Is it too late for Microsoft Office for iPad?

Microsoft Office has been THE application for Word Processing, Spreadsheets, and Email for business for many years. I’ll save a lot of time by stating that I don’t think there is a better product on the market. So with the rumors of Microsoft planning to release Office for iPad you would think I would be jumping for joy?  I’m not … and I wonder who is.

Microsoft Office used to be for everyone

When I was young(er) everyone wanted a copy of Microsoft Office. You had to have it for school, work, or anything else you did. Scaled down versions came on every PC. Office was expensive but most people could find a way to own a copy. (If not, there was always Microsoft Works.)

Then it got expensive. As Office grew in complexity and businesses finally stopped using Word Perfect and Lotus Notes, the price of Office went up … and up … and up. Frankly, it got to the point where it was simply too expensive to buy a copy of Office. The non-profit and education companies I worked for could afford it because Microsoft gave generous price breaks but the small for-profit businesses started to struggle to pay when it became necessary to update from one version to the next.

Alternatives were born

Google Docs, when it started, had to be one of the worst word processors I had ever used. The spreadsheet was adequate but not awesome like Excel. GMail was frustrating because it wasn’t Outlook. Then the iPhone came out and Mac was popular again. Then the iPad comes out and the tablet revolution started. PC sales immediately dried up and tablet sales skyrocketed. Add Android phones and tablets to the picture and suddenly most people are using non-Microsoft systems for most of their non-work computing. I knew the world had changed when I saw more Macbooks at IT conferences than Windows laptops.

Microsoft Office did not work on any of these new devices. People started using alternatives. Google Docs, Evernote, Dropbox, Pages, etc. Suddenly there are hundreds of alternatives to Microsoft Office and people used them and have grown used to them.

Good enough is good enough

Microsoft Word is the best application for creating a printable document. But who does that anyway? Who creates memos to print and distribute? I don’t even own a printer anymore at home. At work, I find it almost insulting when I am asked to print something. Paper is SO last century. Word was designed for paper. Most of the alternatives were designed to work in the digital world … and they work just fine for most people.

Excel is still the best spreadsheet application out there but Google Sheets is catching up. I can do anything I need for home or work with it. Apple’s Numbers is frankly terrible but it works in a pinch. Only the accountants I work with need Excel. Everyone else is happy with whatever they can get on their iPad or Android device. People seem to have found that a free or very inexpensive application does everything they need as opposed to a $200 application that does everything.

Have people already moved on?

I admit, I have grown hostile to Microsoft over the years. They seemed to focus on Enterprise sized customers at the expense of the smaller companies I work for. I don’t like buying from businesses that don’t seem to value my business. So for me, I know I have moved on. I can live without Microsoft Office.

What about everyone else? Have we gotten so used to the apps we use as alternatives that we no longer need or want Microsoft Office? If Microsoft comes out with very inexpensive mobile versions of Office will people flock to it or will they stick with what they know?

If Office for iPad had come out five years ago, I think it would have been one of the most used apps today. As it stands, it is just another application in the long list of applications. Unless Microsoft can do something to win people back, I wonder if anyone outside of corporate old-timers will use it.

VMWare Site Recovery Manager reprotect step fails with EqualLogic PS storage

I am using VMWare Site Recovery Manager (SRM) at two locations. One is my primary data center (PDC) and one is my disaster recover (DR) data center.  I have two EqualLogic PS 4110 arrays at each location. The EqualLogic arrays have many volumes which replicate on a schedule to the DR site.

In all but one test, SRM failed during the reprotect step.

Error on reprotect:

Failed to reverse replication for device ‘iqn.2001-05.com.equall-ogic:0-af1ff6-xxxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxxx-xxxxxx-xxxx.1′.

I would also see problems with the array pair in the SRM Dashboard:

SRM Broken Replication

SRM Error: Device Test cannot be matched to a remote peer device

This all makes sense once you understand what went wrong.

Understand the limits of the Storage Replication Adapter (SRA)

The SRA acts as a middle man between SRM and the EqualLogic Array. It does not do a good job of producing an error a human can understand or even find. What you are left with is the vague errors you see in SRM which are not helpful. They key is in the message “Device ‘XXXX’ cannot be matched to a remote peer device.

The SRA will only work with one storage pool. I had two storage pools at PDC and one at DR.  It wasn’t the mismatch that mattered, it was the fact that I had two pools. I could have had two pools at both sites and received the same error.

How it fails

I created a volume on Pool B (The second pool) at PDC and replicated it to DR. When I clicked reprotect in SRM, the SRA tried to find the volume on Pool A. The volume didn’t exist, because it was in Pool B, and this SRM barfed the dreaded “Failed to reverse replication for device ‘iqn.2001-05.com.equall-ogic:0-af1ff6-xxxxxxxxx-xxxxxxxxx-xxxxxx-xxxx.1′” error.

You can however reprotect any VM on a volume from Pool A without error.

How to fix it

In my case the solution was simple. I merged the two pools. My next test of SRM worked. The other option is to only protect VMs in Pool A.

This is an annoying issue which I hope Dell fixes in future versions of the SRA. If I were to buy another array I would be unable to use SRM to protect my VMs because I would have multiple pools.  

If you are considering buying a Dell EqualLogic array, consider this limitation carefully if you are going to use SRM. You ability to grow over time will be limited by the SRAs inability to deal with multiple pools.

Microsoft Volume Licensing is NOT a discount program

Microsoft Logo

You would think Microsoft Volume Licensing allows businesses to purchase large quantities of software at a discount. Put simply, it doesn’t.

OEM software is far less expensive

When I order a computer, I can get a full copy of Microsoft Office for about $200. It is a retail copy meaning my usage rights are fairly restricted. I can’t move that copy to another computer. I can’t upgrade it when a new version comes out without spending a ton of money. If all I want is a copy of Microsoft Office to use until my computer dies, it will cost me $200.

Or, I can buy a copy through Microsoft Volume Licensing. I can choose between Open, Select, or Enterprise agreements. Depending on the price tier you are in and the volume you buy in you might pay as little as $400 for a copy of Microsoft Office through volume licensing. In fairness I get more usage rights with a volume license. I can move the license between computers for example which is very helpful. Is it worth paying twice as much for the convenience of moving a copy of Office from one computer to the next?

I have run the numbers every way I know how and the honest truth is there isn’t a way to justify the extra cost of buying through Volume Licensing.

Windows is getting less expensive, if you are an OEM

Although still in the rumor state, it appears Microsoft will be discounting Windows 70% to compete with Android and Apple. That would make me happy if that discount was available through Volume Licensing which to date it is not.

Once again, the most expensive way I can purchase Windows is through Volume Licensing.

Windows may end up being free

Another rumor is that Microsoft is considering making Windows free. I actually think this is a good idea but will it be free to enterprise customers? If Microsoft continues the trend of marking up software to volume customers, I suspect I will pay a hefty sum for an otherwise free product.

But the licenses are different!?!?

I can hear Microsoft salespeople screaming about how the volume license has different use rights than OEM and retail licenses and they are right. Volume licenses allow for much more freedom than OEM or retail licenses. What they fail to realize is that the math just isn’t adding up. With the cost of hardware going down every year, it is often less expensive to simply buy someone a new laptop instead of paying for upgrade rights on software.

Oh, and there is the audit thing

Read the Open, Select, and Enterprise agreement carefully and you will find that as the discounts increase, so do Microsoft’s rights to audit your software usage. If you sign an Enterprise agreement for example, Microsoft has the right to conduct an onsite audit without notice.

I would never knowingly deploy software I had not purchased but that doesn’t mean I want to volunteer for more vigorous audits. The “discount” I get would likely not pay for my time to conduct the audit.

Buying OEM is the least expensive and most painful way to get licensing from Microsoft

I am really struggling with this concept. I am tired of paying more for products using volume licensing but it is hard to order everything you need when you order a computer. It is also getting harder to buy things retail since many products are moving to subscription pricing. Regardless, it is hard for me to pay volume pricing for the limited benefit I get from it.

Should I buy a Windows, Apple, or Android Tablet?

Apple iPadConsider this common set of events…

You are at work and create a simple Excel worksheet because that is the application you have loaded on your work laptop. Perhaps it is a grocery list, schedule, or some other file you need at home. (I’m sure you created this personal file on your lunch break.) You save it to Dropbox or some other file sharing application, go home, grab your Windows 8 Pro tablet … and cant open the file. You have not purchased a copy of Microsoft Office for your tablet!

Ironically, the solution is simple. Open your Android or Apple device and you can view the document fine in one of the free applications that come on your phone. Or, you could spend $139 on Microsoft Office Home and Student.  Or you could subscribe to Office 365 Home Premium for $100 per year Of course, there are free options. You could use Google Drive on all your devices. You could load  one of the Office alternatives on your Microsoft Tablet. Regardless of the product you choose, you will not be able to use a Windows 8.1 Pro device without loading additional software.

Don’t forget virus scan

Remember, a Windows 8.1 Pro tablet is running a full version of Windows. This means you should protect it the same way you would protect a Windows PC or laptop. You should install a Virus scanner. There are plenty of free versions for home use but be careful what you download. There are dozens of sites that distribute “free virus scanners” which are really just viruses.

Don’t forget to install and update Adobe Readers, JAVA, and Flash

If you need them, you will be installing applications like Java and Adobe Flash. Keep in mind that these applications are some of the most attacked on the Internet. Just loading them dramatically increases the risk you run of getting a virus or other malware. You must ensure these applications are up to date at all times to mitigate this risk. (Installing virus scanning alone will not help.)

Don’t forget to backup your data

Unlike an Apple or Android device where you can backup everything to the cloud for free, you are going to have to find software to backup your Windows 8.1 Pro tablet. There are inexpensive solutions out there but none that I trust are free.

What about Windows RT?

Windows RT is s version of Windows that does not run traditional Windows Apps. It is not the same thing as Windows. You cannot install software on it unless it comes from the Windows Store. It does come with a scaled down version of Microsoft Office though.

I don’t recommend Windows RT devices yet because they don’t have the same quantity of software that Apple and Android devices have. It is also doing poorly in the market right now and Microsoft has a habit of pulling poorly performing products off the market (Anyone remember the Microsoft Phone?)

Don’t buy a Windows 8.1 Pro device if all you want is to consume information

If you want a tablet to surf the web, update social media, and create simple files like grocery lists then a tablet is the perfect device for you. Either Apple or Android will work great for you. I am a fan of “staying in one ecosystem” meaning if I buy things on iTunes then I need to stick with Apple devices. If I buy things from Amazon or Google then I should buy Android devices.

I would only buy a Windows 8.1 Pro device if I need to sit and type for eight hours a day. Remember, if it runs Windows 8.1 Pro it is the same as a laptop or PC, just in a smaller case. You have to manage it just s you would a Windows PC. For most people, an Apple or Android device will be much less work to use.

Why Microsoft should abandon Windows (Sort of)

When nothing but the PC existed, it was easy to have a one-size-fits-all operating system. Now that computers are shaped like phones, tablets, laptops, and legacy PCs the one-size-fits-all operating system just doesn’t work. Continuing to try to make Windows work on a modern phone AND legacy PC is killing Microsoft. How would I fix it?

Kill Windows

No, not really, but release a final version of Windows that runs on PCs and Laptops which we will all be calling legacy devices soon enough. Commit to supporting “Windows Legacy” with security patches for 10 years so enterprises will have time to migrate their custom apps to a new platform. This is the operating system for businesses that can’t let go of the past.

Windows Next

Come up with some clever name for the tablet/phone version of Windows using the new interface, formally known as Metro. Basically this would be like the Windows RT operating system where you can run new apps but nothing legacy. The desktop is dead once and for all. I love the desktop but face it, it won’t work on mobile devices which is what we will all be using soon.

Stop forcing us to buy Office

Microsoft Office is the best productivity application on the market but most users only need a small percentage of the features is has. Products like Google Apps are good enough for most users today and will be more than enough soon. In order to compete, create a simple version of Office for “Windows Next” and create a final “Office Legacy” product for “Windows Legacy.”

Frankly, I hope it doesn’t sell, because we will all be using Office 365.

Focus on the cloud

Enough with desktop installation and patching. Enough with per machine licenses. Enough, enough, enough. Focus on Office 365, CRM Online, and migrating business applications to the cloud.

If it won’t run in a web browser, it shouldn’t be developed. Well, perhaps that is an overstatement but if it does require a client, it should work equally well on every operating system. It should also run equally well on any web browser.

Microsoft should stop trying to save Windows by making software that only runs on Windows. Instead, they should be writing applications that work on any device. Microsoft needs to admit it has lost the battle for control of end user devices and focus on applications.

Make something we want to use again

Microsoft products are loved by few. Office is great but more and more people are willing to give it up due to the staggering price. Internet Explorer is rarely used outside of a legacy application requiring it. Businesses are avoiding Windows 8 like the plague. And Office 365 works best if you run a full version of Microsoft Office … which requires Windows.

Microsoft has the resources to build a product everyone wants to use. I honestly think they could have the best cloud products out there if they would stop trying to save Office and Windows by tying all their products to them.

I know it is a hard pill to swallow but Windows cannot be all things to all people anymore. It is time to do something different.

VMWare vSphere won’t launch console with Chrome browser

After clearing my browser settings, I couldn’t launch remote consoles using the “Launch Console” link on the vSphere 5.5 web client. Needless to say I was VERY frustrated. I couldn’t find anything on Google and I was dealing with other problems and simply didn’t need yet another broken system.

I forgot about popup blocker

On the right side of the address bar, if you see an image like this, popups are being blocked.

popup blocker indication

Simply click the icon and allow popups from your vSphere server. More information on managing popups is available from Google: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95472?hl=en

My forehead is still sore from slamming it into the desk when I realized what was happening. I hope this prevents that for you.

Is Active Directory still relevant?

Windows 2000 started Microsoft’s Golden Age. With Active Directory and Group Policy you could control the settings on every PC and server on your network from a single screen.  If you need to tell every computer where to download Window’s Updates you checked a box. If you needed to turn off a Windows feature you checked a box. As long as every PC in your domain was a Windows PC, management was a breeze.

BYOD forced diversity into the network

Fast forward to 2007. Two things changed IT forever:

  1. Microsoft introduced Windows Vista
  2. Apple introduced the iPhone

Within a few years, IT departments lost control of devices selection and PC sales started declining for the first time ever.

When a CEO walks into the IT department with an iOS or Android device and says “Make it work,” you make it work. The vast majority of tablets sold today run iOS or Android which fall outside the control of Active Directory. It is reasonable to assume device diversity will continue to expand when you consider that Chromebooks now account for 20% of “PCs” sold to educational institutions and Android Laptops have been announced.

You still have to control mobile devices

If you connect a mobile device to your corporate network, regardless of what it is, you should have some control over it. For example, most phones can send and receive corporate email. Email is protected by a password on PCs but not necessarily on a phone. Companies should enforce a password policy on any device that can send or receive company email.

This requires Mobile Device Management (MDM) software. Even if the MDM solution integrates into Active Directory, this is another layer of compelxity for the IT department to manage.  It is one more thing to fix,  configure, and require policies, oversight, auditing, disaster recovery, etc.

Can MDM replace Active Directory?

Some MDM systems work on Windows laptops as well as phones and tablets. If it can be installed on a laptop, it can be installed on a desktop. What if we pushed policies to computers using MDM instead of Active Directory (AD)?

To be honest, I don’t think MDM technology is able to replace AD …. yet … but it may not be long before it can. This has caused me to be very cautious about selecting products that require AD.

It is hard to imagine a world without some form of centralized user account database like AD but with cloud services the use of AD may become problematic.

The effect of the cloud on AD

Assuming you can handle the complexity of migration, you can integrate your existing AD infrastructure into Office 365. You can also sync AD with Google Apps via Directory Sync. Most other cloud applications have their own user account database which does not sync with AD.

This creates another problem. As we choose cloud applications we have to decide if we want Single Sign On (SSO) via AD integration or to force end users to have multiple user account and passwords. Users will have a hard time remembering all their accounts and IT will have to go to multiple sites to manage accounts. Neither solution is ideal.

Microsoft is building a MDM solution

Microsoft is building an MDM solution that is integrated into Active Directory and will manage iOS and Android devices. In many ways that sounds like the perfect solution and it may be. Microsoft frustrated me in the early days of the cloud by creating products that only worked on Windows or Internet Explorer. I understand they were trying to protect Windows and Office but it put them years in cloud and mobile development.

Microsoft’s early lack of vision in the cloud and mobile market makes me caution about using their products on non-Microsoft devices. I can envision a world where their MDM solution is great on Windows Phone but lacks features for Android and iOS. I am worried about being tied to a vendor that could easily use one product to try to force me to use another. Conversely, management of the network would be much less cumbersome if I can use one console for MDM and User Management.

One system to manage them all

At this time, I don’t see any alternative to using MDM to manage mobile devices and AD to manage users.

If Microsoft makes it easy and cost effective to manage mobile devices and users with AD they may be the best user management platform moving forward.

On the other hand, if their management tools and interfaces continue to be Windows-centric, their relevance is going to continue to decline to the point where third party management solutions will be a better choice.

It is hard for me to imagine a world without Active Directory but if Microsoft doesn’t adapt all of it’s products to work well with other products I can see a time in the next 5-10 years where Active Directory will be considered legacy technology.