy or cut it and then right click again to paste. You may use a program that doesn’t support the right-click option menu, but you can use shortcuts instead.

Undo Last Action

This is probably the handiest shortcut and can be a real lifesaver. Ctrl+Z will undo the last action you made. You will really want to know this one if you just deleted pages of text!

Select All

Want to select all the text in a document or text box, without awkwardly scrolling? Hit Ctrl+A.

Open, Save, and Print

To bring up the Open window in many programs, hit Ctrl+O. Ctrl+S is a very quick way to save, and Ctrl+P will bring up the Print dialog box.

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Empty your inbox: 4 ways to take control of your email

used with permission from Microsoft at Work by Sally McGhee

If your email Inbox is out of control, you might want to rethink your methods for organizing your email and emptying your Inbox. Developing a new approach to processing your Inbox can help you to gain more control, improve your response time, and keep up with critical actions and due dates.

This article covers four key factors that can help you process your email more efficiently—both at home and at the office. Although some of the productivity tools mentioned here are specific to Microsoft Outlook (Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007, and Outlook Web Access), most of the techniques—and even the organizational attitude described here—can help you to more efficiently process email and empty your Inbox, even if you use an email application other than Outlook.

1. Set up a simple and effective email reference system

The first step toward an organized Inbox is understanding the difference between reference information and action information.

  • Reference information is information that is not required to complete an action; it is information that you keep in case you need it later. Reference information is stored in your reference system—an email reference folder, your My Documents folder, or a company intranet site, for example.

  • Action information is information you must have to complete an action. Action information is stored with the action, either on your to-do list or on your Calendar.

Most people receive a considerable amount of reference information through email. Sometimes as much as one-third of your email is reference information. So it is essential to have a system that makes it easy to transfer messages from your Inbox into your email reference system—a series of email file folders where you store reference information to ensure you have easy access to it later. Learn more about setting up a reference system.

After you take care of filing your reference information, you can use the next three steps to handle the email that you have to do something with—your action information.

2. Schedule uninterrupted time to process and organize email

How many times are you interrupted every day? It’s nearly impossible to complete anything when there are constant interruptions from the phone, people stopping by your office, and instant messaging. So it’s critical that you set aside uninterrupted time to process and organize your email.

Many email messages require you to make a decision. The best decisions require focus, and focus requires uninterrupted attention. Establish a regular time each day to process your email so that you can empty your Inbox. Of course, you can scan your email during the day for urgent messages or requests from your boss.

Book yourself a recurring appointment for an hour a day to process email, and mark that time as “busy.” During that hour, don’t answer the phone or take interruptions, and work only on processing your Inbox. You can also turn off the audio alert that sounds each time you receive a new email—which can be a distraction in itself. In Outlook, click the File tab. Click Options. On the Mail tab, under Message arrival, clear the Play a sound check box.

At first, keeping these appointments will take discipline. But over time, the discipline becomes habit. And after you completely empty your Inbox, you’ll see the value of this one hour a day and you’ll stick to it like glue.

Microsoft Outlook 2010 makes it easier to keep this email appointment and to process your Inbox. The new anywhere access features of Outlook 2010 mean that you don’t have to be at home or at the office to keep your daily email management appointment.

Conversation view in Office 2010 enables you to organize email folders by date and conversation. When Conversation view is turned on, messages that share the same subject appear as conversations that can be viewed as expanded or collapsed, helping you to quickly review and act on messages or complete conversations.

Also, improved search tools in Office 2010 make it easier to narrow your search results by using criteria, like sender or subject keywords, and other information, such as attachments. The Search Tools contextual tab includes a set of filters that efficiently focus your search to isolate the items that you want.

Search Tools tab of the Outlook 2010 Ribbon

Instant Search in Outlook 2010 provides many ways to search
your email for specific messages.

3. Process one item at a time, starting at the top

When you sit down to process your email, the first step is to sort it by the order in which you will process it. For example, you can filter by date, by subject, or even by the sender or receiver of the email message. In Outlook 2010, on the View tab, in the Arrangement group, click the arrangement option you want.

View tab in Outlook 2010 with the Arrangement group displayed

From the View tab, you can filter your email by date, category, sender or receiver, and more.

You can also change the arrangement directly from your Inbox. To display the list of options, under the Search box, right-click the Arrange By: box.

Arrange By: box in Outlook 2010 with shortcut menu

The Arrange By: box in your Inbox gives you convenient access to even
more options to arrange your messages.

TipTip:  If you use Outlook 2010, enable the reading pane (called the preview pane in Outlook 2007) so that you can view your messages without having to open them. To enable the reading pane, on the View tab, in the Layout group, click Reading Pane. To enable the Outlook 2007 preview pane, on theView menu, click AutoPreview.

Resist the temptation to jump around in your Inbox in no particular order. Begin processing the message at the top of your Inbox and only move to the second one after you’ve handled the first. This can be hard at first, when you might have thousands of messages in your Inbox. But as you reduce the number of messages over a few sessions, eventually you’ll get to the point where you can process the 60–100 messages you get every day and regularly get your Inbox down to zero.

4. Use the “Four Ds for Decision-Making” model

The “Four Ds for Decision-Making” model (4 Ds) is a valuable tool for processing email, helping you to quickly decide what action to take with each item and how to remove it from your Inbox.

The expanded Ribbon in Office 2010 is designed to help you quickly find the tools that you need to complete your tasks. Features are organized in logical groups collected together under tabs. You can also customize the Ribbon to include tabs you personalize to match your own style.

Expanded Ribbon in Outlook 2010 with the Home tab displayed

The expanded Ribbon in Outlook 2010 replaces Outlook 2007 menus,
giving you easy access to tools on conveniently organized tabs.

The Quick Steps feature, new in Outlook 2010, speeds up managing your email even more. This feature enables you to perform the multi-stepped tasks you use most often, such as moving email to a specific folder or moving a message and replying to it with a meeting request, with a single click. The Quick Steps gallery includes buttons for one-click file and flag, sending messages to your team, and other popular commands. For more information, see Automate common or repetitive tasks with Quick Steps.

The Quick Steps group on the Home tab of the Outlook 2010 Ribbon

The Quick Steps feature turns your most frequent tasks—
whether forwarding messages to your co-workers or
copying messages to a specific folder—into one-click operations.

TipTip: Learning a few basic keyboard shortcuts in Outlook 2010 can make performing these tasks even easier and faster. Read our article on how to save time with quick computer shortcuts.

Decide what to do with each and every message

How many times have you opened, reviewed, and closed the same email message or conversation? Those messages are getting lots of attention but very little action. It is better to handle each email message only once before taking action—which means you have to decide what to do with it and where to put it. With the 4 Ds model, you have four choices:

  1. Delete it

  2. Do it

  3. Delegate it

  4. Defer it

Delete it

Generally, you can delete about half of all the email you get. But some of you shudder when you hear the phrase “delete email.” You’re hesitant to delete messages for fear that you might need them at some point. That’s understandable, but ask yourself honestly: What percentage of information that you keep do you actually use?

If you do use a large percentage of what you keep, your method is working. But many of us keep a lot more than we use. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide what to delete:

  • Does the message relate to a meaningful objective you’re currently working on? If not, you can probably delete it. Why keep information that doesn’t relate to your main focus?

  • Does the message contain information you can find elsewhere? If so, delete it.

  • Does the message contain information that you will refer to within the next six months? If not, delete it.

  • Does the message contain information that you’re required to keep? If not, delete it.

Outlook 2010 helps you get rid of the “noise” in your Inbox by providing two new commands: Ignore Conversation and Clean Up Conversation. If a conversation is no longer relevant, you can prevent additional responses from appearing in your Inbox. The Ignore command moves the whole conversation and any future messages that arrive in the conversation to the Deleted Items folder.

The Delete group on the Home tab of the Outlook 2010 Ribbon

Easily delete an entire conversation so that no new
responses to it will appear in your Inbox.

When a message contains all the previous messages in the conversation, you can click Clean Up to eliminate redundant messages. For example, as people reply to a conversation, the response is at the top and the previous messages in the conversation are below. Use the Clean Up command to keep only the most recent message that includes the whole conversation. For more information, see Use Conversation Clean Up to eliminate redundant messages.

The Delete group on the Home tab of the Outlook 2010 Ribbon, with Clean Up command options displayed

Cleaning up your conversations makes it easier to
stay focused on the task being discussed.

Do it (in less than two minutes)

If you can’t delete the email messages, ask yourself, “What specific action do I need to take?” and “Can I do it in less than two minutes?” If you can, just do it.

There is no point in filing an email or closing an email if you can complete the associated task in less than two minutes. Try it out—see how much mail you can process in less than two minutes. I think you will be extremely surprised and happy with the results. You could file the message, you could respond to the message, or you could make a phone call. You can probably handle about one-third of your email messages in less than two minutes.

Office 2010 helps you respond to email messages faster. You can view the availability of a person and instantly reach out to them using a variety of communication methods—all on a new easy-to-access contact card. You can even customize the context menu of the contact card to include tasks you perform most often, saving you more time.

Delegate it

If you can’t delete it or do it in two minutes or less, can you forward the email to an appropriate team member who can take care of the task?

If you can delegate it (forward it to another team member to handle), do so right away. You should be able to compose and send the delegating message in about two minutes. After you have forwarded the message, delete the original message or move it into your email reference system.

Defer it

If you cannot delete it, do it in less than two minutes, or delegate it, the action required is something that only you can accomplish and that will take more than two minutes. Because this is your dedicated email processing time, you need to defer it and deal with it after you are done processing your email. You’ll probably find that about 20 percent of your email messages have to be deferred.

There are two things you can do to defer a message: Turn it into an actionable task, or turn it into an appointment. When you’re using Outlook, you can defer emails that require action by dragging the messages to your Task List to turn them into tasks. Name the task to clearly state the required action so that you don’t have to reopen the email message. The result is a clearly defined list of actions on your Task List that you can prioritize and schedule to complete on your Calendar. Or you can turn the message into a meeting request by dragging it to your Calendar.

TipTip: Use the To-Do Bar in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2007 to drag an email message from an email folder to a date on your Calendar or to your Task List. On the View tab, in the Layout group, click the To-Do Bar. When the bar appears, drag the message to your Calendar or to your Task List. This copies the message to the new location; it doesn’t move it out of the original mail folder, so you’ll still be able to find what you need.

Use the 4 Ds model every day

Using the 4 Ds model on a daily basis makes it easier to handle a large quantity of email. Our experience shows that, on average, people can process about 100 email messages an hour. If you receive 40 to 100 messages per day, all you need is one hour of uninterrupted email processing time to get through your Inbox. Our statistics show that of the email you receive:

  • Fifty percent can be deleted or filed.

  • Thirty percent can be delegated or completed in less than two minutes.

  • Twenty percent can be deferred to your Task List or Calendar to complete later.

Of course, if you have a backlog of hundreds of messages, it will take time to get to the point where your daily routine keeps you up to date. It’s important to get that backlog down, so I would suggest setting blocks of time aside to work through it. Then, you can really enjoy processing your messages every day using the 4 Ds.

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Simple formulas in Excel: SUM and AVERAGE

 

You can also view the quick video version of this tip, that demonstrates all the methods of summing and averaging numbers.

Adding Up Numbers
You have multiple columns or rows of numbers. You don’t want to have to add them all up on your calculator, and you don’t want to have to re-add them if the numbers change. The simplest solution? Use AutoSum!

To add up a row or column of numbers, highlight all of the cells you want to add up (either vertically down a column or horizontally in a row), and then click AutoSum on the ribbon in the Editing group.

If you want to type the SUM formula, so you can have even more control, click in any empty cell and type =SUM(CELL:CELL), where CELL:CELL are the first and last cells in your range. A finished formula would look like =SUM(A1:A12). Hit Enter on your keyboard and your sum should appear!

Averaging Numbers
The AVERAGE formula works the same as the SUM formula. To use it, select a range of numbers and then click the down arrow next to AutoSum on the Ribbon. From the drop-down list, select Average.

If you want to type the AVERAGE formula, it works the same way as the SUM formula as well. In a blank cell, type =AVERAGE(CELL:CELL), where CELL:CELL are the first and last cells in the range you want to average. Then hit Enter on your keyboard and your average number will appear.

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Ready to Dive into Software as a Service?

Reprinted with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center

 

Saas

Randy Niederer had a problem. As director of marketing for Unico, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of specialty heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, he’d gathered leads, which were then sent to about 150 independent sales representatives. Unfortunately, the CRM software he used for tracking the leads proved too inflexible to meet the needs of the independent sales reps, who found the application cumbersome and often experienced problems entering complete information about their sales calls. The upshot? Unico had trouble knowing how or where its products were being sold or installed. Consequently, it was hard to improve sales, offer targeted marketing, and resolve customer service issues promptly.

Sales problems of a different sort plagued The Linc Group, a provider of high-value facilities management and building systems services. Headquartered in Irvine, California, the company has a geographically dispersed sales organization that serves customers in 45 states and 6 countries. With such a widely distributed organization, employees lacked ready access to standardized content and therefore found it difficult to create precise, professional proposals and contracts. Instead, they cobbled together proposals from previous documents, adding in content gleaned from e-mails and various internal information sites. The jury-rigged documents were time-consuming to create and frequently were riddled with redundancies, inconsistencies, and outright errors, which necessitated a lengthy legal review.

A widely scattered workforce created woes of a different sort for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company of Chilton, Wisconsin, a major producer of ingredients for the food, brewing, and pet food industries. With some 1,500 customers spread across North America, Briess relies on a mobile workforce that is often disconnected from the corporate network for days at a time. This created a big headache for the IT staff, who didn’t know which users had received the latest software updates. Often, IT personnel only became aware of a PC problem after the fact, when an employee returned to the office and complained about a computer glitch. This situation was not only inefficient, it created security issues that were exacerbated by the fact that the company’s security solution was not integrated with its PC-management software. Finally, the company was keeping track of its IT assets manually, an onerous, time-consuming chore that meant waiting for remote workers to return to the office in order to check what systems they were using. This catch-as-catch-can method of asset tracking made it tough to plan for IT purchases.

So, what do these three companies have in common? They all resolved their problems by utilizing Microsoft software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Each solution was different, of course, but all took advantage of the scalability and affordability of cloud-based services, and the flexibility, reliability, and ease-of-use of Microsoft online offerings.

For Unico, the adoption of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online took care of the problems in tracking sales and installations. Compared to the company’s previous CRM solution (Salesforce.com), Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online offered a flexible, intuitive lead management system that was readily embraced by the independent sales representatives. The key was in the user interface, which was based on familiar Microsoft products like Office. In addition, the interface was easily tailored to Unico’s business processes, which made it far simpler for sales reps to enter data. According to marketing director Niederer, “There were salespeople who were concerned that the new system would be difficult to use, but they’ve since come back to us and said the system is so easy that it will be much easier to follow up on leads.”

Unico now has forms on its Web site that are automatically linked to the customer relationship management solution. “Distributors, contractors, and even homeowners can enter data about their purchases, serial numbers, and installation dates and all that information is automatically entered into the system,” says Niederer. This gives Unico a much more complete picture of its sales cycles and customer data. What’s more, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online has proven extremely cost-effective compared to Salesforce.com and is expected to pay for itself within 18 months.

You don’t need to have Unico’s hierarchical sales structure to profit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. Any company that wants to improve its relationship with its customers (and what company doesn’t?) can benefit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online’s ease of use and powerful analytics. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, you’ll have the customer intelligence needed to perform real-time analysis and to streamline your business operations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online interoperates with your Microsoft Office applications using compelling CRM tools, all delivered over the Internet.

Your marketing professionals will have a full suite of data management and segmentation tools, campaign management features, and marketing analytics. They’ll profit from insightful analysis of marketing programs and demand generation, and they’ll plan, launch, and manage campaigns using streamlined workflows. Your sales force will love the fast access to customer data and history, which allows them to spend more time selling and less time on mundane administrative chores. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online also provides salespeople with wizard-driven communications for altering existing customers and prospects to new product and service offerings.

The Linc Group found the consistency it needed by deploying a custom SaaS solution built on top of the Microsoft Business Productivity Suite, which included Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online, all coordinated with Microsoft Office 2007 system on employees’ computers. The resulting solution enabled salespeople to access pre-approved document components from a SharePoint Online library and then, using a customized add-in called Document Composer, to compose proposals and contracts. Because it is a cloud-based solution, it was quickly deployed and required no additional IT investment from the customer. With all the components other than the Microsoft Office applications and the Document Composer running in Microsoft datacenters, The Linc Group didn’t have to invest in new hardware, software, or support.

As great as this solution was, there is even better news today. With the soon-to-be-released Microsoft Office 365, businesses can access a complete SaaS package that offers the familiar Office applications and the new Office Web Apps, along with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online-all with the affordability and flexibility of a cloud-based subscription service. With Office 365, you’ll have a variety of plans from which to choose, priced from $6 to $27 per month per user, and all with Microsoft’s 99.9% uptime guarantee. Your employees will have anywhere access to their email, documents, contacts, and calendar from almost any PC, Mac, or smartphone. With Office Web Apps they’ll be able to view, edit, and share documents. And each user will have a 25 gigabyte mailbox, access to sites to share documents securely with customers and colleagues, malware protection, integrated IM and presence, and online meetings with audio/video conferencing.

As for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company, they found relief from their PC management problems by implementing Windows Intune, a cloud computing solution that delivers PC management, information security, and asset management services through a single web console. Windows Intune helps safeguard the company’s PCs from malicious software with tools from the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite and Microsoft Security Essentials. IT administrators can monitor company computers even if they are not connected to the corporate network; employees only have to connect their computers to the Internet.

“Having a cloud-based PC management solution is huge for us,” says Derek Schauland, information technology manager at Briess. “With Windows Intune, I can provide earlier diagnosis and resolution, along with improved security.” And with the Windows Intune asset tracking features, Schauland can assess the company’s IT needs and forecast future spending more accurately. “I can use Windows Intune to gain insight into the systems, hardware, and applications used in our organization at any time,” says Schauland. “It’s helping me decide which IT investments to make-and when to make them.”

Think about what Windows Intune could mean for your business, especially if, like Briess, you have a large number of remote workers. Windows Intune helps you your PCs from virtually anywhere. You’ll have rock-solid endpoint protection from the latest security threats, and you will be able to keep your PCs up to date with the centrally managed deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs. And you’ll simplify the tracking of your IT assets and software licenses, enabling you to maximize your existing investments. What’s more, a Windows Intune subscription includes upgrade rights to the latest Windows operating system, including, of course, Windows 7 Enterprise. This means you can standardize your PC environment on the best Windows experience. In short, you’ll get an all-around solution that includes PC management, endpoint protection, and standardization on the Windows operating system of your choice, all with the reliability and affordability of a Microsoft cloud solution.

So there you have it: a quick overview of Microsoft SaaS solutions that can catapult your business into the catbird seat. Whether you need world-class CRM, state-of-the art productivity and collaboration, or iron-clad PC management and security, you owe it to yourself to investigate the flexible, reliable, and affordable cloud subscriptions from Microsoft.

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The Future of Windows

written by David Tan, Chief Technology Office, CHIPS Technology Group LLC

 

Windows

Microsoft held their first ever Build Conference in Anaheim in September. It’s a new annual event for Windows developers to gather and learn about building applications for the Windows platform. This one was special not only because it was the first, but also because leading up to it, all the buzz was about how much of Windows 8 Microsoft would show and what details we would learn about the next version of the most popular operating system in the world.

 

Microsoft did not disappoint. They have showed demos, talked about features and functions, and even made an open beta immediately available to all who are interested to download, play with, and Microsoft hopes develop applications for. The buzz leading up to the conference has grown into a fever pitch with partners, developers, and customers all extremely excited about the next Windows release. What is it about this platform that Microsoft is doing right, and why is everyone so excited?

First off, Windows has a new look and feel. The next interface, dubbed “Metro” represents the single biggest change to the Windows interface since the additions of the Start button back in 1995. It has been completely revamped from the ground up. It is a radical departure. The traditional desktop and icons have been replaced by dynamic tiles. These tiles will not only allow you to interact with program, but will allow the applications to communicate with the user by surfacing key messages, data, or photos, depending on the needs.

Speaking of revamped, the operating system has been rebuilt from the ground up. According to Microsoft, this version requires about half the memory of Windows 7, allowing for things like longer battery life, and more importantly, much better performance on less powerful processors. This last point is very key. Microsoft’s vision is to have a single operating system that runs on all hardware platforms – phones, tablets, PCs, etc. More importantly, they are trying to enable developers to write a single version of an application that will work on anything, unlike their counterparts from Apple, which currently requires 3 different builds of a program to work across the entire Apple hardware universe. This philosophy will be extremely popular with developers and will no doubt help Microsoft gain market share in the smart phone and tablet space very rapidly.

Getting back to the interface for a minute, it looks like it was built from the ground up to be touch enabled. Microsoft is most definitely designing this operating system to work on the next generation of hardware – tablets and otherwise. Even though a commercial version of a Windows tablet will probably not be available till next year, Microsoft distributed 5,000 early version units at the Build Conference. Just a further effort to get developers working on building “Metro” versions of their applications as soon as possible. In addition to being designed for future hardware platforms, this operating system looks to be the first designed from a user-centric point of view. In other words, Microsoft finally took a page out of the Apple playbook and built a user interface with the user in mind. Working with it just feels really natural. There is no doubt it will be a considerable adjustment for most users, but I’m pretty confident from my early experiences that the changes will be wildly successful.

Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to catch Apple and Google in the mobile and tablet space. Windows 8 will be a giant leap in the right direction. Coupled with the fact that they already own the desktop space so dominantly, I think people will flock to the new version when they see what it can do. I’m fairly certain that Microsoft will be solidly second in that space at this time next year, passing Google’s Android platform without much problem. I also truly believe Apple will be firmly in their sites. If Windows 8 lives up to the early demos and hype, Microsoft is finally on the right track to establish a leadership position in this critical market space. Let’s hope this new “reimagined” Microsoft (as Steve Ballmer called them during his Build keynote) stays the course because that will be the best possible scenario for any business looking to expand their use of mobile and tablet devices going forward.

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