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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Dump Gmail for Four reasons you might

Takeaway: Microsoft’s Gmail competitor has finally arrived. You might be surprised to learn that it brings some useful innovations to webmail. Here are the big four.

Microsoft now has a big-time Gmail competitor. Before you chuckle and say “that only took eight years,” keep in mind that Gmail is largely the same product that Google launched in 2004 — with some nice incremental tweaks to improve the user interface.
Microsoft wants to inject some innovation into webmail again — and it looks like they may have pulled it off. On Tuesday, the company unveiled, which is both its successor to Hotmail as well as its enhanced webmail for individual business professionals. It draws on Hotmail, Microsoft Exchange, and the Metro UI from Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8.
Based on my look at the working preview of that Microsoft has already released into the wild as well as an interview with one of Microsoft’s product leads on, I think there are four reasons why some users — especially professionals — will be legitimately tempted to make the switch from Gmail.

1. Automatic folders

The best new innovation in is what I like to call its “automatic folders” feature. The system attempts to smartly sort some of your mail for you by automatically creating virtual folders for common stuff like email newsletters, Facebook and Twitter alerts, and other repetitive messages that can end up burying more important emails from human beings you actually need to correspond with. Obviously, since this is run by an algorithm, there will certainly be some false positives and negatives and you might have to tweak it, but I like the low-touch nature of this feature. Microsoft has also tried to streamline the process of setting up your own inbox rules as well in
In his blog post about the new service, Microsoft’s Chris Jones summed up the feature. “ automatically sorts your messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates,” wrote Jones, “and with our Sweep features you can move, delete and set up powerful rules in a few, simple clicks so you can more quickly get to the email you really want.”
Another mail management feature that I like in is that you can hover over a message and get a set of actions to delete the message or flag it as important or sort it to a folder — and you can even customize the functions you want to see on the hover-over.

2. Mobile experience

The biggest benefit that Microsoft has in designing a new webmail service in 2012 is that it can optimize it for today’s intensely-mobile world.
“The way people do mail on their mobile phone tends to be a little different,” said Brian Hall, General Manager of Windows Live and Internet Explorer. “They don’t do as much mail management.”
With that in mind, Microsoft used the automatic folder feature as its way of helping organize and prioritize users’ inboxes in a way that can work in virtually any type of desktop or mobile email client.
“Most people on a phone or tablet use the native mail client,” said Hall. “In those instances you want to make sure you work with any inbox. It’s a different approach than Priority Inbox from Google because they have to go create clients for mobile or else it breaks Priority Inbox.”
Hall also stressed that Microsoft is focused on delivering an excellent mobile web experience. In fact, the company is so focused on the native client and mobile web experience of that it doesn’t currently have plans to build an app for Microsoft’s own Windows Phone 7. ”It works beautifully with the native client,” said Hall.
On the other hand, he said they are working on an Android app, because “Android devices are less likely to have an Exchange ActiveSync client.”

3. Privacy protection

One of the creepiest parts of Gmail has always been the fact that it does text-mining on your emails and uses that information to surface targeted ads. That’s the price you pay for unlimited storage and a free service. For example, if you’re emailing back-and-forth with a family member about a trip to go hiking, Gmail will simultaneously surface text ads for things like Rocky Mountain vacations, hiking boots, and protein bars. While these ads are generally unobtrusive and occasionally even useful, it still freaks out some people to realize that Google is essentially “reading their mail.” This is especially true for business professionals and others who use email to transmit potentially valuable or sensitive information.
Capitalizing on this uneasiness, Microsoft is promising that will not do text-mining on your inbox, while still offering its service for free and with “virtually unlimited storage.”
“We don’t scan your email content or attachments and sell this information to advertisers or any other company, and we don’t show ads in personal conversations,” Jones stated.
That doesn’t mean won’t have ads. There are right-column ads on the main inbox screen, but there aren’t ads on individual messages. Also, I’m sure these ads are going to be targeted based on what Microsoft knows about you in general, just not on the content of your individual messages.

4. Social integration

One of my favorite plug-ins for Gmail is Rapportive, which fills the right column in Gmail with contact information about the person you’re emailing. It draws that information from LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (once you’ve logged in to those services) and will even show you the LinkedIn job title and latest status updates from the contact you’re emailing.
Microsoft has taken this kind of functionality and built it directly into, filling the right column of its message screen with this same kind of social contact data, but displaying it in a little bit simpler, cleaner way that follows the Metro UI style. doesn’t appear to show quite as much data as Rapportive.
However, Microsoft has taken social integration a step further. You can not only view people in your social networks from within and see their latest updates, but from the “People hub” you can also respond to status updates on Twitter and write on someone’s Facebook wall, all directly from You can also do Facebook chat within The instant messaging functionality itself is another strong feature of The implementation is certainly better integrated and more usable than GTalk in Gmail.

Bottom line

Hall said Microsoft was focused on several key priorities in ”Clean UI, design for tablets and all devices, connected with the services you actually use (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), works great with [Microsoft] Office and SkyDrive, and actually prioritizes your privacy.”
Before I took a look at, I couldn’t imagine that there was much Microsoft could do to innovate in webmail, and I expected it to feel like a desperate late attempt to make Hotmail relevant by copying Gmail. While is definitely aimed squarely at Gmail, I was surprised at how fresh it feels. There’s some really useful innovation in there, and I think it’s really smart for Microsoft to go after Google on privacy. It means won’t be nearly as powerful of a money-maker as Gmail, but it could build some needed goodwill from users.
I also like that Microsoft isn’t afraid to admit that this is aimed directly at stealing some of Gmail’s thunder. Hall said, ”If you’re a heavy Google Docs or a Google+ user, then Gmail is probably for you. Otherwise, if you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Office, then Outlook [dot com] is better.”

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

10 hurdles Windows 8 must clear to succeed

Takeaway: Microsoft has launched the Windows 8 Release Preview and is shooting for RTM in two months. Here are some major obstacles in the path of the OS.

When Windows 7 launched, it was a huge success for Microsoft. Its biggest challenges were the lingering anger around Vista and the satisfaction with XP. Windows 8 is being launched into a totally different set of market conditions and with the ambitious goal of unifying all form factors onto one operating system. Here are 10 challenges Windows 8 will need to conquer to be a success.

1: The Metro UI

Make no mistake about it: An awful lot of people are pretty unhappy with Metro. From my use of Metro on a Windows 8 VM and a Windows Phone 7 device for more than a year, I can tell you that there is a night-and-day difference between Metro on a desktop and Metro on a touch screen. Not only is Metro really different from the traditional Windows UI, but even in the Consumer Preview, it feels like the mouse is a second-class citizen to touch. Unless Microsoft can get this right, a lot of first impressions of Metro will be bad.

2: PC OEMs — can they finally get tablets right?

Microsoft’s fate is closely tied to the ability of its partners to get things right. The problem is, Windows 8 is as much (if not more so) of an OS for mobile form factors with touch UIs (tablets, smartphones) as it is for desktops and laptops. And this is the exact market that PC OEMs have proven bad at penetrating for around 10 years now. Sure, there have been some successes (like the iPaq line of PDAs). But there have been many more instances where the PC OEMs just could not figure out how to give customers what they wanted.

3: iPad, iPhones, and Android

Windows 8 on tablets is going head-to-head with the well-established iPad. In fact, the iPad is so dominant in tablets Android can’t get much traction at all, despite its success in phones. All the same, Microsoft is trying to push Windows 8 tablets. On the phone front, WP7 has been facing a huge uphill battle against iPhone and Android, despite much critical acclaim and a vocal and enthusiastic user base. Windows 8 on a phone will not be much different from WP7 to most users. If WP7 has been having it tough, Windows 8 is not likely to do much better in phones. Windows 8 for mobile form factors feels like a solution in search of a problem for many users.

4: Distrust of cloud

Windows 8 leverages cloud technologies in a great many ways, and it makes the OS easy to use. It’s pretty slick to sign into a brand new Windows 8 install and have all your contacts there, Facebook integration, etc. At the same time, this integration will raise all sorts of red flags to corporate IT departments, which will want to either cripple the devices or take a wait-and-see approach to moving to Windows 8, looking for folks to show exactly what data goes where and how… and how to stop it.

5: No Active Directory support on ARM

Windows 8’s big market advantage should be that it can allow tablets and phones to work as a seamless part of Active Directory, but this is not supported on ARM architecture. While Microsoft is giving corporate IT admins ways of managing Windows 8 devices, IT departments tend to prefer consolidation, not proliferation of management tools. Microsoft is going to have to work hard to prove to IT departments that they do not need Active Directory integration for ARM devices.

6: Brand new app market

The only way — other than developers testing — to get Windows 8-native applications (Metro applications) is through the app store. The question is, “Will the app store launch with a good number of apps?” Microsoft really surprised me with how many apps WP7 launched with, and it has been even more aggressive about getting apps into the Windows 8 app market early. And anything it can do to allow an easy port of WP7 apps to Windows 8 will be a huge help, especially if it is “no work required,” since the WP7 app store is around the 100,000 app mark at the time of this writing.

7: Microsoft Office

Microsoft has been taking steps to bring Office to other platforms (notably iOS), and when it does, that will reduce Windows lock-in quite a bit. It is also working hard to expand its Web reach with Office. Add it up, and users’ biggest reason to need Windows goes away, unless they depend on plug-ins that won’t work on other platforms.

8: The economy

The economy still stinks. A large part of getting a new OS into the market depends on people buying PCs, and a lot of folks are choosing to do without a new computer because of the cost.

9: Longer refresh cycles

While computers keep getting faster, most applications are not getting more demanding. It used to be that you needed to be on the cutting edge of hardware to keep up with software, but no more. Now, even budget hardware from years ago is still more than adequate to run most applications. That means that the refresh cycle that used to be three years is being stretched to four, five, and beyond. To make it worse, the companies that skipped Vista are now moving (or recently moved) to Windows 7, and they’re not in a hurry to do another migration.

10: Windows 7

Microsoft is its own biggest competitor with Windows 8 on the desktop and laptop. Windows 7 has been a big success, and for good reason: It delivers on the promises Microsoft has been making now for so long regarding security and reliability. Windows 7 finally “just works.” All the consumers and IT departments that have been clinging to XP far past its prime will be doing the same with Windows 7, and Microsoft is not likely to get them to jump onto the Windows 8 train easily.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

10 reasons why Windows 8 may appeal to consumers

Takeaway: Will Windows 8 be a hit with consumers? Maybe. Here are a few things that could win them over.
We have talked a lot about how Windows 8 will mean significant changes for software developersand how Windows 8 will affect (or not affect) businesses. But it’s important to keep in mind that plenty of Windows computers get sold directly to consumers, and those are the sales that are most likely threatened by non-Windows devices right now, like smartphones and tablets. Here are some Windows 8 features that consumers may find interesting.

1: Games

One of the things that struck me about Windows Phone 7 was just how many games were quickly brought over from Xbox Live. Windows 8, with a similar infrastructure under the hood, looks like it will be the same way. I have always been a sucker for unique, quirky games, and by bringing the Xbox Live game set over, we should see lots of those for a low cost on Windows 8.

2: Tablets

Tablets may not be for everyone, but if you are or may become a tablet user, Windows 8 has appeal. It is tough to see how you wouldn’t want to consider a tablet that can potentially run all your existing applications (assuming you get an x86/x64 tablet). Microsoft has worked hard to give Windows 8 a touch-friendly UI, and having used the MetroUI on a Windows Phone 7 device for more than a year now, I think it is a great touch system. I’m eager to use it on a tablet.

3: Messaging

Windows 8 integrates messaging from common providers like Facebook, Live, and Twitter into one spot. It is nice not to have to go to different Web sites and leave a page open to monitor various data streams or get a bunch of third-party applications to do the same. The integrated messaging system is very slick and builds off of the unified contacts system. This is another feature borrowed from Windows Phone 7, and it is a great one.

4: App store

Windows has had an official app store in the past, though it was not terribly obvious and few people used it. With Windows 8, the app store is hard to miss. Not only is it the easiest way to load Metro applications onto Windows 8 devices, it will handle updates automatically too. The days of having out-of-date software or dealing with a zillion update applications is finally over! And if you need to replace a machine, there’s no need to dig up piles of installation discs or remember what apps you installed and downloaded from what sites and hope you still have serial numbers — you can easily reinstall them from the store.

5: Reduced security risk exposure, increased stability

The WinRT API that Metro applications are built on top of is designed to severely limit what Metro applications can do to the underlying system, as well as to user data and with each other. Internet Explorer running in Metro (but not the traditional Desktop) will not allow third-party plug-ins to run at all, either. This may be a curveball for developers, but for users it means that the risk of malware is significantly decreased. It will be very tough for applications to damage the system or affect user data maliciously or inadvertently.

6: Unified UI

Microsoft has been moving more and more of its systems to the Metro UI. With Windows 8, all the big form factors (PC, phone, tablet, and video game consoles) will be using the same UI principles and styling. That makes it a bit easier to get a handle on how to use new devices and new applications across platforms.

7: Cloud sync

Built into Windows 8 is cloud-based synchronization. By signing into a Windows 8 machine with a Live ID, all sorts of unified data is available across devices. For example, when I signed into a fresh Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation, all my Twitter, Facebook, and Live Messenger accounts were immediately established because I use the same Live ID on my phone. Changes I make to this data will instantly be reflected across the board as well. That’s pretty nice. It is especially helpful when replacing a device, because you don’t have to reestablish all these connections or re-import (or re-create) data.

8: Integration with services and applications

As I’ve mentioned, there is some neat integration around messaging and data in Windows 8. The integration goes much deeper, though. For example, My Pictures in Windows used to be nothing more than a directory that got special treatment from Windows Explorer. Now it has the notion of Albums and Libraries, which represent where the pictures come from. Services like Flickr and Facebook are integrated by default as Libraries, and third-party applications can tap into this functionality as well.
Likewise, the People Hub collects information about people you know from a variety of sources (Facebook, email accounts, LinkedIn, etc.) and puts it all in one place. Instead of an application-centric view of data, Windows 8 presents a data-centric view, minimizing the number of places you need to go to get access to data, while at the same time increasing the number of places it can be used.

9: Email

Windows Phone 7 gets a lot of kudos for its excellent email client. This email client has been brought over to Windows 8 and scaled up to the larger screen size. Unlike some previous versions of free email clients bundled into Windows, it is quite capable and for many people will be a significant upgrade. Like other parts of Windows 8, it provides a concentration of data from different places (in this case, email accounts) and presents a unified view that makes it easy to work with and respond to emails.

10: Simplicity

One of the key things in Windows 8 is that if you stick with Metro applications, it is a very simple system to deal with. Power users will not necessarily be thrilled about losing the control that they are used to (although they can still have it if they head to the Desktop on x86/x64 machines). But those who just want to sit down and “get stuff done” will appreciate how the OS gets out of the way and lets you do what you want to do.
Things like the highly reduced maintenance of applications (thanks to the app store), concentration of all email in one place (rather than the need for a native client and a few Web clients), and messaging add up to a simplified experience. You’re no longer switching between dozens of applications and Web pages but working around a small number of Hubs on the system based on your current needs. It is a refreshing change from the current overload of system tray notifications, buzzers, noises, and flashing taskbar icons that typify the current Windows system.

Monday, 19 March 2012

10 reasons Windows 8 will be painful for developers

Takeaway: If you plan to develop Windows 8 native apps, be prepared for some hurdles. Justin James looks at some of the biggest problems you’re likely to face.
Since the release of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, people have had a lot to say about the experience of playing with it. But few folks are talking about the changes it represents for developers. Windows 8 is the biggest update to the Windows development model since the move from Windows 3.X to Windows 95. While there are lots of good things, there are also a lot of pain points. If you are looking to develop Windows 8 native applications with the new Metro UI and WinRT API, be careful of these 10 things.

1: Market reboot

If you want your applications to be fully compatible with Windows 8 (including running on ARM CPUs), you’ll need to do a full rewrite in Metro/WinRT. This may be great for developers looking to break into markets with established players. But if you are the established player, you are suddenly back at square one.

2: The asynchronous model

Windows 8 development is highly dependent upon asynchronous operations for anything that is long running. While that may be a cute trick in some scenarios, it is downright frustrating in others (like trying to download a file). It isn’t just the work needed to handle the async call; it’s things like error handling and reporting problems back to the user. It requires a whole new approach to the UI from what developers (especially WinForms developers) are used to.

3: Lack of direct disk access

Windows 8 cuts off direct access to the system in quite a few ways, but the one that will hurt typical developers the most is the lack of disk access. Windows 8 follows an extreme isolation model for applications, and if your application requires access to data outside its own confined little world (including networked services you can access), you can forget about porting it to Windows 8.

4: Touch UI paradigm

Unless you have been writing a lot of mobile apps, shifting to the new UI style, which is designed for touch interaction, is going to pretty tough. It took me a long time to get a feel for what works well and what doesn’t. To make things more difficult, what looks and works well on a screen using a mouse and keyboard can be a poor experience with touch, and things that work well with touch often are a struggle to use on the screen. It’s a tricky balancing act, and as the uproar over the Metro UI in Windows 8 shows, even Microsoft is struggling to get it right despite having had a few years of Metro experience.

5: Playing by Microsoft’s app store rules

If you want to be using the Microsoft app store, you will need to learn to play by its rules. While the rules are fairly reasonable, it will be a jarring experience if it is anything like the WP7 App Hub. For starters, Microsoft rigorously inspects the application and looks for all sorts of things, like unhandled exceptions and circular UI paths. Although this ensures a high quality app, it can be a surprise to developers. In addition, you need to work with an approval process. The details of the Microsoft application store are still under wraps, but recent experience with WP7 suggests that it won’t be fun.

6: Heavy emphasis on cloud

While there is no mandate to use the cloud, Web services, and other off-premise techniques and technologies, it is most definitely encouraged. Things like automatic syncing of settings and data between devices (regardless of how it is done) will become the rule, not the exception, and users will be expecting it. Windows 8 makes this easy (you can have your locally saved information synced automatically with Live), but you will want to be judicious about how you do it for sensitive data. Encryption and other privacy and security techniques will become more important than ever.

7: Shift to “contracts” and “interfaces” for interop

One unique aspect of the Windows 8 paradigm is the idea that applications can provide services to the OS (such as acting as a source of contacts or pictures), as opposed to just dumping the data into a common directory. This allows all sorts of sweet application concepts. But even though this is easy at the technical level, it’s difficult to figure out how to leverage at the conceptual level.

8: Market uncertainty

Now we get into the more high-level pains. Microsoft is clearly pushing Windows 8 for tablets and maybe even phones. Right now, we’re seeing Android struggle in the tablet space, and at the same time, it seems like the Metro UI is universally panned by people who have tried the Developer Preview. But again, the Metro experience is geared for touch, and the Preview is usable only on a virtual machine, so the true tablet experience will be much different.
In addition, the people who have seen the Developer Preview simply do not represent the typical user one bit. Will the market adopt Windows 8 or reject it? Will Microsoft cave in and let people skip the Metro UI entirely? Will the tablet market for Windows 8 take off? These are all questions that won’t be answered until it is far too late to be a first mover in the market. If you are going to bet on Windows 8, you simply can’t properly assess the risks right now.

9: Lack of tablet hardware

Speaking of the disliked Developer Preview, not having tablets to try Windows 8 on is a major problem. There is just no good way right now to get an idea of what the user experience will be like for your applications on those tablets. Not just in terms of the UI either, but of performance. Can the tablet CPUs run your app well? Is it too “chatty” for a device on a cellular connection? Are you using more storage than makes sense for the typical tablet we’ll see? Without a few tablet models easily available, we don’t know the answers here.

10: The trail of dead tech

This is the one that really breaks my heart. Microsoft has a history of pushing a technology as “the next big thing” and then leaving it dying on the vine a few years later. We don’t know if Microsoft will back off its Windows 8 strategy before launch, right after launch (Kin), or a few years down the road (Zune, Silverlight). If the new Windows 8 paradigm is not a success, Microsoft may very well change course in a way that renders all your hard work on Windows 8 native applications a waste of time.

Analyze server performance with Microsoft Advisor: How to get started

Takeaway: Benefits of using Microsoft Advisor (part of the Software Assurance program) to analyze how well your servers are tuned to get the best performance out of them.
System Center Advisor (or just “Advisor”) is a benefit of the Software Assurance (SA) license program for organizations running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (and later versions), and Windows Server 2008 (and later versions). Advisor collects on-premise configuration data from supported Microsoft server installations, analyzes it in the Microsoft Azure cloud, and provides feedback in emailed reports and through an online portal. Potential issues (such as missing security patches) or deviations from identified best practices with regard to configuration and usage are identified.
Advisor is an effort to share the expertise of Microsoft support teams, in the form of proactive recommendations, delivered to server and application administrators, before availability or performance issues occur. Advisor is not a monitoring service — it does not offer real-time alerting and does not measure application delivery. It’s been described as an automated Best Practice Analyzer and configuration history database for supported server technologies. Microsoft is expected to add other server technologies to Advisor soon and on a continuing basis in the future.

Figure A

The benefits to the Software Assurance customer for using the System Center Advisor benefit.
Figure A (from the Microsoft System Center Advisor web portal entry page) illustrates the ultimate goal for the customer: Reduced downtime. There is also the opportunity for improved server performance by informing administrators when servers are unpatched or misconfigured. Should things go wrong and you have to open a Microsoft support case, you can resolve issues faster by providing Microsoft with access to current and historical configuration data, which is stored by Advisor in the cloud.
There are two on-premise software components to the Advisor architecture: the gateway and the agent. A prerequisite to run the Advisor installer is the .NET Framework 3.5.1, which is enabled via the Features page of Windows Server Manager.
  • Gateway: An Internet-connected server on your network that can upload data collected from agents to System Center Advisor. The gateway uses TCP port 443 for encrypted transmission of the configuration of servers with Advisor agents to the Advisor web service at Microsoft.
  • Agent: Collects information from a server on your network and sends that information to a gateway. The agent uses TCP port 80 for communication on your network between Advisor agents and gateways.
System Center Advisor is hosted in the Microsoft Azure public cloud at datacenters in the United States. Gateways upload data daily in a batch process, and a weekly email summary of issues detected by Advisor is delivered. The language of Advisor today is English, but the service is available in a number of additional countries.

Getting started with System Center Advisor

Anyone can request activation of a free 60-day trial of System Center Advisor (trial link here). Existing volume license users with Software Assurance can start using a licensed instance of Advisor (SA link here). When you visit the System Center Advisor web portal and log in with the Live ID associated with your Advisor account, Advisor knows who you are and stages the right downloads for you in an Azure storage blob.
There are two files to download. An executable setup file (AdvisorSetup.exe), and a registration certificate file that digitally authenticates this Advisor gateway computer as part of your Advisor subscription. Figure B demonstrates downloading the two files with your web browser and kicking off an Advisor gateway installation.

Figure B

Download two files and run a setup wizard to install a System Center Advisor gateway. You can repeat the download process with the web browser at each computer that needs an agent or gateway. Alternatively, you can copy the setup file to a network share or removable media and repeat the install with the shared media. When installing a gateway server, you need to point the Advisor setup to the registration certificate file downloaded along with the executable setup file, but the certificate is only needed for gateway install and should not be widely distributed.

Steps to configure Advisor on servers

  1. After installing Advisor on a server, the Advisor Configuration Wizard program item appears on the server’s Start menu. The configuration wizard also runs automatically after first installing the software.
  2. There is an option to restrict connections to an Advisor gateway to a specific set of agents in your domain. This option provides an Advisor customer with an additional layer of filtering to confirm an exact list of agents allowed to send configuration data to Advisor.
  3. After completing the Advisor configuration wizard, within 24 hours you will see data in your account at the Advisor online portal.
  4. No configuration or application data is collected from a gateway server just by installing the Advisor gateway server component.
    • You need to expressly enable the Advisor agent component on the gateway server at the time you install the gateway, if you want the gateway server configuration analyzed by Advisor.
    • If you install a gateway without an agent, you can later re-run the setup executable (AdvisorSetup.exe) and select the Change option. Then select to activate the Advisor agent component as well as the gateway component.
  5. Finally, after installing a gateway server, you need to install agents on the servers to be analyzed by Advisor in the cloud. To install the Advisor agent, run AdvisorSetup.exe on each computer than needs an agent. The Advisor agent configuration wizard needs to know the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of your Advisor gateway.

Monday, 12 March 2012

10 low-stress jobs for IT Pros

Takeaway: If you love IT but the stress levels are wearing you down, you might consider one of these less-intense job roles.

It is hard to say that there are any truly low-stress or stress-free jobs in the IT industry. IT workers operate on tight deadlines, mistakes can take entire companies down (or worse), and there never seem to be enough people to do the job. To make it even harder, IT pros are often asked to work with and even take direction from people who really have no clue about the technical details. But it is still possible to have a job in the IT industry that reduces many or even most of these pain points. Here are 10 IT industry jobs with relatively low stress levels.

1: Computer sales

As far as IT jobs go, being a salesperson at a computer store is about as stress-free as it gets. Sure, you need to deal with customers who often have no idea what they are talking about but come armed with a bunch of misinformation from the Internet and from their friends. But you know what? Sales folks don’t take their work home or have to deal with deadlines, and that alone makes a huge difference in the stress levels.

2: Desktop support technician

Desktop support can be tough, for sure. People’s PCs are not working and you need to get them back up and running as quickly as possible. The good news is, you should have a supply of PCs ready to go to get the user back up and running quickly if the problem is bad, so you can fix the broken machine in the shop. And yes, you are often forced to support a wide variety of applications, many of which you rarely have to work with. At the same time, most of the problems you see are the same list of issues, like bad hard drives and broken mice. Most important for the stress levels, while someone’s personal work (or a project) may get delayed until you fix the issue, systems administrators and network engineers have to fix problems that often affect entire departments, buildings full or people, or even the entire company.

3: Backups administrator

Believe it or not, some companies are big enough to have folks dedicated completely to managing backups. The beauty of this job is that while needing to restore from backup is a super-critical task, it is a rare issue. The majority of your day is spent doing routine tasks that are not under the gun on deadlines.

4: Configuration (or presales) engineer

If you’ve ever dealt with a company to spec out a server, you’ve worked with a configuration engineer. They come in a variety of flavors, but the common theme is that they are not the ones doing the actual implementation — which is where the stress of timelines and things not going right come into play. Once the purchase order is authorized, the configuration engineer has moved on to the next client. Again, this is a customer-facing job. But your customers tend to be knowledgeable, which takes a lot of the stress away.

5: Computer lab support

When I was in college, we had many computer labs on campus, and one of the much-coveted on-campus jobs was to be one of the support folks for these labs. Many colleges still have computer labs, despite the proliferation of student-owned PCs. For me, this was the easiest, least stressful IT job ever. All I had to do was answer basic questions (like how to save a file), keep the printers full of paper and toner and jam-free, clean one or two computers per shift, and file a ticket if a computer broke. I wasn’t there to troubleshoot. I’d just reboot the computer if it gave the user grief. The only stress from this job was the low paycheck.

6: Application architect

Of the wide variety of development jobs, I tend to see application architects as having the least amount of direct pressure on them in general. All development jobs are stressful in their own way, but architects’ code usually doesn’t deal with the troubles caused by actual users since the architects mostly write libraries that other developers use and guide the overall development of the application. Architects are often more separated from deadlines than other developers because the bulk of their work occurs at the front end of a project.

7: Build engineer

The build engineer is the person responsible for automating the processes and procedures for building software from source code to running code. Many times, they will fold in a lot of other work as well, such as creating unit tests (or setting up unit tests to be run), making setup kits, handling automatic deployment of code to test machines on a regular basis, and managing the source control system. Like the architect, this job seems to butt up against timelines the least and requires minimal contact with people outside IT. While it is a difficult job that requires knowledge of a large number of technologies, it is the kind of position where you are left in relative peace and quiet to do your work.

8: Installation technicians

The installation technician is the person who performs the initial installation and configuration of a piece of hardware, especially things like cable boxes and DSL modems. The beauty of this job is that while you are on a timeline and have a schedule, any major problems found at the client’s site are justifiable grounds for delaying the installation and are generally understood by the customer. As a rule, any mission-critical installations are performed well in advance of their deadline, which keeps a lot of the stress levels down.

9: Trainer

Trainers have a great job: They come in, present their materials, and leave before the real carnage occurs. Yes, trainers are there to educate, and it can be frustrating at times to be a teacher. And of course, speaking for much of the day — and often on your feet for most of it — can be difficult. Trainers may spend a fair amount of time traveling, too. But all the tensions that the typical IT staff has to deal with, like projects, crashes, end users, just are not there.

10: IT industry analyst

Without a doubt, one of the best jobs in the IT industry is that of industry analyst. These are the people who talk to industry leaders and then write reports filled with predictions of the IT future. Of course, like most folks, they do operate on a deadline. And to make things a bit more stressful, they tend to not be well respected by the rank-and-file IT workers. At the same time, though, they never have to actually implement anything. Even better, their mistakes do not result in dead servers, security breaches, or buggy applications. And by the time it is possible to find out whether their predictions were right, no one remembers them — or if they do, the “uncertainty of the rapidly evolving industry” is a perfectly acceptable scapegoat for mistakes.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How to create groups and assign users in Lion Server

Takeaway: The basic steps of creating groups in Mac Lion Server and assigning users based on the groups.

Once user accounts are created in Mac OS X Lion Server, administration is simplified by assigning users to groups. Using groups, permissions and rights can be granted to entire collections of users, such as by department, instead of to individual user accounts.

How to create a group

Mac administrators can create groups by following these steps:
  1. Open the Server app.
  2. Click Groups.
  3. Click the + icon. The New Group window will appear.
  4. Provide the group name in the Full Name field.
  5. Enter the Account Name.
  6. Click the Done button.
Once groups are created, they appear within the Groups window. Groups can be deleted by highlighting the respective group and clicking the - icon.

How to assign a user to a group

With a group or groups created, Mac administrators can follow these steps to assign users to a group:
  1. Open the Server app.
  2. Click Groups.
  3. Double-click a group.
  4. Click the + icon.
  5. Enter the user name you wish to add to the group.
  6. Click the + icon to add additional users.
  7. Repeat the process until all appropriate users have been added to the group.
  8. Click the Done button.
Another method of adding users to a group is to enter the group selections from the user account. Mac administrators can add individual users to groups by following these steps:
  1. Open the Server app.
  2. Click Users.
  3. Double-click the user account for which group permissions are to be assigned.
  4. Click the + icon.
  5. Within the Groups window enter the name of the group to which you wish to assign the user.
  6. Click the + icon and enter another group name if multiple group selections are required, repeating until done.
  7. Click the Done button.

Make a group a member of another group

When necessary, groups can be made members of other groups. For example, maybe separate permissions need to be provided to select executive members of an HR group. To assign a group to another group:
  1. Open the Server app.
  2. Click Groups.
  3. Double-click the group you wish to assign permissions for another group.
  4. Click the + icon.
  5. Enter the name of the group to which you wish to provide the current group membership.
  6. Click the + icon and repeat the process if additional group memberships apply.
  7. Click the Done button.
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