The Dangers of Turning Back the Clock – SMB Computing

windows-evo2Even as we try to embrace new technology, there is always comfort and stability in the familiar.  In our small offices, we probably still have Windows machines that run virtually every operating system from Windows 8 on back through to XP for some limited purposes machines.  I’m pretty sure we still have some Windows 3.X floppies lying around. Not that we have any drives that could read them.  Windows, we wish we knew how to quit ya’…

 

Anyway…

Microsoft Indroduces Chinese Version of XPMicrosoft has issued another warning to those of us still living in the past, to avoid being compromised by a new email vulnerability in Windows XP.  Maybe this is the final straw to drag us off this old platform for good (or at least until the next end-of-life event for the evolving Windows stable).  Who’s on deck to get knocked off next?  Vista, you out there?

 

 

Microsoft: SMBs are at dire risk opening email on Windows XP machines (via The Inquirer)

IN ITS ALMOST DAILY EFFORT to convince Windows XP die-hards to finally give up their old machines, Microsoft has posted a security advisory about all the terrible things that might happen after it switches off Windows XP support on 8 April. In a very…


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The Evolving Mobile Battle Rages On…

phonefightAs an  avid user of business technology, I try to keep abreast of the competition in mobile devices, but suffer from the dilemma that many other frustrated users do.  No one device seems to have it all covered in a way that let’s me settle on one mobile platform for communications and other business functions.  I’m not exactly on the sidelines of this epic battle among Android, IOS, Windows and others.  I’m stuck in the middle of it all.

My tether to Windows Mobile was recently undone by the lack of compelling upgrade options from my last generation Windows Mobile 7.5 device.  Unfortunately, it’s not been a clean break.  I settled on HTC’s One (Android) partially because I still couldn’t justify an iPhone as a serious replacement, but also on the hopes that the platform could give me the business seriousness of Windows with the depth of utilities and and apps in the iPhone environment.  Beware of being halfway into anything…

Just this morning I tried to receive and the upload some MS  Office docs on my Android phone to the Google drive of my child’s elementary school class.  Despite the “native” interaction you’d expect from Android and Google’s suite, I couldn’t save the .doc files to my 32GB android phone so I could then upload them to the Google drive.  The more I tried to work around the frustration, the more it became apparent that my hip new Android device seems to suffer from some of the same compatibility problems that Apple has in its closed, but wildly popular, environment.  My new phone can’t even support this simple (and widely used) document type.

tabletphone1Then it shouldn’t surprise you that I continue to carry at least 2 smartphones on most days, and up to 3 on others as I try to tap the particular strengths of each.  If my pockets look fat to you, it’s not because my wallet is overstuffed.  You probably have just seen me rolling with my 3 best (can’t-do-without-them) frenemies.  Stop me sometime, I’ll introduce you to the Bros – Sir 3GS, and the HTC twins (fraternal) – Mr. One and Mr. HD7.

Can somebody get me the Ph*** out of this mess???  With that I introduce you to Microsoft’s next volley in this battle…  That tablet’s going to look pretty silly when I hold it up to my ear to make a call.

*****

Reposted From Mobile News via ZDNET, By  

dell-venue-8-pro

Windows 8.1 gets a bad reputation as a tablet OS in spite of all the work Microsoft has put into it. While it’s true that it’s quite a stretch to build a platform that covers all possible computing forms, Windows 8.1 has some nice features that leaves Android behind.

Snap view

Microsoft wasn’t the first to develop a scheme allowing multiple apps to run and display at the same time, but it’s done it better than anyone. Snap view allows putting multiple apps onscreen and then adjusting each pane to the size that works best.

While Android doesn’t have this ability, Samsung has its multi-view which works in a similar fashion. It’s restricted to a few approved apps, though, and that is a big limiter compared to Windows 8.1. It’s only on a few Galaxy devices and not part of Android proper.

Samsung’s multi-view is better than Microsoft’s snap view in one area, and that’s the ability to rotate the screen to portrait and still use it. The Windows 8.1 snap view will only work in landscape, in fact it disables screen rotation when it’s active. That smacks of laziness of the developers of Windows and needs to be fixed.

The one restriction aside, snap view in Windows 8.1 is well implemented and it’s nice to find it ingrained in the OS.

Updates

Galaxy Note 8.0

Have a lengthy discussion about Android and it will eventually turn to the thorny subject of updates. Perhaps the lack of updates is a more accurate way to put it.

Updates to Android devices are at the whim of the device makers and carriers and there’s no guarantee that a given device will ever get that shiny new version of Android. If they do, it will likely be long after it’s available from Google.

Windows device owners aren’t saddled with this update envy, as all updates are pushed to devices. A very few may not have the smoothest update experience, but at least they get the chance to grab new updates.

While it’s true that Android devices continue working just fine without each new OS update, they do miss getting some security updates that are part of these OS renewals.

Mobile experience improvement

Android has been out longer than Windows 8, and it seems that the user experience (UX) is roughly the same as it’s been for a long time. Sure there are minor improvements with each new version, but that’s about it.

The story is different when it comes to Windows 8. While there were some serious shortcomings in the original version of Windows 8, Microsoft stepped up to the plate and ironed them out with Windows 8.1.

That Windows 8.1 rolled out so fast is a testament to the new Microsoft. The improvements that are ingrained in Windows 8.1 are not minor. The advantage of snap view is due in large part to the 8.1 upgrade.

Rumors are already appearing about the upcoming Windows 9, which will no doubt be another major step forward as far as the UX is concerned.

Sharing

We’ve been taught since an early age that sharing is a good thing, and that certainly applies to information. The ability to send information from one app to another is very powerful on mobile devices.

Both Windows 8.1 and Android have the ability to share information between apps, but the Windows implementation seems to be more consistent. The Share feature is always available right there in the Charms menu, and many apps have it implemented well.

There are a few apps that don’t have the ability to share, Google’s Chrome comes to mind, but for the most part apps make it simple to do so.

A great example of sharing in Windows 8.1 was given to me by a friend. He’s able to take ink notes in Windows Journal on his tablet and share them to his Evernote cloud where all his other notes live.

Another good example is the ability to share web pages to the Windows 8.1 Reading List app. This saves information on the web to read later in the Reading List app designed specifically for that purpose.

Sharing information is not missing from Android, but it’s more useful in Windows 8.1 in this writer’s experience.

The evolution of Windows

Windows 8.1 isn’t for everyone but it’s coming along nicely. It’s not strictly a mobile OS but it’s evolving into a decent one. The advantages discussed here are not the only ones over Android, but they are big enough to make a difference.

Some may feel that the availability of Microsoft Office on Windows 8.1 is a big advantage over Android and wonder why it’s not on this short list. While the absence of Office on Android is a disadvantage over Windows for some, it’s not for the millions of current Android users and thus is not discussed here.

Android makes more sense for some mobile users as it’s a robust platform for tablets and phones. It’s now making its way onto the desktop, too. Those wanting a pure mobile UX can do well with Android.

Windows is a better mobile OS than some realize, and it would be a mistake to overlook it. Mobile devices of all types are now available with Windows 8.1, and that alone could be an advantage for some over Android.

See Related: 

Topics: MobilityAndroidLaptopsTabletsWindows 8

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long.

Strategize and Organize – SMBs’ Best Use of the Cloud

Why your SMB cloud strategy could benefit from an integrated approach

Via ZDNET (Heather Clancy)

For many small businesses, one of the biggest perceived advantages of migrating to cloud applications and infrastructure services is the management proposition, the idea that it will free up their staff from an unwanted IT burden.

In some ways, that’s very true, since updates happen behind the scenes and provisioning usually can be handled very easily by individuals.

But if your small company decides to embrace a whole suite of cloud services – especially if it wants to integrate them with existing applications hosted within an on-premise server — it should consider working with a managed service provider (MSP) to make the administration simpler. The benefits of doing so include being able to offer employees access from a centralized Web portal for all applications, consolidating where data is stored and secured, and ensuring that collaborative processes can bridge multiple applications.

There are literally dozens of former VARs and IT solution providers cropping up to offer this sort of functionality as a managed service. One example is TOGLcloud, a hosted offering developed by a group of MSPs that felt most of the current offerings weren’t designed with smaller businesses in mind.

I’m not going to try to name all the options here, but there are several lists published by MSPMentor that offer a good jumping off point for anyone wanting to research their options. (Warning, you’ll have to register to get to most of the content.)

One of the more established players included on MSPMentor’s North American lists that is focused specifically on helping small businesses build an integrated approach to cloud strategy is eight-year-old ComputerSupport.com, with its ITAnyWhere Cloud offering.

“Small businesses can log into one place, all their files, all their productivity tools are there. Their Salesforce.com is there, too,” said Kirill Bensonoff, founder of the company. “They no longer need to have any infrastructure other than these services.”

What makes ComputerSupport.com interesting are relationships with some pretty big–name players when it comes to hosted desktop and cloud infrastructure services: it is an Amazon Web Services Consulting Partner, specializing in the cloud service provider’s QuickStart services; a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that can migrate small companies to a managed Office365 service; and a Citrix Silver Solution Advisor and Service Provider that offers access to the cloud through Citrix XenApp and Citrix XenMobile. It has VMware, ShoreTel and SonicWall credentials. What’s more, ComputerSupport.com is even a member of the Apple Consultants Network.

The ITAnyWhere Cloud service, currently in its third generation, runs on top of AmazonWeb Services, for scalability, compliance support, security and multiregion access. Small companies can log in through a portal, where managers can handle provisioning, or remove and add users quickly. The services are supported 24×7 by ComputerSupport.com, which also handles migration of legacy applications into the hosted environment if appropriate. It’s a fixed-fee offering, but Bensonoff declined to reveal pricing. That depends, in part, on the migration and setup required by the business.

Most of ComputerSupport.com’s customers are small businesses with 30 to 50 employees that originally had at least one server managed in-house, Bensonoff said.

Maybe all of this is more than your business can handle, but if a piecemeal cloud apps strategy is starting to create management headaches as your team grows and becomes more mobile  – and you don’t have the in-house staff to sort them out — a turnkey approach like ITAnyWhere Cloud might be worth an evaluation.

Are SMBs and Private Firms Better Economic Drivers than Publicly Traded Companies?

Recently, business author and Forbes.com contributor Stephen Denning  took up a topic that we found compelling — arguing from new research that suggests that privately held firms engage in greater investment than publicly-traded firms.  The short version of the argument goes that public firms invest less of their profits in new capacity or ventures to grow the company itself than do private firms.  There are a number of explicit and implied explanations of this apparent phenomenon, including claims that public firms are essentially engaged in “maximizing shareholder value” in a way that tends to be short-term in nature.

New boilers at the Yale power plant

New boilers at the Yale power plant (Photo credit: altopower)

One might paraphrase and say that public companies play to the market to maximize value via their stock price rather than long-term company value.  This case has often been made in more simplistic terms, but there is some intuitive appeal to the argument.  For years lip service has been  paid to the contributions and values of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to our economy, but the research might finally be validating what many people hold in their gut — the feeling that small business contribute far more to the economy than they are given credit for, and conversely that publicly-traded companies might be getting credit for doing good for the economy when they’re really just doing good for themselves.

We might not agree with some of Denning’s praise of certain companies he deems to be creative contributors, but the observations and conclusions are certainly worth considering.  What do you think???

-SMB Matters Blog Team

 

How The ‘World’s Dumbest Idea’ Killed The US Economic Recovery

via Forbes.com
Readers of this column know that short-term shareholder value, which is still pervasive in large organizations, has a lot of accomplishments to its credit. It has led to “bad profits” that have destroyed customer loyalty. It is responsible for massive offshoring of manufacturing, thereby destroying major segments of the US economy. And it has even undermined US capacity to compete in international markets.

Now the Financial Times reports that the short-term shareholder value theory has a new feather in its cap: it is responsible for killing the economic recovery that should have occurred after the financial meltdown of 2008.

Over the last month, the Financial Times has been doing a great job in cataloguing the problems caused by the shareholder value theory. Now Robin Harding has terrific article pinpointing its role in undermining the US economic recovery.

In his article entitled “Corporate investment: A mysterious divergence” he explores a conundrum that has puzzled the world’s top economists: why is net investment at a measly 4 per cent of output when pre-tax corporate profits are now at record highs – more than 12 per cent of GDP?

English: Construction Photograph of the Aqua T...

Construction Photograph of the Aqua Tower, designed by Studio Gang Architects in Chicago, IL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In standard economic theory, this makes no sense. When profits go up, companies should be seizing investment opportunities to lay the groundwork for even more profits in future. In turn, that investment should create jobs, generate more capital goods and lead to higher wages. That’s how capitalism is meant to work. So why isn’t it happening? Mr. Harding explores systematically why all the leading scapegoats for what’s gone wrong—regulations, Obamacare, tax policy, fear of another financial crisis and so on—and shows why they don’t add up.

Then he comes up with the kind of thing that you rarely see in economics—a study that enables us to pinpoint the problem by offering “with” and “without” data.

A brilliant study by economists from the Stern School of Business and Harvard Business School, Alexander Ljungqvist, Joan Farre-Mensa, and John Asker, entitled “Corporate Investment and Stock Market Listing: A Puzzle?”compares the investment patterns of public companies and privately held firms. It turns out that the lag in investment is a phenomenon of the public companies more than the privately held firms.

“They find that, keeping company size and industry constant, private US companies invest nearly twice as much as those listed on the stock market: 6.8 per cent of total assets versus just 3.7 per cent.”

As Matthew Yglesias at Slate writes:

“On this account we are reaping the bitter fruits of the “shareholder value” revolution. Executives at publicly traded companies are paid to generate higher share prices, which is done by hitting quarterly earnings targets. This leads to underinvestment relative to the behavior of managers of privately held firms. Not because managers of private firms are indifferent to the interests of shareholders, but because there’s less need for creating the shareholder value link via a simplistic relationship between compensation, share price, and quarterly earnings.”

As Mr. Harding concludes, it is “time to stop thinking about corporate governance and executive pay as matters of equity and to regard them instead as a macroeconomic problem of the first rank.”

There is another way: the Creative Economy

There is of course another way to run organizations, as illustrated by Amazon [AMZN] and other companies that are pursuing the Creative Economy. Their objective is not short-term profits but value for customers. The financial returns from this different approach are extraordinary.

The argument offered by executives that “the stock market made us do it” has the same legitimacy as “the dog ate my homework”, when public companies like Amazon [AMZN], Whole Foods [WFM] and Costco [COST] have successfully pursued customer value, despite the pressures of Wall Street. So isn’t it about time we stop compensating corporate leaders for meeting their quarterly numbers and instead shift the focus of business to its true goal of adding value to customers?

And read also:

The origin of the world’s dumbest idea

How modern economics is built on the world’s dumbest idea

When will the world’s dumbest idea die?

Leadership in the Creative Economy

The five surprises of radical management

________________________

by Stephen Denning

 

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Going Cash Free? It’s Not Just for Consumers Anymore…

Yesterday I went to a soft opening for a new artisan bakery, Hewn Bread, in our suburban Chicago community of Evanston.  (Full disclosure: We knew of the soft opening precisely because we know the owners, but I’m a fiend for fresh-baked bread regardless, so I probably would have discovered it by smell alone if I hadn’t already known about it.)

Besides the expected shelves full of fine goods and the nostalgic “throwback” mental association I get from the growth of new businesses using good old-fashioned quality and simple, traditional methods, I was a little surprised to find myself paying for my rustic French Wheat Loaf with a debit card on the bakery’s iPad-style PDA.  I’d gotten used to seeing this at farmer’s markets and other parts of the “smaller” economy, but it was certainly new to witness such technology at a traditional retailer.

Part of the surprise was my own choice to use a debit card for a such a small purchase, which I generally disfavor as a consumer, because it’s typically unnecessary when I’ve got cash.  The other part of my surprise is really less unexpected the more I realize that modern business has changed.  I’m normally sensitive to the fact that the added costs of debit and credit transactions for the merchant are ultimately passed along to us consumers, and I always hear gripes on that subject from small business owners.  However, the social media interaction between this new business and its prospective customers seems well-served by this innovative technology.

At checkout I was given the option of having a printed or emailed receipt.  While I declined both options to avoid adding to the vaults full of paper and electronic receipts that drive my wife crazy, I suddenly got why cash-free or “cash-less” has become just as attractive for some businesses as it is for many consumers.  Small Business Matters recently posted an article on PayPal’s newest entry into the point-of-sale (POS) market that reflects this growing trend.  -Paul for SMBMatters  BTW, the bread was great!  What else would you expect to hear from a bread junkie?

PayPal encourages small retailers to ‘lose your cash register’

Summary: The mobile and digital payment company is running a competitive trade-in under which it will help retailers get outfitted with an iPad solution in exchange for old cash registers.

ipad_checkout_here

PayPal has launched a competitive trade-in-program designed to get more small retailers to use iPad point-of-sale (POS) solutions that happen to use its payment processing services.

Under the Cash for Registers initiative, companies will receive free PayPal payment processing services for the remainder of the year when they turn in their old cash registers and start using an iPad-based payment solutions, such as PayPal Here. The offer doesn’t just apply to the transaction fees for PayPal services, it covers them for credit-card, debit-card and check processing, according to the company’s information about the program.

PayPal Here encompasses an iPad, card reader, iPad stand, cash drawer and printer. There are a number of pre-integrated solutions that PayPal has organized to help with the transformation.

Some of the companies that PayPal is working with include Erply, a POS and inventory management software developer; Leapset, which integrates POS information with a company’s customer relationship management systems; Leaf, which develops customer loyalty  and business intelligence solutions; NCR | Silver, which provides POS hardware;  ShopKeep POS, which sells an iPad POS system; and Vend, a POS and inventory management software application developer.

The program officially kicks off in June, according to a blog post written by David Marcus, president of PayPal.

“In addition to this great offer, we will make participating businesses known to our 55+ million U.S. (128 million worldwide) and growing customer base, and drive meaningful incremental business to them, stimulating the vibrant small-business community in America,” Marcus writes.

The rise of the tablet computer has signaled a turning point for small-business POS solutions, a trend that began accelerating in 2012 and is continuing to gain momentum.

Related stories:

Reblogged from ZDNET.

By Heather Clancy for Small Business Matters

Need Funding? There’s an app(s) for that!

SMB Tech Meet & Greet: JM Freuler of Funding Gates, Receivables Management Software (via http://www.Firmology.com)

Firmology’s SMB Tech Meet & Greet series takes an inside look at the technology available to small business owners, straight from the founders the built them. Name: JM FreulerTitle: Co-FounderCompany Name: Funding GatesCompany One Liner: Receivables management software for small businessesLocation…


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Indie Capital? It’s a Movement, Not a Place

By Bruce Nussbaum Indie Capitalism

Here’s a shocking truth: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party actually agree on something. They both hate crony capitalism, and they both love Steve Jobs. If this sounds freaky, let me add another weird fact: Practically all my students at the New School in New York, where I teach a course on creativity and capitalism, want to start their own companies. The New School is renown for being a bastion of lefty thought, going back to the 1930s and ’40s. My students want to be entrepreneurs. They want to be Kickstarter, kickass entrepreneurs. These students want to belong to what I call Indie Capitalism.

creative intelilgence by Bruce Nussbaum

I use the term Indie deliberately to reflect a new economy that shares many of the distributive and social structures of the independent music scene—and the value system as well. Indie bands are hyperlocal, and Indie Capitalism is a post-global, local economic phenom (think 3D printing, locavore eating, and crowdfunding new products). Indie capitalists are über-urban, too, feeding off the cultural/entrepreneurial energy of cities—New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin. And they are, of course, super-participative. Indie Capitalists believe in our making of all things, with no clear boundaries between consumer and producer, investor and shopper. We are all of them.

There are many Indie Capitalists already among us. Alice Waters’s groundbreaking organic restaurant Chez Panisse has served as a model for the “source-local” food movement. Blue Marble Ice Cream, “Made in Brooklyn,” uses only local New York State cow milk and hires folks from the neighborhood. Chrysler Group tapped into the Indie culture when it hired Wieden + Kennedy to come up with the “Imported from Detroit” ad, with a song by Detroit-born Eminem.

My favorite Indie Capitalist is entrepreneur Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal (EBAY). He’s handcrafting Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules to take people and cargo to the International Space Station—and even to Mars. His company SpaceX integrates creativity, creation, and capitalism. So does his other company,Tesla Motors (TSLA), which is assembling and selling all-electric sports cars and four-door sedans out of an old California factory.

Indie Capitalism has three foundational principles:

• Creativity generates economic value. Creativity is the source of profit. Yes, efficiency can squeeze more out of what exists, but creativity gives us originality, which translates into a market advantage and big margins.

• Creativity drives capitalism. These past few years we have been victimized by the disastrous results of “creativity” applied to the financial sector (mortgage-backed securities, for starters). What we lost sight of is that the scaling of creativity to actually make things of value sold in the marketplace is the true heart of our economic system. It is the true generator of net new jobs, wealth, and tax revenue.

• Creative destruction is crucial to economic growth. Crony capitalism, which relies on monopoly and political power, is antithetical to entrepreneurial capitalism. A faster cycle of birth, growth, and death of companies boosts creativity, economic value, and growth.

The contours of Indie Capitalism are only just coming into view. They will change over time, as my students and millions of others build this new economic system. But in the reconnecting of creativity to capitalism, we have something to look forward to.

Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor of Businessweek, is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design and author of the forthcoming book, Creative Intelligence (HarperBusiness, March 2013). Follow him on Twitter or visit his Tumblr.
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Surfacing: Can Microsoft Get Above Water in the Tablet Storm?

Surface Pro preview: Triple-play UI is its best innovation

Takeaway: As a hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft Surface Pro makes a bold pitch to reinvent the portable PC, but a few big caveats get in the way. Read TechRepublic’s product preview.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Over the past six months I’ve asked a lot of IT professionals, business folks, and technophiles what they think about Microsoft Surface. I asked them whether it could be the kind of work tablet they’d want to use, and whether they expect it to be more friendly to business and IT than the Apple iPad and Android tablets. The responses have been surprisingly optimistic. Very few people have been dismissive of Surface, even though it’s fighting from behind in the tablet race.

As I dug deeper with the people who were excited about the Surface, I quickly realized that most of them had very little interest in Surface RT — the less expensive, ARM-based version of Surface that can’t run traditional Windows apps. By far, the most interest — especially from IT pros and techies — was focused on Surface Pro, the Microsoft tablet running a full version of Windows 8 on an Intel processor.

As a result, I’ve been looking forward to taking one for a spin and reporting to the TechRepublic crowd on how it performs. With Surface Pro officially launching on Friday, I can report that I’ve been trying out a Surface Pro and I can share some of my early observations and conclusions.

As a frame of reference, I’ve also been using the Surface RT since its launch in October and I’ve been regularly using the Nexus 7, iPad, and iPad Mini in recent months. In the past I’ve been pretty skeptical about the usefulness of tablets for general computing. I think tablets have their place for specific tasks and functions and as companion devices, but I think most knowledge workers find that using a tablet as their primary system involves too many compromises.

Of course, Microsoft set out to change that with the Surface. Just in case you get distracted and don’t finish reading this post then I’ll give you my two quick takeaways on the Surface Pro: It feels like a much more complete version of Surface RT and I can say without hesitation that Surface Pro is capable of doing more than other tablet on the market.

Does that mean I’m ready to make Surface Pro my next laptop, or that I would recommend it as a viable PC alternative for business professionals? Not quite yet.

How’s the overall user experience?

I’m not going to get into all of the specs for the Surface Pro or compare its details to the Surface RT or the latest iPad. We’ll do all of that in the full review on ZDNet next week. Suffice it to say, the Surface Pro is far more powerful than its RT brother, and the iPad, and virtually all Android tablets. But, the tradeoff is an $899 base price and battery life that is much more like a laptop than a tablet. For now, let’s veer away from the numbers and feature lists and focus on user experience and how well this thing really works as a product.

The first thing I noticed as soon as I unboxed the Surface Pro is how thick and heavy it is (even thicker and heavier than the Surface RT). We’ve gotten pretty spoiled in this regard, especially by Apple and Samsung and what they’ve pulled off in slimming down their products. The weight and thickness of the Surface Pro is much closer to the 11-inch MacBook Air and most 11-inch Ultrabooks than to iPad and Android tablets. Otherwise, it looks and feels very sturdy and has the premium finish of a high-end product.

Both the Touch Cover and the Type Cover that I already had for the Surface RT snapped right into place and started working just as well on the Pro as they do on the RT. With the Surface Pro, I also tested Microsoft’sWedge Touch Mouse (right) since the Pro is a full-blown Windows 8 machine. I was glad I did. It’s a handy little mouse (I especially liked the one-finger touch scrolling) and like most Windows operating systems Windows 8 works best when you have quick access to a right-click button.

Once I logged into the Surface Pro with a Windows Live ID, I immediately got many of the settings, accounts, and files that I had already set up on Surface RT. The SkyDrive integration is the highlight of the services experience. It’s nearly as simple as Dropbox and has a lot more options.

Surface also attempts to do some social integration with Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and a few other services, but the experience is a mixed bag. There are some things that are nicely streamlined, like replying to Facebook comments and Twitter mentions from within the People Hub, but other things like the ways it mixes up social network streams and notifications is a bit awkward. I kept wanting to just see my raw Facebook and Twitter feeds (displayed in Windows 8’s minimalist text style), but couldn’t find an easy way to do that and so I gave up.

Once you dig in to do some work, that’s where Surface Pro really shines. There are native Windows 8 Metro apps for Evernote and Dropbox — two of the most popular consumer apps that business professionals love — and you have the whole library of standard Windows apps to draw from and install in Desktop Mode.

Metro apps are very visual and highly usable and I wish there were a lot more of them. If there were, I think it would make the Surface a much more attractive option for average workers. The ability to work with the large catalog of traditional Windows software helps soften the blow, but hardly any of that stuff works well in a multitouch interface. For that reason, I found myself relying pretty heavily on the Type Cover keyboard and the Wedge Touch Mouse for most of the time that I was using the Surface Pro.

That said, one of the most pleasant surprises was how effective it felt to move between the Type Cover/Wedge Mouse and the multitouch screen. There are some things that are faster and more effective with touch — like scrolling to a specific part of a page or flipping through images — and there are some things that are more efficient with keyboard and mouse — like long typing and right-clicking for options — and the Surface Pro was the first device that gave me the feeling that the future of business productivity will likely include both.

The digital pen for the Surface Pro also works beautifully. It’s the most accurate and precise digital pen that I’ve used. It can draw really thin lines and it draws on the screen precisely where it’s supposed to. I’ve never been a huge fan of pen computing, but this one gave me a sense that I could use this to annotate some stuff and do virtual whiteboarding that could actually be useful as part of my daily work.

That was my biggest lightbulb moment with the Surface — seeing how it combines a traditional mouse and keyboard experience with multitouch and pen computing in a way that works naturally and integrates the value of all three.

I have other thoughts and observations but I’ll sum up them up into a list of the kudos, caveats, and needs. Then, I’ll sum up my initial analysis about the Surface Pro.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Kudos

  • Threads the needle between touch, keyboard/mouse, and pen computing
  • Metro interface enhances usability and Metro apps continue to multiply
  • Desktop Mode offers full Windows 8 and its traditional app ecosystem
  • Type Cover, Wedge Touch Mouse, and the included digital pen are excellent accessories

Caveats

  • It’s a hybrid that doesn’t stand out as a tablet or laptop
  • Battery life is half of most tablets
  • Won’t sit in a lap
  • Not very useful in portrait mode
  • Microsoft Office is installed, but costs extra

Needs

  • A tiltable screen that can sit in multiple positions
  • A desktop and laptop docking solution
  • Digital pen should store in the casing
  • Integrated wireless broadband should be an option
Photo credit: Microsoft

Analysis

Surface Pro flirts with greatness, but its caveats could become show-stoppers for a lot of users.

The product brilliantly weaves mouse and keyboard with multitouch and pen computing in ways that feel very effective and useful. When you compare it to other tablets, there’s simply a lot more you can do with Surface Pro because of its triple-play interface and its ability to run the full version of Windows 8 in desktop mode.

The problem with Surface Pro is that it’s trying to bridge the gap between two products, a laptop and tablet, and it doesn’t quite stand out enough at either function. It’s lacking a little bit as a tablet and it’s lacking a little bit as laptop, so you have to make too many compromises on both sides.

What makes tablets like the iPad and its top competitors useful is their ease-of-use, portability, battery life, and big catalog of third party tablet apps. Surface Pro fails most of those criteria. Its dual personalities of Metro and Desktop Mode are powerful but complicated. It’s nearly as heavy as three iPads. Its 4-5 hour battery life means it won’t ever make it through a full day without a charge. And, while Surface Pro has all of the native Windows apps, it doesn’t have many touch-friendly tablet apps. Even if the Windows 8 tablet platform becomes a developer favorite, it will likely take a couple years to get a critical mass of productive tablet apps.

So, what about thinking of the Surface Pro as more of a laptop replacement? After all, under-the-hood it’s more like a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook than a tablet. That’s how I spent most of my time with the Surface Pro thinking about it. However, from that perspective, it’s a laptop that won’t sit in your lap properly (the kickstand tips over). The trackpad on the Type Cover is nice for a tablet but doesn’t match the spacious trackpads on the MacBook Air or the best Ultrabooks. And, even some Ultrabooks now offer mobile broadband and much longer battery life than the 4-5 hours you get with Surface Pro.

I can’t help thinking that if you want most of the benefits of the triple-play UI and full Windows 8 in Surface Pro then you’d be better off with a product like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which has 10 hours of battery life, mobile broadband, an integrated pen, and laptop and desktop docks. The hardware isn’t quite as polished, the screen isn’t quite as impressive, and the accessories aren’t quite as slick, but it starts at $679 and overcomes several of the Surface Pro’s shortcomings.

The Surface Pro is one of the most ambitious products I’ve reviewed. It’s trying to do a lot — ultimately, a little bit too much. But, even if it doesn’t sell well, I expect that Surface Pro is going to be remembered as the product that showed us how keyboard/mouse, multitouch, and pen computing can work together in smart and useful ways. And, either Microsoft will fill the gaps in version 2.0 or other products will run with the triple-play UI.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. He writes about the products, people, and ideas that are revolutionizing business with technology.

Is China’s Economy Overstimulated?

Economies of Scale. China Manufacturing Base

Economies of Scale. China Manufacturing Base (Photo credit: Cory M. Grenier)

The Danger of Chinese Overproduction

via Shade Tree Economist

Coal, iron ore, steel, cotton, clothing, heavy equipment, ship-building, solar cells, LEDs, and property. All of these commodities at one point or another in the last year have been a hot topic due to overstocks caused by government-influenced overproduction. Falling prices and decreased global demand have crippled many participants in these industries, and many bankruptcies and collapses have occurred. And they are emblematic of the problems that China is going to continue to face in the future.

China’s economic growth has been based significantly on a rapid expansion of government stimulus through monetary expansion over the past several years. And this policy has borne fruit.  GDP is up, and growth rates, although not always meeting expectations, regularly exceed the growth rates being achieved in the rest of the world. But this growth comes with a price – an instability in the very markets it seeks to develop and grow.

Monetary stimulus injects liquidity in to the markets in an effort to circumvent the natural processes and operation of the markets. Normally, the interest rates indicate to consumers and producers the level of saving being undertaken by the public, and the amount of resources that are being set aside which can be borrowed to promote capital growth in longer term industries. When consumers are interested in near-term satisfactions, their time-preferences are high, and a high interest rate is required to induce them to lend.

When consumers’ preferences are for the greater amount of satisfactions that can be obtained by holding back on consumption and waiting for longer-term projects to be finished, their time-preferences are low, and they are more willing to put their money into loanable savings which lowers the rate of interest. The interest rates, therefore, help to coordinate consumer desires with production plans through investment activity.

By artificially lowering the interest rates, false signals are sent to producers that consumers are interested in more investment activity than they actually are. Businesses begin, therefore, to take on projects that they otherwise wouldn’t, because the restricted available funds would restrict the number of entrants into a particular field.

But now, too many funds are available, and all sorts of business activity is begun. This looks great on paper, as all sorts of development, construction, and hiring are initiated, which leads to all sorts of development, construction, and hiring in the subsidiary industries which feed these projects. But the problem is that too much has been begun. More so, in fact, than the public actually has an interest in.

Slow as you go

Slow as you go (Photo credit: Konabish ~ Greg Bishop)

When the time comes for these new products to hit the economy, there isn’t sufficient demand for them all. A situation of oversupply begins to develop. In order to correct this, the market insists on a fall in prices in order to match the actual demand with the existing supply. But many of the projects that were started depended on a “stability” of pricing that would engender them with a certain level of expected profits. The fall in prices, therefore, cuts profits, and makes many marginal firms untenable. A spiral begins to develop as firms rush to correct their business plans to meet the new reality, and economic trouble ensues.

This is the situation that China finds itself in today. Government stimulus has been great for boosting production rates and GDP growth across the country. All sorts of ore and steel and agricultural products have been produced by the massive expansion of productive capacity of the Chinese economy. But this monetary stimulus has only managed to result in the Chinese economy overproducing in all sorts of sectors, and has not managed to create sufficient demand for these projects to keep the market cleared.

Normally, the markets would penalize overproduction through losses, and production would only be expanded to fit the projected actual needs of the public. But these restrictions have been circumvented by the rules and regulations businesses in China have to face. Instead of cutting back on production in the stimulated fields, incentives are given to the industries they feed, the buyers of those products, to expand their own production in order to clear the increased supply. But this only succeeds in pushing the day of reckoning further into the future.

It does not succeed in correcting the initial economic instability, which continues unabated, and, in fact, continues to expand under the previous incentives. Moreover, it succeeds in creating a second instability, in that the newly stimulated production areas eventually face their own problem of overdevelopment.

Overproduction of iron ore leads to stimulation of and overproduction of the steel industries, which lead to stimulation of and overproduction of ships, heavy equipment, and buildings. Overstimulation of cotton leads to stimulation of and overproduction of textiles which leads to stimulation of and overproduction of clothing. Overstimulation of photo cells and solar cells leads to overstimulation of and overproduction of the solar industry. Eventually all sectors of the economy are promoted beyond the ability of the public to consume.

All this stimulation by government leads to a wild euphoria of participants in these industries. People feel liberated with the new incomes they have and the fresh money in their pockets. This leads to wild spending habits and speculation in all sorts of areas. Lately, it has been reported that speculative bubbles in wine, apples, property, and even graves have grown up all over China. Some cities, such as Changsha, are even reporting how people are “releasing their spending power” by borrowing against paychecks in order to keep up their newfound lifestyle. Many of these bubbles have already burst, such as in the mining town of Ordos, while others are showing the early stages of a collapse.

Chinese efforts to contain the oversupply through government buying programs are only going to make things worse. Many such efforts were attempted in the United States during the Great Depression, only to be rejected as failures. Government buying programs only succeed in transferring ownership of the supply to the government without curbing, and even sometimes encouraging, through creation of a guaranteed buyer, the habits of the producers.

Eventually this stock must be liquidated, either by direct destruction and loss by the government, or by dumping programs, which will only succeed in bringing about price swings on the markets as prices are initially depressed from the dumping before rising back to the rate at which the Chinese government continues to buy. All of these policies end up destroying wealth by simultaneously attempting to encourage and discourage production.

Clearly, the Chinese government has a serious problem on its hand of what to do with the monster they have created. To let the markets correct is to allow a liquidation and correction to occur, revealing the error of their ways. But to let the process continue is to run a race against reality, with the magnitude of the problem, the size of the economic instabilities, growing greater every day.

SMBs Using Social Media For Customer Service

An unhappy customer can reach a lot more people than they used to thanks to social media, so how can you deal with it when it’s your company coming in for criticism?

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

If you don’t have all the information, publicly acknowledge that you’re looking into it, advises social media consultant Amy Neumann. You don’t want to immediately admit fault, especially if there are potential liability issues, but you don’t always have the luxury of gathering all the information before issuing an initial response.

Post an FAQ on your blog or website to make whatever information you have readily available. Not only will that help reassure customers, but it will help defuse speculation on public forums like Facebook and Twitter. And a forum on your own site could help people vent in a less public way and give you a chance to address their concerns.

If it turns out you were at fault, let people know what concrete steps you’re taking to prevent future problems. It’s not enough just to blandly promise to do better.

If your company wasn’t at fault, respond with the facts and avoid appearing defensive or attacking your critics. Assure the public that you remain committed to your brand’s quality and ideals.

Adapted from 6 Steps to Survive a Social Media Crisis by Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing.

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