An Interesting Response to a NYTimes Article on Cell Phones

It seems that Apple is having issues selling phones to New York City, or rather AT&T is not selling their iPhones to New York City on-line (you can still purchase them at brick-and-mortar stores).  This article (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/28/for-new-yorkers-trouble-buying-an-iphone-on-atts-site/) explores a little bit, but the following is a response from AAA in Central Pennsylvania.  It sounds like he might either work for AT&T, or else have a similar relationship to them as I do with Microsoft.  I am only editing his text for spacing and spelling.  I should mention that I am a customer of AT&T and have never had an issue with their network (in New York City or elsewhere), but am not an intensive data user – I usually just pull my e-mail, not videos.  -M

I am a partner in a very mobile (as it we go to a variety of job sites each year) specialty systems integration business, and in a year, we all travel to many points within the "lower 48"
Cell phone based technology is our life line, and very often in setting up a site, the land line data lines are not yet in place, let alone the land line telephone lines for our client, so very often we use cell phone based devices to get the projects started.

What we have found from experience is that, like last week's, NYT article spelled out, ATT has a better network. Especially for our business cell phone account, and yes, there are provisioning (provisioning affects how a cell phone device interacts with the cell tower network) differences between residential / consumer / individual cell accounts and business cell accounts.

Now I will point out, that there are some dead spots, in places like when using laptops when riding the DC Metro, or in a back seat of a car in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, or the NYC Lincoln Tunnel, or when on the NYC MTA, on the Elevated Sections in NYC or even on Amtrak (Boston to DC and Philadelphia to Harrisburg) where ATT does not always seem to work instantly, but that is a transitory event.

Within seconds the problem clears, ether by moving slightly, or waiting until the cell device grabs a new tower. Only in rural New Hampshire do we sometimes have a problem, and that is fixed by leaning on the roof of a parked car and resting the cell phone so the lower edge just touches the roof (greatly increases reception as the "ground plane" of he cell phone internal antenna is improved).

Though I will note, that nearly all cell phone based devices allow for the connection of an external antenna to improve reception and range.

Even in places like when crossing the Woodrow WiIson Bridge, south of DC, where you start out in Maryland, touch the DC and then end up in Virginia, all within less than a mile, ATT keeps the connection.

In terms of equipment, we use iPhones, Motorola Razors, HTC Advantages (paper back book sized cell phone with a 5 inch screen) and all manner of SIM card capable professional equipment (sourced from a variety of eBay based cell equipment vendors) that allows us to connect up regular telephone equipment on one side that, with the magic of the ATT SIM card installed in the device socket, is a cell phone on the other.

Thus we can carry our regular, (plug into the local phone line) credit card machine, fax machine, and even a back up hard wired telephone gear with us at all times, and can easily connect to ATT anywhere we do a project within the lower 48.

We have had the account since cell phones appeared in the 1980's and if there is anything to add, is that both ATT and Verizon started out poorly. But is has been ATT who has improved the most, and especially when ATT dropped analog cell technology.

Add to that improvement in coverage, even in odd ball Texas locations where the cows out number the people, the fact that the ATT technology of the SIM card allows for all manner of extra telephone / communication equipment to become a cell phone device.

The value of which is not to be underestimated, when coupled with the ATT signal.  It is something that Verizon and its technology will not allow, so that means only with ATT technology can you put your 87 year old parent on the family cell account, and yet give them the desk telephone , so they don't have to fuss with a cell phone. (Secret is the box that accepts the ATT SIM card and connects to that old style phone.)

Or how on eBay we picked up unlocked European market netbooks that accepted ATT SIM cards so our entire staff has an instantly connected netbooks.  No dongles, no USB plug ins, just turn on and go. Again only with ATT type technology, and certainly not Verizon with CDMA.

So, if your experience is only one tiny little iPhone, and you are not willing to walk down the hall or go to a window, I pity you, as, there are always going to be dead spots with any cell phone, and all you have to do is move.

If you still have a problem, call the carrier and check to see how your account is provisioned, and be prepared to get a business account and pay for it.

Like the days of hard wired phones, certain classes of service get the queue ahead of others which is why business cell accounts, always seem to have better service.

You get what you pay for.

Smart Windows 7 Smartphones!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

In June of 2009 I wrote an article about a feature of Windows 7 that I loved… but couldn’t at the time confirm would actually make it into the final release of Windows 7.  In fact I was unable to find any documentation on it at all, which led me to believe, late one night, that I might have violated a non-disclosure agreement.  The article was called Smartphones and Windows 7 – VERY Smart!

Fortunately the feature made it through, and here is how I set it up and access it.

  1. Make sure your phone is properly paired to your computer.
  2. Double-click on the Bluetooth icon in the Windows Notification Area.
  3. Double-click on your Bluetooth Device (Alternately right-click on your device and click Control)
  4. The Bluetooth Phone Operations and Settings window for your device will appear. 
  5. Under Phone Operations click the Connect button next to the line ‘Use this computer as a headset or speakerphone for calls on your phone (Model Number).
  6. On the phone you will have to accept the connection attempt.

image 

Once I did all of that my phone rang… complete coincidence of course, but the timing was great.  I put on my headset (Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000) and answered the phone… the call came through over the headset.

I know that on the previous post the screen shot showed that I could enter a phone number to dial, hang up, and so on.  I suspect this functionality will differ by phone model; I still have my old phone configured and the screen shot is slightly different; having said that the dial-from-computer functionality never worked on the old one – always said ‘not supported by this phone'. 

Give this a shot… it is much easier to make calls without having to hold the phone to your ear for hours!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

A Windows 2008 R2 Haiku!

I couldn’t believe it.  There is actually a contest to write haiku about Windows Server 2008 R2.  I used to write poetry, so I gave it a shot.  Here are MY entries, based on the two technologies that I use most often:

Virtualize All / Hyper-V is the true path / Green are your servers

Server Core Simple / Command Line saves resources / Your footprint stays low

Think you can do better?  Give it a shot at www.r2haiku.com!

M

eFolder… my first impressions of an automated on-line backup solution

My files are bulletproof… or at least I think/hope/pray that they are.  I have a 60GB file on my laptop that stores my documents (and another 10GB of pictures).  For security reasons the partition on which those directories sit is encrypted with BitLocker, so if I lose my laptop my files are safe.  Every night my laptop is configured to back up these files (along with the entire laptop) to my Windows Home Server… so as long as I am home I am protected.

Over time I thought of a number of ‘doomsday scenarios’ that worried me, that would leave me somewhat unprotected:

  • What if there was a fire in my home, and both my laptop and my Windows Home server were destroyed?
  • What if I was on the road and my laptop was stolen (or corrupted) and I needed access to my files quickly?

Now let me be clear, I use my Live SkyDrive all the time… and Live Mesh for other things.  However when i started asking around I learned about a couple of tools that would install on my laptop, backup the files (directories, drives, etc…) that I selected, and then continue to do this automatically on a set schedule.  I liked the idea.  Their term for this is ‘Cloud Storage’.

I met Jan Spring at a number of events over the last couple of years, and because her company had a good community focus (they sponsored a meeting of user group leaders from around the world recently) I decided to give their product – eFolder – a try.  They were more than happy to accommodate me with a trial license (which, I confess, took me ten weeks to getting around to trying).

Once I was registered I received an e-mail from the company with my account number, username, and password.  I had to go on-line to change my password right away, because they want to be clear – once you are using their solution only you can use it to either back up or retrieve your files.

The next step was to download their tool – eFolder Backup Manager installed on my Windows 7 x64 laptop without any hassles or arguments.  Its install base is just shy of 40MB, not at all intrusive.  More importantly to me is that its Windows Process takes nearly zero CPU cycles and less than 6MB of RAM while running, so it does not affect my performance and I can continue to work normally.

I had to configure my account – Remote Server name is provided, and I have the option of backing up to a local server or local disk as well.  I had to enter my account credentials, and once that was done I had to create a Pass Phrase that would be my encryption key.  It tells you how secure the key is, which is based on the length rather than complexity.

By default it was set to back up my user profile, but as I store my document and picture libraries in non-standard locations I was easily able to add those locations in the Options tab. <a recommendation to them and anyone developing software: update your default locations to interact with Windows 7 libraries, and not only the default file locations> 

I set my schedule, keeping in mind that I did not want the ‘Cloud Backup’ to interfere or clash with my Windows Home Server backup.  I clicked ‘Backup Now’ to run my initial backup.  Of course that takes a long time (and is dependent on how much data compared to how fast your Internet pipe is), but once the initial backup is done it searches for the deltas… in other words it backs up what has changed since the last backup was run.

One of the key features that separates eFolder from many other on-line solutions, and one that will appeal to many of its customers, is their partnership with a Canadian datacentre (in Calgary).  The reason this is so critical is because US law states that the Federal Government can, if it perceives a possible threat, legally gain access to any data stored on US soil.  If you are worried about this then storing the data in Canada ensures that this cannot happen.  I want to be clear that you have to agree during configuration that you will not use their service to break the law, and because I am a law abiding citizen who is not terribly afraid of the government I do not worry about these things.  If you are concerned, make sure you tell them you want your data stored in Canada when you register.

A great feature for consultants or resellers to consider is that their partner program will allow you to rebrand their service as your own and resell it.  I am not going to play with that, but it can be a real value add for your clients!

Once the backup has completed you can (from within the eFolder Backup Manager) click on Manage Account.  This will direct you to their secure on-line portal where you can access their partner center, view a log of your remote backups and disk usage, and see a summary of your account.  It tells you when your last successful backup was, and when your service expires.  As well it tells you what your disk usage quota is so you do not run out of space inadvertently, or go over.  There is also a cool search feature which allows you to search for specific files (or files with specific criteria) in your backup.

To try it out for yourself check them out at http://www.efolder.net/.

A Rebuttal to Windows 7: Seven points of imperfection

In her recent article ‘Windows 7: Seven points of imperfection’ (posted on IT World Canada, and written for PC World US) Jacqueline Emigh  calls out seven deficiencies in Microsoft’s new client operating system. While I understand that columnists have to find a hook to please their editors, I am beginning to find it boring with how far some people are reaching.

The hook here of course is the very common theme of Se7en.  I’m sure that if pressed I could write an article outlining seventy-seven things I like about Windows, as easily as I could write an article on seven things I dislike about any version of any operating system on the market.  In this article, a rebuttal but certainly not an official one, simply based on my impressions because remember… Windows 7 was my idea!

#1: Windows doesn’t include certain earlier components.

A theme we will probably return to a few times herein, you simply can’t please everyone.  One of the biggest complaints against Windows Vista was its footprint… too big.  Ms. Emigh acknowledges that all of the components that she called out can be downloaded for free anyways, but if you do install Windows 7 and are used to them being there you may be mystified as to where to find them.

Most of the removed components – including the three mentioned in the article (Messenger, Mail, and Movie Maker) are now Windows Live components, and because of that there are two important benefits.  Firstly the same components can be leveraged by users running legacy operating systems, and secondly improvements can be made to the programs – more than simple patches but actual version changes – outside of the band of the OS.

#2: Windows 7 lacks support for older printers and other external devices

Microsoft does not write hardware drivers.  if you have a six year old Canon printer that does not have a Windows 7 driver then you should be complaining to Canon.  However in any case that I have come across if there was a Windows Vista driver it will work on Windows 7.  She also claims that the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit can be more of an issue, but again as long as your hardware provider has a 64-bit driver available you shouldn’t have a problem.

#3: Windows 7 forces you to learn a new UI

I drive a Camry.  Last week I rented an Impala, and the week before I rented a Prius.  I had to figure out the slightly different controls in each, so I spent three minutes feeling around, figuring out the lights, windshield washers, and radios of each; then I was fine.  From Windows Vista to Windows 7 that is precisely how different the UI is; for users who skipped Vista then it may be a little longer… 10 minutes max.  I say this because if this is among the biggest complaints that detractors have against Windows 7 then people who are not actively looking for faults should be very pleased!

#4: Windows 7 isn’t impervious to viruses

For ten years I have been telling people that I can build a building that is perfectly secure and impenetrable; all I need are four walls, a roof and a floor of 10-inch steel welded together and I am done. The problem is it is equally secure against those who need access as those who don’t.  WIndows 7 is extremely secure, but it is also extremely useable.

A few years ago there was discussion of including anti-virus software in the OS; that was quickly followed by discussions of decimating an eleven billion dollar per year industry.  However Microsoft has made available extremely good anti-malware solutions for both home users and corporations, in Microsoft Security Essentials and Forefront Client Security.  Either of these – or a healthy dose of common sense – are enough to protect your Windows 7 from harm.

It should be noted that no operating system ever made was impervious to malware; it was simply a matter of the right hacker taking the time to write it.

#5: Installation of Windows 7 can be a real bear, especially in upgrades from XP

Firstly I should mention that Microsoft announced up front that there would be no upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7; so of course upgrading would be tough.  While I feel for the users who skipped Windows 7 only to find they are having problems upgrading I would like to remind them that Windows XP was released in October, 2001… and the fact that there is a way to perform the upgrade, even through workarounds, is a testament to the fact that Microsoft does care about all of its clients.

That being said, my experience with upgrading (which includes both my own and those of hundreds of clients, students, and readers) have not been that bad.  The ‘endless reboot cycles’ that she mentions have not materialized for me or for anyone I have spoken to.  As for some users being disappointed that they cannot upgrade from XP, there is a simple solution – upgrade your Windows XP system to Windows Vista, and then immediately upgrade your Windows Vista to Windows 7.

No matter whether you are wiping and starting fresh or trying any sort of upgrade it is a good point to mention you should perform your backup first.  If you want the cleanest experience, the Windows Easy Transfer tool that is available on the Windows 7 DVD will backup your entire profile to disk, which allows you to wipe your disk clean and start with a truly clean environment.

#6: Windows 7 pricing is both too high and too complex

<There are two issues here, and I will address them individually>

<1>

Quote: ‘With family and business budgets pinched right now, why is Microsoft charging anywhere from about $100 to $300 for an upgrade disk for Windows 7, depending on the version?’

<For the record: Windows 7 Ultimate (Full Package Product) retails for $219.99>

I will now change a couple of words in this sentence to demonstrate my point:

With family and business budgets pinched right now, why is Toyota charging anywhere from about $10,00 to $30,000 to upgrade to a 2010 Camry, depending on the version?

Microsoft is in the business of selling software.  Giving you new versions for free would hurt their business model, but it would also give them less incentive to make as good a product as they have.  In reply to Mac OS costing less, may I remind you that this is after you have spent thousands of dollars on their hardware plus the OS, which is based on open source.

If people are upset that Microsoft offers cost benefits to people who beta test their software I invite them to spend the year before a product is released testing and troubleshooting and yes, finding bugs; it is not a fun experience, especially since once you find them you have to fill out paperwork on the bugs so they can be documented, tracked, and resolved.

As for Microsoft not advertising that OEM (original equipment manufacturer) software costs less than FPP (full-package product) it is simple; the cost savings for the license are definitely there, but for the privilege you have to purchase new hardware.  If you know of anyone who went out last week and bought a brand new HP laptop but had them remove the OS license, then purchased the FPP license of Windows then that person wasted their money.  OEM software is less expensive than FPP because Microsoft offloads the support requirements to the OEM; if my HP laptop with a Windows OEM license has a problem then I have to call HP, who are glad to help me with it.  If I purchase FPP then I have to call Microsoft.

<2>

I agree that there are a few different editions of Windows 7.  There were by the way six SKUs of Windows Vista, six of Windows XP.  Depending on what your needs are you should purchase the right one; for example a home user who wants to use Media Center but would never need to join a domain would purchase Windows Home Premium Edition

I would posit that Microsoft has actually simplified their editions in Windows 7.  In Windows Vista each edition had some features but not others; in Windows 7 the editions are cumulative – so Windows 7 Business will include all of the features of Windows Home Premium, and will not include any features that are excluded from Windows 7 Ultimate Edition.

If customers are too confused to decide what version they need, there are a number of simple questions that should help them decide:

1. Are you a home user or a business user?

<home: Home Basic or Home Premium>

<home 2>. Do you want the advanced graphics and media player?

<yes: Home Premium, no: Home Basic>

 <business 2>. Do you have (or would you like) a volume license agreement with Microsoft? Do you need security features such as BitLocker, or multiple language packs?

<yes: Enterprise, no: Business Edition>

3. Do you want to have every feature of every edition, bar none?

<Windows 7 Ultimate Edition>

So if you ask ‘why don’t they simplify it so that there is only one edition?’ the simple answer is they are not asking people to pay for the features they do not need.  My mother does not need to join a domain, run XP Mode, and protect her files using BitLocker to Go.  She needs a plain and simple OS, which is what she paid for.

#7: Customer support for Windows 7 is too scanty

Microsoft released their much anticipated new OS on October 22, 2009.  I am sure that in the days and weeks that followed their support calls were overloaded.  Fortunately for many Microsoft does have a plethora of forums, newsgroups, and white papers that will guide customers through most problems they might encounter.  Remember the complaint about beta testers getting rebates?  Many of us wrote a lot of those papers, and still more of us man the forums and newsgroups to help out.  Most companies not only don’t offer the same level of on-line support for their clients, but also do not have nearly the same ‘Influencer’ base that can offer that level of support on the day that a new product is released.  People were asking questions, and we were answering them.  Did every question get answered within an hour?  No.  Did most questions get answered in a reasonable delay?  I think so.

‘In early sales, Windows 7 has been beating Vista by a wide margin.  But does the company have enough customer support in place to handle the load?’

One of the problems that Ms. Emigh points to is that Microsoft does not have enough employees answering forum posts.  This may be true, but if you include all of the influencers, the community members who answered so many of those questions, then the number of people working on this was truly staggering.  Yes, it is true that there is no mechanism in the forums and newsgroups to make sure that questions did not fall through the cracks, but to say that the support was scanty is folly.

‘Still, when a user is facing a critical system error, just about nothing in the customer support realm beats the immediacy of a phone call.’

This is a true statement,… and there are premium support calls available through PSS to address issues that cannot wait; however immediacy does not always mean urgency, and more often than not it is worth the end user’s while to wait a few hours rather than paying for a support call.

I am the first to admit that Windows 7 is not perfect.  Okay, that may not be true, since Jacqueline Emigh beat me to it.  However if someone is going to write an article panning it I would suggest that they spend a little more time researching, rather than come up with such reaching real imperfections, and not issues that fall squarely on hardware manufacturers or upgrading an eight year old OS.  Even someone like myself, who is on most products quite loyal to Microsoft, and tend to air my grievances directly to the product team and not in public, can come up with seven legitimate problems if I looked hard enough… which is indeed what she seems to be doing.

10 Dumb things you can do to your Cisco Router

This article came over my RSS feed from Global Knowledge; it is an article from January by David Davis which outlines 10 things you shouldn’t do with your Cisco router.  If you were to turn it upside down, it is a really good reminder of ten tips you should always follow with your Cisco router… and with most any computer system!

http://www.globalknowledge.com/training/generic.asp?pageid=2308&country=United+States