Thursday, December 24, 2009

My thoughts on the IT Year in Review

I'd like to say that I've reached the end of our changes, fixes and upgrades for the year but it's simply not true. Work is increasing drastically as we try to make use of the "quiet business period" to install new systems and have outages. Look out for a bunch of posts early in the new year to describe some of the best and worst of our installations.

In the meantime, it's Christmas eve. Instead of doing a completely off-topic post about a holiday which might not appeal to all my readers, I thought I might wrap up the year with my "layman's" (generally ignoring the finances) perception of how the computing giants have performed this year. In the meantime, if you're accepting well-wishes for the season, you have mine.

Quick Disclaimer: Everything here is my own personal thoughts - so don't place too much reliance on it - and don't try to sue me. We're all entitled to our thoughts, so get over it.

2009 has been an amazing year in IT circles with some unexpected ups and downs.

Google
Google has been a clear winner for me as a technology company over the last few years and this year was no exception. Gmail has consistently surprised me with innovative new features in a technology-space I thought had exhausted all possibilities. It's also brought back some old domino ideas (like labels instead of folders) making it clear that sometimes the old ways are best.

The rest of Google's technology is equally amazing and innovative with only a couple of exceptions (Orkut, I'm looking at you, you facebook wannabe). The social technology which is growing in blogger, those amazing gadgets and of course, Chrome and Android, leave absolutely no doubt as to who the next great technology leader is.

2009 was the year that Google started proving that it was ready for serious business users. I'm not entirely certain that they were 100% successful (there were some serious outages while they bedded down their systems) but it's clear that cloud computing is the way of the future and Google have the best and most complete cloud platform thus far.

Microsoft
On the flipside, 2009 was the year that Microsoft burned for their sins. They copped flack from all sides, whether it was from users (still) rejecting Vista, Apple taking their OS sales, Google (and the courts) eating away at their Office business, IBM finally defending itself against the Exchange/Outlook FUD and most recently, Firefox 3.5 taking the mantle of "world's most popular browser" from IE7.

Microsoft's woes prove two important things;
  1. It doesn't matter who you are or how big and powerful you are, you've gotta have friends, not simply followers. This is a pitfall that Google needs to tread carefully around. Monopolies can't last - equilibrium will always reassert itself. If you keep taking business off your colleagues, you'll eventually make enough enemies to get yourself defeated.

  2. Leadership is best done by those with enthusiasm, not people who should be in "services departments". I guess that I'm saying that the best leaders for technology companies are "technology people", just as the best leader for a legal firm would be a lawyer. Bill Gates was undoubtedly a technical person, Steve Ballmer isn't.

IBM
Then there was IBM. The sleeping giant has woken and is now actively supporting, even marketing the Lotus brand. In a nice touch, IBM threw a backhand swipe towards many of the business partners who had been backstabbing it. Hopefully now, the days of being grudgingly sold an IBM system by someone who doesn't understand it and wants to replace it in the near future, are ending.

I know a lot of people are quite upset by this move claiming that it's unfair but as an end user, I applaud it. Companies who don't fully support the technology they install are "unfair" from my point of view.

IBM also released some great new technologies under the Lotus Brand, particularly Notes 8.5.1 and Traveller (which is already making us consider throwing out our Blackberry infrastructure). This year, I installed Notes 8.5 on Windows, Mac, Ubuntu Linux, Debian and GoogleOS. I was very impressed with the fact that it ran so well on all of those platforms. There's no doubt that Lotus Notes is still amazing software. What I'd really like to see from IBM in 2010 would be a commitment of resources to "modernize notes". I don't simply mean from a technology development perspective though, I'd love to see IBM locating every business on a 6.5 client and going in to show them the wonders of the 8.5 world.

Of course, with the rapid upgrade cycle, there were quite a few bugs this year and my initial days of Notes 8.5.1 had me building a list of five ways to crash the client in under 5 keystrokes. None of them have been resolved yet but I'm now much more careful about which keys I press. I also had some struggles with IBM tech support this year which demonstrate that it's no better than it was in the nineties, perhaps worse. At least my PMRs are now on the fix list.

It's unfair though to slam IBM's technical support - after all, I daren't try Microsoft's now (their web "help" messages are bad enough) and Google's is almost non-existent, which is acceptable for the price ($0). All in all, it's great to see IBM waking up, hopefully they'll keep the pressure on in the new year.

Apple
Apple is yet another success story this year, having clawed it's way back onto the desktop via the iPod and iPhone. It amazes me that technology so tied up with digital rights is so successful but it just goes to show how much appearances and usability counts in the IT world.

I'd love to be saying that the desktop of the future belongs to free software like Ubuntu or Chromium but it's not going to happen. If the desktop manages to move from Microsoft, it will go to Apple but it's much more likely to stay "diverse" and simply migrate the apps and data to the cloud.

Regardless, Apple is gaining momentum and I'd say that about 80% of the computer purchases by friends and family were Apple purchases - and a great many of these were Windows migrations. Even better, everyone I've talked to after a migration seems happy - much happier than they were on windows.

The Rest
There's so many other technology companies I could talk about but I'm rapidly running out of space (well, not exactly but longer articles discourage readers). Here's a quick wrap-up.
  • Linux: It's becoming obvious that linux is never going to be able to make the moves that take over the "popular desktop". I'm not saying that it isn't good, it's great. I've used Ubuntu quite a bit this year - I'm running Notes 8.5.1 under Karmic Koala in a VM on my WinXP PC at the moment. It's just that Linux is still too techy. It lacks the polished user interface of Apple. Without that, it will never be able to take over.

  • Sony: Who leads these companies anyway? Seriously, Sony had a great shot at relevance when, with Microsoft's XBox 360 stumbling, the PS3 launched to rave reviews. It couldn't hold off the competition from the Wii with it's gimmicky interface (which is now sliding because the gimmick only lasts for a while and interferes with playability). Even worse though, the PS3's main competition was with the PS2 - and the PS2 is still the undisputed winner. Sony was clever for not completely retiring the PS2 (like Microsoft did with the XBox) but then they shot themselves in the foot by removing PS2 compatibility from the PS3. Now I have a Wii at home. I don't particularly like it but there was no compelling reason to buy a PS3 (other than Blu-Ray). Sony's removal of PS2 support moved the PS3 from an "upgrade" to a "new" system - and made it just as easy to switch platforms. Great leadership Sony... (duh...).

  • Blu-Ray: Far from consolidating their position as the dominant format, Blu-Ray simply sat on the border of irrelevance. After all, what could it offer over DVD? Certainly not the same amount of advantage that DVD had over VHS. It looks like the future isn't in the disc format at all but rather, in online storage whether streamed from the web or from local storage. Only time will tell.
There's a lot more I could review but I guess it's time to close. I'm going to be seriously busy with those upgrades for the next month so I'll probably not post until 2010. All the best everyone - and thanks for being great readers!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

How to block your number (for Caller ID) on the Blackberry Bold 9000

I was asked to help someone with this today and I spent ages searching for the option (because it's not in the obvious place). I didn't get a lot of help online either, so I thought I'd put a post out there to fill in the gap.

It's not on the spanner icon (settings) where you'd expect it to be.

Procedure
  1. From the front screen of your Blackberry
  2. Push the green phone button
  3. Push the blackberry button
  4. Scroll through the menu to find "Options"
  5. Choose "General Options"
  6. Scroll down to "Show my Number"
  7. If it says, Yes, then your caller id displays when you ring people. If no, then it doesn't.
  8. Change it to whatever you want by pushing the pearl
  9. Push the Blackberry button and choose Save.
It should take effect immediately.

Bear in mind though that lots of people won't accept calls from unlisted numbers - though if you're having trouble getting people to accept calls from YOU on a listed number, maybe going unlisted is a better option.