A New iProduct For My iLife

I cannot deny that the Apple Watch is an amazing little piece of technology.  This little computer succeeds in pulling the most common notification and response tasks from our phone and setting them squarely on our wrist.  A tract of personal real estate whose sole tenant was once jewelry or the now classic and somewhat antique watch.

The Apple Watch and other wearables have succeeded in making a standard watch obsolete, but the Apple Watch goes a step further and tries to take the place of other fashion accessories with its beautiful design and gold bands.  The I watch has what is truly an imaginative new user interface that uses the crown as a dial for selecting and scrolling and a screen that is not only touch sensitive but pressure sensitive as well.  You can check the time of course, but you can also check your appointments, see who is calling, and respond to Facebook or twitter notifications.  The Apple Watch is also a health sensor as well, collecting heart rate and activity levels to store in the Health App.  If you like you can even send your heart beat to that special someone who can see and feel it on their own Apple Watch.

So is the Apple Watch worth it?  The little device starts at $549 and goes to $1,099 for the Apple Watch “Edition” which is the premium luxury car model of the Apple Watch.  I say constantly that apps are what make a smart phone useful.  I believe the same will hold true for the wearable class device.  Initially, smartphones were digital assistants that let you make phone calls.  Tablets where glorified smartphones that didn’t let you make phone calls.  What they have in common is they were designed for viewing and consuming media.  Another thing they have in common is today we input almost as much data using these devices as we do on a desktop or laptop.  The Apple Watch and other wearables have arrived to fill that little void for a device that we use solely for quick bite-sized media consumption.  There are already a number of apps available for the Apple Watch that let you map fitness activities, pay for your ice cream afterwards with Apple Pay, and even open you hotel room door.  If we base usefulness of the device solely on the apps that are available today then yes for many, not all, people the features make the Apple Watch entirely worth the $549 price tag.  The jury is still out on the “Edition” pricing. Over $1,000 for a watch seems a bit outlandish to me.

One of the biggest features of the Apple Watch is its fashion flexibility.  There are 2 different sizes, 5 different metals, and 6 different bands from which to choose, allowing you to match your Apple Watch to any outfit, for any occasion.  For all of the things this little device does, Apple is claiming an average 18 hour battery life.  For a device with a color touch screen I find that fairly impressive.  Nightly charging of the Apple Watch is done using a magnetic connector that attaches to the back of the watch and “wirelessly” charges the battery.  Your night stand just got a little more crowded, and so did that surge strip you had to get to accommodate all the devices you charge next to your bed at night!

I think the Apple Watch is a fabulous device though it is way too expensive for the current perceived value and the personal real estate it wants to call home.  I will wait and save my pennies for maybe the version 2 or 3, and hope for an even lower priced version in the future.

OneNote is Free and it is Awesome

OneNote is one of the coolest Office apps that gets very little attention from users.  Most people don’t have a clue what it is, or what it does, or even how to use it.  Be warned — once you start using it you will be addicted!

What is OneNote?  If you are like most people, whenever you need to take a quick note about something you want to remember or you need to take notes in a meeting the first thing that comes to mind is to grab one of those yellow pads of paper and start writing away.  OneNote is an electronic version of that yellow notepad…and so much more.  OneNote is a binder and organizer in addition to a notepad all rolled into a single application.  OneNote lets you take notes and organize them by pages, sections, and notebooks.  OneNote lets you clip images and add them to a page.  Because OneNote is part of Office you can pull in objects from other Microsoft applications, like a chart from an Excel workbook.  OneNote notebooks are searchable, even the hand written text.

OneNote supports natural handwriting.  Using a Windows Surface tablet and stylus, OneNote has near perfect palm blocking allowing you to rest your hand on the screen as you write just like you would a piece of paper.  OneNote can recognize handwriting so that search I was telling you about is able to also search your freeform handwritten notes.  Handwriting can be selected and converted to typed text with a push of a button, so translating your notes to a typed document becomes a matter of a little cleanup instead of completely re-typing your notes.  Handwriting is by far one of my favorite features of OneNote.  Until recently you could only really use handwriting on a few devices like the Surface Pro or a computer with a digitizer.  Recently, Microsoft updated the iPad version of OneNote to support handwriting and palm detection/blocking for a natural writing feel.  According to Microsoft blogs similar features are coming to the Android app in the near future.  In addition to handwriting recognition and being able to use digital ink on the iPad, Microsoft also added the ability to recognize and search text within an image from any notebook saved on OneDrive with any OneNote app available today.

OneNote is included as part of Office and Office 365.  For a long time now OneNote apps have been available free on mobile devices with some limited functionality, though new features are being added all the time.  Last year the full OneNote desktop software became a free tool available to everyone, but with a few feature restrictions.  Recently, the free desktop version became “even more free.”  Microsoft announced that they are removing all feature restrictions from the free edition of OneNote 2013.

I use OneNote on my Surface Pro constantly to jot down thoughts and ideas, sketch out network layouts, and even take notes in meetings.  I am beginning to use it more on my iPad as well now that it supports handwriting, and my wife is even using it to help her organize her 31 parties.  If you aren’t using OneNote to organize yourself and your notes I strongly recommend giving it a try today.

Managed Antivirus and Cloud Backup

I am pleased to announce that I am now able to offer 2 new fully managed cloud based security solutions.  Managed Antivirus and Managed Backup.  With these 2 products I can provide a cost effective way to manage your security from the cloud.

Server backups in the cloud can replace tape or other on site backup solutions.  All backups are stored in a secure, fully SSAE-16 compliant data center.  Configuration is done in the cloud, so once the backup client is installed on the server new backup jobs can be created and existing backup jobs can be monitored without having to be on site or otherwise directly connected to the server.  Because your data is backed up to the cloud you no longer have to deal with making sure tapes or drives are changed out nightly and taken home.  The threat of a tape or drive being lost and data being stolen from those lost drives is eliminated.

In the past, each computer had separate installations of antivirus installed and managing each installation had to be done separately.  Each machine had to be checked individually to make sure the software and definitions where up-to-date. If you had 5 or more machines you might have a server that could centralize this antivirus management; however, monitoring and maintaining this server required someone to physically manage the server and in most cases this extra software was installed on the only server in the office using valuable storage and other resources.  Now I can offer an alternative.  Cloud managed Antivirus based on antivirus technology from McAfee.  Machines protected by the managed antivirus get their updates from the internet whenever they are connected.  The antivirus client reports to a cloud based management server that allows us to monitor the health of each machine and identify issues with managed devices almost in real time.  In some instances we might know your machine is being attacked by a virus before you do.

Managing backup and antivirus in the cloud is a great first step towards the benefits of having Jacobs and Company B.I.T.S. fully manage your IT.  Monthly online backup starts at $25/month for 100GB of storage.  For managed antivirus each device covered starts at just $5/month.

Microsoft Office and Cloud Storage Sprawl

I have written previously about a problem that myself and many of you have when it comes to using cloud storage solutions. I call it Cloud Storage Sprawl.  Cloud Storage Sprawl is when your documents and data become spread out among multiple cloud storage services like OneDrive, Google Drive, Box.com, and Dropbox to name a few.  In my previous article, I recommended selecting a set of purpose built cloud services like flicker for pictures and OneDrive for documents and simplifying your portfolio of storage providers.  I try to take my own advice as often as possible, but sometimes I fail.  Because I test lots of different services I tend to have my data spread out all over the place.  Microsoft has embraced that fact that many of you are much like me, with documents on cloud services other than theirs, and they are working to accommodate that.

Last November Microsoft partnered with Dropbox, allowing you to add Dropbox as a storage location in Office Desktop Apps.  Recently they expanded on that partnership and made it easier to access files stored on Dropbox from iOS apps as well as Office Online, the web browser based version of Office.  The Locations Picker in iOS apps is able to integrate natively with several cloud storage provider apps on your device, allowing you to choose to open and save files stored on multiple cloud storage providers’ services.  Integration with Universal Apps for Windows 10 and Android based devices is not yet available, but Microsoft says they are hard at work bringing this feature to all of the platforms that Office runs on as part of their cloud first focus for all of their products.  As more cloud storage providers update their apps and online services to integrate with the new program interface Microsoft has introduced, you will see more providers showing up as targets to save your documents to from within Microsoft applications.

The continued march to the cloud seems to be inevitable.  More and more of our data is being stored there and for good reason.  It is cheap and, assuming you take steps like using strong passwords, it is more secure than most small business networks.  Even though it is continuing to get easier to make use of cloud services for business it is important you take the time to do your due diligence regarding a service and their rights to the data you store on their systems.  In some cases, a cloud service agreement gives the service provider more control over your data than you or your customers might feel comfortable.  Responsible data management is key to maintaining not only a hold on your data stored in the cloud but also your sanity.  I can say with near perfect certainty that I have never had an issue with any of the cloud providers I trust and on more than one occasion their use has saved me not only from disaster but also the occasional bout of forgetfulness when I have left a document behind and needed to use the web to access it.