Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Well the ADSL connection to our home office went down a couple of hours ago, and I found out in my latest call to tech support that there has been a "radius server crash" and it could take a while to fix.
So, I got out the USB cellular modem I use with the notebook, plugged it into my desktop, let it self-install, and there I was connected again. And what's really cool is that it found the high speed HSDPA network!
If you’re sitting in the middle of some big metropolis reading that last bit, then you might think “so what?” But the reason I am so impressed is because I live a few hundred yards from the sea between Southampton and Bournemouth on the south coast of England, and hitherto have only been able to pick up a GPRS signal. Not being that close to anything mobile operators would consider a priority from a coverage perspective, I figured it was going to be years before we saw anything of this new mobile broadband thing in our area.
So, a couple of things have occurred to me as a result of this experience.
Firstly, HSDPA rollout, at least for T-Mobile, must be progressing quite aggressively for it to reach our little home office at the very edge of the country. Secondly, for anyone who, like us here, rely on connectivity to a home office environment, HSDPA makes cellular comms a more than adequate backup to continue working effectively in the event of fixed broadband failure. The USB modem form factor is ideal for this as it is literally a 2 minute job to plug it into any PC and get connected.
Those who know me will be aware that I am a bit of a cellular advocate when it comes to mobile notebook connectivity (can’t do with all of that messing around hunting down and authenticating with WiFi hotspots – very uncivilised for grown-ups) – but I never thought I would seriously see a place for cellular in the fixed communications space.
OK, home office backup is a bit niche, but I am sitting here with a 7-800k connection working (almost) normally. Thinking about all those temporary offices on construction sites, students in digs, and so on - there might just be a place for “mobile broadband” in fixed locations after all.
Now if only T-Mobile could provide coverage, any coverage, so I can hold a call for more than 30 seconds on the train from New Milton in Hampshire to London Waterloo, I would be eternally grateful.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
at my second reading other peoples stuff session before i hit the sack I find James Gov and others chatting about devolving responsibility down the IT hierarchy (or not) http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor/2007/07/16/give-every-developer-a-5k-outsourcing-budget/ and again, I thought good old #1's got that one licked too - the 'business CIO' wouldn't get all funny about letting those that know what they are doing get on with doing it (within the realms of some kind of over-arching common goal of course) because thats what senior business guys do - they delegate and devolve responsibility and dont get funny (well usually) about people taking the initiative and generally care more about how the business is doing. I'll hopefully talk a little more coherantly about more of this stuff in good time, and little earlier in the evening too.
so there..i surfed round in a circle today, liked something i read this morning and still liked it as i turn in to bed..which is more than i can say most days.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Security-related USB-based devices seem to be breeding like flies at the moment. I've got a number of the little blighters in the virtual Petri dish, notably:
- - an Outbacker MXP from MXI security
- - a Pico from Yoggie Security Systems
- - an AccessStick from Accario
- - a MobiKey from Decisive Solutions
- - the obligatory U3 device from what is now SanDisk
All have different, but overlapping functions, but what I'm really interested in checking out is how well their suppliers or partners deal with centralised management and control. So far I have been playing with the Outbacker and U3 devices, and I've got briefings lining up with Decisive and Accario. Watch this space for updates.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Now, maybe it is because I'm a provincial Brit but I've never met any of these users. Indeed, I've been told the opposite - "we've standardised on MS-Office as our strategic platform for the forseeable future," said one IT exec at an investment bank. Just one example, there are plenty of others. The collective sigh of relief in end-user land is strangely absent.
I'm sure there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons why ODF is a better format than the MS-Office XML, I'm just totally in the dark about which organisations care.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
As a 4-5 year old machine with an AMD Athlon XP 2700+ processor and 1.5Gb of RAM, my old friend was still running Windows XP and Office 2003 pretty well, but switching back and forth between a Vista/Office 2007 notebook and the previous generation desktop was becoming a bit of a pain, so it was time move forward.
Having now performed 5 or 6 XP to Vista upgrades, the Leonardo migration proceeded without a hitch, though at the end of the process, a Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 1.0 was reported, which for those familiar with this measure, spells trouble. For comparison, the average business laptop nowadays has a WEI of between 3 and 4, and the highest rating machine we have in the office is 5.3. And sure enough, poor old Leonardo running Vista and Office 2007 was struggling to cope with some of the more graphical and processor intensive stuff we do – tellingly, stuff that ran perfectly acceptably under XP and Office 2003 with exactly the same hardware.
The obvious thing to do was upgrade the graphics card, so I rummaged through my box of old components (every aging techie horder has one of these), and managed to find a 64Mb ATI card to replace the 16Mb card that was in there originally, which improved the situation quite a bit.
Then came the new improved Leonardo’s first real test on project work, which for us means a lot of heavy Excel number crunching (VB script driven) and constant switching back and forth between Excel and PowerPoint, PowerPoint and Word, etc.
After a couple of hours, I’d had enough. The performance had dropped below the threshold of tolerability as a result of the upgrade for the kind of work I do. I daresay that if I were the sort of user that sits in Word or Outlook all day and doesn’t do much multi-tasking and application switching, the performance would be perfectly adequate, but for a more demanding “information worker”, to coin a Microsoft phrase, this kind of top-of-the-range machine from 4-5 years ago is essentially rendered unfit for purpose by the Vista and Office 2007 combination.
I can’t say I was that surprised, to be honest, and it was the excuse I needed to go out and buy a nice new 2.6Ghz Core2 Duo HP box, which really allows the new Microsoft desktop to be exploited to the full. Of course I would have had to upgrade at some point anyway, but it was still a shame to see a perfectly functional box having to be retired from routine business use, though perhaps that’s just me being sentimental as life moves on.
Standing back a little, looking across all of the Vista/Office upgrades I have done, I would say that that mid-range to high-end machines that are less than 18 months old usually run fine with the latest Microsoft desktop, and while some users complain about a drop in performance, it really isn’t that noticeable in our experience. I couldn’t tell the difference on my 18 month old 1.8Ghz Core Duo Sony Vaio, for example, and even if there was a small performance drop, the increase in usability and productivity makes up for it many times over. The lower the machine spec, however, the more noticeable the performance difference is, which is something to be aware of from a user satisfaction and productivity perspective when upgrading older machines.
As a caveat on the above, I must stress that the experiences I am reporting here are very subjective – we haven’t performed any lab tests or actually measured anything methodically, I am just speaking as someone who has been involved in real world migrations in a small business environment. In fairness, I should also point out that we are probably not representative of most small businesses either, in that we are essentially a company full of power users who really put MS Office through its paces, so we are likely to hit the wall with performance issues sooner than most.
So what about Leonardo?
Well, one option is to give him to the kids, but I have always fancied having a go at this Linux thing at some point. So if anyone can recommend an appropriate distro for a Linux virgin.....