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A New Way To Work

Long discussed alternatives to the traditional mail client are finally starting to emerge, at least in beta. These incorporate some intelligence into mail processing and aim to give users a task-focused, integrated place to serve as their electronic home, as opposed to being at the mercy of everything that lands in the inbox in chronological order. And they basically abandon the idea of a rich client (e.g. Notes, Outlook, Thunderbird) in favor of web based and mobile solutions.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they perform in the real world and if users will adopt them.

The crop includes:

IBM Verse – What’s been previewed for some time as Mail Next is now rolling out as Verse.

http://www.ibm.com/social-business/us/en/newway/index.html

Google Inbox – this has been in preview for personal Gmail accounts for a while but is now coming to Google Apps for Work customers, at least in trial form.

http://googleforwork.blogspot.com/2015/02/lets-build-new-work-inbox-together.html

Microsoft Office 365 – It appears that Microsoft is still focusing on moving folks to their cloud-based Office 365 Suite and hasn’t jumped into the fray directly. Or maybe I’ve just not seen it.

https://products.office.com/en-us/business/explore-office-365-for-business

I would love to hear if anyone is planning to move to one of these alternatives or has any experience with the early releases in an actual work environment. Or are there other contenders to add to the mix?

Old computers, probably not worth the effort?

I periodically get an older computer returned from its original user/purpose. My tendency is to reset it to a “ready and safe to use” condition and keep it for testing, guest use, dedicated use (e.g. running a nightly file copy or serving out a non-networked printer), etc. But with new and refurbished computers so cheap I’m not sure it’s really worth the effort any more.

Today I took back a ThinkPad T61. It’s a nice machine with a big screen. But it’s been all morning and into the afternoon and it’s still not ready to use.

What it takes:

Reset to factory as new — actually pretty fast and easy using the Lenovo recovery from the ThinkVantage button.

Now I’ve got a working machine with Windows XP SP2 and 2 GB RAM. So first step is to salvage some memory from another old machine so I’ve got 3GB (the maximum a 32 bit OS can use anyway). Then I need to get it up to Windows XP SP3 so there’s some chance of running it safely.

This involves two installs (learned from long experience) for which I keep CDs: 1. Install IE 8. 2. Install SP3. If you don’t do it in that order you’ll run into trouble.

Then install some sort of antivirus. I used AVG free. Microsoft’s own AV, Microsoft Security Essentials, will continue to update on Windows XP but you can no longer install it on machines that don’t already have it.

Then start the process of letting all the Windows updates since SP3 was released download and install, in their own arcane order.

And finally install the missing pieces that make a computer usable: Adobe Reader, Java, a browser other than IE.

Granted most of this doesn’t require much attention from me, just an occasional glance over to hit OK or uncheck the inclusion of unwanted junk. It still makes the investment in time much more than the computer is worth.

But I’m still old school enough to hate to toss useable gear.

First world problems I guess.

Google Apps Migration: Lessons Learned

We thought long and hard before migrating from our on premises Domino mail system. I really wanted IBM SmartCloud to be the answer – an easy migration, a familiar environment and no issues accessing our existing Domino apps (in hybrid mode). But Google was the clear winner for a few reasons:

  • Price – a dramatic advantage
  • OS X desktop integration with Drive – nothing available for Mac users with Connections. This probably sealed the deal for Google
  • Easy and cheap CRM (Zoho CRM)

The CRM is interesting. We were using iExtensions from iEnterprises, now owned by Sugar, which was a Domino app. But despite years of promises it appears that an iExtensions to Sugar migration was never implemented. Nobody wanted to take ownership for moving us to Sugar CRM except as a major customization project.

In the end we just moved our contact and leads names from iExtensions to Zoho. We were able to retain our contact owner and categorization/mailing list information. For anything else we need, such as activity history, we’re just going to look back to iExtensions. We would have had to keep at least a couple of Domino servers running for hybrid SmartCloud Notes (or whatever it’s called this week) so instead we’re keeping one Domino server for accessing apps and historical data.

The points that tipped us to Google proved true: There haven’t been any hidden costs (financially) and Drive works enough like Dropbox that the users are happy. It was trivial to move our files over from Quickr to Drive. Zoho CRM works; we don’t have enough history to really say how well it will meet our needs.

What did we find that we didn’t expect?

Google Apps is a bit like Apple’s products. They think they know what you need and they’re going to deliver it to you, even if you want something else. In other words there are what seem to be fairly obvious customizations missing. The most glaring is that there’s no option to reply without history unless you manually erase the history or run a “lab” app to quote selectively.

The calendar and scheduling is a bit idiosyncratic and really doesn’t play well with enterprise mail systems like Exchange and Domino.

In fact everything is a bit idiosyncratic. It doesn’t work the way Outlook, Notes and Thunderbird do things but it also doesn’t work the way Yahoo and ISP web mail systems do them. Generally the capability you’re looking for is there, but Google has their own terminology for common features and a fairly random menu hierarchy.

When something goes wrong Google business support is responsive up to a point (unlike their virtually non-existent consumer support). But if the problem is at all obscure there’s not much they can do. I think this is more about a cloud solution than about Google vs IBM, but it’s sure not the same as opening up log files and sending diagnostics from our own servers off to IBM for analysis.

It’s fairly early to say if the migration will be a success in the long run. Ask me after the teething pains have passed.

Google Gotchas

Let me preface this by saying that our migration to Google Apps is really going quite well and we’re generally happy.

That being said I’ve seen a few gotchas that I’m hoping somebody else has some insight into:

There is apparently a long-standing problem when sending an invitation to an external Notes or Outlook user if they counter propose a different time. Basically you can’t easily see what the new time they’re proposing is or accept the change:
https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/calendar/YOu01PF2KPw/j2ZnqMYX83UJ

Google’s attitude is that storage is unlimited and virtually free. That may explain the quoting in Google Mail: Every reply or forward quotes the entire thread but collapses it so it’s not on screen. This leads to two problems:

  1. Folks who do care about storage and/or bandwidth can get bloated messages because of all the history (including images and attachments), and
  2. Folks may be sending on comments from earlier in a conversation that they don’t really mean to share.

Getting Google set as your default for handling mailto links and ics and ical files can be challenging.

In a business implementation there is no way to centrally manage email signatures. There’s an option for a company-wide footer/disclaimer but that doesn’t help manage personalized signature blocks. And you can’t just email the block to each user and have them copy it into their signature in Settings because any graphic needs to be a link set via Settings.

I’m sure we’ll find more of these sort of things as we go forward. Probably a good sign — it means the basic functionality is doing what we need.

Google Migration – Ready to throw the switch

Just a quick update on our planned IBM on premises to Google Apps migration. We’re about ready to throw the switch — that is, to migrate the first group of users into production on the Google platform.

So far I’ve been fairly pleased. The Google platform seems to offer fairly equivalent and familiar capabilities for mail, calendar and personal contacts. Google Drive is a step up from Quickr in that there is Mac Finder integration which IBM never offered and Dropbox-style offline access and background sync, which was also never part of Quickr.

We’re also implementing Zoho CRM. I’m learning that a CRM migration is far more complicated than an email migration. It seems Zoho CRM offers a platform that is both powerful and relatively user friendly (as much as CRM can be). But we’ll have to use it in production for a while to really understand what we’ve got.

We’re relying heavily on our Google Apps partner, Viwo (viwoinc.com), for the migration, setup and training. I won’t be able to give a thumbs up or down on their role until we’re done, but I can report that they have Notes-to-Google tools for Mail/Contacts/Calendar and seem to understand the issues in making that migration.

Stand by.

The Adventure Begins…

It appears I will be moving an organization of about 30 users from IBM to Google Apps.

What’s in use now is Domino/Notes/Traveler/Sametime/Quickr/SmartCloud Meetings. The target is Google Apps for Business: mail, drive, contacts, calendar, hangouts. CRM will move from a system implemented as Notes databases and email template customization (iExtensions from iEnterprises) to Zoho CRM. Google and Zoho both have their own iOS apps and there is also native support on most mobile platforms for Google.

We evaluated IBM SmartCloud with SugarCRM and Microsoft Office 360 with MS Dynamics. While offering additional features that Google lacks they were more expensive, more complicated, and seemed geared at much larger organizations.

Staying with our existing on-premises solutions was not an option. We were over provisioned for the current size of the organization. Management wanted to be out of the business of running IT infrastructure. The existing physical infrastructure is aging. And we needed to replace Quickr and CRM at any rate as both are no longer supported.

I will share learnings and war stories as appropriate.

David

New 959 Area Code in Connecticut

The northern half of the state is getting a new overlay area code, 959

And we’re keeping our rather quaint dialing rules:

“customers will continue to dial area code + telephone number for local calls, and 1 + area code + telephone number for long distance calls”

Do other states still do that? Is anyone charged for in-state or “intra LATA” long distance any more?

 

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