Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Pain of Getting into Microsoft's Corporate Licensing


We've been out of Microsoft's Corporate licensing model for quite a while and it's been good, no, it's been GREAT. 

Whenever I've needed a Microsoft Product, I've wandered down to the local retail outlet and purchased it. Sure, sometimes I've been a little annoyed when it's not in stock and I've had to wait a day or two but on the whole, it's been glorious.

We haven't bothered with maintenance on our Microsoft products because we don't want to upgrade. Not within 3-4 years. Our standards so far have been  

  • Windows NT + Office 97, 
  • then Windows XP + Office 2003 
  • and now Windows 7 + Office 2010.
Because we update so infrequently (and all at once), it's easier to simply purchase new computers once every four years and buy the software at the same time. It's not like you save anything much on the volume licensing  -- in fact, it's quite the opposite, buying a new licence every four years is much cheaper than paying maintenance on one for four. Plus you get an extra (old) licence out of the deal. 


The Changing Microsoft Licensing Model
Unfortunately now, the Microsoft world has changed. 


Now they're making their products harder to purchase in retail stores and they're expecting to have them linked to hotmail/exchange accounts. This is all well and good if you've got a consistent set of employees who all have those accounts but if your workforce fluctuates (for example contractors on lots of short projects) then it's quite painful.

I've successfully avoided Microsoft Open Licensing since it was first introduced except for a few small occasions.  All of these were incredibly painful and time-consuming. In one case, we attracted the attention of Microsoft themselves who announced that we had to do an internal IT audit.  We were fully in compliance, in fact, we were considerably over-compliant but I still had to gather every single licence and fill out tons of paperwork.  It was a very costly exercise in terms of staff time and it certainly cooled us off on the whole "working with Microsoft" thing.

I really have to wonder why an organisation like Microsoft has the power to demand audits like that. 


The worst sign-up process in the World.
So, after years of successful avoidance, we now find ourselves in the position of having to do the whole Open Licence thing.  We're using a Microsoft Business Partner so you'd assume that this would smooth things over -- it doesn't.

Here are some of the highlights;

  • I've been waiting four business days for the licensing to come through.
  • The Microsoft site is not compatible with browsers other than Internet Explorer
  • Partway through the process the browser throws an error and tells me that I need an "InPrivate" session -- a decent browser would simply switch to one. 
  • A typical attempt involves me having to sign on at least five times.
  • I keep having to verify codes to protect my account (despite turning it off several times).
  • The Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center is unintuitive (and useless)
  • The whole process ends with a "Sorry" Error telling me that I have to switch to an InPrivate window even though it's already InPrivate.



I used to complain about the usability of IBM's Passport advantage site but it leaves the Microsoft one for dead. 


An Alternative
On the plus side, since I'm without office at the moment, I've been using Google Drive.  I could have used Libre Office but I didn't want to install anything.  I'm pretty impressed, apart from the amazing signup process (login with your google account which takes 5 minutes to create), the product is free.

I've used it before for home purposes but this is the first time I've thrown real-world work documents from Word, Excel and Powerpoint at it.  I'm very impressed.  It's handled everything I've thrown at it without a hitch and I'm exchanging documents with my colleagues and they haven't noticed a thing.

I really have to question the business wisdom of continuing to use Microsoft products at all but that's a discussion for later - in the meantime, if Microsoft doesn't sort themselves out, at least I have other tools that I can rely upon. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why you should get onto Google Play even if you don't have an Android Device

So, you're an Apple person, or a Windows person, and you already have an iTunes or Windows store account. You can get your books, music and movies from their stores. Why would you bother getting a Google Play account?



It's worth it. That's why -- even if you only buy the FREE things. 

Actually, there's four very good reasons;

  • Cross Platform Functionality
  • Downloading to Other Devices
  • Uploading Your Own Materials
  • Free Stuff 



Cross Platform Functionality
If you have iTunes, then for the most part, your music and movies are only available on your apple device(s).   Your iPhone, iPod or iPad, maybe your apple computer and possibly, in some cases, your windows computer.  Essentially, purchases on the apple platform, stay on the apple platform.

This is not the case with Google Play.

Movies, Music and Books from Google Play works in;
  • Android tablets and phones (obviously)
  • Apple iPhones, iPads and iPods (Do a search for Google Play)
  • Windows PCs
  • The Chrome Browser (on any platform)
  • The Linux Platform
  • ChromeOS on ChromeBooks and the ChromeBox
In addition, Google Play Apps will work on;



Downloading to Other Devices
Some of the files from Google play will also play in other devices;

  • Music can be downloaded as DRM Free MP3
    This means that it will play in most modern CD players, can be written to CD using software like Nero or Windows Media Player, will play in VLC and can be uploaded to your iPhone.
  • Books can be downloaded as (usually DRM Free) EPub or PDF. 
    To download, just go to Google Play, click on Books, then My Books.
    Hover the mouse over the top right of any book in your collection and a tiny three-box menu will appear. Click on this and you can download your book to copy to your E-Reader or wherever else you want to take it.


Uploading Your Own Materials
Did you know that you can also upload your own books and music to Google Play?  This means that they become part of your library and you can access them from other locations.   Sure, you can do this in the iTunes world too but the difference is there that although you can copy songs to your phone, they don't become part of your library.  Trust me, the Google model is much better. 


Free Stuff 
Finally, we get to free stuff.  Like most providers today, Google has "songs of the week" and "books of the week" as well as random "free" stuff throughout their library.   There's no real catch other than needing you to have a working Google play account. 

When you buy free stuff, it will expect either a play card with money on your account or a working credit card. It doesn't charge these things but it just likes to know that they are there. 

I'd advise against hooking a credit card up to the account.  It's much better to simply buy a cheap Google play card. 

You should check the front pages of the Books and Music on Google play at least once per week in case something free appears. If it's worth getting it, then just do. You don't need to worry about bandwidth, just "buy it" while it's free, you don't need to download it immediately.

The easiest way to find Free books and free music is to go to the appropriate books or music page and type in the search bar 
  • Free Books
  • Free Music
You'll find that most of the classics are free all of the time but other popular genres are only free for a limited time (so you need to "buy" them as soon as you see them for free. 

Free movies on Google Play are pretty rare but they do happen. Pacific Rim was free for a short while over Christmas 2014. 

Recent Highlights
Free stuff will also vary from one country to another.  Recent highlights include; (check these out because they might still be free) 


    Go get 'em.