Considering a Chromebook

Chromebook

Many years ago it was an axiom that no-one got fired for buying IBM – they were the standard for desktop computing when the segment first emerged. With the ubiquitous presence of Microsoft operating systems on the IBM PC no-one even actively decided on buying MS-DOS and after that Microsoft Windows. The combination of IBM compatible PC and Microsoft Windows became the de-facto installation for every business user – it had the tools: word processing, spreadsheets, databases – all the things that the average business user required. As time has gone on the number of applications available on the Windows platform has expanded exponentially! Whatever you want to do there will be a Windows application to do it. This is still the case today, despite the creeping re-segmentation of the the personal computing market. What has changed?

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law suggests that processing power will double or the size of processor will half approximately every two years. This means that we can now pack into a phone, or a watch something that is much more powerful than the first IBM compatible PCs. The software that we run is orders of magnitude more complex and more capable than those first applications. But, with this increase in power has come bloat – lazy design and programming, the assumption of ever increasing power has led to behemoth like applications that struggle to run on even the latest hardware.

Back to the lean model

Something has to give, and give it has. The arrival of the smart phone has brought with it the acceptance that small specifically targeted applications (called apps, appropriately enough) work fine for most people most of the time. Even in the business environment most users never progress beyond email, internet and word processing. Why purchase a hugely more capable machine and leave it to do very little?

Google have addressed this gap in the market with their Chromebooks. These devices in some ways go back to basics – the operating system is much smaller than Windows now is. It is also limited in the features available. But, in other ways it is the device for the 21st century. The Chromebook is designed to work over the internet. The Google Apps for Business user simply has to log on to a Chromebook device to have his or her complete environment available instantly. Although the list of apps is smaller it does 100% of what most people do, which, for the business owner is a compelling statistic.

What about those custom business applications that run on Windows?

Of course, the million dollar question is what to do about that custom business database that’s been developed in MS Access or Visual Basic – surely it won’t run on a Chromebook? No, it won’t, but as more and more business applications are being moved to an extranet model this isn’t a show stopper. Web development is becoming more accessible to more businesses. If it’s accessible from the web a Chromebook is perfect. Even many long term Windows only applications such as accounting packages are being re-imagined for the web. Apart from extremely processor or disk intensive applications all the common business needs and more are available in the cloud.

Installation and set up hell

One of the most trying events for most small businesses is the installation of a new PC. First of all you have to try and decide on a suitable specification that doesn’t cost the earth. Then you need to decide whether to purchase Microsoft Office. Then you need to rummage in your cupboards for the installation media for all those other business critical applications that were purchased years ago – and cross you fingers that they will work with the latest incarnation of Windows. Then there’s the download of drivers and the set up of email, and, and.. you get the picture?

Now consider purchasing a machine and giving it to the user. Ask them to log in with their existing details. On log in their entire environment is available instantly as it was before!

The costs and considerations

Of course everything has a down side. This sort of cloud computing depends on an internet connection. If this goes down your machine is limited in usefulness, but then so are most PCs in the same conditions. Take your Chromebook home or to an internet cafe and carry on.

There are also ongoing costs on a per user basis for this sort of set up. But Windows servers also cost per user, and you have to maintain the hardware yourself. Particularly for the SME the benefits of not having to deal with hardware or server maintenance itself outweighs the costs. In real terms cloud computing is much cheaper than getting your own kit. The economies of scale mean that you will receive a much more reliable service at a greatly lower price point than if you tried to do it yourself.

One thing to consider is the long term safety of your data. If it’s in the cloud then it’s not physically with you. But there are ways of getting backups of your data, and this is worth doing if there is data without which your business could not function. But remember that cloud providers have superior resources and working backup and restore processes – how many SMEs have even prepared a disaster recovery plan?

Conclusion

This isn’t a spur of the moment type of decision, but it is worth considering. If you have some cloud services, or have already signed up for Google Apps for Business then it’s incredibly easy to dip a toe in the water. If you’ve been using Windows for the last 20 years it may give you more food for thought, but look at your current IT licensing costs, email provider quality and fees and consider if a move to the cloud is a good match for your business. Whatever the size of your organisation it’s definitely time to consider a Chromebook.

Breaking the Barriers to Entry for Collaborative Tools

Cloud Services

Access to business class collaboration tools such as email, contacts and calendars used to cost an arm and a leg. First of all you needed to have a server domain structure in place, generally a couple of servers, then you would have to purchase Exchange Server for your collaboration services. These would all be housed and maintained on site, and if anything went down the whole site was offline.

Now, with cloud services the entry barrier: the cost of purchase, installation and setup of hardware and software is removed! The entry point for full business class collaboration tools is as simple as signing up to cloud services from your preferred provider.

With Google Apps for Business you can sign up as a one man band, or a small business with dozens or hundreds of staff. The setup process is straightforward and your business can be up and running in the time it takes to have your domain integrated with Google’s services.

For the small business this is a big win! We can work alongside corporates with a level playing field for collaboration, and it’s not just the communication staples of email, calendar and contacts, you can share and collaborate on documents too. For smaller businesses the ability to use these tools across multiple devices is an added bonus. Google Apps for Business even allows for device management from the admin panel.

If the perceived cost and complexity of getting business class collaboration is putting you off making the move, take a look at Google Apps for Business – the entry barriers have been broken and the TCO is more than affordable.

Big Business Tools for Small Business

Nexus Devices

Big businesses use big business tools to gain competitive edge. They use technology to enable constant communication and collaboration. In the past this sort of infrastructure was to preserve of the corporate world. The costs associated with setting up a collaboration medium, with purchase and maintenance of servers and devices was prohibitive for all but the deep pockets of large business enterprises.

Now, it is actually easier for the small business to implement collaboration and communication than for larger enterprises. Google Apps for Business costs from £2.75 per user. That’s a remarkably low starting point for a fully collaborative experience! With the advent of low cost devices your business staff need never be out of reach. From phones to tablets to Chromebooks (low cost laptop devices) there is a business tool that will work, particularly for start-ups and small businesses that need to hit the ground running.

For most users email, contacts and calendar are the most important business tools. Google Apps for Business enables access to all of this from multiple devices, seamlessly. Enter an appointment on your phone and have it appear on your computer calendar. Reply to an email from a tablet and see the reply across all your other mail clients. Cloud computing empowers the small business and lifts it to the level of the corporate user.

Document sharing and collaboration is straightforward with Google Apps for Business – from basic file storage and sharing so that your staff have access to that important document on the go to full real time editing of documents by multiple users you have all the tools to hand within an easy to grasp interface. The tools are intuitive and easy to get started with.

With the entry cost of devices being so low there’s never been a better time for small businesses to compete on a level playing field with the corporate collaborators!

Transitioning to Google Apps for Business

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I’ve been doing the initial set up today  for moving a client from POP mail to Google Apps for Business and thought it would be a good time to explain some of the benefits to this move.

For the Small Business

For the small business Google Apps for Business gives you all of the big business enterprise class tools without the big business investment or overheads. Many small businesses are still struggling with email addresses that don’t belong to their domain (businessname@btinternet.com or such like). It becomes a pain to administer even a few of these type of email accounts across a small business. The lack of domain based email also looks very unprofessional. Google Apps for Business provides domain based, enterprise class email, contacts and calendaring for everyone.

For the SME

For the SME looking to provide a rock solid resource for the company the usual route is Microsoft’s Exchange Server or Small Business Server. While these are both excellent products they really require ongoing support and an investment in hardware and software on the company LAN. The cost of managing an Exchange server can outweigh the benefits and with increasingly mobile workforces becomes more difficult to deploy, in particular if you require Outlook Web Access. Google Apps for Business removes the need for local server resource and maintenance. Resilience and availability responsibilities lie with Google – this frees your IT resource to do other things. The collaboration tools built in to Google Apps for Business mean that it is a superb resource for growing and geographically diverse businesses. Google Drive Sync allows you to continue to use Outlook as your email client if you so wish.

Collaboration

The collaboration tools within Google Apps for Business mean that it is simple to share calendars, contacts, documents right across the business no matter where the users are physically located. If you have multiple offices, or a mobile sales force then this is the way to go for sharing documents.

Set Up

If you don’t already have domain based email then it’s extremely easy to set up and get going. If you already have some email accounts, depending on how they are presently configured it’s still a simple process to get you up and running. Users can be added and configured using a simple web based management page.

Contact

If you think Google Apps for Business is a contender for your business then drop me a line and inquire.

Is Responsive Design the only game in town?

responsive design

There’s a growing trend in web design towards responsive design. Responsive design is the deliberate design and build of a web site to respond differently to different viewing devices. In other words, the web site will present itself differently depending on whether it is viewed on a mobile phone, tablet or desktop device. The design is done in such a way that the browser itself does the work. This is a great choice in many ways, particularly for smaller web sites. There is only one set of pages to maintain, which makes life simpler, but the styling behind the site actually addresses multiple view ports (the size of the window through which the site is viewed). As a result the underlying code can get a bit complex, even though it’s only in one set of files.

The alternative to responsive design is to detect the device accessing the site and present an alternative set of pages to smaller devices. This obviously will involve more work and more files as you are designing separately for different view ports. At first this may seem to be counter productive, but it all depends on the site content and original design.

Many sites are now quite old and large, and the work involved in redesigning the entire site to a responsive design could be prohibitive. It may well be that you only wish to present a select subset of pages to the mobile user, or even different pages geared towards mobile phone use (such as linking maps and phone numbers).

Many larger sites are also data driven and have a significant amount of back end code that can be easily leveraged to drive new mobile oriented pages with no more work involved than restyling the main pages.

For larger sites, and especially those that have an old design it would seem more productive to produce a subsetted separate site for mobile devices, always presenting the user with the option to use the ‘full fat’ site if they prefer. Responsive design is an elegant design option, particularly when designing from scratch. But depending on the size of the site and the legacy elements, responsive design is not yet the only game in twon