Posts Tagged 'Facebook'

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.

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.

The Tools I Use… Productivity Tips

In the webinar I recently presented in for MSP Business Management  entitled “Effectively using Social Networking to build your IT Support business” (now available to view on demand) – one of the most frequent questions that came up was “Which tool do you use for Social Networking?”

Those questions that I didn’t have time to answer on the webinar, I promised to follow up with a blog post.

Toolbox full of toolsAdd that in to the fact my friend Jeremy Epstein over at NeverStopMarketing recently encouraged me to write a blog post about the Tools I use (you can read about the tools Jeremy uses here) – and I felt compelled to write this blog combining the two ideas!

There may be a lot of overlap in the list below, but it’s more of a brain-dump than a fully blown article – still, I hope you find some useful tips! It’s a big old blog post, so I’ve divided it into sections so you can pick and choose what you read.

I’d be interested in hearing about the tools you use – feel free to post comments below, links to your own blog post, or reach out to me via Twitter.

***

Reading Blogs

I *used* to use Google Reader to manage my blog subscriptions through RSS feeds, but the truth is that nowadays I only tend to read articles that come to my attention through two channels.

imageFirstly – My iGoogle Homepage – this is my Web Browser “Start” page and has three columns, with my GMail, Daily Quote, a Currency Converter and Google Latitude displayed – in addition to a load of my favourite blogs. I also have three other tabs entitled “Self-Development”, “Technical” and “Entertainment” that I frequently browse through to read some of my other favourite blogs in those specific areas. These favoured blogs are always somewhat in flux – if a blog hasn’t been updated for a while, it’ll drop off my screen and another will take it’s place.

Secondly – Twitter. I tend to graze many of my favourite blogs by knowing that the author will let me know when an update is available to read. If you’ve got a blog and you’re not automatically updating your Twitter feed to let people know about new articles, you’re missing a trick.

When I’m on the move I don’t tend to read blogs unless I’ve found them through Twitter.

You can already see that Twitter is central to a lot of things I do!

 

Twitter

Talking of Twitter, I use TweetDeck as my main Twitter feed on my PC with many Twitter groups to enable me to read what is relevant to me – you can read more about my “strategy” for managing Twitter here.

I also read Twitter a lot from my iPod Touch, using Twitterific, and from my HTC HD2 using MoTweet. Both have really nice interfaces that I’m comfortable with.

 

Devices

I’ve use an iPod Touch – at home, around the house. Mostly for web-browsing, reading the odd e-mail and reading Twitter – but also with the eBay App and for a few games (such as Stick Cricket!).

I also have a HTC HD2 running Windows Mobile 6.5. Why use such an old device, I hear you ask! Here’s the full answer!

On the PC front, I have three computers. My main PC is a Lenovo Thinkpad T400 laptop PC running Windows 7 Ultimate, which is tethered to a Docking Station and a single 19” TFT Monitor when at home. Yes, I hear the gasps that I’m not using a Multi-Monitor setup…

When out and about, I primarily use my beloved Samsung nc-10 Netbook running Windows 7 Starter Edition, carried around in my (in)famous brown mini-Rucksack (or “Man-Bag” as it’s been called) which also contains a Virgin Media 3G Dongle, and an international travel adaptor with USB charger and a selection of USB Cables for charging gadgets on the go.

If I’m on a journey without Wi-Fi (such as flying) then I’ll use Googlemail’s Off-Line facility and Microsoft Outlook in Off-Line mode to work through items.

I’ve toyed with moving from a Netbook to a Tablet, but the iPad doesn’t appeal to me and there isn’t much in the way of competitors out there… yet.

I also have a Gaming PC connected to a KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse). It’s not used so-much anymore – apart from my favourite, Age of Mythology!

Hand holding Amazon KindleI own an Amazon Kindle (3G and Wi-Fi version) and take it just about everywhere. Anywhere I think I may have some time to kill between appointments (think the Doctors Surgery, Barbers, waiting for the GG to finish clothes shopping…) the Kindle goes with me.

I love the way it allows me to download and read books anywhere, and it automagically syncs my books.

I also use the Kindle Reader on my PC and iPod Touch, both of which allow me to continue reading short bursts of a book when my Kindle isn’t to hand.

On the subject of book-reading, I use GoodReads.com to listen to friends recommendations, and to write my own book reviews which I then share with Twitter and Facebook.

I own a Flip HD camera that I use to record video interviews for use on the blog and YouTube.

At home I use a Draytek Vigor 2600G Wi-Fi Router, and have the house flooded with under floor Ethernet cabling. Every room has at least two Ethernet points, terminating in a Netgear 48-port Switch within a cabinet in the loft that is protected via UPS Battery Backup.

I also use a FON Router at home to securely share a portion of my Broadband with anyone who cares to use it.

 

Bookmarks and Synchronisation

If I find an article that is of interest to me, but I don’t have time to read it there and then – I use Instapaper to save it for later.

If I come across the article on Twitter, I favourite it. My Twitter favourites automatically get added to my Diigo feed.

I use Diigo for all my Web-Browser bookmarks. A small Javascript bookmark (the Diigolet) button sits on my Firefox favourites, where I can tag bookmarks with easy to find Keywords for future use. I used to use Delicious for this, but then Yahoo threatened to pull it so I moved to Diigolet.

XMarks (formerly known as FoxMarks) is installed on my Mozilla Firefox browser on every PC I use. It synchronises my Web Browsing History, Cached Passwords and Open Tabs between different PC’s – thus making sure my browsing experience is uniform across PC’s.

I use Windows Live Mesh 2011 to sync important documents between my various PC’s, and DropBox when the Apple Mac-loving crowd want to exchange files with me. Both are great tools and just “work” to enable me to get on wherever I am.

 

Web Browsing

You’ve already worked out that I use Mozilla Firefox as my primary PC web-browser. I love the add-on’s it offers – including IETab 2, which allows me to load those annoying sites that insist on using Internet Explorer within Firefox. Other Add-On’s I use are

On my HTC HD2 device, running Windows Mobile 6.5, I use Opera Mobile 10.

 

Calendar/Contacts/Email/Tasks

Microsoft Outlook 2010 LogoI *live* in Microsoft Outlook. It is my trusted source for organising my personal and professional life. I heavily use Task Lists and I’m a big proponent of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) methodology for staying organised. On my PC’s I have Microsoft Outlook 2010 installed alongside GTD for Outlook.

I also use Outlook Notes, synchronised between my WinMo and PC, and every appointment (personal and business) goes in my Calendar.

I keep my work and personal e-mails separate though, and use GoogleMail for my personal mail (richard@tubbweb.co.uk). Every few months I’ll sync my Outlook Contacts with my Googlemail Contacts to keep the two up to date – I’d love to find a way of doing this automatically.

Microsoft BPOS is my hosted Exchange service. What can I say other than it’s reliable and it just works! Everything gets sync’d over the air to my PC’s and to my WinMo device.

I also use the Outlook Social Connector on my PC’s to get additional insight about what those who are writing to me are talking about.

 

Blogging

I use Windows Live Writer – a free tool from Microsoft and the best blogging tool I’ve come across.

I use the Zemanta plug-in for Live Writer to help create links, although I do find it a bit flaky.

This blog is hosted at WordPress.com.

As a blog article is published, it is automatically posted to Facebook by WordPress.com. I then manually create a short-link using Bit.ly and publish a link to the blog article to LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Buzz and occasionally, MySpace.

For leaving comments on blogs, I use a mixture of Disqus, Google Profile and OpenID. I much prefer being able to login using Twitter though.

 

Facebook

I use Facebook primarily for personal use, but have a lot of “business friends” on there too. I use Facebook lists to ensure the right people see the right content, and regularly browse Facebook a few times a day to keep up to date.

 

Keyword Listening

I use Google Alerts to keep posted on a variety of keywords, ranging from the vanity (my name and my URL) to business to local interest (“Weoley Castle”).

I also use SocialOomph to keep track of more business related keywords (“IT Support”, “Managed Service Provider”, clients names, etc)

Tweetdeck comes in handy again here for tracking #Hashtags during certain events – Conferences, etc.

 

Note Taking

I use OneNote, but I’m not as religious at using it as I’d like.

I carry an old fashioned pocket notebook with me most places, as I find it easier to scribble thoughts down during meetings – and it seems people don’t get offended when you write down notes using pen and paper, whereas typing on an electronic device can be misconstrued as a lack of interest in the meeting.

I heavily use SnagIt for grabbing screen pics and modifying them for use in blog articles.

I’ve already mentioned I use both Task Lists and Notes in Microsoft Outlook – and I do so across a variety of platforms all synchronised back to Outlook.

 

 

Spreadsheets, Word Processing, Presentations

It’s Microsoft Office 2010 all the way for me. Excel, Word and Powerpoint. I love the way they integrate into Windows Live Skydrive for collaboration.

I very rarely use Google Apps, but it’s occasionally useful for very small documents.

When I’ve produced content, such as a White Paper or presentation, it’ll get uploaded to Scribd for future reference.

 

Communications

As I work from home I use a Siemens Gigaset Dual-VoIP/POTS telephone in the home office. This allows me to have both my Business Telephone (hosted with VoIPfone.co.uk) and Home Telephone (Virgin Media) on the same line, and distinguish between incoming and outgoing calls on them.

TrueCall DeviceTo prevent my day getting constantly interrupted by British Gas, Virgin Media and other Telemarketers who ignore my registration with the Telephone Preference Service, I use a TrueCall device which has pretty much stopped nuisance calls dead.

On the Mobile Phone, I use MagiCall to undertake the same function – dropping calls from those who can’t take no for an answer from continuously interrupting me.

Instant Messaging is via Windows Live Messenger. I rarely use it for personal reasons anymore (Facebook chat has superseded that) but it’s a great tool for keeping in touch with my business contacts.

I use Skype heavily, both for International calls, calls when travelling and for Video calls. I’ve got a Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000 in use as a Webcam, and the ability to both see and be seen by my colleagues adds a authentic dimension to Skype calls.

I also use OoVoo for IM and Video Conferencing, and it works just fine – but I’ve seen no uptake on it outside one particular client.

For Technical Support for the family, and the occasional remote control I use LogMeIn. I’m warming to TeamViewer since it’s been acquired by GFI though.

 

Security

Pad-LockOnce built, PC’s are backed up with ShadowProtect Desktop from StorageCraft. I can then wipe PC’s and start from a Base Image if needed.

Critical data from each of my PC’s is synchronised to another within the house using SyncBack SE. This data is often encrypted using TrueCrypt.

All data is also backed up to the NAS, and this data is in turn backed up to Mozy Home, Amazon Cloud Storage and iDrive as well as being burnt off to DVD-R once a quarter and stored in a Fireproof safe.

My Mobile Phone is backed up on a monthly basis by Sprite Backup, both to mini-SD Card and to the NAS. My mobile is also protected by Lookout Mobile Security, which as well as stopping nasty’s, backs up my SMS and other information to the Cloud and has some additional tools to protect against Theft or loss.

Every electronic device in the house is marked with UV pen, and registered on Immobilise – the UK National Property Register.

We also have a number of CCTV cameras around the exterior of the house which record footage to a Geovision Server. Reassuringly, all we ever seem to record is local Fox Cubs play-fighting on the lawn, and Spiders making webs across the lenses of cameras. Money well spent then.

On individual PC’s I use Microsoft Security Essentials, my pick of the Anti-Virus products.

All my passwords (which are unique for every site I use) are stored in KeePass, which is synchronised between my devices using Windows Live Mesh 2011.

Finally, my GoogleMail, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter are backed up by Backupify. Yes, I use a Cloud Service to backup Cloud Services.

 

Photos and Videos

I mentioned I use YouTube thanks to my Flip HD camera.

I upload just about every photograph ever to Flickr, both for sharing with friends and family, and to use as an on-line backup of my photo library. I rely on the tagging facility here.

I also use a lot of photographs from Flickr under the Creative Commons license, to drop into my blog articles and presentations.

Lots of photographs find their way onto Facebook too, especially from my Mobile Phone.

PhotoBucket is used when I’m uploading photographs solely for use on eBay listings. The ability to use PhotoBucket’s HTML facility is invaluable.

I use the Image Resizer Powertool and Paint.Net to edit photographs locally.

If I’m editing videos locally, I’ll use Windows Live Movie Maker. Free, and relatively powerful.

 

Entertainment

I use an aging Topfield TF5800 as a dual-tuner Freeview PVR. It runs a number of cool 3rd party apps that enable me to record the Television programmes I want.

This is attached to a Sony Bravia KDL-40W4500 Widescreen Television, a Sony Blu-Ray Player and a Sony ST8-DG820 Multi-Channel AV Receiver with what feels like a billion input and output sockets.

imageAlso in the living room, we have a Nintendo Wii (which admittedly, I only seem to play Donkey Kong and Monopoly on) and an Xbox 360 which I use to play games on-line with friends on XBox Live. Attached to the XBox 360 is also a HD-DVD unit, which allows me to play DVD’s from the loser in the Blu-Ray –vs- HD-DVD format wars.

We won’t talk about my “retro gaming” room, which has everything from Atari’s to Commodores to Dreamcasts. That’s a blog post all of it’s own… Smile

For home media, I run a D-Link DNS-320 NAS box with 2 x 2TB HDD’s mirrored. This stores nearly all of our Music CD’s, Podcasts and many movies and other videos.

All of our audio media is kept in a structured and tidy fashion thanks to MediaMonkey (Paid for edition) on a PC, and TwonkyServer on a server. I try to avoid the horrible iTunes wherever I can, be it’s sometimes necessary.

In the living room I also run as Acer Aspire R3610 with Windows 7 Home Edition installed. Thanks to CoreCodec this can play HD content from the network to the Television.

I’ve mentioned I’ve got an iPod Touch, which I use for Music. I also own a Microsoft Zune HD, which tends to get used for Podcasts in the car. The HTC HD2 also gets used for Podcasts when I’m walking.

We’re big fans of DAB Radio, so radios are scattered around the house (including a Roberts SolarDAB in the bathroom). One of my follies is a set of yacht speakers flush into the bathroom walls, fed by a Pinnacle Soundbridge HomeMusic wireless steaming device. It’s nice to listen to good music whilst soaking in the bath.

I listen to Spotify at home on the PC, but not too often, and only the free edition.

Phew! An extensive list, but there are probably others. I can see myself adding these over-time as people ask me about them – so feel free to ask me directly.

 

Now …how about adding yours in the comments below?

 

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the 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.

Effectively using Social Networking to build your IT Support business

GFI Max Building Blocks LogoA heads-up that I’ll be running a Webinar in conjunction with GFI Max entitled “Effectively using Social Networking to build your IT Support business”. It takes place this Thursday, May 26th at 4pm GMT (that’s 12pm EDT).

We had around 600 people register for our webinar last month entitled “Finding Customers through Networking” (which you can now view again on-line) where we touched on Social Networking, but the amount of questions we received from the audience about Social Networking during the Webinar prompted us to run a second webinar this month focusing on the subject and allowing us to go a little deeper.

During the webinar we’ll cover:-

  • The principles for using Social Networking
  • The ROI of Social Networking
  • Social Networking vs Social Media
  • Tips for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Why Blog?
  • Content Loops
  • The Tools to use
  • Social Networking vs traditional Business Networking
  • Question and Answer

Registration is quick and free – just visit the “Effectively using Social Networking to build your IT Support business” page and sign-up!

Hope to see you there! Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the 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.

You Un-Followed me! Don’t you love me anymore?

I’m a pretty active user of the micro-blogging social networking site Twitter. The web-site http://www.howoftendoyoutweet.com/ tells me I send an average of 8.2 Tweets per day, typically a mixture of IT and Business related Tweets during the UK working day (7am-6pm), and more personal interest Tweets outside working hours.

I recently reached a milestone by hitting 1,000 followers on Twitter. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a disturbing thought that they’re are 1,000 people who actively listen to what I say. It worries me too!

Now this blog post isn’t to shout about that milestone, because frankly it doesn’t mean a lot and if it did, there are many of my peers who have many more followers than that, and that’s before you even compare yourself to the Stephen Fry’s and Demi Moore’s of the Twittersphere.

What I was more interested in was something else that happened around that time, and one that had me considering an aspect of Social Networking from a psychological or human nature perspective.

Broken Heart of Social Media by Chris ListerRight around the 1,000 followers milestone I had a few people, including friends, reach out to me to ask “I follow you on Twitter, why don’t you follow me?”. What’s more, a few other people (again, including friends who I know “off-line”) un-followed me on Twitter – if I had to guess, because they suddenly realised that I don’t follow them back too and they’d be dashed if they were putting up with that situation!

I say “If I had to guess” because the first time somebody I was friends with “off-line”, somebody where we also both followed one another on Twitter, suddenly un-followed me – I had a sense of “What have I done to deserve this!”. I’m a sensitive soul, you see, so I wondered what caused that individual to un-follow me.

So I did what most sensible people in that situation probably wouldn’t do, I risked appearing needy and shallow and asked him “Why did you un-follow me?”.

His answer was simple – he had a strategy of following only a very few people people on his main Twitter stream, because if he followed any more, he found it over-whelming.

He went on to add that he still read all my Tweets because he used the Twitter “list” functions – the ability to group together the Tweets of as many people as you like, typically within a certain interest group such as IT or Marketing – and that I was on one of those lists. What’s more, he added, we’re also friends on Facebook and I read your blog – so we’re very well connected. That explains that then!

Shortly afterwards he un-friended me on Facebook and changed his phone number. I’ve no idea why.

(That last sentence was a joke by the way. He tells me he just forgot to give me his new telephone number.)

Joking aside, if I felt a twinge of hurt when somebody I liked and respected un-followed me on Twitter – it’s probably likely that at least some other people feel the same when somebody they like or respect un-follows them.

For myself, I “consume” Twitter by following less than 200 people. I’ve found that any more than 200 and I end up feeling overwhelmed with information, and that I tend to miss certain people’s updates.

This magic number of a network of 200 would seem to be borne out by other people’s research. In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” he observed that when company business units were kept below 200 people, innovation happened and work went a lot more smoothly. Over 200 people in a unit, and noticeable lack of communication occurred and things slowed right down or began to fail.

For me, these 200 followers are the people whose Tweets I read on my iPod Touch and my Windows Mobile. They are the Tweets I graze on, glance at and read in between meetings, whilst travelling, and whilst sitting in the Doctors waiting room. Those 200 are a mixture of friends, professional contacts and industry experts. The common theme they share is that they are typically consistently active on Twitter, tweet frequently (but not TOO frequently) and with interesting Tweets that I enjoy reading.

But that does leave hundreds of other people who I *want* to keep up to date with, but they maybe fit into one of the following categories:-

  • They don’t Tweet very often. Once a day, or less.
  • Conversely, they Tweet very often – and so I hear from them too much for my tastes! If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll know what I mean. The difference being that on Facebook you can “hide” their updates whilst still being a friend.
  • They Tweet about a specific subject, and so I need to be in a certain mood to read their Tweets.

For those people, I use Twitter Groups – via Tweetdeck on my PC. I have groups named “Friends”, “SMB IT Community”, “Marketing Guru’s”, “Business”, “Comic Book Fans” and many others that allow me to dip in and out throughout the day and see updates dependant upon the mood I’m in. This way I keep up to date on various groups from my Desktop.

There is a fourth category, and they are people who don’t post often, and when they do, cross post their Tweets to LinkedIn or Facebook. I read their updates on those platforms, so I don’t need to read them again on Twitter.

You might have your own Twitter strategy, or you might have none and suspect you need one because you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that info. All I can say is, the above works for me.

But back to my original situation, and where does that leave me with those dozens of people who are wounded wondering why I don’t “follow” them on Twitter. For those who reached out and asked me directly, I explained the above scenario to them, that I *do* still read their Twitter feed, but I simply don’t register as a traditional “follower” who will boost their follower number up by one. Hopefully they get that I still care what they have to say. I guess some might, some might not – but the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time probably fits here.

If you’re a friend who has been feeling slighted because I don’t follow you on Twitter and have just read this post, hopefully now you know that I do still love you man! If Twitter is the only way we’ve kept in touch recently, then maybe it’s time we caught up in person anyway – call me!

I’m genuinely interested in people’s thoughts on this topic, as Social Networking is now a part of pretty much everyone’s lives. In my opinion we need to think less about the technology involved in it, and more about the humans who are using it. Thoughts? Reach out to me via Twitter, leave a comment below or drop me an e-mail – I promise to respond! Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the 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.

It’s all about relationships

I’m something of a computing history buff. I love reading books about the rise (and sometimes fall) of the people and ideas that shaped the Technology industry that I now work in. One such book I’ve read is “Dot.Bomb” by Rory Cellan-Jones, which examines the Dot.com bubble of the late 1990’s. The book, published in 2001, still makes fascinating reading today an a cost of just £2-£3, I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to go and grab a copy.

One interesting observation that the book makes is that at the time many people believed the Dot.com revolution was allowing everybody and anybody to make their fortune on-line. Certainly, it encouraged a culture of entrepreneurship as there were stories of everyone from Schoolboys to Graduates who were building web-sites around their ideas, which were often being valued at many millions “on paper”. But with the benefit of hindsight, there weren’t too many people who genuinely achieved great success or made a fortune thanks to those crazy times. In fact, Chapter 9 of the book features a paragraph which I’ll quote:-

“In the dot.com world, the key skill was not the ability to write elegant software, or understand the latest microprocessor architecture, or even draw up a convincing business plan. It was the people who knew how to network who stood the best chance…”

Only last week I gave a webinar presentation entitled “Finding Customers through Networking” (which if you missed, you can watch again at www.mspbusinessmanagement.com very shortly) in which I repeated the very familiar statement that “People do business with people they like”. I also mentioned that you could have the greatest business in the world, but if nobody knows who you are then you’ll not achieve great success.

Additionally, it was only last week that I talked about Social Networking vs Traditional Networking and concluded that they go hand in hand, and that doing one without the other isn’t making the full use of the tools at your disposal.

One of the questions that I’ve had coming out of the webinar is “How do you make time for all this stuff?”. (“This stuff” often referring to Social Networking). My answer is – you make the time because it’s important.

Visualisation of Richard Tubb's LinkedIn ConnectionsMy former MSP business was built on the back of strong relationships, and the main reason my new career helping IT companies to grow is happily keeping me so very busy is mainly because of the many relationships I’ve formed in the past and the high levels of trust and confidence I’ve been able to build with people. (As a side-note, you can see a visualisation of my LinkedIn connections to the right. If you’re interested, you can build your own LinkedIn Map here).

Building relationships, be they with your prospective client base, strategic alliance partners, vendors, peers or even your competition isn’t a “nice to do” activity, if you have the time. Attending business networking events and using social networking isn’t something to think about once you’ve done everything else that’s important. Building relationships in this way is something you should be doing all the time, every day, as part of your standard day-to-day business activities.

If you’re not a natural relationships person, then by all means use a system or a process – I consider myself a “people person” to whom relationships are very important, and yet I use many tools such as a CRM system to keep track of who, when and how – but the important thing is to ensure you build those relationships.

Because if you don’t then it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how great your idea or service is, history tells us that you won’t be as successful as you could have been.

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the 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.

Social Networking vs Traditional Networking

Statue of Shaking Hands

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit down with Clare Tucker of Birmingham based The Vocational Marketing Academy (VMA). Clare is a highly qualified and experienced Corporate Marketing professional, and after picking her brains on all things Marketing, our conversation turned to Social Networking vs Traditional Networking. Clare expressed frustration that so many people in business are missing a trick because they don’t understand the benefits of Social Networking, or that they think it’s a replacement for Traditional Networking. Clare understood that the two work hand-in-hand.

For the past couple of years or more, I too have spent a good deal of time talking with business owners about Social Networking. I’ve found that those I speak to typically fall into one of three categories:-

  • “I know I should be doing it, but I don’t have the time”
  • “I’m not sure I understand why I should be doing it”
  • “I’m not doing it. It’s a waste of time.”

Those who say they “don’t have time” often regret saying it to me, as I start breathlessly rambling on about tools and techniques for using Social Networking. I typically stop when I see the glazed look in their eyes.

Those who say “It’s a waste of time” – I change the subject. Engaging this individual in a conversation about Social Networking and I may as well talk about either Politics or Religion, all three topics are going to be equally as fun to discuss.

But the majority of the people fall into the second category, “I’m not sure I understand why I should be doing it”. What’s more, people in this category often cite the fact that they already spend a lot of time doing “traditional” networking – attending groups like BNI, the Chamber of Commerce and other local face-to-face business networking groups.

Spending time doing traditional networking is fantastic. People do business with people they like, and face-to-face networking builds up trust and respect. But when I ask traditional networkers what their “system” for building relationships with new people they’ve met, and maintain existing relationships between face-to-face networking events is… they often confess that they’ve got a lot of business cards on their desk gathering dust that they must get round to doing something with.

For me, this is where Social Networking comes in. I have written before about the process I use for collecting Business Cards, and it heavily involves linking up with people I’ve met in the “real world” via Social Networking to aid in continuing the conversation. We connect on LinkedIn, I start a conversation with them on Twitter, or in some cases, we friend on Facebook.

I consider myself a person to whom relationships are very important, so I spend a lot of time meeting with people and keeping in touch with others via the telephone – but I know I’m not alone when I regularly think of somebody, or a persons name comes up in conversation and I say “I’ve been meaning to catch-up with them”.

Social Networking is a great way for passively keeping in touch with people. If somebody is an active user of Social Networking then you can let people know what you’re up to, add value to conversations, share information of mutual interest, and much more. If they aren’t an active Social Networking user, you can still keep in touch with them quickly and easily via e-mail – sending a link via e-mail with a note saying “I thought you might be interested in this article I wrote/found/had passed on to me” is not time consuming, but maintains the relationship between ‘phone calls or meetings.

It works in reverse too. If you spend all of your time doing Social Networking, just like spending all of your time doing traditional networking – you’ll get some results, but you’re missing an opportunity to take things further.

There are many a relationship that I’ve built solely through Social Networking – where I’ve found people via their blog, Twitter, or visa-versa, and which I then take to the next level by organising a meet up at a face-to-face business networking event.

It all comes down the individual you’re dealing with. Some prefer regular face-to-face or telephone calls, some prefer social networking – but whatever their preference – having the right tools to stay in touch with them is paramount.

In conclusion, for me the argument of Social Networking vs Traditional Networking is a non-starter – it’s all just …networking!

Two quick plugs – if you’re interested in hearing more about my thoughts on networking or want some tips on techniques for either traditional networking or social networking then register for my webinar “Finding customers by Networking”, hosted in conjunction with GFI Max, which takes place on Thursday 28th April at 4pm GMT (12pm EDT). Hope to see you there!

Secondly – Clare at The VMA has made available to download a free  Marketing training Module entitled “Traditional vs New Marketing”. Go grab it!

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the 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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