Cliff Saran’s Enterprise blog


November 12, 2008  10:15 AM

VMWare

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
iPhone, VMware

VMware Mobile Virtualisation Platform (MVP), the company’s mobile virtualisation platform has the potential to open up mobile application development. The question is whether operators will allow third-party applications on their networks. Mobile telcos seem particularly reluctant about making applications available. The networks are effectively closed off, which means users can only get content and software directly from the mobile network providers.

This has to change, because operators cannot anticipate all the applications a user will need.  Thy are heavily focused on games, video, MySpace and Facebook, because they see these as a way to up sell premium high speed mobile data subscriptions.

If VMWare is successful, it will be able to provide a hardware and network independent architecture for creating platform independent mobile applications. This is what Mobile Java promised. But I have seen little evidence of Java ME, the mobile Java platform. The challenge of getting applications certified has limited Java’s successes as a mobile platform.

Funnily enough, only Windows Mobile seems to have a grasp of network independent apps. I have loaded several useful applications on my trusty XDA Orbit – all downloaded via ActiveSync on the PC.

October 29, 2008  9:43 PM

Office Web Applications – why pay for enterprise licences?

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Microsoft, office, Office Live

It comes as no surprise Microsoft is planning to release a browser-based version of Office for its cloud computing service, Azure. When Steve Ballmer visited the UK last month, he mentioned that Microsoft would offer software and services, instead of software as a service.

As it turns out, Microsoft is doing far more than Saas, following in Google’s footsteps, its hosted Office product, Office Web Applications, will be free software supported by advertising revenue, at least according to the Financial Times.

I think this changes the dynamics of desktop software purchasing. We need to assess why we still need to install MS Office, when many tasks can be run from a browser.

The company I work for still provides me with a full copy of MS Office, even though I hardly ever use it.  The print and web production system on Computer Weekly is based on Adobe’s InDesign and InCopy software. I’m happy with whatever basic word editing is available. I have used Hotmail for years, and Gmail; I often use OpenOffice to write articles. Yesterday I used Pocket Word on my XDA Orbit.  Personally it doesn’t matter what word processor I use, so long as it does the basic things: type in words, search & replace, word count and spell check.

So a basic online version of Office will be good enough for me – especially if it’s free. This begs the question of why we need to buy site licenses for MS Office at all. There may be a few people who use its features; but heavy MS Office users probably need a more complete document management product. For everyone else, there’s free software – online Microsoft or Google Apps or OpenOffice.


October 22, 2008  10:17 AM

Microsoft lock-out

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Firefox, IE7, IE8, Internet Explorer, Linux, Windows

I am at a conference in Prague this week. As is usual, I cleaned up my Exchange InBox, before I left on Friday night. By Monday, the  InBox had exceeded the 50 Mbyte size limit set by our IT department. It’s now totally locked.

Now I have wireless access in Prague and I can run Outlook Web Access using the Firefox web browser. But due to the fact that I have some useful rules in Outlook to file certain messages into specific folders, I can’t actually remove any of the large files that have been moved into sub-folders within my InBox.

You can on IE, but Microsoft’s browser does not run on a Linux machine. So thanks Microsoft. I’m now basically stuck. What’s the point in Outlook Web Access if it does not work on any browser. Surely it’s more important for your revenue stream to maintain access to Exchange server than lock-out non Microsoft browser software. This is a ludicrous situation, given browser-based access is supposed to be platform independent. This browser lock-in does not help users.

I have been using GMAIL instead.


October 14, 2008  7:41 PM

Apple MacBook – Steve Jobs’s lost opportunity

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Advent, Apple, ASUS, HP, MacBook, Netbook

We had a moment earlier today on the ComputerWeekly.com news desk. Someone was raving about how important this new Apple would be. “Sub $800, that’ll change the market, why buy a PC et etc etc.” Well, as it turned out, Steve Jobs blew it.

He could have really gone to town with a super lightweight sub notebook, a bit like the sort of thing we are seeing from Asus, Advent, Packard Bell, other cheap PC brands and even HP.

Instead, the much hyped $800, turned out to be $999 – a small price reduction  – well it’s not much different to what you’d pay already. There’s also a new line of sleek, aluminium-clad notebooks, with real glass panels!

These new MacBooks have a super-fast 9400M Nvidia graphics chip, according to Jobs. “There are 16 parallel graphic cores, and it delivers 54 gigaflops of graphics performance. It’s a “stunner,” he says.

Oh really. One blogger quotes the Nvidia graphics chipset in a typical PC spec for comparison:

* 9800M GT: G94, 500MHz core clock, 96 shaders (1,250MHz), 256-bit, 360 gigaflops
* 9800M GTS: G94, 600MHz core clock, 64 shaders (1,500MHz), 256-bit, 288 gigaflops
* 9700M GTS: G94, 530MHz core clock, 48 shaders (1,325MHz), 256-bit, 190.8 gigaflops
* 9700M GT: G96, 625MHz core clock, 32 shaders (1,550MHz), 128-bit, 148.8 gigaflops

I’m no fan of Apple, and frankly I’m appalled people are so interested in this kind of stuff. But I would have had a bit of respect if Jobs had released a cheapo Apple NetBook, rather than another shiny, pointless  gimmick. Apple truly is a company that appears to push out style over substance.


October 10, 2008  8:47 AM

PayPal Carrier Pigeon Refunds

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Ebay, Paypal, refund

On Saturday 27th of September at around noon I paid for an item eBay purchase I had just made using PayPal  “for instant payment”. The payment was indeed instantly debited from my bank current. The seller got one of those messages from PayPal warning that it would only release the funds after 21 days or when I, the buyer, had given positive feedback.

This was unacceptable for the seller I was dealing with. He emailed me and said that PayPal/eBay had not made these conditions clear when he put the item on the auction site. “It’s payment on buyer approval,” he told me.

I tried to assure him that you do indeed get paid, usually as soon as the buyer has received the payment and leaves the positive feedback. But he had a point and suggested either I leave feedback first (which he admitted was pretty ludicrous), or we cancel the transaction or I pay in cash. As I mentioned in my previous post, we agreed that cash was the best solution, and in fact, I am very pleased with my purchase.

However, it has meant that he needed to issue me a refund through PayPal. The seller refunded me at around 6pm on Saturday 27th, following our email correspondence. The amount showed up in my account with a message stating that because the payment had been made through an instant bank transfer it would take seven to nine days for the money to be available in my PayPal account.

That was on the 27th. The money was finally back in my PayPal account, on the 9th October, 12 days after I had been refunded (eight working days). It is now going to take a further five working days before the money gets to my bank.

Carrier_Pigeon.jpgMy bank account should be credited with the refund on October 16 (ie five working days from October 10th ). Let’s think about this – it’s taken PayPal over 18 days since the refund was issued by the seller. Is that acceptable in this age of electronic banking and instant bank transfer? Let’s face it, the refund could have arrived quicker if it was sent by carrier pigeon.


October 6, 2008  7:15 PM

More insanity on PayPal

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Ebay, Fraud, Paypal

I have noticed that sellers who use PayPal on eBay are now asking  for positive eBay feedback from the buyer before they send the item out. This is because PayPal appears to have a new policy. Basically, it  prevents you from withdrawing the funds for 21 days unless the buyer leaves positive eBay feedback.

As I mentioned in my previous posting, I have sold a couple of items in the last few weeks. This payment delay has happened twice. The feedback mechanism works on goodwill: users only leave feedback if they had a genuine experience they want to share with other buyers. If people only leave feedback in order for the seller to ship them an item then the feedback mechanism is nonsense.

Now two weeks ago, after I had made an eBay purchse and paid in full via PayPal, the seller explained his situation, which I sympathised with. He suggested three options: Either I leave positive feedback first; or he cancel the auction or I pay in cash.

We decided cash was the best option (I wanted the product). The seller refunded my transaction in full, we met and I exchanged cash for my purchase. When I finally met the seller it occurred to me how utterly useless PayPal is at mirroring the way people do business. The seller seemed a genuinely nice person: I certainly trusted him enough to part with the cash.

It looks like PayPal has gone bonkers. It has Buyer Protection, so why is there a need for this additional barrier, which prevents legitimate users from getting timely access to their funds. I’m sure  PayPal’s policy contravenes UK banking legislation.  I can’t see how much of a dent this will make on its efforts to combat organised crime. Such behaviour only hurts the little people, like you and me.

There is a real opportunity for someone to develop a better payment system, one that uses real people to make risk assessments, rather than the idiotic one used at PayPal which appear to rely on seemingly random assumptions about fraudulent transactions, that have no bearing on the way business is conducted in the real world.


September 29, 2008  7:46 PM

PayPal money-laundering nonsense

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Fact or fiction?, rants, Security, an afterthought

I’ve had several PayPal moments over the last few days. Here’s the first. Having sold a few items on eBay, PayPal informed me by email:


PayPal is required by law to comply with European Union Anti-Money Laundering regulations to collect information from customers when they receive more than the set limit in total payments. Please log into your account, go to the Account Overview page, and follow the instructions there about how to provide the required information. These steps need to be completed as soon as possible to comply with this regulation.

 Ok, so I went on the website which then stated:

In the past 12 months, you have received £650.00 GBP or more into your PayPal account.

This means you are on your way to approaching the £1,700.00 GBP annual receiving limit. This limit is put in place to allow us to comply with our applicable Anti-Money Laundering regulations.

If you do reach the annual receiving limit of £1,700.00 GBP you will no longer be able to withdraw or send money, fund transactions or close your account until you complete certain steps to lift your limit.

It is simple to complete the steps to lift your limit

Guess what…it’s not simple. Try as I might I could not get the PayPal website to recognise that I was not a company,  just an individual, and so there was no date when the company was established.

Needless to say, it didn’t let me complete the form without completing the date field for when the company was established. After several minutes of shouting expletives to arguably the world’s worst automated voice response system, I finally got through to a PayPal agent. He wasn’t particularly helpful, and could not explain why the seeming arbitrary amount of £650 had flagged my account. Anyway, after a bit of a heated debate, he explained how to fill in the offending date field. FYI: you can use the date you set up your PayPal account (but why oh why doesn’t it say that on the bloody website?).

Now let’s put this in perspective. PayPal issued the email alert to me when my account hit 38% of the supposed £1700 limit for compliance with anti-money laundering legislation. That does seem a somewhat overzealous risk assessment, so much so that I have quickly looked up PayPal’s anti-money laundering compliance on Google. What I have found is most interesting.

This article relates to the case of a company called Vortex Centrum, which received a similar PayPal email after its account was credited by £4,500. According to this article, there is nothing in EU, UK or Irish law that places any additional due diligence burden in relation to payments which, in aggregate, reach £4,500. The author states: Whilst PayPal is free to set any trigger figure it wishes, it is completely false to suggest that that figure is set by any law.

I think PayPal has failed on several counts here. The anti-money laundering alert email seems somewhat arbitrary; there is no detailed explanation of why the customer has been targeted nor a link to the appropriate legisation; the PayPal web form for verifying the customer only reflects certain types of business user and its automated voice response system at its call centre defies logic and puts too many barriers in the way to prevent you from speaking to an agent, when you have a legitimate query.

Have you had a PayPal experience? Please get in touch.



September 25, 2008  9:25 AM

What makes a perfect laptop?

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
laptop, Notebook, performance

I often get asked “What laptop should I buy”. I usually try not to give a techie answer, but I often throw a question back: “What do you want to do with it?”

 

More often that not people want a general purpose machine that is light, easy to carry around, has good battery life and as much power as they could every need!

 

Of course, it’s not yet possible to build such hardware that is both light and powerful, and has incredible battery life, and a massive hard disc and an amazing display. Personally, I accept this compromise: some machines are better for people who like something for less computationally strenuous tasks like email, word processing, web and form-based applications; other machines are better suited to watching DVDs, playing games and doing PowerPoint presentations, while others fit in the middle.

 

It’s this middle ground that needs the most innovation: design compromises, balancing power, weight and battery life. I have yet to come across a perfect laptop. Today’s general purpose machines fail on ergonomics or outright performance. Who wants to carry around 2 KG of laptop every day?


September 18, 2008  9:56 AM

VMWare counters Microsoft

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
data-centre, HP-UX, Linux, Microsoft, Netware, Novell, Solaris, Unix, Virtualisation, VMware

Paul Maritz appears to be giving his old employer a bit of a beating this week at VMWorld. I used to speak to Paul when he headed up the Windows Server team at Microsoft – and like many MS peops, he was clearly passionate about the product and he believed he could make a difference. I think it’s fair to say that he did…
 
Maritz oversaw Microsoft’s attack on NetWare and Unix in the server market and the datacentre.  The VMWare virtual data center operating system announced this week lat VMWorld looks like Maritz’ attempt to put VMWare at the heart of data centre computing.
 
Simply put, if everything in the datacentre runs a hypervisor, there’s no need to worry about OS upgrades. Windows, Unix and Linux will still exist – but users don’t need to worry so much about security and upgrading because everything is happening in a virtualised environment.


September 11, 2008  8:40 AM

Virtualisation goes mainstream

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Citrix, desktop virtualisation, ESX Server, Hyper-V, Hypervisor, Metaframe, Microsoft, VM, VMware, XenServer

The availability of Microsoft’s Hyper-V technology will mean that every business running Windows Server 2008 will be able to use virtualisation, without needing to purchase any additional software.
 
Admin staff simply tick a box when installing Windows, and the Microsoft Hypervisor is enabled. Clearly deploying virtual server environments is not that simple, but the fact that it is now part of the Windows OS means that many people can give it a go. And it is likely that more people will use virtualisation through Hyper-V to run several server applications on a single physical server – in other words, Hyper-V will make it easy for people to consolidate servers.
 
This makes Microsoft a dominant force in the hypervisor market, even though Hyper-V is only at version 1. It means VMWare will need to show people how to move beyond server consolidation with its ESX Server hypervisor – to enable workloads to move seamlessly between virtual machines.
 
VMWare will inevitably come under pressure but it  is the market leader, with a mature sophisticated hypervisor geared towards  serious enterprise deployments. I think the loser will be Citrix XenServer, which offers a cheaper alternative to ESX Server.
 
Citrix has spent years battling with Microsoft on the desktop where its MetaFrame product offers an up-market alternative to the Terminal Services software that ships with Windows Server. It looks like it will now be battling to retain users as Microsoft enters the hypervisor market. Some experts think Citrix will go back to its roots, and focus on desktop virtualisation, an emerging area of IT, closely related to the work Citrix has done with Metaframe

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