Sunday, 16 November 2014

Windows 10 review

OK, I've been pretty scathing about the windows 8 operating system in the past. Being a power user who does not have a touch screen on my PC, I found the metro user interface problematic. It appears that I was not alone in my opinions.

So when the beta preview of Windows 10 came around, I was intrigued as to what Microsoft's reaction would be. Would they learn and evolve from the public reaction, or would they simply keep digging? Given that they had invested a lot on development of the Microsoft Surface platform, their response will probably say a lot about their future commitment to PCs and standard laptops.

I had  3 main issues with Windows 8 - the tablet oriented user interface, the over-engineering of screen navigation that seemed to slow the experience down, and the general weightiness of the operating system. It seemed stable and reliable, just too cumbersome and onerous to work with a keyboard and mouse.

Firstly, I must say that my testing was done on a virtual machine. It installed flawlessly, and set up a Microsoft email address. The setting up was logical and simple to follow, just like the Windows 8 operating system I last used. No surprises.

I was warmly greeted by the familiar sight of a start button and menu bar. Microsoft pioneered this type of user interface with Windows 95. Almost all other operating systems use a variation of the start menu - with good reason. It works. The start button was the one thing I missed when I moved over to Apple. Clicking on the button revealed a broader start pane, with aspects of the metro panes integrated into it. So the business community is going to be pleased about that. They will get the traditional user interface that won't cause compatibility issues with their proprietary applications. It also works great with vmware (I tested on 'Boxes' and 'VirtualBox').

The general feel of the operating system is one similar to Windows 7 in layout. But there is one trick up the sleeve.. Windows 10 is very lean. I was able to dial the ram down to 2gb, and the menu and explorer still ran quickly. This is going to please another part of Microsoft's followers - PC gamers.

So all in all, from what I have seen so far, Windows 10 is a good step for Microsoft. But this is only the beta preview, and a lot can happen between this test and arrival on the market. So here is my advice to Microsoft about how to keep this improvement going:

1.  Engage with manufacturers to make sure they don't bundle their PC/laptops with ridiculous proprietary applications that can already be done by Windows (media players and disk burning suites, I'm looking at you!)

2.  Find a way to reassure business and retail customers that their data is safe from government spying on a Windows machine.

3.  Engage directly with as many service providers who can deploy over the internet - banks, cloud providers, software developers. There is still a lot that can be done to make Windows into a platform that can integrate data, systems and services for everyone.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

5 reasons why they won't let you have the data

The appropriate sharing of data and information is key to any organisation's success. One department may be collecting data that is useful to other parts of the business. 

When you ask for that vital data, many barriers can be placed in your way. One problem may be resolved, only to have others magically appear. (i.e. the firewall won't let the data through, its not their responsibility, hiding behind data protection and data governance, you haven't ticked the right boxes etc. etc.)

When more than one barrier appears, it's time to consider why this is happening, and it's not always pretty. The following are the top reasons I have experienced (in my previous roles) as to why your colleagues are putting you off access to their data.

1.  It's not all there
Yes, some departments stop collecting data and let the rest of the organisation think they are still collecting it. This can happen for many reasons. Perhaps the budget went on something else, or there were cost cutting exercises that affected third party contracts. Sometimes data is lost, due to errors, or key personnel leaving, along with the knowledge on where it is. It's important that you get to the bottom of this.

2.  The quality is poor or unknown
It's very hard for colleagues to admit that the enormous spend on capture has resulted in incomplete or inaccurate data. Sometimes, not knowing the quality can be more disruptive. Colleagues may choose to refuse you access, rather than letting you have the good quality data if it was known.

3.  They are unsure of the measures that use the data
This is by far the most common problem. They won't let you have access to the raw data, because they are concerned that you may find flaws in how their own measures work.

4.  They are protecting job security
Many departments will fear their jobs may be lost if they hand over the monitoring of data to another team. It is important to state the nature of your business, and define the limit of your scope to allay any concerns in this area.

5.  They are covering up catastrophic losses in the business
Never rule this one out. It happens more often than you think.

The function of a data governance department is not to act solely as a blocker. A fully mature data governance team should also be your advocates, cutting out red tape and enabling you to have the correct data to do your job. If you experience any of these problems, contact data governance. If you don't have a data governance team, isn't it about time you got one?

Monday, 5 May 2014

Data Meme

Really great meme here that all programmers and data geeks will appreciate.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Ubuntu 14.04 desktop review

I have been running Linux on and off for a long time now (albeit with a brief dalliance with Apple and an even briefer one with Windows 8). I find Linux fast, stable and really easy to use. 

In the past, at various times I have used Manjaro, Zipslack, Wary Puppy, Crunchbang, Debian, Mageia, Fedora and Ubuntu. I have a preference towards the Debian forks, and since the Unity bar came out, Ubuntu has been my favourite.

Now before I get crucified by the uber-nerd brigade getting hairy chested about Arch, I like the unity bar. It's very productive. It suits my way of working. I like the way it looks, too. It inspires me. End of argument!

So when the latest version of Ubuntu came out yesterday (Trusty Tahr), I decided to upgrade right away. First impression is that very little has changed. Canonical have ambitions to deliver smart phones and greater integration of Ubuntu across all platforms. So I have lowered my short term expectations, on the expectation of much more later on :-)

The first thing you really notice is they have upped the design quality. Everything is brighter, sharper and a little - dare I say it - slicker. Unity appears to be delivering search results quicker, and the controversial Amazon search is now an opt-in function, rather than automatically on. Here are some more features I have noticed.
  • The lock screen now has the same look and feel as the rest of the unity interface, which is a welcome addition that looks great.
  • Sound volume can be boosted much higher - a useful feature if you are plugging your laptop into different sound systems.
  • Application menus can be put in the window, on the dock or in the HUD menu in unity.
  • Windows can be resized in real time without that annoying box.
  • There is increased graphic support, including NVIDIA, Optimus and HiDP. 
  •  The unity icons can be made much smaller than before.
  • Windows do not have any borders.
  • The guest session gives you a warning about being a temporary session on opening.

"Cut to the chase, Rich. Is it worth upgrading?"

My mother's laptop is still quite happily running Ubuntu 12.04, which will be supported until 2017. There are no big changes to functionality with the 'Trusty Tahr'... no 'must-have' features. Ubuntu has chosen a path of evolution, rather than revolution. Certainly, it is an improvement from the previous releases. But I'm enthusiastic about 15.04, which I expect big things from. I would count 14.04 as being a bit like Apple's change from Leopard to Snow Leopard. It's a small change, waiting on the anticipation of big things to come.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

How I gave Windows 8 a chance

As my Apple Mac recently gave up the ghost (a combination of some very heavy use on my part, and diminishing returns on hardware performance), have bought a new desktop. It's a very nice Acer, that I know I'm going to be happy with!!!

Interestingly enough, it came packaged with the latest version of windows - the much maligned Windows 8.

Now I'm a fair man. I'll give anyone a chance. I got annoyed with Windows XP due to virus and reliability issues, so I moved to Apple, and I was happy for a while. I then kicked out IOS Lion and replaced it with the Linux-based operating system called Ubuntu. Since XP, Microsoft has released Windows 7, which I currently use at work, and I'm quite happy with that. So I decided to give Windows 8 the benefit of the doubt.

So here are my observations:

The whole experience of running windows has been significantly simplified. To me, windows 8 is a reaction to Apple. They are trying to achieve the same level of gloss and slickness that the guys at Cupertino are so good at. And generally, they achieve it. But there is still quite a lag. It's smooth, but not fast.

The metro bar has clearly been designed for the new generation of tablet computers. But I'm afraid it's just not good enough for power users who want to be really slick between applications on a desktop. There are too many times where the UI just doesn't give you the opportunity to see how you can do something straight away. I became quickly frustrated with it, and within 45 minutes had decided to get the latest linux distro and wipe windows 8 altogether. 

I'm sure windows 8 is excellent for the up and coming generation of tablet computers, but I find it clumsy and resource hungry on a desktop computer. It made a brand new computer run slower than my 8 year old Apple Mac ever did. And that's just not good enough for an experienced user who wants a dense and powerful information experience.

So I'm back to Linux, which positively flies on this computer with plenty of power to spare. As the support for XP has been withdrawn, why not look into Linux as a replacement for XP? Get your requirements and head to the link below to see if you can find a distribution that is good for you. My suggestions are either Zorin, Ubuntu or Mint.

Find a list of all linux distributions here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

6 tips for great project management

Project managers are made, not born. No-one looks at their children and says, "She's going to make a great project manager when she leaves school." 

In my time, I have worked with some really good project managers (and some bad ones, too). I have also managed the occasional project, myself. So here are my casual observations about what makes a good PM.

1. Practice your ability to assess and re-assess priorities
I have watched as huge projects veer totally off course, due to poor reaction to changing circumstances and managers blindly sticking to obsolete priorities despite spiralling costs and no progress. Learn a methodology for prioritisation, and learn to spot the tell-tale signs that the goalposts are changing. If it's a large project, build milestones in your project plan to check  prioritisation.

2. Questioning skills
Learn to ask questions in an open, constructive and non-judgemental way. Then shut up and listen. If you don't believe what they are saying, do not let that show in your behaviours. Building trust is important, and holding your own council will help you to achieve that.

3. Use information honestly
You have heard the phrase, "knowledge is power." Be open and honest with your sharing of information in all of your dealings. Knowledge is not a weapon. It is not a way to tell everyone how clever you are, either. People are smart enough to know when this is happening, and will not want to help you. Use plain English and use technical terms and acronyms only when necessary.

4. Plan and schedule your communication appropriately
During complex projects, people want to make sure that everything is communicated. They may spend some time planning what they are going to say, and how they are going to present to you. So be consistent. Set a schedule for communications and stick to it. Don't keep badgering people for unscheduled updates. 

5. Keep an eye on progress
If you can find a way of checking actual progress yourself, it is useful to do so. If a document needs to be sent, make sure you are copied into it. Look for evidence that tasks are being carried out. The buck stops with you!

6. Be confident, mature and friendly
Everyone on the project looks to you for inspiration. So inspire a sense of confidence in people. Re frame the work as an exciting challenge, and problems as being interesting. Allow people to share their concerns, and give appropriate emotional support. You will get much more out of people when you are on their side.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

How to justify your business intelligence spend

In these recent times of austerity, finding funding for analytical projects is a thankless and often ignored cause. The people who control the purse-strings can suddenly get very short-sighted if you are asking for a new server, or the latest software. You can talk about impending obsolescence, increased efficiency, improved customer service and insight until you are blue in the face. You could also build a cast-iron risk assessment, highlighting the certainty of impending doom unless you upgrade. It will be ignored. Most rational arguments will not win you any backing at all. 

Here is the truth.... bottom line is.....

Your solution MUST improve sales. 

Regardless of any other consideration, if you can convince your colleagues that the new solution will improve the selling prospects of your organisation, then you are more likely to get funding for your pet project. 

So before you pitch your idea to the board, go to your sales and marketing departments first. Find out what their problems are and make sure your solution can support what they are trying to do. I guarantee that your likelihood of project approval will at least double with approval and backing by sales and marketing.