I upgraded from a first gen iPad to the Microsoft Surface 2

•November 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I have been using the Surface 2 for over almost 2 weeks now, and I admit that I miss my iPad less and less. Although I doubted about switching to the iPad Air, which is by all means a terrible beast in the good sense of the meaning, I decided to take the dive off the Apple cliff towards Microsoft territory.

The Good

The Surface 2 has a superb screen. Who can complain about 1920 x 1080 pixels? But it is not just the resolution that counts. Colors are bright, Blacks are truly black, Whites are very white. To my eyes: a perfect display with very easy to adjust screen brightness that works better for me in low light and cry bright conditions than my old iPad. To top it all,  the Surface 2 is very resistant to fingerprints.

The Apps can run next to each other, and I frequently check my mail while having the browser open right next to each other. I can not stress enough how convenient that is. I am already so much used to it, that my old iPad feels strange to work with.

The Microsoft Apps are easy to use and fast to work with. The mail App can display all my e-mail accounts, both work and private, and shows my calendar for these (except for Google, but that seems to be Google’s fault). You’ll also get the OneNote App, which I consider better than the OneNote 2013. To top it all off, you’ll also get the full Outlook 2013 and MS Office 2013 in the desktop. The characters on the desktop mode seem small at first, but you’ll quickly get used to them.

The Type Cover 2 had backlit keys, and is one of the best computer keyboard I ever worked on. Light, responsive, illuminated. Very, very good! Buy it!

It has a full USB 3 port. This makes it very easy to connect your own camera to this device and transfer your pictures.

The Bad

The App store is sadly lacking in Apps. If you have children, and they have access to the Apple AppStore of Google Play, they will be extremely disappointed. The number of games as well as the type of games is lightyears behind Apple and Google. Surely it will come, but for now: bad!

Besides games, I have not found a suitable replacement for iThoughts and GoodReader.

The Ugly

Being a photography person, I was extremely disappointed about the camera, especially the back facing camera. Official specs are not that bad: one can obtain very good results with a 5 megapixel. I used to have a Canon Powershot G1 with 3 megapixel, and some of my best photos ever were taken with this canon. But Microsoft, you really blew this one! The focus is fixed (meaning: at infinity), which makes the camera impossible to use for a copy of a document, since there is no auto focus. Images are blurry. Very, very blurry. So I have to admit that this is, by far, the worse camera I ever owned.

It hangs. Really! Sometimes, the Surface 2 just stops responding. It happens only every few days, and I notice it when I can no longer type anything into the web browser app, or it doesn’t accept my finger any more, but hey: every few days is just too much. My iPad first gen had this phenomenon maybe once a year… not twice a week. Quick fix: hold the on/off button for some time, and then press it again: the reboot will almost always show the typical Microsoft updates, and after a rather short time (sometimes mere seconds, sometimes the updates take minutes), everything is normal again.

Conclusion

Everything considered, I am a happy user of the Surface 2. But Microsoft, please please please fix the camera and hanging issues.

 

One reason why some huge IT projects fail…

•July 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When reflecting upon reasons why IT projects fail, it is not difficult to come up with tons of excuses masked as reasons.

But I think one of the fundamental things that can go wrong with IT projects, and which often result in failure, is a lack of mutual trust between (enterprise) architects (EAs) and project/program managers (PMs). 

The role of a PM is to be responsible for the leadership and communications within a team and with the stakeholders and sponsors of the project. A PM establishes goals, and monitors progress towards delivery.

An EA is rather responsible for visioning, identification of adequate (not necessarily perfect) solutions to problems, and alignment of the different aspects to that vision.

PMs can rely on decades of experience within their field of managing a project, EAs can not. PMs often transpose linear thinking (manufacturing style) into project parts and deadlines, without accounting for the rather more artisanal and less linear (craftsmanship and creativity are keywords here) way EAs work. Hence, the two wolds collide.

When PMs decide on their own without collaboration with EAs about scope, modular decomposition, order of delivery, and deadlines, the project plan more often than not reflects a distorted version of the reality. Project failure lurks just around the corner.
When EAs do not trust PMs for project management tasks, constantly questioning each and every project decision,  the project more often than not turns into a state of paralysis.

Yes, most EAs can easily guide projects, and most PMs have no clue about architecture at all. But that doesn’t matter. Who p*ss*s the most far is a childs game.
When PMs trust the EAs fully to collaborate on vision, goals, logical partitioning of a project into building block, and realistic time estimates, and EAs trust PMs fully to work on the leadership and communication aspects within a project, and adhere to the goals set forward, most projects will largely benefit.
Such a trust relation leads to a dual leadership approach, each focusing on what they do best.  

At the end, it is only delivery that matters, not the ‘I have followed procedures’, or the ‘I have the deciding power’ that counts. When multi million $ projects fail, the blaim attitude doesn’t solve anything.

Creative people use Apple products

•November 22, 2011 • 2 Comments

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the Creativity World Forum in Hasselt.

I could talk about the many interesting presenters, like Jimmy Wales (the inventor of Wikipedia), Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Hinssen (‘the New Normal’), Garr Reynolds, Scott Belsky, who inspired with brilliant thoughts and presentations.

But I am not going to do that.
Instead, I want to share something I discovered.

When looking around at the more than 2000 people present at this 2-day conference, I noticed something amazing. Of all these people who were carrying tablets, approximately 90% seemed to have iPads. Of all these people who were carrying laptops, approximately 90% had Apple laptops, mainly Macbook Air.

But then it dawned to me: Even Forrester claims that “Mac users are your HEROes and you should enable them not hinder them”. HERO is Forrester terminology for “Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives, the 17% of information workers who use new technologies and find innovative ways to be more productive and serve customers more effectively”.

So my conclusion is: Creative and Innovative people use Apple products more than the average population.

And the Plan became Policy

•February 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This beautiful story is an extract from “Strategy bites back: it is a lot more, and less, than you ever imagined” by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand and Lampel.

In the beginning was the plan
And then came the assumptions
And the assumptions were without form
And the plan was completely without substance
And the darkness was upon the faces of the workers.
And they spoke unto their group heads, Saying: “It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.”
And the group heads went unto their section heads and sayeth: “It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the obour thereof.”
And the section heads went unto their managers and sayeth unto them: “It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”
And the managers went unto their director, and sayeth unto him: “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”
And the directors went unto their vice-president and sayeth: “It contains that which aids plant growth and is very strong.”
And the vice-president went unto the president and sayeth: “It promoteth growth, and it is very powerful.”
And the president went unto the chairman and sayeth unto him: “This powerful new plan will actively promote the growth and efficiency of the company and this area in particular.”
And the chairman looked upon the plan,
And saw that is was good

And the Plan became Policy…

Agile Development equals No Architecture

•December 19, 2010 • 3 Comments

Agile Development equals No Architecture

Agile development methodology has found a large following in the past years, and rightfully so. But it frightens me to discover that in many organisations agile development is seen as the opposite of having an architecture.

Where does this interpretation originate from?

Let’s first consider what agile development is. You can find many definitions, and a quick search on the internet reveals well over 2 million webpages on that subject.
Essentially, agile development is nothing more and nothing less than incremental delivery in a time-boxed manner with minimum waste. Now what does that mean?
Incremental refers to the way a product is developed, namely in small steps. Each of these steps (or increments) handles a limited number of objectives (or requirements). Nothing more is considered at any increment than the objectives of that increment.
Time-boxed means that each increment is done in a limited amount of time. As a consequence: no more “one month project” that remains 95% done during the coming 12 months. The time-box is usually anything between 3 and 6 weeks, and one time-box follows the other time-box in a sequential way. The time-boxes do not have to be equally large, but most prefer them to be the same time period. If you ever are in a discussion about how many weeks a time-box should be, then I advise you to: halt that meeting, take out your dice, and accept the first number that you roll and is at least 3 and at most 6, then go have a beer.
Delivery refers to the way increments are handled: each increment should produce a potentially usable product. But make no mistake: the potential installation in production of that increment isn’t included in your time-box, but can only result from a decision after the one increment is closed and accepted. This is one of the most important aspect of agile development, and should not be forgotten.
Minimal waste refers to the way agile team members are supposed to document, because in the agile credo it is stated to produce only the minimal documentation and design as the team can get away with in order to produce the intended product.

Aha, minimal waste, which is often incorrectly interpreted as “no documentation” and “no activities that can slow down development”, and “no plan”.  Remember the saying “No (battle) plan survives (first) contact with the enemy (General von Moltke)”. But without a plan, you will surely not survive contact with the enemy.

This brings us to architecture and the role of an architect. There are many architect types (enterprise, information, data, application, software, infrastructure, …), and many architects combine several of these types. The architect is the one who takes a holistic approach, the one who thinks about systems and subsystems and their relations to each other and to the world outside the current project.
And this is where the architect will indeed create the perception of a “slow down” of the project, because the architect wants to make certain that the results of the project (or the current increment of the project) will fit in within the context of the project (the other increments as well as the external world that has to interact with the results from the project).

This brings us to think about equilibrium and optimal outcome for each project (local optimum) as well as for the organisation as a whole (global optimum). If we would consider multiple projects, would using the quickest road to a product in each project, independently of external considerations, lead to the best results for the organisation? In my opinion, approaching each project as independent of all the others with only the quickest road to succes (local optimum, current project is the only focus) in mind, leads in an ICT organisation to complete chaos in the end, because each project could choose its own favorite development tools, database, technology etc… Maintenance will be a nightmare (minimalistic documentation, not necessarily up-to-date), integration will become ad hoc and complete spaghetti, security will become unmanageable, scalability might be impossible, and disaster recovery scenarios will heavily depend on all the (hardly documented) choices in each individual project.

And that total chaos, with local optimisation for each project, is as well an architecture… which seems to be a contradiction in terms.

So does agile development really means no architecture? I do believe that I can say “absolutely not”. It was never the intention of agile development to become chaotic development. The role of the architect within an agile development context is to develop the architecture for the current increment, with respect to the world external to the current project (standards within the organisation, architecture of similar projects, enterprise architecture, …) as well as internal to the current project (previous increments, as well as – when known – potential next increments).
It will slow down the enthousiastic developer who just wants to deliver some code, but the holistic approach taken by the architect is the safeguard for the organisation as a whole to prevent total and complete chaos. And that safeguards is worth some small loss in time during product development, because it results in a massive gain of time during the lifetime of the product once it is in use with the business.

 

My top 5 favorite iPad apps

•October 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

We’ve all seen list after list after list after list after…

But here I go, with my own list of 5 favorite iPad apps I really use.

  1. Pulse
    This is just amazing. It captures all RSS feeds from the websites I am interested in, shows them in a ribbon format, and allows me to see the text or continue to the article’s website.
    This app has truly changed the way I browse the web, and to me that means a lot!
  2. Omnifocus on iPad
    If you have an interest in GTD (the Getting Things Done methodology, advocated by David Allen), then I strongly advise you to look at Omnifocus on the iPad.  Especially the “forecast” allow you to quickly see all things that you should have done already, or that are upcoming in the near future.  Truly amazing!
  3. Kindle for iPad
    I do like the iBooks app, but I must confess that I like Kindle way more, especially since it has a huge amount of books available, and it syncs between all your computers and your iPad, so you never have to guess where you were when you last had time to open one of your books.
  4. iThoughtsHD for mindmapping
    As a mindmapping enthousiast, I rely more and more on iThoughtsHD. A well thought out, intuitive interface, and superb export features are what I was looking for, and what is delivered to my heart’s content.
  5. SharePlus is the off-line SharePoint sulution for iPad lovers
    As founder of a SharePoint users group (suggo.theknowledgefarm.biz), I liked to see SharePoint sites on the iPad. No such luck… but SharePlus came to the resque, and now I can browse SharePoint content and have it with me even in an off-line mode.And that makes me happy.

Close runners-up are:

  • Apple’s iWork suite on iPad: Pages, Numbers and Keynote are very good, and worth considering as MS Office alternatives.
  • Penultimate lat’s me draw at any time
  • SoundNote let’s me take types notes and at the same time record what is being said.
  • OmniGraffle is the VISIO equivalent on Apple platform, and their incarnation on iPad makes good use of the touch interface
  • RealRacingHD – it’s a game, a racing game, and I truly recomment against it :-) because it is so engaging that one you start with it, it is almost impossible to put down… Just kidding, I do recomment it. and it shows off what the iPad can do.

SharePoint on iPad… Not always ideal…

•September 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I strongly believed that the iPad would be the ideal SharePoint browsing device, but testing it with both MOSS2007 and SharePoint Foundation 2010 sites left me with a somewhat sour taste.

SharePoint screens are simply cut off at the bottom and right edges, browsing through lists with grouped items frequently opens the wrong group, etc…

All this is due to mobile safari, the browser on iPad.

But there is an awesome solution for iPad users: SharePlus from SouthLabs. It offers an easy way to browse your SharePoint lists and documents and best of all, it has an excellent offline mode that can be configured for each list and lets you take those documents offline that you can’t live without.

Is this SharePlus ideal? No! It doesn’t offer the real SharePoint screen. But is does what most people want, and does it in such an intuitive way that makes me feel very happy indeed.

 
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