Friday, April 26, 2013

Sand boxing and background apps on IOS

I use lots of Apple products, and I use lots of apps on those Apple products. Several of those apps require syncing or regular downloads to be useful, such as:

  • Evernote
  • Omnifocus
  • Newsstand
  • Textexpander
  • Downcast
  • Feeddler Pro
  • Pocket
  • 1Password
  • Tweetbot

I also use a Wi-Fi only IPad.


One of the largest annoyances I have is when I open an App, e.g. Evernote and I have to then wait whilst it syncs every change since the last time I opened it, in a lot of cases, I can't use the app until it's finished and I may have forgotten what I was going to do.

Even worse, I'm offline and the note I want isn't available to me when I need it.

Yes, I could set up a routine to open each app every morning on all three of my devices and allow them to sync, but why don't more apps include options to sync on geolocation.

My ideal would be that Apple allowed developers to build hourly syncing into their apps, but with this background sync having to have a mandatory switch for users which is defaulted to Wi-Fi only and being limited to 5 Minutes.

A second option would be to allow apps to do the above once daily. So as I wake at 06:00, I may set that to be 05:30.

Downcast have put together some work arounds which are really good around geofencing and hourly updates.

This would remove a real headache from IOS use for me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Windows XP End of Life

There have been various posts this week raising visibility of the fact that 12 months from now, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. This means no patches if something stops working, no security patches for any new vulnerabilities which are found and no support from Microsoft unless you pay them handsomely for the privilege.

Let's state the facts to start with.

Windows XP was released in 2001 as an evolution of Windows 2000 (which was only released itself in 1999.) Windows 2000 wasn't a bad version, but Windows XP brought some improvements to the User Interface (although not everyone agreed with this at the time, myself included)

The Fact that Windows XP is still in use in the mainstream 12 years later is a measure of both it's longevity and the fact that none of the succeeding versions (Least of all Windows Vista, with Windows 8 not far behind) have given users a good enough reason to pay money to upgrade. Windows XP IS a good operating system and it won't cease to be a good operating system the day after support finishes.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that around 28-30% of Windows computers are still on XP, this will be a mix of Business and Home PCs

What worries me is that reports suggest that a lot of companies are going to continue to use Windows XP on the desktop as outlined in reports like the one here, this leads to several problems:

Operating System Security. Microsoft will not be releasing any more patches for Windows XP unless you pay them to do it. As and when further vulnerabilities are found in Windows XP, those security holes will not be fixed. To put this into context, there have been thousands of patches released for XP over the last 12 years. If you installed a Pre Service Pack version of Windows XP, Windows Update would install Services Pack 3, reboot and then go through several more reboots as it downloaded and installed many more patches.

Other vendors reducing support for Windows XP: the biggest example of this is that if for example, Sun with Java, or Adobe with Reader and Flash decide not to release patches or new versions for XP (Which becomes more likely after Microsoft finish support) this leaves Windows XP open to more vulnerabilities through no fault of the user or Microsoft. Other vendors such as Sage and Oracle will also See Microsoft's action as a reason to no longer support XP for their product.

Drivers stop being updated: 3rd party hardware providers will stop supporting Wndows XP

A part of Windows XP breaks (Not likely after 12 years) Microsoft will not fix it unless you pay them.

I realise that some companies will feel that they cannot move off Windows XP due to Legacy Applications, or that others will have done a risk assessment before taking this decision.

The fact remains that Windows XP becomes a ticking time bomb as to when, rather than IF it becomes a security issue.

This should be a major concern to all IT Managers.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Amazon Customer Service - The Good, the Bad and the Kindle

Please find below my account of my interactions with Amazon's customer service desk, Unfortunately I don't have a photographic memory, so all 'Quotes' are paraphrased.


I've not had the best of weeks, on Monday Morning I tweaked my back whilst putting something away in a drawer, then Tuesday was a day of re-immersing myself back into a project at work, which had been on hold for over a month.

On Tuesday evening, in an effort to wash away a day of concentration and rest my back, I settled down with my Kindle to continue my Journey into 'The Rook' (which is a fun Sci Fi book by Daniel O'Malley) and I quickly saw that there was something wrong with the screen.

The screen showed text on 2/3rds of the text, but the other 1/3 was lines and lines and lines... (Thanks Tubbs)

After a little research on the web, it became clear that this was a common problem on e-Ink Kindles, so I logged onto and entered the twilight zone of the Help Section. It took me a few minutes to wade through the many sections about the Kindle bookstore and Software to find the right section to get help with my hardware.

Once I'd walked through a few steps (Have you turned it off and on again), I was asked whether I wanted to email Amazon, phone them, or click on a button to get them to phone me. I chose the latter not expecting much as It was after 20:00 on a Tuesday evening. Within 5 minutes my phone rang, and I was walked through a few steps by a helpful Amazon Agent. Unfortunately it was resolved that the Kindle was broken, and that it was also out of warranty.

I was already expecting both of these to be true. After hearing previous accounts of Amazon's Kindle issue responses, I was also expecting what the Support Desk agent said next.

"Your Kindle is out of warranty," The Agent informed me, " but as a gesture of goodwill, I can offer you either a Kindle reader which should be £69 for £55, or a Kindle Touch which should be £109 for £69.

Now, I use my kindle a fair bit. I'd paid £111 for the Keyboard, Wi-Fi only version almost 2 years previously and I'd hate to be parted from it. I could read using the Kindle App on my iPad, but the Kindle is a far better reading experience.

Recently I'd been tempted by and lusted after the Kindle Paperwhite and had almost pressed the Checkout button a couple of times on the Wi Fi version. With the Paperwhite being the same price as the Touch, I was smelling a win - win deal between myself and Amazon.

"If the Touch should be £109, can I get the £109 Paperwhite instead for £69?" I chanced my arm with the Agent.

"I'm sorry Sir, I'm not able to offer you the Paperwhite today with a reduction." the Agent replied.

I was disappointed, but I had an ace up my sleeve.

"The problem I've been having seems to be a common problem with the Kindle," I started, "if that's the case, it suggests a Defect in the product and as such it should be covered by the European Union's laws on fitness for purpose"

At this point, the agent stopped

"With this in Mind, I'd like a straight replacement for my current Kindle, but if a deal can be done for the paperwhite, I'm happy to pay the £69 to upgrade."

The Agent again said that this he was unable to do that, so I asked to speak to a manager.

Unfortunately the Supervisor also was not able to do me a deal on the Paperwhite, so I pressed my claims for a replacement under EU Law of fitness for purpose, and the Supervisor agreed immediately.

Within Half an hour, I received an email with details of the replacement device which was winging it's way to me.

On Friday, the Postman delivered me a replacement Kindle Keyboard with Wi-Fi and 3G, my previous model didn't have the 3G, but I suspect that they don't carry a Wi Fi only keyboard Kindle anymore.

I'm a satisfied customer, I can continue to read my ebooks on an excellent device. Amazon's Staff were Professional and Polite and I will continue to buy books from them.

I do have further thoughts on this though.

The Good - This interaction suggests that the Fault is indeed recognised by Amazon as a manufacturing defect which they are liable for, and that Procedures are in place to handle this, If this were not the case, I doubt that the Supervisor would have agreed quite so readily to a free like for like replacement.

The Bad - If that's true, Amazon (Not the Agent, the company) were knowingly trying to sell me a replacement product which had failed due to a Manufacturer's Defect. If I hadn't pushed my claim, it's possible, I would have been fobbed off.

The (Replacement) Kindle - With some pushing, Amazon fulfilled their obligations.

The Confusing - I was surprised that Amazon weren't willing to extract a further £69 out of me at a cost to them of £40 over me buying a new Paperwhite, rather than sending me a 'free' device which is inventoried to them as worth £149

The lesson, is to make sure you know your rights, do lots of research and ensure that you get the service you deserve.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Google Reader, what's the fuss?

Like many people, I read of Google's plans to shutter their reader product with a mixture of sadness and disappointment.

I've also read a few opinion pieces such as Marco Arment's 'delight' at Reader's demise
(BTW, that's sarcasm. Marco has a great point)

Others have sat wailing because their favourite (free) RSS reader is disappearing.

My opinion is somewhere in between.

I rarely use the web interface of Google Reader. Occasionally, I go to clean out abandoned RSS feeds through the use of the last updated attribute.

For me, Google's reader was an invisible server which allowed me to choose any client which supported it on the Mac, Windows, iPad or iPhone, and that is what I'll miss. I have over 100 feeds I like to keep up to date with, and it's not easy to move from one client to another manually.

People offering web based alternatives are, on the whole, missing my usage. I don't need a web front end, I need something which will allow me to aggregate my feeds and keep them portable for different clients and platforms. I'm even willing to pay a nominal sum for the service.

I don't believe that I'm alone either.

So I really, really hope that there is enough demand that someone will offer this service for those of us that don't want to be tied to a web browser.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Omnifocus 2 and why I'm disappointed

Before I start, there are some things I want to make clear

I've not played with Omnifocus 2 so this post is based on reviews of the launch even and blog posts from others. Most of the posts I've read are consistent in what they say so I've based my thoughts around confirmed changes

I respect Omni as a company they are driven and focused. Omni engage with their customers (not users) and provide quality products at a fully justified premium price. This article is not a criticism of the decisions they've made. just my take on Omnifocus 2.

I use Omnifocus all of the time Of that usage 95% is on the iPad, 4% on the iPhone and 1% is on the Mac. unfortunately I use a windows computer at work.

I love Omnifocus it's a brilliant product which helps me out several times a day to ensure I get everything done that I need to. I've used it exclusively for the past two and a half years

Omni have worked incredibly hard on Omnifocus 2, this article is not in any way belittling Omnifocus 2 as a product.

Before I get onto the reasons I'm disappointed, let me tell you what I like about what I've seen of Omnifocus 2:

  • The iPad look and feel have been taken to the desktop, this isn't just a copy, it's all been thought through and it looks much improved
  • Review and Forecast have come across which are the two biggest 'missing' features from the desktop
  • The two versions open the product up to more people with OF Pro being expensive, but worth if it you'll use perspectives and AppleScript, but the standard version matching the iPad experience and offering a lower price of entry to OF on the Mac.

As explained earlier, I don't use the desktop version very much, but I like what I've seen so far, and if I had the opportunity to use OF for Mac more, I'd buy the Pro 2.0 Version

If you don't use the Desktop, why do you even care? I use Omnifocus on the iPad version of Omnifocus for hours every day, it's central to my day. It's a great product, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be better.

Omnifocus 2 for the Mac is the first version 2 product across all Omnifocus products, and as such, it sets the tone for the other platforms. The back end has had no significant upgrades that I can determine from the reviews and this suggests that there will be no significant back end changes until version 3 which could be 3, 4 or 5 years away.

Why does this matter?
Lack of change to the back end have left out two of the biggest features I was holding out for on OF 2

Multiple Contexts / Metatdata / tagging

One of the largest omissions in my opinion is that Omnifocus on the ipad does not allow you to set multiple 'tags' or contexts against each task, e.g. energy, priority, location, estimated time, tools or people.

But GTD doesn't allow you to do that, it's not Canon. you're right, but what is often forgotten is that GTD was released in the early 1990s, these days we have the Internet, phones, tablets or notebooks with us all of the time. GTD's Canon on contexts isn't relevant in 2013.

Here are a few examples where multiple contexts or tags would be a massive benefit

  • I'm tired and I just want to batter through low energy tasks, watering the plants, filling my stapler, ordering stationery, other contexts may not matter.
  • I have x minutes between meetings and want to complete a task(s), phone call, email, it doesn't matter so long as it takes less than X minutes.
  • I'm in a particular location with several tools and want to knock some tasks off, the location is the important thing
  • I'm in a meeting with several people who are contexts of mine, but instead of tagging tasks to the meeting (as well as the people's individual contexts) I have to go through each person's context to see what can be completed.
  • I serve 14 Directors and similar numbers of managers, but some tasks only need sign off from one of three of those people. Yes, I could set up three actions, but that's wasteful.
  • I need to be in a particular location with a tool and a person to do a task. Yes I could split it into a project with multiple tasks, but quite often all three can be true with little effort, and setting up the project is a waste of energy

Multiple contexts or tags would make me much more productive, but Omni don't agree that this is the way forward. I respect Omni for making this decision, they always think things through carefully, but I feel they've missed on opportunity to make OF a more rounded product.

Group working

The Second area where I feel that Omni have missed on opportunity is that ability to either share tasks between people's discreet databases, and / or create secondary team databases which hold team projects and tasks as a separate entity to your own database. This is kind of possible on the Mac, but it's a kludge, and not possible on the iPhone or iPad versions

It's something which was mentioned as a potential feature of OF 2 which has not materialised and it's omission closes the door on OF as a collaborative team product.

So this leaves me wondering if there's another product out there which meets my needs better. It will be a wrench to move to another solution, but I may need to.

Monday, September 26, 2011

iPhone 5 screen thoughts.

The rumour is that the iPhone 5 will have a 4" Retina Display, why would Apple make the display larger?

Assuming that the number of pixels on the larger display stays the same as the iPhone 4 (good for developers), this means that pixels per inch would reduce and that the display would be 'poorer' and should be cheaper to make.

Is this either a way for Apple to get more profit, or for them to bring the price down a little while possibly easing the pressure on their supply chain as a lower pixel count per inch should be easier to produce.

The Quality question would be whether the pixels be visible to the naked eye, if so, that's a backwards step for a company which prides itself on raising the bar.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cloud Computing, what about the dark lining

Anything which isn't a simple webpage is being branded with the buzzphrase of being 'in the cloud'. 5 years ago it was called Software as a service and 10 years ago it was a webpage.

I'm seeing a heck of a lot of advertisements, articles and sales pitches for pushing applications into the cloud. The idea is that you use an application like instead of an application installed on your computer. All of the articles are positive and sell cloud / Web based applications as the perfect solution, and they really can be. CRM, HR and Finance Systems can cost a heck of a lot of money for Small and Medium sized businesses.

A lot of the articles I'm reading do not portray the flip side of the argument. Yes, there's a huge upside to Cloud based computing, but there are also some downsides which should be taken into account.

The first thing you should always consider, is that you're trusting someone else with your data, be that your own company's files, staff information or details of your customers. Are you confident that the company can be trusted with your data?

The second thing to consider is what will happen if you wake up tomorrow and your provider is not available? Can you get hold of them on the phone to find out what is happening? Can you continue your business while you don't have access to your data until your provider can get things running again

Hard on the heels of the website being unavailable is what happens if your Internet connection is unavailable? Yet again, do you have a business continuity plan to enable you to serve your customers

The final downside for today, is what happens if you wake up tomorrow and your service provider doesn't exist, they've gone bankrupt, into administration, failed to pay their bills, all of their staff won the lottery at the weekend.

The biggest thing to do BEFORE taking any decision, whether it includes cloud computing or not, is to do due diligence on any new contract and put full business continuity in place. Risk Analysis is a huge part of any new contract.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blogging on the iPad

After Blogging about the iPad a few days ago Here, I need to bring up one of my biggest bugbears with the iPad.

While the iPad is a good platform for basic research, it's not the tool to research and write from that research at the same time.

Switching between safari tabs, safari and Email and anything else, evernote, dropbox, ibooks any few apps quickly becomes annoying as does the cutting and pasting. cut and paste works ok on the ipad for the odd operation, but as a regular thing, it's a pain.

Blogger's 'create post' page does not work very well, failing to even scroll the main window and there are very few clients you can test.

Yes, yes, I know it's for consumption, the iPad's not for creating, but why shouldn't it be. We don't all do what Steve Jobs tells us.