What Users Should Require in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

We, the users, should stop thinking about software as a thing to own. The direction is toward a service model for better and worse.

What should a keen-eyed shopper value?

  • No data lock-in – the user should own their data and be able to export it at any time through the native user interface without having to jump through hoops (except for encrypted data – see below). The export should be in a common format like plain text, XML, CSV, etc. and not a proprietary format.
  • Direct support – a web interface, email address, and chat at a minimum is required. Any service only offering support through an app store is a major red flag.
  • Multi-platform – unless you only live in Apple’s or Google’s ecosystem any SaaS must at least support your top two platforms. If you are GNU/Linux or Windows on your desktop, this is a must-have for your mobile devices.
  • Multi-cloud – unless you only live in Apple’s ecosystem any SaaS must support Dropbox as a second option at a minimum. iCloud is limited to macOS, iOS, and Windows but the Windows support is abysmal IMHO.
  • Mobile support – must handle landscape and portrait layouts and support tablet sizes. I am surprised at the software that still does not do this basic task.
  • Encryption – must support industry standard best encryption options. If a SaaS offers its own custom encryption RUN AWAY! Exporting encrypted data should offer unencrypted and GPG-passphrase-encrypted options though few do today.
  • Active development – this is easiest to verify if they have a public GitHub or similar repository. App stores will also show when the last update hit. Careful reviews of app store ratings can help figure out the historical time line. Check in Reddit and StackExchange and other public forums.
  • Native (non app store) desktop releases – on the desktop the ability to get the software outside of the Apple or Microsoft or Google app stores is a plus. Even if you prefer the app store version – and most users should for the added security – the developer’s willingness to offer a direct-to-the-customer version of their software with a license is a good sign. Also, any revenue the developer gets from these direct sales is 100%. Apple app store versions costs the developer 30% or so.
  • In App Purchases – not bad in and of themselves, a developer should not “nickel and dime” customers with small features. There should be an option for some kind of a premium bundle which offers all add-ons for a reasonable 1 time fee.
  • Data sync – this is a tough one. Most SaaS developers will come up with their own sync solution after changes to DropBox made it more difficult for developers. iCloud on iOS & macOS works in the Apple ecosystem. OneDrive might eventually for Microsoft and some Android stuff, and Google Drive for the Google stuff. I think so long as the sync adheres to the above you are good.
  • Local storage – some apps like 1Password and TextExpander offered local repository options but deprecated them for IMHO less than compelling reasons related to sync and cloud. Users should have the option to store sensitive data locally and forgo sync & cloud for that data.
  • Feature & scope creep – watch out for Saas that suddenly introduce changes for enterprises and large groups while removing or reducing functionality for individual users in order to accommodate the expansion.

What else should users look for in a SaaS product?

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Kit & Caboodle: The Series & The List

Want to know what I’m carrying in my consulting bag?

Continue reading Kit & Caboodle: The Series & The List

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Motorola Provides an Argument for Apple as a Corporate Mobile Standard

I’m unlikely to recommend Android devices until Google and the hardware providers get the upgrade situation under control. I might make an exception for the Nexus and Samsung devices, but as I write this I have no faith in the rest of the Android ecosystem.

As I often do, let me tell you a story to illustrate this opinion:

When I started with IBM I chose the Motorola Droid Maxx over other Android phones and Apple iPhones.

My choice wasn’t arbitrary. I did my research.

The decision of iOS versus Android wasn’t a fair fight. KitKat made it easier to be effective. Sharing data between apps was not just easier, it was POSSIBLE on Android. iOS could copy and paste, but not much else.

The Maxx offered excellent battery life (I easily get through a full day on a single charge), a decent screen, an adequate amount of storage, and a rugged build according to my research. Two other major reasons I went with it was that Motorola was a part of Google (at the time) and they listed it as on the upgrade path to Android Lollipop.

14 months later and the only thing still true is the battery life. The screen cracked easily and repeatedly with regular use, the 16GB storage barely keeps up with my minimal workload, and it quickly becomes sluggish unless I close apps and/or reboot.

As for the upgrade to Lollipop, Motorola changed tack yesterday:

We apologize that we will not be upgrading DROID Ultra/Mini/Maxx to Android Lollipop, as we had hoped. We know how important software upgrades are to our customers, and we’re very sorry that we are unable to provide the upgrade.

The Maxx is still on 4.4.2 while Marshmallow (version 6) is the release du jour on Nexus. Verizon released few updates (and they’re complicit in the upgrade mess) but not at the cadence required. I’m sure my Maxx is vulnerable to many issues long since fixed on other platforms. Corporate mandates and enforces robust mobile security, yet I only use my corporate issued phone for email, calendar, tasks, and internal instant messaging. I don’t trust the phone to do much more. I’ve removed almost all non-stock applications.

My personal phone, the older OnePlus One with the Cyanogen Android flavor at 5.1.1, sees vastly more attention than the Motorola. On the 1+1 I do my social media and podcasts and RSS feeds and whatnot, much of which is work related or adjacent.

The funny thing: I used to carry a second phone to protect me from my benevolent corporate overlords. Now my personal phone protects my clients.

iPhones receive regular updates – some better than others, but Apple updates viable phones for a long time (the iPhone 4S, anyone?). Apps have to keep up, for better or worse. Newer iOS versions addressed the data sharing issue, making Apple  devices more useful to me as productivity tools.

The moral of my story is that I’m going through the process to replace the Maxx with an iPhone, but it’s a bureaucratic mess that takes time. Now that Motorola came clean, the upgrade path theoretically eases.

What about you? What are your experiences in this space? Have you standardized on iOS or Android or Windows? Or do you struggle with the mercurial nature of the vendors and your users? What about when vendors pull the rug out from under you? Are you considering alternate platforms like Microsoft Windows Mobile and Ubuntu?

Full Disclosure: I work for IBM. IBM and Apple are partners (who would have thought that in the 80’s?). My opinions are mine alone.

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Microsoft’s popular blogging tool Windows Live Writer is now open source | Microsoft content from SuperSite for Windows

It is a journey that has been in the works for more than two years and was spearheaded by an independent group of volunteers within Microsoft​ and a long list of external volunteers whom have forked our beloved Windows Live Writer to Open Live Writer (OLW).

Source: Microsoft’s popular blogging tool Windows Live Writer is now open source | Microsoft content from SuperSite for Windows

Outside of Emacs (and maybe VI) this was the best blogging tool. I’m happy it’s going OSS.

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Microsoft details more on its German datacenter data-access lockdown plan | ZDNet

The new reality, in a post “Safe Haven” world and more specifically a world where politicians & police clamor for back doors, consists of companies moving data and data centers into certain jurisdictions.

I find the data escrow concept an interesting development:

Microsoft officials previously said that they will be operating in the second half of 2016 two new German datacenters, located in Magdeburg and Frankfurt. These datacenters, which will offer users Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online, will offer users the option to have their data-access controlled by a trusted third party, not Microsoft. Officials said that access to customer data stored in these new datacenters would be under the control of T-Systems, a Deutsche Telekom subsidiary, that would act as a data trustee.

Source: Microsoft details more on its German datacenter data-access lockdown plan | ZDNet

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

EDC I

People like to look at my Every Day Carry (EDC), the stuff I keep with me on a regular basis in certain contexts.

Sure, I’m a tasty treat. We all know that. This isn’t about me.

My kit, my EDC, is too expansive and varied for a single post. I’ll document it in several posts.

My colleagues and I just returned from another day touring Amsterdam. I’m in the hotel restaurant. I have (all photos post inventory; all links refer to revenue generating links unless they don’t):

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Reading Room – Memorial Day ’15 edition

A travel weekend for me, and a long weekend for many of us, so plenty of opportunities to catch up on my reading list.

Surface Pro 3 Field Guide by Paul Thurott & Martin McClean, 0.09 draft version

Not a security book per se, it is helping me get the most out of what is quite possibly the best laptop I’ve ever owned. It is without a doubt the best tablet I’ve ever owned.

Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Kindle Edition) by Greg McKeown (Hardcover, Audible)

Again, not a security book. The concepts tie into my drive to simplify and declutter my life, professionally and personally.

As a leadership book, the concept of reducing your field of vision to what is truly important helps focus precious resources to the things that hold real value.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 after 2 Weeks

The Surface Pro 3 and I bonded since I brought it home. Core i7, 256 GB storage, 8 GB RAM, and a fire engine red keyboard cover screamed “Buy ME!” in the Troy, MI Microsoft Store.

As an aside, when you go to the Microsoft Store in Troy, MI ask for Joe. Friendly, patient, knowledgeable, and the right kind of availability without hovering sets him up as my kind of sales associate or Microsoft-y or whatever they call their staff. Joe, well done!

This machine almost embodies my ideal:

  • Sharp, crisp screen
  • Snappy processor
  • Expandable storage in a micro SD card slot
  • USB 3
  • Mini Display Port
  • Responsive touch screen (something I’m still not sold on, more below)
  • Good stylus
  • OK keyboard cover (for $100+)

What is missing:

  • 16 GB RAM
  • Matte instead of glossy display
  • A right Control (Ctrl) key
  • A Menu key (I remapped Caps Lock to menu using AutoHotKey)
  • Less complicated & more foolproof touch interface/mouse emulation/virtual keyboard (more below)
  • Desktop and “Metro” app integration

Surprising items

I’m amazed at how much I like Windows 8.1. My pain points seem dealt with in Windows 10, so I’m looking forward to that. While this isn’t my daily work driver, I’m waiting for a more stable build before W10-ing this bad boy.

The keyboard (physical cover, not the on-screen) is surprisingly good. I miss the right control and menu keys as mentioned above. There’s room for them if the space bar shrinks and the arrow keys slim down.

Visio, Project, Office, and Visual Studio 2012 run well.

Some Metro-style apps like Nook & Kindle, NextgenReader, and Skype aren’t horrible.

Switching from OneNote to OneNote 2013 desktop works well. I recommend the move.

Microsoft cloud integration with OneNote, OneDrive, Office 2013, etc. is solid and stable.

Disappointments

Swapping Outlook 2013 desktop in for the default Mail app removes sharing functionality.

Skype runs better as a desktop app, though not with as sharp a look.

Evernote and Evernote Desktop do not share a common database.

The Windows key on the side of the display is inconveniently placed.

Only one USB port.

The LED on the power cord is BRIGHT – two layers of electrical tape to block it out bright.

No external battery option.

My keyboard cover trackpad seems to have an issue with the lower left click becoming stuck.

Recommendations

** Keyboard

  • Shrink left Control to “normal” size
  • Add right Control
  • Add Menu (on right)
  • Add right Windows (maybe?)
  • Shrink Spacebar
  • Shrink left and right arrow keys
  • Make Fn-Up Page Up and remove the F11 assignment
  • Make Fn-Down Page Down and remove the F12 assignment
  • Make Fn-Left Home and remove the F9 assignment
  • Make Fn-Right End and remove the F10 assignment
  • Assign, from F9 to F12:
  • Print screen
  • Scroll Lock
  • Number Lock (+ associated regular keys as number pad)
  • Insert
  • Make the function-key row the same size as regular keys
  • Add screen brightness controls
  • Make a second keyboard that includes a battery like the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2

** Bezel

Really, my only comment here is about the Windows button. If it becomes the right Windows key on the keyboard, retaining its current functionality but expanding its usefulness, I’m on board.

** Soft Keyboard

  • Add all modifier keys – Windows (Super), App (Menu), Alt, etc.
  • Gesture based typing
  • Modify the raise/lower/cancel

** Stylus

  • When one disables the touch screen, allow the stylus to use gestures
  • Add another configurable button, this one middle click by default

** Tablet interface

  • Do something useful with all that wasted space. It’s a wide-screen device!
  • Figure out a way to share data between the tablet and the desktop versions of the same app.
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Tech tidy

I purged “stuff” (technical term) at home over the December holiday break: clothes; books; kitchen gear; papers; kids (well, one went back to college).

I avoided my trouble spot until there was a critical mass of positive momentum … my tech.

When I finally tackled it, most went easy. Nine mini USB cables when I need two? Sorted. 40gb ATA hard drives? Destroyed. Several sub 1A wall warts? Purged.

Gizmos, be they five-year old laptops or unused-for-years old phones or tablets collecting a real layer of dust, they posed more angst. “But I could do x with it,” I would tell myself.

Starting a new tech job means I will get new tech. So I’m purging my old kit. I’m down to my Google nexus 5 phone and my kindle and an external battery pack. Flying from Detroit to San José without my usual tools proved more of a challenge than I wanted to acknowledge.

I WANT a real keyboard. I WANT a decent screen size. I WANT ample storage. I WANT good battery life.

By ‘want’ I, of course, mean NEED.

If I had my pick now I would probably go with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (dual-boot with ubuntu) and a Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

UPDATE: My new work laptop is a ThinkPad T430. My cell phone will only be useful for phone calls and light email duty.

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ISC Diary | Microsoft October 2013 Patch Tuesday

Overview of the October 2013 Microsoft patches and their status, via ISC Diary | Microsoft October 2013 Patch Tuesday.

Microsoft scores these as four critical and three important patches. The ISC’s scoring is more refined, so read the article for the breakdown grid. The big news is the fix for the IE vulnerabilities.