Doug's Mailbag: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ribbon

Another reader comments on why the negativity towards the ribbon is counterproductive:

You know, sometimes you just have to accept change -- even if it's more painful, at first, than not changing.

I was once employed by a brick-and-mortar retailer. We used an OS/2-based point of sale (POS) system that was essentially 100 percent text-based. You pressed function keys to engage specific tasks, like ringing in a sale or a return. I was eventually tasked with writing a new POS, in-house, and entirely from scratch -- for Windows 95. Unfortunately, the main business goal was to minimize impact -- so I essentially had to eschew this great GUI-based environment and resort to having people press function keys. 

The moral? Sticking with an old paradigm for too long holds back functionality. It was years later than a successor developer was able to break the mold and finally create a real GUI-based POS, which was easier to use, easier to train new associates on and so forth. It also offered better transaction models, making for faster checkouts and happier customers, and the ability to more easily integrate new initiatives like gift cards and whatnot.

A new UI like the Ribbon can obviously be painful. Windows was painful for its first DOS-accustomed users. The Start menu was painful for Program Manager adherents. But, as readers Mike, Randy and Heidi point out, once you get used to it it can be easier and more productive. Heidi, in particular, is dead-on: Office's old toolbars had grown entirely too cumbersome as Office's functionality began to require an increasing number of them. Office was overdue for a fresher UI concept, and as professional technologists we should really just get on-board.

Personally, I'm not a big Ribbon fan myself. My next version of Office (Office Mac 2010) is Ribbon-ized, so I'll just have to get used to it. I'm sure once I do I'll be just as happy with it as I am with the current "Inspector" UI approach.

 Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on May 12, 20101 comments

Hyper-V Gains Utilities

Hyper-V is now a more than credible contender in the server hypervisor space and is gaining new features and tools everyday (not everyday, more like once a week). This week four new virt tools either debuted or got enhanced.

First up is not a Hyper-V tool per se, but a tool that helps App-V (the application virtualization product Microsoft acquired from Softricity) deploy Office 2010.

On the Hyper-V side we have:

  •  Virtual Machine Servicing Tool 3.0, which updates VMs when they are not online.
  • Hyper-V Best Practice Analyzer, which double checks your configurations.
  • And Linux Integration Services 2.1, which can now see if Linux guests are actually working.

Are you using Hyper-V and if so, are you moving away from VMware? Share your stories at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on May 12, 20100 comments

Office 2010 Dealios Have Strict Time Limit

Microsoft is offering current Open Value customers Office 2010 for half off -- but you better move fast -- this deal is only good through June. And the 50 percent discount is only for Office 2003 and 2007 customers. Older versions are simply too ancient to qualify.

I'm not sure if IT can decide about this migration by July. Let's face it. Office 2010 hasn't even shipped. All your testing on macro, hardware and application compatibility are based on unfinished software.

I hear great things about Office 2010 (as long as you are a ribbon fan) and even wrote a cover story with your help.

But as good as 2010 sounds, it's the little things that take lots of testing that'll get ya.

What do you think? Are you moving to Office 2010, sticking with the old, or do you have an alternative productivity suite? You tell me at [email protected].

By the way, the much talked about Office 2010 (there really are no Office 2010 secrets) will be announced today. This is like Obama announcing the pick of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. If we all already know what you're going to say, how is that an announcement?

Posted by Doug Barney on May 12, 20103 comments

Free Stuff: ScriptLogic

User Account Control in Vista and Window 7 is either God's gift to security or the bane of end users -- or maybe both. Two things often happen. Either UAC privileges are restricted, in which case users' machines are locked down; or, they have full admin rights, and you have no control over rogue software.

ScriptLogic has a new free tool, Privilege Authority, which aims to meet halfway in between.

With Privilege Authority, end-users are not full administrators, but IT can set policies and guidelines that grant admin-style privileges for special occasions.

For instance, Privilege Authority can grant admin rights to application installers so all your corporate software is up to date.

To get the most out of the tool, ScriptLogic launched a community Web site.

Posted by Doug Barney on May 12, 20101 comments

Patching Time Brings Only Two Biggies

Tomorrow is the second Tuesday of the month, which for Microsoft shops means it's time to patch. This time there is two fixes deemed critical. One bulletin fixes application problems from Office XP to Office 2003 and 2007. Apparently, remote code execution attacks can be waged through Visual Basic for Application.

The other bulletin fixes operating systems, and is mainly aimed at Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista and Server 2003 and 2008. The good news is operating systems properly configured aren't really at risk, Microsoft says.

Are hack attacks getting worse or are we beating these creeps back? You tell me at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on May 10, 20100 comments

IE 9: A Browser That Can't Really Browse

If you are a pre-alpha junkie, you may want to download the second preview of Internet Explorer 9. However, if you want a browser that actually does something, you should probably wait for a later version.

IE 9 is truly in its early stages, and as such, the browser is in a test form that has no real controls. The main goal of the test release is for developers to understand its performance, and see how the browser adopts newly evolving standards such as HTML 5. The idea is that if developers write Web-based applications against the standards, those apps should work on IE 9 and other like-minded browsers. Microsoft has generated a number of HTML 5 tests, with some showing different interpretations of standards by browser makers.

For those interested, Microsoft has an amazingly in-depth blog on IE 9.

Posted by Doug Barney on May 10, 20101 comments

Getting (Virtually) Ready for 2010

I know that 2010 is already here, but all the Microsoft products ending with those numbers aren't -- though soon most will be. To prime the pump, Microsoft has a new toolkit, the Proof of Concept Jumpstart Kit, which lets you test Office 2010, Windows 7 and more quite thoroughly by running them virtually. This way you don't have to deal with all the problems of installing new software.

The kit can also look backwards, letting you test older tools such as SQL Server 2005 and 2008.

How do you evaluate new software and are there any packages you are really looking forward to? Answers to both welcome at [email protected].

Posted on May 10, 20100 comments

Free Stuff: Diskeeper

Disk defrag maven Diskeeper has a free new tool that can test drive across the network and report in real time. Disk Performance Analyzer for Networks 3.0 relies on a single access point, server scans can be scheduled and computer groups defined -- through IP addresses or Active Directory groups.

Posted by Doug Barney on May 05, 20101 comments

Users Flock to Exchange 2010 Migration?

Exchange 2010 is so great that nearly half of enterprises will migrate to it in the next year and a half? Who says so?  A Microsoft messaging partner, of course. It's not a Microsoft partner per se, but a report from Osterman Research which was paid for by Azaleos, a Microsoft e-mail services company.

While 44 percent of shops plan the move, the remainder claim budget pressures are holding them back.

The fact that Azaleos paid for the research does not negate the findings. A good research company won't risk its reputation doing shoddy work, nor would Microsoft risk the black eye.

My bigger concern with researchers is not the numbers, but that sometimes their opinions are informed by whomever they are working for. 

Exchange 2010 is about six months old, and many shops are waiting for the first Service Pack later this year.

Are you moving to Exchange 2010? Why or why not? Or do you use another vendor? Which one and why? E-mail your answers to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on May 05, 20105 comments

Doug's Mailbag: Is the Apple Bruised?

Has Apple turned to the "dark side" after its handling of the Gizmodo situation? Here are some of your thoughts:

Up to some time ago, Apple looked customer friendly, nice to everyone and even their cute commercials of PC vs. Mac became popular.

Ever watched the TV series Supernatural? Where one of the guys at a certain point goes completely dark?

I'm wondering what is going on? It started with Apple asking editors to increase ebook prices (amazon priced them at $9.99...then Apple came and made them raise to $15.99). After that, the crusade against Adobe Flash, and finally the police and Apple raiding the Gizmodo editor's house.

But in the end, the real question is: Did apple change? Or has been like this all along?


Apple is a dangerous company run by a weirdo.

Geekdom has a large percentage of weirdos -- that's why they're geeks to begin with. Birds of a feather flock together, so they worship the Apple weirdo. When the weirdo passes away, Apple will fall like a deck of cards. Just like it did last time.

The term ‘sinister' is a little over the top.  Maybe heavy-handed is a better term for the case at hand.  Nevertheless, Apple is every bit as self-serving as Microsoft, or any other company out to make money for its shareholders.  Not cuddly at all!

Apple is as insistent on protecting its interests as any other successful company.  They are no more or less moral than any other corporate entity.  Such entities are amoral.  Only humans can actually be moral or immoral (ethical or unethical, if you prefer) in their actions. 

The real difference between Apple and any other company is in the genius of its marketing department.  Apple (mainly through its founder, Steve Jobs) makes people want products they don't need -- and they want them so badly that they will pay exorbitant prices from the IT equivalent of ‘scalpers' to be the first on their block to own them. 

Apple products are sexy in every conceivable respect -- to the point that you are willing to pay premium (some might say exorbitant) prices to own them. 

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  Every company decides which customers they seek.  Mercedes-Benz is not fleecing people who buy their cars -- but they really are not all that interested in attracting the average Chevrolet owner -- and neither is Apple interested in attracting the average PC owner.  Apple wants to sell to people who will buy a premium product in the first place, and then go back to Apple to buy software -- be it applications, music or video content!

Most people compare Apple to Microsoft but they are really quite different.  Apple's customers are all consumers.  Apple makes very little effort to attract enterprise customers.  Instead, enterprise customers get the same 5  to 10 percent off their prices as any other volume buyer.  For this reason alone, Apple does not sell a lot of product to the enterprise.

Microsoft, on the other hand, markets to OEMs -- companies who sell computers or the enterprise which uses lots of computers -- and buy large numbers of licenses with little or no media changing hands.  Microsoft is not too interested in dealing with people who BUY computers because they buy software licenses, one at a time.  Microsoft OEMs are another story.  Companies like Dell offer enterprise customers 20 percent or more in discount pricing in order to sell and ship large numbers of systems all at once.  Microsoft takes a small profit on a very large number of licenses and the consumer/customers goes to the OEM for aftermarket support.

Whether you are buying from Apple or from Dell/Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz or Chevrolet, the rule is caveat emptor.  Know exactly what you are buying and why -- and don't blame the company that sold you their product because you didn't do your research. 

 Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on May 05, 20100 comments

SharePoint Security Snafu

SharePoint Services 3.0 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 are both affected by an elevation of privileges flaw.

Similar to a recently announced IE 8 flaw, hackers use cross-site scripting to wage attacks. Here, malicious code is embedded into SharePoint-based Web pages. Similar to phishing scams, users are led to these sites through spam.

The lesson here? Don't just rely on patches, but train you end users to avoid clicking anything that is the least bit suspect.

Do you train your users in security? Does it work? Share your best advice with us by writing to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on May 05, 20100 comments

Redmond vs. Android

Microsoft isn't just fighting Google's Android in the market (a battle that will heat up with the release of Windows Mobile 7), it may also wage a patent war in the courts.

Microsoft has patents upon which Android apparently infringes. Microsoft reached an agreement with phone-maker HTC which releases them from patent action.

This deal legitimizes, to some degree, the Microsoft patents, making it easier for Redmond to press its case against Android creator Google -- which I'm sure they'd love to do.

These cases may be legit, but they can also harm users as royalties drive up prices and sometimes good technologies are yanked. And if a patent war ensues, I'm sure Google has plenty to pester Microsoft with.

Are patents an evil that only harms customers or a necessary protection for true inventions? Send your thoughts, royalty-free, to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on May 03, 20109 comments