Office 365: The Good, The Bad, The Confusing

The University of Tennessee recently deployed new functionality within Office 365 for the various campuses and institutes, including the one I work for now, the Institute of Agriculture. Activate might be a more accurate word, as all of the new functionality we have right now actually lives and operates within Microsoft’s O365 cloud offering. We don’t have the entire suite of online service available to us just yet, most notably not Exchange Online or Lync Online, but the former is coming once we get a solution for all of our Public Folders users and the latter is coming in October. Nothing will make me happier than being able to say goodbye to OCS 2007R2 and hello to Lync on my iPhone and iPad.

The Good: Office Online, A3 Upgrade, OneDrive for Business

So if we don’t have Exchange and Lync yet, what do we have? Good quesiton. All faculty and staff at UT now have Office Online, which is similar to Google Docs and contains browser-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as OneDrive for Business. You can access these by going to the Microsoft Cloud Services Login Portal and signing in with your email address (most likely and NetID password.

Office Online is pretty good. I’ve only ever dablled with Google Docs, and the online versions of the Office apps look a lot better and are very easy to use. So easy, in fact, that I asked my wife to sign into to her O365 account, create a sample Word document, and share it with me. That took about 2 minutes and you can see it worked just fine.


Another really good thing about O365 is the available A3 upgrade for faculty and staff. For $29 per year, upgrading to the A3 Office 365 license allows a user to download and install Office on up to 5 personally owned computers. That’s a pretty good deal. In addition to providing Office for use on personally owned computers, the A3 upgrade activates Office for iPad (and presumably other mobile platforms) as well, enabling full editing capabilities on the excellent Office for iPad applications.

I recently purchased the A3 upgrade for my O365 account and I’m glad I did. I think $29 per year provides a lot of value in making sure I can work with Office documents wherever I am, on whichever device I choose. I also believe there will be other benefits of the A3 upgrade once we move to Exchange Online.

Another feature of O365 that catches the interest of our users is OneDrive for Business. We’re early adopters of Windows 8, and have recommended OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive – the personal service) for our users since it integrates so well into Windows 8 and Office. But OneDrive (personal) was only recently upgraded to 15GB of free space, and while extra space was available for a fee, it wasn’t as price-competitive as Google’s similar Google Drive offering in the past. OneDrive for Business now offers 1 terabyte of space for each user. That sounds awesome, and in some ways it is awesome. That’s the Good from my post title above. To the extent that a user can actually use 1TB of space, it is awesome.

The Bad and Confusing: OneDrive for Business

But can a user really use 1TB of space on OneDrive for Business? Maybe. And this is where the Bad and the Confusing come in.

It is possible in many ways to use OneDrive for Business as a drop-in replacement for OneDrive (personal), and if all you’re doing is working on your own Office documents, it works quite well for that. But if you want to actively share files and folders with others, or work with a great many files, or make use of OneDrive for Business on anything other than Windows – that’s where things get complicated, confusing, and in some cases, very frustrating.

Why is this? Why are some of my users who love OneDrive frustrated with OneDrive for Business? Without being privy to any inside information about either product, I think the main reason is that while OneDrive has some sort of unknown secret sauce backend in the cloud that makes it operate identically to Dropbox or Google Drive, OneDrive for Business is really just SharePoint with some OneDrive-like frontend slapped on it. Now SharePoint isn’t bad, although it also isn’t something that I wake up in the morning longing to work with. But what SharePoint is, is a product/service with limitations that probably make a ton of sense when you’re using SharePoint as a web platform to share documents and all the other things SharePoint does. But those limitations can slap you in the face when you’re told your shiny new OneDrive for Business account can hold 1TB of files and you think, “Oh goodie, let’s just make it my everything bucket.” One of those limitations is the number of files it can handle, which I believe is 20,000. That’s a large number of files, and I haven’t hit that limit and likely never will with my work files. But I have two coworkers, both web developers or designers, who have. They literally cannot put everything into OneDrive for Business that they formerly had in OneDrive. So what are they to do? We currently don’t know, other than to suggest they keep folders with gigantic numbers of files elsewhere.

Another confusing thing we’ve noticed about OneDrive for Business is how sharing files with it is very different from doing so in OneDrive or Dropbox. Nearly all of our users are familiar with Dropbox, and a great many of them use it or OneDrive, so they’re used to sharing files or folders with others and having those files and folders be accessible where? Right there in their Dropbox or OneDrive folders. It simply doesn’t work that way with OneDrive for Business, and while it is possible to easily access items shared with you via the web interface, accessing them via File Explorer as a file system object is a pain in the neck. I had to create a 2 page document with screenshots to explain the completely unintuitive process. The instructions help, and I’ve had normal users successfully follow them, but the process is way too complicated, makes no sense (unless you keep in mind this is really SharePoint), and needs to be streamlined by Microsoft.

In addition to those issues, the main thing bugging me about OneDrive for Business right now is that there is no client for OS X, so while I can use OneDrive all day long on my Macs at home, my only way to interface with the 1TB of space I have on OneDrive for Business is either via the web, or via the old Microsoft Document Connection utility from Office 2011. The MDC is fine for dealing with Office documents, but if Microsoft is providing me with 1TB of space, I want to use it for a lot more than just Office documents.

The iOS app for OneDrive for Business is oddly lacking in features as well. While the OneDrive app for OneDrive (personal) can automatically backup my camera roll to OneDrive, the OneDrive for Business app cannot. I can also not use it to even add a file or picture to OneDrive for Business – it’s strictly a view-only interface.

Closing Thoughts

As we make more use of Office 365, and especially as we move to Exchange and Lync Online, I plan to write more about it, and especially how well it works for our higher education users. Right now, I am quite happy with Office Online and the extra features afforded me by the A3 upgrade, particularly Office for iPad. I am dissatisfied with the ongoing lack of a Mac client for it, but Microsoft says they’re working on it. I hope Microsoft is also working on making OneDrive for Business an easier to use, more intuitive service, to deliver on the potential of that terabyte of cloud storage.

Posted in Cloud Services | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

My Windows Phone Experiment Begins: Nokia Lumia 520 – Initial Impressions

Amazon had a Daily Deal last week on the Nokia Lumia 520 tied to AT&T’s pre-paid GoPhone service.  I confirmed I could forego activating the 520 as a phone and simply use it as iPod Touch-like device over WiFi, so I picked it up for $39.99.  I didn’t expect much for 40 bucks, and I haven’t yet been really impressed, but neither have I been disappointed.

The Lumia 520 seems small, which is strange considering it has the same 4” screen as my iPhone 5S.  It definitely feels like an inexpensive phone, being made more of plastic than anything else.  But I keep reminding myself – this isn’t a phone that cost me $200 with a 2 year commitment, or $600 without one – this is a phone that cost me $40.  And for $40, it isn’t bad.

I reviewed a Windows Phone last year, the Nokia Lumia 920.  So I’m somewhat familiar with Windows Phone, and I’d say, especially having spent the last year adjusting to Windows 8 at work, I have to say it appeals to me on the phone just like it does on a tablet at the office.  While I am not a fan of the multiple tile sizes, especially on a screen this small, I find the tile paradigm itself appealing.

One thing that impressed me about this low cost device is that I was able to upgrade it to the latest version of Windows Phone, 8.1, immediately.  I wonder if I could buy a decently-equipped Android phone to use over WiFi for just $40 that would also run the latest and greatest version of Android?

I’ve played with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, for just a short while so far.  While I am impressed with its ability to recognize my voice, its ability to respond to my queries seems fairly limited.  I’ll have more to say on that in another week or so, I would imagine.

I’ll keep repeating this – for $40 I like this little device just fine.  Can’t say I’d want to carry it or use it as my real phone, but as a tool to use to learn more about Windows Phone, why not?


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Overcast: A Podcast Client Review

Overcast logo

Marco Arment, developer of Instapaper, blogger, podcaster, coffee nerd, etc, has released a new app called Overcast for the iPhone.  I hadn’t planned on writing a short review of this app until I used it to listen to the latest episode of The Geek Whisperers podcast.  About halfway through that episode, The Unicorn from Redmond, I realized the app was negatively affecting my impression of the guest.

First, though, let me say I really like Overcast – especially now that I understand the app a bit better.  Like Marco’s other apps, It’s well-designed, and easy to use.  It’s also free to use with somewhat limited functionality, although I paid $4.99 to unlock the full functionality right away, including all of the features you can read about here.

The feature that seemed most interesting at first glance is called Smart Speed.  As I understand it, it dynamically cuts out pauses during a conversation without actually speeding up the speakers themselves.  That sounds great, and now that I’ve listened to a handful of podcasts using it, I really like it.  As I mentioned, however, before I really understood what Smart Speed was doing, it kinda made me think Symon Perriman from Microsoft was a bit of a ball hog conversationally.  The Geek Whisperers typically have a guest on to discuss one or more topics, and the co-hosts, Amy Lewis, John Mark Troyer, and Matthew Brender take turns engaging the guest in spirited back and forth Q&A.

What I found myself thinking as Symon spoke, however, started out as, “Wow, does this dude ever take a breath or is he just a talking machine?”  Pretty soon I was laughing and thinking, “I’ve never heard someone just so completely dominate the discussion like this.”

At some point, however, I noticed one of the co-hosts jumping in with a comment in a way that made me wonder if the Skype recording combination had been just a bit off, because the transition from one speaker to another was just … off.  At that point I remembered Smart Speed and wondered if it was causing this weird breathlessly non-stop feeling I was getting listening to Symon.  So I disabled Smart Speed and replayed the last couple of minutes.  The difference was striking.  I’d still say Symon is one heck of a talker, but just like everybody else, he pauses between sentences or stops to let a point sink in.  He might have been enthusiastically “on message” when describing the MVP program and how Microsoft’s decentralized approach to user groups might be better in some ways than VMware’s VMUG program, but he wasn’t just spewing out words like a machine gun spits out bullets.

I left Smart Speed disabled for the rest of the episode and found that I enjoyed the remainder of the discussion more than I had the speed up portion.  I would not agree that “conversations still sound so natural that you’ll forget it’s on” because this one certainly didn’t.

Having said that, I re-enabled Smart Speed for some other podcasts, including Marco’s own Accidental Tech Podcast, and in doing so, I’ve gotten a bit more used to the Smart Speed feature.  I even combined it with the increasing the speed of the playback itself, although just one blip on the speed slider, and the combination which seems to work out to 1.2-1.4x.  For lighter nerdy podcasts like ATP, I’m ok with cranking up the speed and cutting out the pauses.  For others, especially those about more complex or deeper topics, I’ll probably listen without the time-saving features enabled.

Overall, I really like Overcast.  I like supporting independent developers and I like using well-made apps.  If you use an iPhone, give it a try.


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Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga – A Joy to Use

I recently requested a loaner unit of the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga.  We’re a mostly Dell shop on the desktop/laptop side of things, but I saw a Lenovo touchscreen convertible laptop/tablet at a conference a while back and wanted to test one to see if I could recommend it.  If you don’t want to read any further – the answer is I can.

I’ll keep this fairly quick, as I’m not a professional hardware reviewer.  If you’re looking for a more detailed review or all the specs on the device, either Google “Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review” or follow one or more of these links:

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
Engadget review
PC World review 

Before I provide my experience with and opinion of the ThinkPad Yoga, it may be good to mention I’m hard to please when it comes to computing devices – be they desktops, laptops, or tablets.  I’ve only recently returned to the PC side of things at work, having used nothing but Macs both at work and at home for the last 12 years.  We’re a nearly all PC shop at my new job, so I’ve adapted to that at the office, especially since part of my role is that of technology evangelist.  I’m still all Mac at home, and before using the ThinkPad Yoga for a few weeks, I assumed that would never change.  I have extremely high standards, and if I’m going to spend money on a device, it has to be well-made.

ThinkPad Yoga

That the ThinkPad Yoga is well-made is the first thing I noticed about it.  It’s solid.  The lid is made of magnesium, not cheap plastic.  The hinge is thick and requires just enough force to use that you can tell it isn’t going to end up too loose to be useful over time.  The ThinkPad Yoga weighs about 3.5 pounds, which may be a tad bit heavy for a 12.5” laptop, but it didn’t bother me.

One neat feature of the Yoga is its Lift ’n’ Lock keyboard.  The laptop converts to a tablet by folding the screen onto the bottom of the laptop, and as that happens, the partially keys retract into the body of the Yoga.  While you can still feel the keys, they’re disabled, so you don’t have to worry about random input in tablet mode.  I heard a Dell rep bashing this design at TechEd, and I have to say I don’t agree.  I have used a Dell XPS 12 and I was not impressed with the flip screen approach.  I also felt the XPS 12 was a much less well-made device than they Yoga.

Having said that, I’m not sure the whole convertible laptop/tablet concept works for me.  I flipped the XPS 12 into tablet mode exactly twice for actual work in the months I used it, and I did so once in the weeks I used the Yoga.  I demonstrated the feature plenty of times, and many of my colleagues ooo’ed and ahh’ed over it, but I wouldn’t use it.

One of the truly outstanding features of the ThinkPad Yoga is its trackpad.  PC trackpads are a constant reminder to me of how much better Apple’s trackpads are on its laptops, and I dislike using them so much I keep a Logitech notebook mouse in my bag for those times when I use my laptop on a table.  I’ve often wondered if PC manufacturers compete in making their trackpads feel like a gritty plastic sandpaper.  Luckily, IBM went with glass for the trackpad on the Toga, just like Apple uses on its laptops.  The quality difference between this and an average PC trackpad cannot be overstated.  I didn’t bother with the Logitech mouse when using the Yoga – enough said.

Speed-wise, I was pleased with the Yoga as well.  My review unit had an i5 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and an SSD.  So it was plenty fast, especially for the kinds of tasks I put it through it meetings and on the road.  I doubt I could use this all day every day as my primary PC at work (I am currently using a Dell Latitude E7440 for that), but I’m impressed enough with the Yoga that I will be looking at other ThinkPad models when it comes time for a refresh.

Speaking of the next time I refresh, I mentioned above that I assumed I would never change my mind about buying only Macs for use at home.  I’m writing this review on my Late 2013 13” Retina MacBook Pro and it is hands-down the best laptop I have ever used.  I won’t be replacing it anytime soon, but in a few years, who knows?  My gut tells me I’ll still prefer the flexibility of having a laptop that can (legitimately) dual-boot OS X and Windows, and that Apple will continue to make the best hardware on the market.  But I can at least say that this ThinkPad Yoga pleases me enough build-wise that my thoughts on the subject are no longer as one-sided as they were a month ago.

If you’re in the market for a small convertible laptop/tablet combo, give the ThinkPad Yoga a look.

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Dell Venue 8 Pro – iPad mini Competitor?

What a Tablet is to Me

We recently ordered a few Dell Venue 8 Pro’s for testing. The timing worked out really well for me because I was toying with the idea of replacing my iPad 3 with an iPad mini with Retina Display. I figured the Venue 8 Pro might fulfill the use cases I have for a casual tablet, or if not, at least confirm my eventual choice of the iPad mini.

I suppose I should explain that for me, my iPad has always been a “companion” device.  Unlike my wife, who uses her iPad as a real computer, doing real work, I’ve mostly used my iPad as a reading device of one kind or another.  I read books on it.  I browse the web.  Most of what I write on the iPad I write either in short emails or Twitter.  I say that to highlight that I didn’t bring any expectations to my use of the Venue 8 Pro other than that I’d like for it to perform as a stand-in for an iPad mini for me.

It’s with that in mind that I mention the very first thing a coworker asked me about the Venue 8 Pro she’d received was, “can we put these in Active Directory?”  The answer to that is no.  Only Windows 8 Pro and above can join an AD, and the VP8 doesn’t come with Windows 8 Pro, but rather just Windows 8.  The next question I was asked was, “Can we put our Windows 8 Enterprise on them?”  And yes, there are guides/walkthroughs out there that describe how to do that.  I discouraged that, however, as it isn’t something a normal user could do and, perhaps more importantly, it would run contrary to something I believe Dell would back me up in saying about the Venue 8 Pro – this 8” tablet is not intended to be used like or replace your desktop or laptop computer.  Honest.  And the quicker you put the thought of treating it like a “little computer” out of your head, the quicker you can go about being reasonably satisfied with what is, on the whole, a fairly inexpensive iPad mini-like Windows companion device.

Tech Specs & Pics

Let’s get some basics out of the way.  The Dell Venue 8 Pro is an 8” Tablet running Windows 8.1.  Several options are configurable via Dell’s website, but mine has an Atom CPU running at 1.33 GHz, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD.  That SSD reports as 52.3GB usable, probably due to formatting and also some sort of recovery partition.  The VP8 also has a Micro-SD card that supports cards up to 128GB.  The screen runs at 1280×800, so this isn’t really “retina” quality – although it looks great to me.  The VP8 has front and rear cameras, although I’ve only used the front one for video conferencing.  The VP8 has a single Micro USB port for charging and data transfer.  You can also connect an OTG (On the Go) cable to the port and use it to connect a keyboard, mouse, flash drive, etc.

Here are a few pictures of the VP8 in the real world.  First, a picture of the VP8 next to my iPad 3.

Vp8 ipad3

A shot of the VP8 in the Dell Tablet Folio and holding the Dell Active Stylus.

Vp8 case 

And finally, a shot of the VP8 setup for note-taking with the Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard.


Venue 8 Pro – What I Like

Size.  While I’ve bought (and returned) both the original Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HDX, I didn’t love either of those tablets, so I kept coming back to my iPad.  And since I have yet to purchase an iPad mini, that meant a full-sized tablet.  For what I use a tablet for most of the time, a 10 plus inch screen is just overkill.  The 8” tablet really does seem to be just the right size for the use to which I plan to put a tablet.

Performance.  I can’t claim to have run benchmarks on the VP8, but it is peppy enough for my needs.  I used it off and on for several hours a day for a week while in orientation and never felt like I had to wait for it.  

Price.  Our Venue 8 Pro’s were purchased from Amazon for just over $300.  After installing the full Office 2013 suite along with a handful of smaller apps, I have 30GB of space left on the tablet.  Compare that to an iPad mini with less storage for about the same price, or a higher price for close to the same storage.  Granted, the accessories (case, stylus, and keyboard) add to the price – but they do that for the iPad as well.

Good Metro/Modern/Tile apps.  Internet Explorer in the touch/tile interface isn’t half bad.  The touch/tile version of OneNote is awesome.  OneNote itself is pretty close to being a killer app for any tablet, since it’s available on iOS, Android, and Windows.  There are a handful of other Windows 8 tile apps that are good – Facebook, Tweetium, and Skype among them.  Is the Windows 8 Store comparable to either the iOS or Android store in scope?  Nope – but it’s coming along.

Windows 8.1.  Windows 8.1 improves what was already a pretty good OS in 8.0.  SkyDrive OneDrive integration is fantastic, and definitely improves my efficiency when moving amongst my desktop, laptop, and tablet.  As a long-time Mac user, I don’t mind Microsoft doubling down on the more modern aspects of Windows 8 in 8.1.  In fact, I’d like to see them do more. 

Venue 8 Pro – What I Don’t Like

Battery Life.  It may be that I’m so used to ARM-based device battery life that even the mobile-friendly Intel Atom CPU will just never deliver the kind of battery life I expect.  I suspect it may also be the case that Windows is simply not as draconian about preserving battery life as iOS.  My VP8 dings and dongs at odd hours, seemingly receiving mail when I’d rather it just be asleep.  I know I can leave my iPad sitting for days on end and flip it open to find plenty of battery left.  I simply can’t say the same about the Venue 8 Pro.  If I were using this tablet a decent amount every day, I wouldn’t mind charging it nightly, but I made the mistake of leaving it in my bag for a few days and took it out to find the battery completely drained.

Bad Metro/Modern/Tile apps.  I hate the Kindle app.  Not only does it do a subpar job of laying out and rendering text on the screen compared to the iOS or native Kindle app, it lacks basic functionality.  I have a subscription to the digital version of Poets & Writers magazine.  I can read it on my hardware Kindle device, either my iPhone or iPad, and the Kindle Fire tablets as well.  The Kindle app for Windows does not support magazine subscriptions.  This is a huge problem for me as I consider whether the Venue 8 Pro or any Windows tablet could replace the iPad as my tablet of choice.  I could go with Zinio for this and other digital subscriptions, but I buy and read all of my books and magazines via Kindle, and there’s a Kindle app on Windows – it just doesn’t support subscriptions.  I hope this is resolved soon, because I have no desire to carry two tablets, and remember, for me, a tablet is mostly about reading, web browsing, email, and social media.  

Desktop Apps.  They’re useless for me on a screen this size.  In fact, I would much prefer an “RT” version of the VP8 to one that includes Desktop functionality.  The screen is too small to use apps that aren’t touch-friendly and my fingers are too large to tap 1/8” touch targets.  I try my best to avoid Desktop apps and stick only to touch/tile apps.

Venue 8 Pro – Who is it for?

Folks who are most comfortable with Windows who are looking for an iPad mini-sized device.  Folks who don’t get confused and think they’re going to turn this little device into a replacement for their 15” laptop.  Folks who don’t want to pay the Apple Tax on iPad storage increases.  Folks who want a book-sized device that runs an OS that should always work better with OneDrive and other Microsoft services than iOS or Android will.

Additional Thoughts

So is the Venue 8 Pro an iPad mini competitor?  For some people, I’m sure it can be.  For me?  Not really.  In fact, I’ve already begun to carry my iPad in my bag again.  I will eventually buy myself an iPad mini with Retina Display, but for the time being, my iPad 3 does everything I need it to do and I don’t feel like paying $500 or so for a 32GB mini.

I will say that the Venue 8 Pro served me very well in numerous occasions at work when I needed to be able to take notes and keep an eye on incoming email.  The Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard is too small for me to touch type with any speed, but I can still hunt and peck on it much more quickly than I can write out notes by hand – either on paper or using the stylus.  The VP8 is also tiny enough that I can keep it in front of me in a meeting, tapping away when I need to jot something down, but ignore it when I don’t need it.  If I ever get good enough with the stylus (my handwriting is terrible and I write with a pen very rarely), I may just take notes that way.


Do you have a Dell Venue 8 Pro?  I’d love to know what you think about it and whether you agree or disagree with my opinion!



Posted in Client Devices, Hardware, Reviews | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Saying Goodbye to a Great Team

I began 2013 making a huge transition in my life.  I left an employer for whom I’d worked for nearly 17 years and joined a VAR, LPS Integration, as a Citrix Engineer.  I knew it would be a big change, moving from the customer side of things to the reseller side, but I don’t think I could have anticipated just how different the VAR environment would be until I jumped in.  In fact, if you’re considering a job at a VAR, I’d suggest you stop reading this post and go read a post written by a buddy of mine named Matthew Norwood entitled “This Job Isn’t for Everyone.”  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

* * *

Back?  Great, I’ll continue.

I’ve spent the last seven months working with some of the best, smartest engineers I’ve ever met.  To be truthful, I wondered more than once during my first month on the team if I had the chops to be a part of it.  Working with them has made me better and pushed me to learn more.  I know I’ve been exposed to more and done more varied and complicated things in seven months on the numerous client systems I’ve worked with and consulted on than I could have done in years of working on just my own systems – no matter how large their scale.

I’ve learned about more than just being an engineer at a VAR.  I’ve worked closely with a veteran Account Manager and his Pre-Sales Engineer (we call them Technical Consultants) and have enjoyed learning about the sales cycle, from beginning to end.  This side of the business was so new to me, I literally felt like I was going to school again for the first several weeks of pre-sales calls and visits.

I’ve learned, for the first time in my life, what it’s like working for a truly small business (number of employees-wise, if not revenue-wise) and that has been both exhilarating, especially given my background at a state university and the Army, and sometimes confusing.  My coworkers laughed at me quite a bit over the first few weeks as I tried to adapt to there not being a mountain of process, forms, and approvals for things like purchases and taking time off.

So working for a VAR has been an amazing experience for me, but it’s one that is coming to and end, at least for now, this week.

* * *

Why?  Well, if you read Matthew’s post I linked to above, you might think I experienced some or all of those negative aspects he refers to, and maybe they counterbalanced the positive aspects, leaving me, on the whole, unhappy with the experience.  But you’d be wrong.  I linked to Matthew’s post because I experienced some of all of those things, both negative (1) and positive (2), and I think it’s a great perspective piece on being an engineer at a VAR.  I also think they’re universally true, no matter the VAR.

But no, my decision to change directions right now is pretty simple – I found that being away from my little boy for several days at a time, even if it wasn’t an every week kind of thing, was just too hard on me.  Heck, I got to go to Citrix Synergy this year and deliver a technical breakout session and hang out with a couple of rockstar members of my team, in the city and state of my birth.  While there, I got a free night at Disneyland, for Pete’s sake.  What should have been a week of pure fun and excitement turned out to be a strange mix of fun and misery, as I just plain missed the crap out of my wife and son.  I then traveled 3/4 weeks in June, including Father’s Day weekend, and every week when I flew back home (don’t get me started on how miserable flying frequently as a non-veteran traveler can be), I saw real changes in my son – new words, new mannerisms, new things I hadn’t been there to see for the first time.

My son is just about to turn 17 months, so I’m still new at this parent thing.  I have lots of friends who travel for work and I figured if they could do it, so could I.  What I discovered is that, for right now anyway, I would rather have a job that minimizes the amount of work-related travel, especially for several days or weeks at a time, I might have to do.

So I’ve accepted a position that will allow me to do that and work on exciting new problems.  More on that later.

* * *

For now, to my fellow engineers on Team Citrix at LPS – Patrick, Brian, Daniel, Joel, Kevin, Rick, and Wael – thanks for the amazing experience working with you has been.  I will miss it.

To my coworkers based out of East Tennessee – Tim, Chris, Drew, Jose, and Jennifer – thanks for making me feel welcome and for putting up with me as I acclimated to life working at a small company.

To the entire LPS family – I wish you all the very best.

* * *


(1)  The negative item on Matthew’s list I struggled with the most was #7 (Sometimes you don’t know the answer).  I hate not knowing the answer and it was a real struggle for me getting to the point of not equating not knowing the answer to failure.  I was a much calmer, happier engineer once I figured that out – or rather once I started listening to everybody from my coworkers to my boss about it.

(2)  The positive item on Matthew’s list I valued the most was a combination of #1 (You get to see some cool stuff) and #2 (Experience).  I was able to work with a major financial services company, a huge operator of acute care hospitals, multiple government agencies, and several higher education institutions, just to mention a few.

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Nokia Lumia 920 – A Brief Review by an iPhone Fan

A few months back, I saw a tweet from my buddy, Jeramiah Dooley, mentioning that he’d just received a loaner Lumia 920 from the Nokia@Work program.  Seems they were sending out loaner Lumias (say that fast three times) to folks who agreed to give them a try for a month, with an eye towards evaluating them for use in work/business.

Since I’d recently started a new job, and especially since my new company only offers a choice of an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy III, I reached out to Nokia@Work and offered to give their new Windows Phone 8 device a test drive.  We exchanged emails and postal addresses, and in short order, a Lumia 920 arrived on my doorstep, along with a personalized card.

IMG 4329

I thought about writing a long review comparing this feature or that feature of the Lumia 920 and my own phone, an iPhone 4S, but I don’t think that would really matter much to most people.  If you’re looking for an in-depth comparison of the Lumia 920 and the iPhone 4S/5 or some other smartphone, there are plenty of gadget blogs out there that can do a far better job of that than I can.

In this review I want to focus on a few items that make the Lumia 920 a phone I feel confident I could use on a daily basis – something I thought I wouldn’t be able to say before receiving it, and indeed even after playing with/ it lightly for a few days.

Size Matters

The first is size.  I knew the Lumia 920 was larger than my iPhone 4S, and even larger than the iPhone 5.  I’ll be frank, though – I’d bought into the iPhone fan mantra that stated the iPhone screen was the “right” size – and anything larger was just too large.  I was wrong.  Here’s a picture showing the Lumia 920 next to my iPhone 4S, with both sitting on my iPad.

IMG 4338

So why is bigger better in this case?  Photos and videos look better on a larger screen, and as a new dad, I take a lot of pics and videos of our son.  Speaking of which, the camera on the Lumia 920 seemed just as good as the one on my iPhone.  Reading websites and email and Facebook posts is also easier on my eyes on a larger screen.  I might still look at some of the gigantic “phablet” phones and consider them too large, but if they work for some people – great.  The Lumia 920 screen, at 4.5 inches, is something I grew accustomed to very quickly, and something I missed when I returned the phone to Nokia.  I’m no longer sure I’ll buy an iPhone 5S if that’s the next iPhone model, because I’d prefer a larger screen.

Apps Don’t Matter as Much as I Thought

There’s no denying it – the iOS App Store has many more apps than the Windows Phone store has.  I’m sure for some people, that’s an absolute deal-breaker.  I thought it would be for me, but just as I thought size wouldn’t matter, I was wrong in thinking the extreme difference in numbers of apps available would be a deal-breaker for me.

Could I find equivalents on the Windows Phone store for every single app I have on my iPhone 4S?  No way – but guess how many apps I have on my iPhone right this minute?  155.  How many of those do you think I use on a daily basis?  Counting built-in apps as well as 3rd party apps – about a dozen, and they are (moving up from the bottom of my home screen):

Google Voice
Foursquare (which is just stupid and I should stop)

So why do I have 155 apps on my iPhone if I only regularly use 12?  Hell if I know.  I have maybe another dozen or so that I use less frequently, such as:

Jabber IM

When I started using the Lumia 920, I didn’t try to find equivalents for the 155 iOS apps I have on my iPhone – I focused on those apps I use every day.  Just as several of those were built-in apps on the iPhone, Mail, IE, OneNote, Facebook, Weather, an SMS app, and a calculator came built into the Lumia 920.  I found a decent RSS reader, a Google Voice client, and several free Twitter clients, as well as Evernote.  The only app equivalent I would say I was dissatisfied with was the Twitter client, but for all I know, if I’d been willing to pay for one, I could have found one that compared favorably to Tweetbot.

What surprised me, but really shouldn’t have, once I admitted I only used a fraction of the apps I had installed on my iPhone, was that my app usage is fairly mundane, and fairly reproducible across platforms.  So from an app perspective, the Lumia 920 worked just fine for me.  If anything, it might have begun steering me towards working with OneNote rather than Evernote.  Even though I’ve paid for a Pro Evernote account for a while now, several of my teammates use OneNote, and they were reluctant to give Evernote a try since you have to pay for the pro account to enable sharing.  So I began playing with OneNote and discovered how good the web client is, even on my Mac.

LTE is Nice

I took the Lumia 920 with me on a 3-day assessment at a client site, and I’m glad I did.  Their network was locked down so tightly I couldn’t easily do everything I needed to get my job done, whereas most of what I needed them to do was connect to me via GoToMeeting.  So after an hour or so of dealing with their firewall and web content blocking system, I’d had enough, so I turned on the hotspot functionality on the Lumia 920 and got down to business.  I spent the next three days tethered to the Lumia 920 and didn’t notice a single hiccup in the AT&T LTE service.

I ran a speed test on my MacBook Pro at our Knoxville office while connected to the Lumia 920 and it easily trounced the 1990’s style 1.5mb DSL connection we have.

And yes, I know the iPhone 5 has LTE, but my 4S only has the faux AT&T 4G, which isn’t nearly as fast.

The Real Question

Would I get a Nokia Windows Phone, either the Lumia 920 or whatever comes next?  Probably – especially if it continued to have a larger screen than the current iPhone.  I love my iPhone, just like I love my iPad and my Macs.  But using the Lumia 920 for a while taught me something very important – aside from a handful of regular apps that seem to be available for every major mobile platform, all I really want from a smartphone is a big screen, good build quality, and good performance.  The Lumia 920 has all of those.  If my employer were to offer a choice between a current iPhone, Samsung Android phone, or a Nokia Windows Phone, I’d go for the one with the biggest screen and call it done.  Will I make the switch with my own money later this year when my contract is up with AT&T and the new iPhone comes out?  Maybe – especially if Apple keeps insisting it doesn’t need a larger screen iPhone.

Thanks to the Nokia@Work program for letting me try out the Lumia 920!

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