Tubblog has a new home – update your links!

Tubblog LogoIt was this time last year that I finally moved this blog from Windows Live Spaces to the much more modern and flexible WordPress.com platform.

In the twelve months since that time, the number of readers who visit the blog every day has almost doubled and I’ve found myself chaffing under some of the restrictions WordPress.com (quite understandably) places on their free hosting accounts.

With that in mind, this blog has now moved across to a self-hosted WordPress site thanks to the good people at Heart Internet. Such a move should give me a lot more flexibility in terms of what I can do with the site.

  • If you’re a regular reader, then you shouldn’t notice any immediate changes. All the articles and comments have been transferred across to the new platform and any links to old articles will automatically forward to the new URL. Sadly, I couldn’t migrate all those Facebook “Likes” – but we’ll just live with that…
  • If you feature my blog on your blog roll – updating the link from https://tubblog.wordpress.com to www.tubblog.co.uk would be appreciated.
  • Screenshot of Feedburner E-Mail Subscription FormIf you’re an e-mail or RSS subscriber to the old site, I’m afraid you’ll need to re-subscribe – click on the RSS link at the bottom of the page, or the FeedBurner link within the right hand column.

I’ll be e-mailing all subscribers to advise them of the changes also.

One of those areas of flexibility is around the fact that the number of blog readers I’ve been getting from France, Germany and other non-English speaking European countries has risen exponentially. Many of you have reached out to me directly, but if you’re a reader in one of these countries, would you be interested in reading this blog in your native tongue? Translating the articles here is an option – but it depends on the demand, so let me know if this would be useful to you.

Finally – a huge thanks to the awesome Tim Carr at N7 Studios who facilitated the move to the new platform – the change happened absolutely seamlessly, and Tim was a consummate Professional throughout the project. A true WordPress expert.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Four – Thoughts on Windows Phone Mango

After recently saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device, a few months ago I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read about my original motivations for this experiment here.

You can read part one of this experiment – my thoughts on the iPhone here.

You can read part two of this experiment – my thoughts on the Windows Phone here.

You can read part three of this experiment – my thoughts on Android here.

The overwhelming theme coming out of my review of Windows Phone was “It’s all about Mango”. Every irritation, bug and missing feature I mentioned seemed to be fixed by the upcoming Mango update that was released in September.

HTC Pro 7 HandsetSo in an attempt to give Windows Phone a fair shake of the stick, at the end of September I once again borrowed from my friend Steve Silk at Staffordshire University the HTC Pro 7 phone, and duly updated it to Mango – or Windows Phone 7.5

Firstly, the update process itself was fairly easy – once I’d impatiently “forced” the update through the Zune software using these instructions.

The update itself took around 90 minutes, with little or no intervention required on my part.

Once the update was completed, I jumped straight in and was… well… fairly underwhelmed. The Windows Phone interface is mostly unchanged, which is no bad thing as I like the tile-focused home-screen.

The Live Tiles feature (wherein icons on the home-screen can display live information about people or apps) is now supported by more 3rd party apps, but in reality I didn’t find myself staring at the home-screen to catch live tile updates very often. Still, Live Tiles remains a nice feature and the interface is very clean and easy to navigate.

One change I wasn’t fond of was that the Phone Search button is now dedicated to the Bing web-search engine. This may be irritating for anyone like me who prefers context sensitive searching within apps, as it was in Windows Phone 7, but I guess it’s a matter of preference.

The biggest change in Mango for me was the addition of Multi-tasking. Windows Phone didn’t really allow you to switch between apps. You were often left loading apps up from scratch after you’d gone to read an SMS or make a call. Now, you can multitask. Sort of…

In reality you can only multi-task up to 6 apps at any one time. It’s better than no multi-tasking at all, and I hear the arguments over resource use affecting usability – but still frustrating in use as I almost always have e-mail, SMS, Web Browser, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare open. Use one other app, and one of those previously opened windows closes meaning you have to re-load it next time you want to use it. The fact that most Windows Phone seems underpowered compared to their Android and Apple competitors would give some idea of why this feature is the way it is.

The back button (which allows you to scroll through previously used windows) remains a neat feature. I found myself wishing that feature could be ported to iOS when using my iPod Touch.

Music wise, Mango is easy to use as a media player with the lock-screen offering the ability to pause, stop and skip tracks. I also like the Zune software’s interface on the PC, and maybe even prefer it to the woeful iTunes.

What I didn’t like was the lack of PC-like file system – anything you want to get to and from handset needs to be via the Zune software, or rely on 3rd party plug-in’s. I know it’s only a minor irritation, but I like being able to drop files onto the SD-Card directly – a feature Mango doesn’t allow.

One less than minor irritation is the Internet Explorer 9 web-browser. Whilst it boasts some great features including full HTML 5, it just doesn’t sit well with me and I found myself getting really irritated with how slow it was to display web-pages – especially moving back to a previously loaded page. As far as I can tell there are little or no 3rd Party Web Browser options on Windows Phone, and so if you don’t like IE (as I don’t) then you’ll flat out of alternatives. I found myself really missing the slick and smooth Dolphin Browser on Android. I’m sure there is all sorts of statistics to show how IE is a faster browser, but I found it clunky and slow.

In-Car support is excellent. My in-car Bluetooth hands-free kit  connected first time and allowed features such as Contact sync and then subsequently connected each time without any intervention on my part. Leaving Bluetooth switched on in this way doesn’t seem to drain the battery life – very cool! But the coolest feature for me was the in-car SMS Voice options. When an incoming SMS is received, Mango tells you who the message is from and asks you if you want to listen to the message in-car. It does a fine job of reading messages out, even down to “Sad Smiley”, “Happy Smiley” or “Kiss, Kiss” and gives you the option to reply. Sadly, Mango voice recognition isn’t too hot at recognising spoken words – and even the simplest of responses needed to be “dumbed down” to work. For instance, saying “Thanks Mom, see you soon.” had to be changed after four failed attempts to “Thank-you Mother. Goodbye”. Not quite as warm a response…

Bing Maps is included as an app, and is a decent tool to help direct you to locations. It’s no replacement for a dedicated Sat-Nav though, with no automatic re-calculation of route if you make a wrong turn, and a tiny on-screen display with not even the most basic spoken turn-by-turn information. Again though, it’s better than nothing – and it more or less helped me to most of my destinations during the course of this experiment.

Overall, the in-car versatility of Mango is something I’d rank highly.

Talking of Battery life, it remains good in the Mango update. I could get around a day and half’s average usage without requiring a charge. Irritatingly though, when plugged in to charge the ‘phone turned itself on. Whether this is a HTC fault or a Mango fault or indeed a “feature”, I don’t know. The “Battery Saver” feature remains cool – turning off Push E-Mail and other non-essential features when the battery runs low.

On the integration front, Twitter is now integrated into Mango. It’s an overdue feature, but one that compliments Mango’s already excellent Social Networking features. You can look at a contacts profile, swipe to the right and see a list of recent SMS, swipe again to see their latest e-mails, Tweets, Facebook updates, Photos and so on. Very cool.

No Google+ support whatsoever. Not entirely unexpected, but as a Google+ user myself I missed this integration.

The Facebook integration is good, especially for the camera. It enables you to give a title to photographs and tag people before uploading the snap. Disappointingly though, there’s no notification of the success/failure of a Facebook photo uploads. I found that some FB photo uploads failed (presumably due to a bad carrier signal) but I didn’t have the option to re-try them, and so had to re-create the uploads from scratch. It’s small features lacking like this that can build into bigger frustrations.

The Facebook app under Mango is not so good though. Like IE9, I found it slow and clumsy, and so reverted to using the Mobile Web-Interface instead.

Within Mango you can create groups of contacts – such as business, friends, family, etc. This is a neat future that I found using a lot to quickly find and catch-up with different types of contact.

I’ve still yet to “get” Xbox Live integration where you can supposedly connect and play games with XBox 360 friends. I’ve yet to find anyone else who uses it either.

E-Mail connectivity still lacks Exchange Tasks and Notes support. As even iOS 5 added this recently, it’s flabbergasting that Microsoft don’t support their own e-mail server software as well as their competitors now has Exchange Task support built in, but included in the Calendar rather than as a separate app (Thanks to both John Clark and Andy Parkes for helping me find this feature!)

You now have the ability to combine mailboxes into a single view, and the Calendar pulls in information from Facebook as well as Exchange. This is useful.

As I’m a Google Mail user, I found the GMail support underwhelming. The e-mail interface as a whole is nice and clean, but GMail features such as Archiving are missing. I understand why this is – why would Google create a feature rich app for their Windows rival – but you get a better GMail experience under iOS, so Windows Phone is lacking here. Please don’t ask me to migrate to Hotmail as a suggested alternative either…

In conclusion – Mango is the ‘phone O/S that Microsoft should have released initially. It shores up a lot of features missing from Windows Phone 7, and adds some very cool other features too. I loved the Social Networking integration, and the SMS Voice features as part of a strong In-Car setup were very cool.

I could easily live with Mango as my main ‘phone, but… I wouldn’t choose to do so knowing that both Android and iOS5 are available on the market too.

That’s really disappointing for me, as I really like Windows Phone and I secretly hoped Mango would sway me to choose WP7 as my main platform.

But, despite the nice interface, both Android and iOS have much better 3rd Party App support, much more powerful handsets available, and Android especially is much, much more configurable.

Where I see Mango making a splash is at the slightly lower consumer end of the market. Mango does a *lot* in handsets that, on paper at least, are not as powerful as their Android or Apple competitors that are also more expensive to buy. For most people who aren’t real power users, Mango will be a great option – although statistics show that only one in fifty mobile devices currently sold are Windows Phone.

But, Windows Phone includes every feature that your average Social Networking/E-Mail reading/Web Browsing/casual Photographing user might want.

However, if you’re a power user on any level – then my conclusion is that the latest upmarket Android handset or iPhone are probably the better choices for now.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Interview with Autotask CEO, Mark Cattini

One of the keynote speakers at last weeks GFI Max UK User Conference was Autotask CEO, Mark Cattini.

Cattini took over as CEO at Autotask in November, 2010 and since that time the company has begun implementing a global strategy which has included opening a UK office which now employs some ten full-time staff, an Australian, Chinese and Indian office, and the announcement that it is localising it’s PSA tool with translations into six different languages – German, Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. It’s hard not to believe that more translations are on the drawing board too.

This blog has a fair proportion of readers in Europe, and in recent weeks I’ve received a fair number of e-mails from MSP’s and aspiring MSP’s in the French and German market who have been asking me about Autotask’s plans for localisation. I’d go as far as to say these markets have been screaming out for a localised PSA product, thus the excitement at the announcement.

I was fortunate enough to sit down at the GFI Max Conference with Cattini to chat at length about how he sees the international MSP marketplace, and to record a video to specifically get his overview on the localisation of the Autotask PSA tool.

Interview with Mark Cattini, Autotask CEO

Thanks for Mark Cattini for sharing his time and recording our short video interview – very much appreciated.

Exciting times in the European MSP market! Will you be taking advantage of the localisation of Autotask? Let me know your thoughts either in the comments below or by getting in touch.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thoughts on the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference

GFI Max LogoLast Thursday 20th October, 2011 I travelled to the Williams Formula One Conference Centre in Oxfordshire for the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference.

Around 100+ IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers attended a full day of Workshops, Seminars and Presentations.

GFI Max Users at the Williams F1 ExhibitionFirstly, the venue was superb. Friendly staff, free and open Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, and if you are a Formula One Racing fan – as many of the attendees were – you’d be in heaven thanks to the exhibition area and F1 memorabilia everywhere. Kudos to GFI Max for finding a venue that was a great Conference location and a lot of fun.

GFI Max General Manager Alistair Forbes kicked the day off outlining the companies growth from Hound-Dog Technology, to their acquisition by GFI Software, to the additions of GFI Max Mail and Monitis to the Max family – through to a look the future product Roadmap.

Some time was then put aside for groups of users to discuss and give feedback to GFI on both product feedback, and service feedback. I wrote recently about GFI’s growing user community, and this session vindicated the fact that GFI users are both passionate about the product, and vocal about what they want it to do! There was almost across-the-board praise for GFI Max’s Technical Support team – who I know first hand are top notch – and a lot of constructive feedback on what GFI Max need to improve on. A really good session that had the room buzzing.

The morning’s key-note speech was given by the Research company, IDC. It was focused on the industry changes involving Cloud services – but was fairly academic in nature and heavy with statistics. I personally felt it missed the mark in terms of relevance to the SMB audience in attendance, and it wasn’t well received by those commenting using the #MAXCC hash-tag on Twitter. That said, others I spoke to after the presentation enjoyed it – so mixed feedback.

GFI Max UK Customer ConferenceTalking of Twitter, I observed a *lot* of positive networking going on between Max users who were using the Conference to cement on-line relationships with face-to-face meetings. I spoke to a dozen or so partners who said they’d like to see the atmosphere of networking, sharing ideas and feedback replicated through regional user group meetings in the future – something I hope GFI will be quick to support their user base on.

The team from the recently GFI Max acquisition of Cloud-Monitoring provider Monitis was also in attendance, demonstrating how their service could help GFI Max customers to monitor and report on Hosted Services. I initially felt an interesting sense of “How is this relevant to us?” from Max partners about Monitis, but as the day grew I saw lots of partners talking about the potential for using Monitis as an offering to their clients. I think the Monitis acquisition is a smart move by GFI as the MSP world moves further towards a Cloud Hosted environment.

The day then broke into two streams, Technical and Business, allowing partners to mix and match sessions.

Before Alistair Forbes closed the day by thanking everyone for attending and their feedback, Autotask CEO Mark Cattini then presented an outlook on the changing face of the IT Solution Provider market. It hit all the right notes, and felt relevant to the audience who weren’t so much interested in statistics, but how the changes affected their business and their clients. A strong way to finish the day.

Throughout the day I was roaming the halls and corridors with my trusty Flip HD camera (more videos to follow) and amongst those I spoke to, towards the end of the day Alistair Forbes was kind enough to record a short video interview with his thoughts on the Conference.

Interview with GFI Max General Manager, Alistair Forbes

Chatting to attendees at the post-event drinks GFI put on, the underlying feeling I picked up on was that the most popular sessions throughout the day were those presented by GFI Max Customers who were talking about their experiences. I’d be interested to see if the feedback GFI Max received matched that observation, as it further suggests Max users want GFI to facilitate their ability to get together and meet, but then direct the topic of conversation themselves.

Overall, the day was a huge success and was very well received by all attendees. It wasn’t without it’s issues – both in timing and some content – but GFI Max have a great community of critical friends who will guide them to improve. I’m going to bet the next GFI Max User Conferences in Europe, Australia and North America take that feedback on-board.

The important thing is that the GFI Max User Community that I recently wrote about has now taken a big step from the on-line world into in-person meetings. I see that Community only growing and getting stronger as a result of this.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Five Questions to ask when choosing an IT Support Provider

Computer Engineer with HammerChoosing an IT company to look after your Small Business IT Infrastructure can feel like a tough job. There’s no shortage of IT companies out there that will offer to help you, from the “one man band” all the way to high-street names. So how do you choose the right partner that is not only going to be able to keep your IT systems running, but that you can trust both with your sensitive business data and to give you advice that in your best interests?

Since the beginning of this year I’ve been asked to act as an independent advisor to a number of businesses who want impartial advice on their IT strategy, and guidance on the questions to ask when trying to choose an IT partner to work with. Whilst the questions you ask may vary from company to company, industry to industry, here are an overview of the five basic questions I think you should always be asking of a potential IT Support provider.

How do you charge for your services?

Traditionally IT Support companies worked from a model best known in the Plumber or Electricians world, the “Break/Fix” model. Something goes wrong with your IT systems, and you pay the IT company to resolve that problem.

This model “feels” comfortable for many small businesses who look upon IT as a necessary cost to their business, rather than looking on IT as something that can be leveraged to help their business grow. Many businesses also resent paying someone to fix something that in their eyes “should just work”.

The reality of IT is that just like a modern Motor Car, it needs maintenance to keep working. A lack of maintenance means things will go wrong.

The challenge with the traditional break/fix model is that really, there is no motivation for the IT company to fix the problem permanently. If they fix the problem permanently, they are no longer going to get called out and paid for their time.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not suggesting for a moment that an IT company would purposely leave something to break again in the future, but if they are being pressured by the client to keep the cost of their visit down – that often means putting a sticking plaster over the problem rather than spending the time required to fix it properly.

A better approach is to agree a monthly flat-fee with an IT provider, who will then monitor and maintain your systems as a “Managed Service”, fixing any problems as and when they occur.

Think about this scenario. It’s in the IT companies best interests to seek out and fix problems properly so those problems don’t return – the less time they as an IT provider spend fixing things, the more profit they make from their agreement with you. It’s also in your best interests as a client, as you want your IT systems to run smoothly without any problems, but when (not if!) problems do occur – you don’t want to be worried about a large bill for time spent remedying that problem.

A flat fee arrangement allows you as a small business to financially budget for IT Support on an on-going basis, and just as importantly builds an on-going relationship and trusted partnership with an IT company. You’re then in it together – working towards the best relationship for both parties.

 

Can you show us an example of the Health-Check Report you send us?

So if a flat-fee “Managed Service” model is the way forward, and an IT Support company says they will both manage and monitor your infrastructure, pro-actively seeking out issues to help keep your business running smoothly – how do you know that your IT company is actually working away behind the scenes to keep things ticking over?

Example of IT Health Check ReportAn IT company worth its salt will have no problem in sharing with you an example of the report they send to clients to demonstrate the checks they undertake on your systems to make sure they are running, and to highlight any underlying problems they’ve found and resolved.

This report should not be hugely technical in nature. It should be simple for you to read and understand as a business owner who is interested in one thing – are you looking after my business?

Many IT companies provide a Daily Health Check report to the Office Manager, and a Weekly or Monthly Summary Report to Decision Makers or Business Owners.

Either way, a regular, easy to read report demonstrates the effort the work the IT provider is putting in to monitoring and maintaining your systems.

 

What Qualifications do your engineers have?

Trying to gauge an IT Providers credentials and qualifications can be a challenge.

Ask an IT company if they are a Microsoft Partner, and you’ll find virtually none who say they aren’t. At its simplest level, becoming a Registered Microsoft Partner is not much harder than signing up to receive the regular Microsoft Partner newsletters.

There are Silver and Gold Microsoft Partners too. This means they’ve achieved certain levels of competency, and invested both time and money into their relationship with Microsoft.

Microsoft Small Business Specialist LogoFurthermore, there are Microsoft Small Business Specialists – individuals and companies who have passed an exam to demonstrate they understand the SMB market and in particular, the popular Microsoft Small Business Server product. If your business is running Small Business Server, then look for the Microsoft Small Business Specialist “blue badge”. Many engineers think they know SBS, but only those with the “blue badge” have proved they do.

But company wide qualifications aside, as a general rule of thumb, ask how many engineers are within the IT providers business, and the qualifications they each have individually.

If your IT infrastructure mostly consists of Windows XP and Windows 7 PC’s, then it would make sense that the engineers supporting them would have qualifications in Windows XP and Windows 7, that they have passed an exam and actively demonstrated they know what they are doing.

If you’re told an engineer is “working towards” a qualification – ask when they expect to have passed this qualification. IT is constantly changing and evolving, so an engineer who achieves the latest qualifications demonstrates that he is keeping up with change. The engineer who is still only qualified in Windows 2000 demonstrates he’s most likely too busy to keep up with the changing landscape.

And if an engineer says he doesn’t need a qualification to demonstrate his knowledge in a certain area, then consider what other standards the engineer might not feel he needs to adhere to within his industry.

 

Tell me about your relationships with other IT companies?

The best IT companies will focus on one or two core competencies. For the majority, this will be the maintenance and support of IT Infrastructures.

These IT companies will know what they are good at, and stick to it. To ensure you, the client, receive the best support – they will take time to forge professional and trusted relationships with other IT companies who also specialise in their fields. This might be a Data Cabling company, a Telecoms company, a Web Design company, a Software Development company. They aren’t afraid to sub-contract or refer you to a trusted 3rd party who can deliver the best in their field.

What’s more, most good IT companies will manage your relationship with your existing providers. This means you no longer need to telephone BT to spend time in a queue working out why your Broadband isn’t working – your IT provider should manage that job for you.

Question the experience of those IT companies who say they can do everything for you themselves without external help. IT is a specialised field, and in the same way you wouldn’t hire a Plumber to design, specify, build, wire and insulate your house – you will probably need more than one IT specialist to achieve all your business requirements.

 

How often do you perform Business Reviews?

IT isn’t just about fixing things. The days of the “IT Guy”, who comes in to fix stuff when they go wrong are dying out. In bringing on board an IT Provider, you also want to bring on board a Trusted Business Advisor.

As well as monitor and maintain your network, as well as fix problems as they arise, as well as manage your other IT suppliers for you, an IT Provider should be your go-to guys for advice or pointers on Technology trends, on Social Media, on how to use IT to grow your business.

It’s easy to forget this part due to the busy nature of business. Therefore most forward thinking IT Providers schedule regular appointments with their clients, perhaps on a Quarterly basis, where they sit down and talk about your business. Based on that conversation, they can make recommendations and suggestions over how Technology may help you achieve your business goals – and plan for how that might look.

 

***

IT has evolved, and the service that IT providers give to their clients has evolved too. Using IT within Small Business does have a cost involved – but whether this cost is seen as wasted money or an investment, and the amount of value you, as a small business owner, realise from it can heavily depend on the IT Provider you work with.

“IT Guy” or “Trusted Business Advisor” – make sure to ask the right questions to help you make the right choice for your business.

If you’re a Small Business who would like advice on choosing the right IT Provider, impartial guidance on deciding IT strategy, or understanding what you should be paying for your IT Support – do feel free to get in touch with me.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Building a Community – Lessons from GFI Max

One of the ways you can tell if a good product or company is gathering momentum and becoming popular is by how much of a community is building up around that product or company. When people are passionate about something they want to talk to other likeminded people about it.

GFI Max LogoOver the past couple of years, GFI Max is one such company where I’ve observed a growing community of people who want to spend time together talking about the Max RMM tool.

Whilst this isn’t something that has happened entirely by design, it’s not something that happened by accident either.

GFI have helped facilitate their community by providing the GFI Max LinkedIn Forums – a place where Max users can chat, exchange ideas and give feedback to the GFI team – good or bad. Whilst these forums are monitored and members of the Max team participate in discussion themselves, they aren’t moderated in the sense that if a Max client has a gripe about the product or the company that they air with their peers – the GFI team don’t delete the message or shy away from it, they respond to it directly. This attitude towards being open and transparent hasn’t gone un-noticed by the SMB Community.

Members of the GFI Max LinkedIn forums are usually the first people that get to hear about new features and the forthcoming Max Roadmap too, further building a sense that the community is valued.

Earlier this year, GFI responded to a request from the Thames Valley Small Business Specialist User Group led by Chris Timm. The group, which has a high proportion of GFI Max users within it, was looking for a new sponsor, and GFI agreed to step in and help that group continue to grow.

All of these things on their own aren’t enough to persuade people to use GFI Max products. You still need a really good product and service delivery (which I believe GFI Max has). But if all things are equal, and an IT company is faced with choosing between two or more really good products – as is the case in the RMM market populated by GFI Max, Labtech, Kaseya and others – people tend to choose the product that their peers have recommended to them.

You can’t fake this stuff. Building a community of raving fans isn’t something you can acquire. People can tell the difference between a paid endorsement and genuine goodwill towards a company or product. It takes time and it’s not easy. Most IT vendors give up because it’s too hard. They want immediate returns. Those vendors will still sell stuff, because generally their product is good, but retaining clients and as importantly, having clients who will talk about their product to others? That takes commitment.

GFI Max Global Conferences 2011Over the next few weeks, GFI Max will be taking another step towards supporting their community and will be hosting their first GFI Max Global Conferences at four locations across the globe.

The UK Conference takes place in Oxford on October 20th.

The USA Conference takes place in Florida on November 8th and 9th.

Not forgotten, Australia gets it’s Conference in Sydney on December 1st, and Europe has a Conference on November 23rd in the Netherlands.

I’ll be attending the UK Conference on October 20th, and will be looking forward to getting together with a whole load of GFI Max users.

Are you a GFI Max user and attending too? Let me know!

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Three – Thoughts on Android

After reluctantantly saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device earlier this year, I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read about my original motivations for this experiment here.

You can read part one of this experiment – my thoughts on the iPhone here.

You can read part two of this experiment – my thoughts on the Windows Phone here.

HTC SensationAt the start of September, my friend Steve Silk at Staffordshire University provided me with a HTC Sensation running Android 2.3.

So how did I find it? Read on!

Firstly, this experiment isn’t about the handsets themselves – it’s more about understanding the capabilities of the various Mobile Operating Systems out there. That said, the HTC Sensation looks beautiful – with a large bright 4.3” screen, very thin design but comfortable enough in the hand – plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making it really fast in use, and an impressive 8 Mega-Pixel Camera.

I initially felt uncomfortable using the catch to take the back of the case off to insert the SIM card, as the case does feel plasticky and flimsy, but got used to it over time. The Micro-USB charging slot is on the left hand side, which feels awkward too – and the power button on the top of the device doesn’t feel comfortable initially as it’s too thin, but again, you get used to it. You’ll hear that phrase “I got used to it” a lot…

The Sensation boots up quickly… sometimes. I’ve gone from pressing the power button to entering my SIM PIN and being at the home screen in as little as 5 seconds on most occasions, yet on others it inexplicably takes 30 seconds or more from the SIM PIN to arriving at the home screen. It’s still faster than most other Smartphones I’ve tried though.

Through the setup stage, and no surprise here, you’ll need a Google account. Everything revolves around a Google account, so if you’re going Android, get used to using Google.

imageOn the home-screen, HTC have placed their HTC Sense interface on top of the usual Android UI. As a fan of HTC Sense, I quickly got to grips with this and was swiping left and right between the numerous home pages you’re offered to install Widgets and App shortcuts.

Talking of Widgets, which are small “always active” apps on the Android screen, HTC bundle a load of them out of the box – from Calendars to Agendas to something HTC call “Friend Stream”, a Twitter-like display of all your friends Twitter and Facebook updates. I found myself using it a lot. There are also a ton of widgets you can download for free. The home-screen may not look too impressive at first glance, but you can customise it to your own specifications very quickly.

Android gives the ability to create folders on a home-screen to contain Apps, but it’s far from intuitive to do this. I had to ask a fellow Android user to show me how. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple. Likewise adding App shortcuts and moving them between folders is simple, but clunky. This was the start of a number of indications that Apple’s iOS is simply easier to jump right in and get working with when compared to Android, but that Android is more customisable. Another running theme in my findings.

Google+ ScreenshotGetting back to Social Media, and I was blown away by how well Android and HTC Sense integrates with not just Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn, Google+ as well as Exchange, GoogleMail, Flickr, Foursquare and seemingly anything else you wanted to use. Once you’ve setup an account for each of these platforms, the HTC Sensation pulls all the updates and any other information from them and presents it in a unified fashion within your contacts screen. It *can* get messy, the Sensation occasionally got confused with duplicate GoogleMail and Exchange information – but on the whole it’s fairly amazing to be able to see all your friends latest Facebook updates, their Mobile numbers (whether pulled from Exchange or Facebook), Flickr pictures, Twitter updates and everything else in one location. Of course, you can use the individual apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. as normal – but if you’re a heavy Social Media user, then you’ll love Android.

Android is hot on notifications. It’ll automatically notify you of new e-mails, voicemails, SMS, Facebook messages, Google+ updates, software upgrades, patches and… just about anything it can. All of these are present in a non-obtrusive way in the notification bar at the top of the home screen, which you slide your finger down to open and view. Initially, all these notifications can become a distraction – constantly sat winking at you from the top of the screen. Over time I learned to quieten the Sensation though – turning off notifications and learning to resist the temptation to act upon others. Android is *very* customisable from this perspective. Out of the box it can blow your mind with all the info it presents, but as you become comfortable you can tailor it to your own liking.

As you’d expect, GoogleMail is supported very well under Android. It’s very easy to setup and you can easily archive messages, read HTML messages, and do just about everything you’d do in GoogleMail.

Microsoft Exchange support was just as easy to setup, and reading and responding to e-mails was a pleasure within the Android GUI. Frustratingly though, Android (like iOS and WP7) doesn’t support Exchange Tasks and Notes. Again I’ve got to ask, if Windows Mobile 6.5 supported these features years ago, why don’t modern SmartPhones? Bizarre. There is a 3rd Party app called Touchdown which brings Tasks and Note support into Android, but it feels a standalone app rather than integrated into the Android experience, and so I couldn’t find myself comfortable using it. Google – as well as Apple and Microsoft – please support Exchange Tasks and Notes in your Smartphones!

The SMS client was very easy to use, with threaded messages and the ability to forward SMS to other contacts. I did notice that Android grouped together conversations though, so if you sent a group SMS – then your inbox would show that conversation separately, but not under individuals SMS threads. I’m guessing this can be changed, and I can see why this would be of benefit to some people, but I occasionally found it confusing.

Wi-Fi is a breeze to setup. You’re instantly notified (see the pattern here?) when an Open Signal is available, and it’s a few clicks to setup your favourite Wi-Fi connections. Once you’ve set a number of Wi-Fi connections up, Android automatically and seamlessly connects to them as you move around. However… this hammers the battery something rotten. I found that using the HTC Sensation as a web browsing device killed the battery life, and it wasn’t unusual for me to require a charge after 90 minutes or so solid use. Not good.

Green Power Battery SaverAs with all the shortcomings in Android though, there are workarounds. I installed an app called Green Power Free that turns off Wi-Fi when the device isn’t in use. It helped, but the battery life on the Sensation is still really poor – I couldn’t get a full days use of it without some charging in between.

Getting back to Apps though, and this is where Android excels. The Android Market isn’t quite as nice an experience as Apple’s AppStore, but it is packed full of apps – some good, some shockingly bad. Whereas Apple vet all apps that appear in their appstore, Google don’t place the same restrictions on. This becomes self-regulating though as you find yourself using apps based on Word of Mouth recommendations or the ratings other users have given the app in the Market.

I couldn’t find a single App that I used on iOS missing from the Android Market. What’s more, I found a few Apps that I would have loved to have used on IOS but couldn’t find, available on Android. Overall, I think I prefer Android’s Open policy to Apple’s vetted apps policy as it allows more variety.

You might think that all these 3rd party apps (especially the poor ones) affect stability. Well, during a months use the Sensation crashed and rebooted just one time. Throughout the rest of the time I noticed one or two inexplicable slow-down’s, occasionally, but overall the platform was really robust.

Moving between Android Apps is fairly easy – pressing and holding the Home Button on the HTC Sensation brings up recent apps for you to browse through, and pressing the back button sometimes takes you back to your previous app. I say sometimes, because other times it didn’t seem to work and I had to manually go and find the app to re-visit it. With full multi-tasking support for all apps though, this wasn’t a problem as every app was presented in exactly the same state you left it.

Web Browsing is a great experience (battery life problems, as we’ve discussed, apart). I installed the free Dolphin Browser HD to replace the built in web-browser, and didn’t look back. It’s a pleasure to use, with the ability to pinch and zoom in on screens with text being wrapped automatically, and share content with any of the Social Media sites integrated into Android.

Android supports Adobe Flash, and there are great apps for both YouTube and BBC iPlayer. If the HTC Sensation had a more resilient battery, you could easily use this as your one and only media device.

The HTC Sensation has a physical Search button, and was context sensitive. Press it from the home screen and you’re presented with a Google Web Search box. Press it within Facebook, and you’re presented with a Facebook friend search. Very neat.

There is no physical camera button though, which is irritating if you’re a Social snapper like myself. The camera app is pretty amazing though, taking good quality shots and offering you the ability to easily tidy them up with crops and auto-enhancements, before sending them directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or any other 3rd Party app you’ve installed. It doesn’t just blindly send the picture either – the Facebook app allows you to tag people, the Twitter app allows you to add Hashtags – just a really good experience.

Google+ Android App ScreenshotOne feature that did have me going “Wow” was the Google+ app feature that automatically captures and uploads any photos you take on the camera to a private location on the web, and then easily allowing you to share those pictures on Google+. A great way to both backup your snaps and share them.

Again, if you’re a Social Media person, you’ll love Android.

You don’t really need a PC to use this ‘phone, as it sets up out of the box and it’s easy to install apps and run Android updates over the air. However, if you do connect it to a PC then you can browse the device as a drive, or install software to use the PC’s Internet connection from your ‘phone – a useful feature I used whilst avoiding Roaming Data charges in Europe during the test.

Doggcatcher ScreenshotI didn’t play a lot of games on the Android, but there are tons to choose from. Likewise, I only used the Android to listen to Podcasts (using the great Doggcatcher app) and the occasional tune via the integrated FM Radio rather than lots of music, but it was intuitive to use, and I felt comfortable leaving behind my iPod Touch in favour of an all-in-one device like the Sensation.

By this stage you’re probably getting the impression I liked Android. You’d be right. It isn’t as intuitive as iOS, nor does it have the clean style of Windows Phone, and for that reason I didn’t pick up the ‘phone and become instantly “Wowed”. But for every irritation I came across, I found that Android’s customisation ability allowed me to overcome that irritation. What’s more, time and time again I came across instances where I thought “It’d be nice to be able to do this…” and investigation showed that Android allowed me to do that.

You’ll gather I think that Android’s Social Media integration is incredible. I thought iOS was good in this area, but it can’t hold a candle to Android – which offers an amazing choice of options to remain connected and share content.

It’s been a month since I began using Android, and a strange feeling has come over me. Unlike Apple iPhone users, or even Windows Phone users, I don’t feel voraciously defensive about Android. If I’m asked how Android is, I won’t staunchly defend the Android platform against the sticks and stones of others. I just smile and say “Well, I like it”.

Unlike the Apple iPhone – it doesn’t “just work”. It takes a bit of time to get used to, and for the non-techy this will be a challenge, but once mastered, you can customise it to the hilt to do everything you want, exactly as you want it.

Unlike the Windows Phone – it doesn’t blow your socks off the first time you see it. But it feels very much like Windows Phone in that it’s challenging the way you’re used to doing things, and offering you new, more efficient ways of doing stuff on a day-to-day basis.

But you know what? After a month, it feels comfortable and it works just how I want it too – both as a business device and a consumer device for a Social Media addict.

I really don’t want to give the HTC Sensation back. If I had a choice of which Mobile Operating System I’d like to use tomorrow, it’d probably be Android, but oddly I’m sure I’d begrudgingly live with a Windows Phone or an iPhone too.

I’m aware the HTC Sensation is a pretty kick-arse handset in terms of capabilities and has a ton of HTC customisation goodness to it. To this end I’m going to grab another lower spec HTC Android handset to see how that performs, and I’m also going to grab a non-HTC Android handset (the Samsung Galaxy S2 springs to mind) to see what the non-HTC Android experience is like.

Since I started the experiment, Windows Phone’s latest update – Mango – has also been released. As promised, as the next part of this experiment I’m going to revisit the Windows Phone platform with the Mango update to see what has changed there.

Despite having tested the three main mobile O/S from Apple, Microsoft and Google – this experiment is far from over. I think it’s fair to say you can see my clear favourites emerging though.

Watch this space. Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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