BYOD vs MDM – Who Pays The Bill?

Generic Mobile Devices

There’s a lot of talk around now about the trend of people bringing in their own laptops and tablets and other devices to access data and do their jobs.  While most of you (including me) call this Bring Your Own Device (BYoD), I’ve been hearing a lot of talk recently about a different aspect of controlling mobile devices.  Many of my customers have been asking me about Mobile Device Management (MDM).  MDM is getting mixed into a lot of conversations about controlling the BYoD explosion.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) refers to the process of controlling the capabilities of a device via a centralized control point, whether it be in the cloud or on premises.  MDM can restrict functions of a device, such as the camera or the ability to install applications.  It can also restrict which data can be downloaded and saved onto a device.  MDM also allows device managers to remotely lock the device in the event that it is lost or even remotely wipe the device should recovery be impossible.  Vendors are now pushing MDM is a big component of their mobility offerings.  Every week, it seems like some new vendor is pushing their MDM offering, whether it be a managed service software company, a wireless access point vendor, or even a dedicated MDM provider.  MDM is being pushed as the solution to all your mobility pain points.  There’s one issue though.

MDM is a very intrusive solution for mobile devices.  A good analogy might be the rules you have for your kids at home.  There are many things they are and aren’t allowed to do.  If they break the rules, there are consequences and possible punishments.  Your kids have to follow your rules if they live under your roof.  Such is the way for MDM as well.  Most MDM vendors that I’ve spoken to in the last three months take varying degrees of intrusion to the devices.  One Windows Mobile provider started their deployment process with a total device wipe before loading an approved image onto the mobile device.  Others require you to trust specific certificates or enroll in special services.  If you run Apple’s iOS and designate the device as a managed device in iOS 6 to get access to certain new features like the global proxy setting, you’ll end up having a wiped device before you can manage it.  Services like MobileIron can even give administrators the ability to read any information on the device, regardless of whether it’s personal or not.

That level of integration into a device is just too much for many people bringing their personal devices into a work environment.  They just want to be able to check their email from their phone.  They don’t want a sneaky admin reading their text messages or even wiping their entire phone via a misconfigured policy setting or a mistaken device loss.  Could you image losing all your pictures or your bank account info because Exchange had a hiccup?  And what about pushing MDM polices down to disable your camera due to company policy or disable your ability to make in-app purchases from your app repository of choice?  How about setting a global proxy server so you are restricted from browsing questionable material from the comfort of your own home?  If you’re like me, any of those choices make me cringe a little.

That’s why BYoD polices are important.  They function more like having your neighbor’s children over at your house.  While you may have rules for your children, the neighbor’s kids are just vistors.  You can’t really punish them like you’d punish your own kids.  Instead, you make what rules you can to prevent them from doing things they aren’t supposed to do.  In many cases, you can send the neighbor’s kids to a room with your own kids to limit the damage they can cause.  This is very much in line with the way we treat devices with BYoD settings.  We try to authenticate users to ensure they are supposed to be accessing data on our network.  We place data behind access lists that try to determine location or device type.  We use the network as the tool to limit access to data as opposed to intruding on the device.

Both BYoD and MDM are needed in a corporate environment to some degree. The key to figuring out which needs to be applied where can be boiled down to one easy question:

Who paid for your device?

If the user bought their device, you need to be exploring BYoD polices as your primary method of securing the network and enabling access.  Unless you have a very clearly defined policy in place for device access, you can’t just assume you have the right to disable half a user’s device functions and then wipe it whenever you feel the need.  Instead, you need to focus your efforts on setting up rules that they should follow and containing their access to your data with access lists and user authentication.  On the other hand, if the company paid for your tablet then MDM is the likely solution in mind.  Since the device belongs to the corporation, they are will within their rights to do what they would like with it.  Use it just like you would a corporate laptop or an issued Blackberry instead of a personal iPhone.  Don’t be shocked if it gets wiped or random features get turned off due to company policy.

Tom’s Take

When it’s time to decide how best to manage your devices, make sure to pull out all those old credit card receipts.  If you want to enable MDM on all your corporate phones and tablets, be sure to check out http://enterpriseios.com/ for a list of all the features supported in a given MDM provider for both iOS and other OSes like Android or Blackberry.  If you didn’t get the bill for that tablet, then you probably want to get in touch with your wireless or network vendor to start exploring the options available for things like 802.1X authentication or captive portal access.  In particular, I like some of the solutions available from Aerohive and Aruba’s ClearPass.  You’re going to want both MDM and BYoD policies in your environment to be sure your devices are as useful as possible while still being safe and protecting your network.  Just remember to back it all up with a very clear, detailed written use policy to ensure there aren’t any legal ramifications down the road from a wiped device or a lost phone causing a network penetration.  That’s one bill you can do without.

The Google Glass Ceiling

I finally got around to watching the Charlie Rose interview with Sebastian Thrun.  Thrun is behind a lot of very promising technology, the least of which is the Google Glass project.  Like many, I kind of put this out of my mind at the outset, dismissing it as a horrible fashion trend at best and a terribly complicated idea at worst.  Having seen nothing beyond the concept videos that are currently getting lots of airplay, I was really tepid about the whole concept and wanted to see it baked a little more before I really bought into the idea of carrying my smartphone around on my head instead of my hip.  Then I read another interesting piece about the future of Google and Facebook.  In and of itself, the blog post has some interesting prognostications about the directions that Facebook and Google are headed.  But one particular quote caught my eye in both the interview and the future article.  Thrun says that the most compelling use case for Google Glass right now that they can think of is for taking pictures and sharing them with people on Google+.  Charlie Rose even asked about other types of applications, like augmented reality.  Thrun dismissed these in favor of talking about how easy it was to take pictures by blinking and nodding your head.  Okay, I’m going to have to take a moment here…

Sebastian Thrun, have you lost your mind?!?

Seriously.  You have a project sitting on your ears that has the opportunity to change the way that people like me view the world and the best use case you can think of today is taking pictures of ice cream and posting it to a dying social network?  Does. Not. Compute.  Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how utterly dumbstruck I am by this.  After spending a little more time looking into Google Glass, I’m giddy with anticipation with what I can do with this kind of idea.  However, it appears that the current guardians of the technology seem fit to shoehorn this paradigm-shifting concept into a camera case.

When I think of augmented reality applications, I think of the astronomy apps I see on the iPad that let me pick out constellations with my kids.  I can see the ones in the Southern Hemisphere just by pointing my Fruity Tablet at the ground.  Think of programs like Word Lens that allow me to instantly translate signs in a foreign language into something I can understand.  That’s the technology we have today that you can buy from the App Store.  Seriously.  No funky looking safety glasses required.  Just imagine that technology in a form factor where it’s always available without the need to take out your phone or tablet.  That’s what we can do at this very minute.  That doesn’t take much imagination at all.  Google Glass could be the springboard that launches so much more.

Imagine having an instant portal to a place like Wikipedia where all I have to do is look at an object and I can instantly find out everything I need to know about it.  No typing or dictating. All I need to do is glance at the TARDIS USB hub on my desk and I am instantly linked to the Wikipedia TARDIS page.  Take the Word Lens idea one step further.  Now, instead of only reading signs, let the microphone on the Google Glass pick up the foreign language being spoken and provide real-time translation in subtitles on the Glass UI.  Instant understanding with possibilities of translating back into the speaker’s language and display of phrases to respond with.  How about the ability to display video on the UI for things like step-by-step instructions of disassembling objects or repairing things?  I’d even love to have a Twitter feed displayed just outside my field of vision that I can scroll through with my eye movements.  That way, I can keep up with what’s going on that’s important to me without needing to lift a finger.  The possibilities are endless for something like this.  If only you can see past the ability to post pointless pictures to your Picasa account.

There are downsides to Google Glass too.  People are having a hard time interacting as it is today with the lure of instant information at their fingertips.  Imagine how bad it will be when they don’t have to make the effort of pulling out their phone.  I can see lots of issues with people walking into doors or parked cars because they were too busy paying attention to their Glass information and not as much time watching where they were walking.  Google’s web search page has made finding information a fairly trivial issue even today.  Imagine how much lazier people will be if all they have to do is glance at the web search and ask “How many ounces are in a pound?”.  Things will no longer need to be memorized, only found.  It’s like my teacher’s telling me not to be reliant on a calculator for doing math.  Now, everyone has a calculator on their phone.

Tom’s Take

In 2012, the amount of amazing technology that we take for granted astonishes me to no end.  If you had told me in the 1990s that we would have a mini computer in our pocket that has access to the whole of human knowledge and allows me to communicate with my friends and peers around the world instantly, I’d have scoffed at your pie-in-the-sky dreams.  Today, I don’t think twice about it.  I no longer need an alarm clock, GPS receiver, pocket camera, or calculator.  Sadly, the kind of thinking that has allowed technology like this to exist doesn’t appear to be applied to new concepts like Google Glass.  The powers that be at GoogleX can’t seem to understand the gold mine they’re sitting on.  Sure, maybe applying the current concepts of sharing pictures might help ease transition of new users to this UI concept.  I would hazard that people are going to understand what to do with Google Glass well beyond taking a snapshot of their lunch sushi and sharing with their Foodies circle.  Instead, show us the real groundbreaking stuff like the ideas that I’ve already discussed.  Go read some science fiction or watch movies like The Terminator, where the T-800s have a very similar UI to what you’re developing.  That’s where people want to see the future headed.  Not reinventing the Polaroid camera for the fifth time this year.  And if you’re having that much trouble coming up with cool ideas or ways to sell Google Glass to the nerds out there today, give me a call.  I can promise you we’ll blast through that glass ceiling you’ve created for yourself like the SpaceX Dragon lifting off for the first time.  I may not be able to code as well as other people at GoogleX, but I can promise you I’ve got the vision for your project.

Now You Cius, Now You Don’t

Cisco had some pretty high hopes for the Cius tablet.  When it was first announced at Cisco Live 2010, it was positioned to unseat all manner of devices, including the vaunted iPad.  A year later at Cisco Live 2011, the mood had changed somewhat.  After watching vendor after vendor try to take down the 800-pound Cupertino Tablet Gorilla, Cisco realized that placing the Cius in the sights of the iPad may not be the way to sell it.  Instead, it became an enterprise collaboration endpoint.  The idea was to push it out to those that wanted to use their tablets as unified communications endpoints and enact a bit of control over what they could do.  Today, just before Cisco Live 2012, Cisco quietly announced through O.J. Winge that development on the Cius would effectively halt.  Essentially, what you Cius is what you get (I apologize in advance for all the puns.  I’ve been saving them.).

This really doesn’t come as a surprise to me.  The handwriting has been on the wall for many months, but around the time of Enterprise Connect 2012, that handwriting was outlined in bright neon letters.  Cisco has finally realized that unseating the iPad is all but impossible.  The primary drivers for BYOD in the enterprise come from the Cupertino Fruit Table.  People focus on writing software for the iPad.  Executives want them.  Executives and knowledge workers buy them and bring them into your environment.  The number of non-Apple table devices is shrinking by the day.  Besides Samsung, most other developers have either given up the dream of being the next big post-PC device or are very close to making that decision.  Instead, everyone is jumping on the Apple bandwagon and developing their software for the iPad.  This is what Cisco decided to do when it ported the Jabber IM/Presence/Softphone software from the PC and Mac to the iPad.  While Jabber for iPad won’t be released until sometime in June (my money is on the day of the Cisco Live 2012 Keynote from Chambers), I’ve seen a copy of it running on many Cisco employee’s iPads.  It does everything that you’d want a Cius to do.  More, in fact.  It’s funny that a single application can invalidate an entire device development.  Padma Warrior walked on stage at Enterprise Connect 2012 to show off Jabber.  On an iPad.  More than one person in my Twitter stream made a snarky mention about it, asking where her Cius was.  That was likely the final nail in the coffin of the Cius.  It just took a few months for the final hammer stroke to fall.  If the CTO of your company doesn’t have enough faith in your device to show it off as the gold standard for communication and collaboration on stage in front of thousands, that says more about it that any marketing slide can.

Software development on the Cius has quite frankly been a joke.  It took ten months to get Forced Authorization Codes (FAC) to work when dialing numbers.  That was a deal breaker to me.  The firmware is buggy at best.  It’s based on Android 2.2 (Froyo).  They’re already 2 major versions behind and the hope to get to ICS (or even Honeycomb or Gingerbread) was doubtful at best.  The AppHQ app store never really took off, as most people that I’ve talked to just went over to the Google App Store, or Google Play or whatever it’s called this week, and installed what they wanted.  If this had been the Cius that I had gotten last year at Cisco Live, I’d have had high hopes for it.  Instead, it’s taken a year to get it to the point of being semi-usable.  Assuming there may be one more firmware update in the pipeline, I still don’t think the device is stable enough for everyday use.  My Cius still sits on the side of my desk next to my EX90.  My day-to-day endpoint is still my 9971.  It’s rock solid.  It doesn’t reboot every two hours.  It plays video when I ask it to.  I don’t have to spend 30 seconds poking around the UI before I can make a phone call. Besides getting me a 50 GB Box.net storage account, I’ve used my Cius for very little.  I never felt it was going to replace my phone.  And as a VAR, I’ve never been asked to quote one.  Almost every Cius that I’ve seen has either been in a giveaway or been given to someone to test.  In fact, a couple of days ago my friend Amy Arnold (@amyengineer) asked what the best desktop video phone was.   The answers were basically “anything but the Cius”.  That’s not really a ringing endorsement of the flagship multifunction collaboration device.

Cisco has even tried to extend the reach of the Cius by allowing it to be used as a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) endpoint.  Cisco calls it Virtualization eXperience Infrastructure (VXI), but it’s pronounced “VDI”.  That’s a nice idea in theory…except that the Cius has some VDI/VXI issues.  It’s very under-clocked to crunch any real CPU cycles.  The resolution on the output monitor is locked to the resolution of the Cius, which is 1024×600.  That’s worse than my first SVGA monitor from 1994.  It’s great on a 7″ screen, but not on a 24″ LCD monitor.  Cisco should really be spending time concentrating on the plumbing that makes VDI/VXI work, not on providing an endpoint for it.  Look at HP and Dell.  Their latest numbers and guidance are showing weakness in the PC area thanks to things like VDI and tablets.  Do you really want to try to break into this market?  It’s going to be like showing up to the party while everyone is cleaning up the mess.  Spend more time working with the network folks and the server folks through things like UCS and Cisco Prime NCS and ISE.  You’ll make a lot more money than you would otherwise trying to hock tablets.

Tom’s Take

Alright, I’ll say it.  It took Cisco long enough to finally realize that there’s no money to be made in having your own “me too” tablet.  The Cius has been a curiosity.  It’s been a nice desk toy that can make phone calls and host the occasional Webex meeting.  But at the end of the day, another 50,000 Cius units wouldn’t have held off the executioner’s axe.  There aren’t lines around the corner to buy the next Cius.  No one waits with baited breath to hear about the new features that are going to be in the New Cius.  The tablet wars are all but over.  Apple won, and Samsung is waging a guerrilla partisan campaign.  Anyone that is smart will realize that the money is made by having your software ready to install when a shiny new iPad comes into the building.  Cisco is doing the right thing here by eliminating the distraction of developing for a platform no one wants.  Instead, by refocusing on the things they should be doing, like providing top notch network equipment and monitoring software, they’ll still get the pieces of the pie that they’ve been chasing all this time.  The Cius was never meant to be the hot new tablet.  It was meant to drive investment in phone systems and Webex and all the things that go along with VDI/VXI.  Those things will still be there tomorrow and even into the future.  That’ll be long after the Cius on the side of my desk has been relegated to the same pile as my Novell servers.  I highly doubt that anyone will mourn the passing of the Cius.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll be hearing is “See ya.  Wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Cisco Cius – My Long Overdue Review


Cisco has introduced a new unified communications endpoint into its portfolio of devices that it hopes will bring a new user experience to customers wanting to unify video and voice in the palms of their hands.  The Cisco Cius represents a large investment into the intersection of mobility, voice, and video.

I won a Cisco Cius at Cisco Live this year.  I was excited to get it into my hands and start playing with it.  I wanted to put it on my desktop and utilize every function I could.  It’s been four months since I won the device, and I’ve spent time on and off putting it through it’s paces.  Some of the things I found were good.  Others, no so much.

The Cius is an Android-based (Froyo 2.2.2) tablet.  It has a 7″ screen (1024×600) with an Atom Z615 processor and 1GB of RAM.  It has an 802.11 a/b/g/n radio and a 4G LTE radio in an upcoming model as well as front and rear cameras, the latter capable of capturing 720p video.  It is also capable of being docked with a port replicator and handset that allows for speakerphone as well as USB ports to drive a keyboard and mouse.  Why?  Because the Cius also includes a Virtual Infrastructure Experience (VXI) client for running a virtual desktop as a replacement for your desktop PC.


When I got the unit, I first had to cool my jets for a bit.  The unit had pre-production software that wasn’t quite up to specs yet.  One of the things that didn’t work was application installation.  The Cius provides its own app store, AppHQ, which can be controlled via corporate policy to restrict downloads to this store.  You can also sideload apps from the regular Android market, but if your admin overlords decree that you shant be able to do that, you’ll be locked into AppHQ.  I took my time poking around the interface and noting how different it was from my iPad.  This was my first attempt at using a Google tablet, so it did take a bit of getting used to, layout wise. As well, the construction was a little different and the unit felt more ‘solid’.  Not to say that Apple’s iPad feels cheap, but the Cius is a little more dense than the aluminum used on my gen 1 iPad.  However, due to the software difficulties I was unable to do much with the Cius.  I did use it to record my Ultimate Cisco Live Attendee video right before I packed it away for the trip home.  Here you can get a feel for the video quality from the front VGA camera:

After I got it home, I had many stops and starts trying to get the right firmware to update it to a point where I could install things.  Thanks to some help from my friend Jon Nelson, I was at least able to get the right software to register it with my CallManager server, which I finally had to upgrade to 8.5 to get everything working correctly.  When I got the new firmware load installed, I was able to browse to the Android Market and start installing apps.  The process was pretty straightforward, and every app was available for installation.  The 7″ screen did seem a little cramped from my 10″ iPad, but it was very usable for simple browsing tasks.  I also noticed that the media dock didn’t secure the unit when docked.  Normally, I expect to hear a click or a snap as the locks engage on something like that, but there was nothing here.  In fact, if you don’t pay attention when docking the unit, it will slip and slide right off into the floor.

After playing with the Cius for a few days, I hit my first show stopping bug.  In the current firmware load there is a problem with dialing calls that require Forced Authorization Codes (FACs).  The dialpad for the unit disappears when the dial string is completed and won’t show up again until the call is connected.  The problem for me is that all my long distance calls (which represent the majority of my office calls) require me to enter an access code when I dial.  Without a dialpad, I can’t enter the code to complete the call.  For this reason, the 9971 I normally use has stayed on my desk and the Cius has been relegated to the side desk where it gets tested on occasion.  I’m sure that Cisco has seen the oversight in not allowing me to have a dialpad during ring out and will be releasing a firmware to fix that in no time.  Oh, wait…

In order to expedite my firmware update desires, I signed up for the Cius developer program and gained access to the firmware update service for testing.  Never one to shy away from putting beta code on my devices, I followed the developer directions and waited patiently for my Cius to update.  It took a couple of hours to pull the new code and reboot.  Where it promptly locked up.  Every time I tried to install new code, it rebooted and hung on the restart, the Cisco logo taunting me for hours on end until I performed a hard reset.  Which of course reset the firmware back to the old version.  And erased anything I might have installed.  Oh, bother.

Figuring that beta firmware may be just a little too advanced, I decided to head over to Cisco’s website and pull down a new production firmware for CUCM so that I can update it like that.  Which is where I finally encountered the “You do not have a valid contract” error that has bitten so many people as of late, especially Ethan Banks.  Of course, I don’t have a SmartNet contract for this device since I didn’t buy it in the first place.  I figure I need to order one if I want to figure out why it keeps locking up or why I can’t get the dialpad to show up to make long distance calls.  I know the firmware I managed to load did fix some other transient issues, like the unit losing connection to CUCM every night and requiring a reboot to establish a connection again.  However, I’m going to need a lot of support to bring this device up to the point were I consider it a replacement for my 9971 deskphone.


Tom’s Take

If I had to use one word to describe the Cius, it would be potential.  Cisco has obviously invested a lot of money into this unit and sees it as a big step going forward to unify all of their cutting edge technology into a single portable unit.  It makes for a really nice demo and you can argue that it makes a statement sitting on the desk.  The hardware seems to be acceptable for use as a business communications endpoint.  However, software quirks show it to be an early 1.0 product release.  Difficulties in getting my unit into a usable condition hampered me from replacing my current desk phone.  Inability to get software to load without causing reboot loops has forced me to reformat more times than I care to count.  And short-sightedness at allowing me to download production firmware updates means that it will likely sit on the side of my desk until such time as someone decides that, as a Cisco partner, I am not a stinking filthy pirate and only want to get my Cius running so that I can show it off to coworkers and customers in the hopes that they buy a truckload of them.  However, until that day comes, my Cius will be relegated to little more than a curious desk ornament, right next to the Buckyballs and my stressball collection.  Let’s hope I can fix that sooner rather than later.


Disclaimer

The Cisco Cius I have was won in a contest at Cisco Live 2011.  I recieved a Cius and a media dock, as well as a Cisco-branded Jawbone Icon headset.  At no time did Cisco ask me to write a review of the device, nor did they place any restrictions on the content of any reviews written by me.  They did not ask for any consideration nor were they promised any by me in the crafting of this post.  The opinions and conclusions reached are mine and mine alone.

BYO(a)D

I’ve talked about the whole Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement before and how it reminded me a lot of social circles in high school.  Now, a few months later, it appears that this movement has gained a lot of steam and is now in the phase of “If you aren’t dealing with it, you need to be” phase for enterprise and corporate IT departments.  I also know that it must be gaining more acceptance when my mom started asking me about that whole “Bring Your Own Computer to Work Day” stuff.  To give you an idea of where my mom falls on the tech adoption curve:

Yeah, it’s going to be popular if my mom has heard of it.  It also hit home last week when the new guy came into the office for his first day of work toting a MacBook and wondering what information he needed to setup in Mail to connect to Exchange.  Being a rather small company, the presence of a MacBook sent hushed whispers through the office along with anguished cries of fear at such a shiny thing.  We shackled him with a ThinkPad and took care of the immediate issue, but it did get my brain pondering something about BYOD and what represents it.

When I talk to people about BYOD and how I must now start supporting new devices and rewriting applications to support various platforms, the response I get is overwhelming in its unity: Will this work on my Mac/iPad/iPhone?  I hardly ever get asked about Ubuntu or Fedora or Froyo or Blackberry.  No one ever worries about using Ice Cream Sandwich to access the corporate Citrix farm, and not just because it isn’t out yet.  I find that far and away the largest number of people driving the idea of platform-agnostic service and application access tend to be fans of the Cupertino Fruit Company.  In fact, I am almost to the point where I’m going to start referring to it as BYOAD (Bring Your Own Apple Device).  Why is the representation so skewed?

At first I thought it might be a technical thing.  Linux users, after all, tend to be a little more technical than Mac users.  Linux folks aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with file permissions or kernel recompiles.  They also seem to understand that while it would be nice to have certain things, other ideas are so difficult or impossible that it’s not worth trying.  Such as Exchange access in Evolution Mail.  Access to an Exchange server would make a Linux mail client an instant killer app.  The need to incorporate non-free code, however, is very much at odds with the “free as in freedom” mantra of many Linux stalwarts.  So we accept that we can’t access Exchange from anything other than a virtualized or emulated Outlook client and we move on.  Fix what you can, accept and work around what you can’t.  In a way, I tend to believe that kind of tinkering mentality filters down to many of the Android users out there.  Cyanogenmod is a perfect example of this, as is the ability with which users can root their devices to install things like VPN clients.  Android and Linux users like to see all the gory details of their systems.

I was lucky enough to attend a panel at the Oklahoma City Innotech conference that dealt with the new realities behind BYOD.  The panel fielded a lot of questions about software to ease transitions and security matters.  I did ask a question about Apple vs. Android/BlackBerry/Linux BYOD adoption and the panel said more or less that OS X/iOS access comprised up to 85% of their requests in many cases.  However, Eric Hileman was on the panel and said something that gave me pause in my thinking.  He told me that in his view, it wasn’t so much the device that was driving the BYOD movement as it was the culture behind each device.  As soon as he said it, I realized that I had been going down that road already and just hadn’t made it to the turn yet.

I had unconsciously put the Linux/Android users into a culture of tinkerers.  Curious engineers and kernel hackers that want to know how something works.  Nothing is magical for them.  They know every module loaded in their system and can modprobe for drivers like second nature.  Apple fans, on the other hand, are more artistic from what I’ve seen.  They don’t necessarily like to get under the hood of their aluminium marvels any more than they have to (if they even can).  To them, magic is important.  Applications should install with effort and just work.  Systems should never crash and kernels are pieces of popcorn, not parts of the operating system.  Their mantra is “It just works”.

Note that I didn’t say anything about intelligence levels.  Many of the smartest people I know use Macs daily.  I’ve also known some pretty inept Linux users that ran the OS simply because it couldn’t get as screwed up as Windows.  Intelligence is a non issue.  It comes down to cultures.  Mac people want the same access they’d have if they were running a PC.  After all, the hardware is all the same now with Intel chips instead of PowerPC.  Why should I get access to all my apps?  Apple is free to create interfaces into non-free software like Microsoft Office since they don’t have the “free as in freedom” battle cry to stand next to as much as the Debian fans out there.  For the Mac users, it doesn’t matter how something gets done.  It just needs to happen.  Software that doesn’t work isn’t looked at as a curiosity to be dissected and fixed.  Instead, it is discarded and other options are explored.


Tom’s Take

Thanks to Steve’s Cupertino Fruit Company, we have a revolution on our hands that is enabling people to concentrate more on creating content and less on having all the right tools on the right OS to get started.  Many of my peers have settled on using MacBooks so they can have a machine that never breaks and “just works”.  It’s kind of funny to think even just 3 or 4 years ago how impossible the idea of having OS-agnostic applications was.  Now I can go out and buy pretty much whatever I want and be assured that 85% of my applications will run on it.  As long as I’ve dabbled with Linux I’ve never felt that was a possibility.  To me, it seems that the artists and designers with an eye to form needed to cry out over the engineers and tinkerers that hold function in higher esteem.  We may yet one day get to the point where OS is an afterthought, but it’s going to take a lot more people bringing their own fruit to work.

Touch-and-Go Pad

By now, you’ve probably heard that HP has decided to axe the TouchPad tablet and mull the future of WebOS as a licensed operating system.  You’ve probably also seen the fire sale that retailers have put on to rid themselves of their mountains of overstocked TouchPads.  I’ve been watching with great interest to see where this leads.

WebOS isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve used a TouchPad briefly and I was fairly impressed.  The basics for a great OS are all there, and the metaphors for things like killing running applications made a little more sense to me than they did in iOS, which is by and large the predominant table OS today (and the most often copied for that matter).  I wasn’t all that thrilled about the hardware, though.  It felt a bit like one of my daughter’s Fisher Price toys.  Plastic, somewhat chunky, and a fingerprint magnet.  WebOS felt okay on the hardware, and from what I’ve heard it positively screams on some newer hardware comparable to that found in the iPad or the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

I think WebOS as an alternative to Android will be very helpful in the long run of recovering HP’s investment.  Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola is probably making companies like HTC and Samsung a little wary, despite what the press releases might say.  Samsung has done a lot with Android in the tablet space, presenting a viable alternative to Apple, or at least as viable as you can get going against that 800-pound gorilla.  They’ll be on the good side of Google for a while to come.  HTC sells a lot on handsets and has already shown that they’re willing to go with the horse that gives them the best chance in the race.  Whether that is Windows Mobile, Android, or someone else depends on which way the wind is blowing on that particular day.  If HP can position WebOS attractively to HTC and get them to start loading it on one or two phone models, it might help give HTC some leverage in their negotiations with other vendors.  Plus, HP can show that the TouchPad was a fluke from the sales perspective and get some nice numbers behind device adoption.  I’m sure that was part of the idea behind the announcement that HP would start preloading WebOS on its PCs and printers (which is probably not going to happen now that HP is shopping their PC business to potential buyers).  More numbers mean better terms for licensing contracts and better fluff to put into marketing releases.

As for the TouchPad itself, I think it’s going to have a life beyond HP.  Due to the large number of them that have been snapped up by savvy buyers, there is a whole ecosystem out there just waiting to be tapped.  There’s already a port of Ubuntu.  XDA has a bounty of $500 for the first Android port to run on it.  With so many devices floating around out there and little to no support from the original manufacturer, firmware hackers are going to have a field day creating new OS loads and shoehorning them into the TouchPad.  I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough to unseat the current table champ, but you have to admit that if the TouchPad was even close to being a competitor to the iPad, the fact that it now costs 1/5th of Fruit Company Tablet is a very enticing offer.  I doubt my mom or my grandmother is going to run out and snap one up, but someone like me that has no qualms about loading unsupported software might decide to take a chance on it.  If nothing else, it might just make a good picture frame.

Tom’s Take

Products have a lifecycle.  That’s why we aren’t still buying last year’s widgets.  Technology especially seems to have a much shorter lifecycle than anything else, with the possible exception of milk.  HP bet big on the TouchPad, but like most of today’s new television shows, when it wasn’t a hit out of the gate it got cancelled in favor of something else.  Maybe the combination of WebOS on this particular hardware wasn’t the optimal device.  We might see WebOS on printers and pop machines in the next 5 years, who knows?  The hardware from the TouchPad itself is going to live on in the hands of people that like building things from nothing keeping dead products breathing for just a little longer.  I’d love to see what a TouchPad running Backtrack 5 would be like.  With all those shiny new clearanced TouchPads floating around out there, I doubt I’m going to have to wait very long.

BYOD: High School Never Ends

There is a lot of buzz around about the porting of applications to every conceivable platform.  Most of it can be traced back to a movement in the IT/user world known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), the idea that a user can bring in their own personal access device and still manage to perform their job functions.  I’m going to look at BYOD and why I think that it’s more of the same stuff we’ve been dealing with since lunch period in high school.

BYOD isn’t a new concept.  Contractors and engineers have been doing it for years.  Greg Ferro and Chris Jones would much prefer bringing their own Macbooks to a customer’s site to get the job done.  Matthew Norwood would prefer to have just about anything other than the corporate dinosaur that he babies through boot up and shut down.  Even I have my tastes when it comes to laptops.  Recently though, the explosion of smartphones and tablets has caused a shift toward more ubiquitous computing.  It now seems to be a bullet point requirement that your software or hardware has a support app in a cloud app repository or the capability to be managed from a 3.5″ capacitive touch screen.  Battle lines are drawn around whether or not your software is visible on a Fruit Company Mobile Device or a Robot Branded Smarty Phone.  Users want to drag in any old tablet and expect to do their entire job function from 7″ screen.

However, while BYOD is all about running software from any endpoint, the driving forces behind it aren’t quite as noble.  I think once I start describing how I see things, you’ll start noticing a few parallels, especially if you have teenagers.

– BYOD is about prestige.  Who usually starts asking about running an app on an iPad?  Well, besides the office Gadget Nerd that ran out and stood in line for 4 hours and ran out of the store screeching like kid in a candy store?  Odds are, it’s the CxO that comes to you and informs you that they’ve just purchased a Galaxy Tablet and they would like it setup.  The device is gingerly handed to you to perform your IT voodoo on, all while the executive waits patiently.  Usually, there is some kind of interjection from them about how they got a good deal and how the drone at the store told them it had a lot of amazing features.  The CxO usually can’t wait to show it around after you’ve finished syncing their mail and calendar and pictures of their expensive dogs.  Wanna know why?  Because it’s a status symbol.  They want to show off all the things it can do to those that can’t get one.  Whether it be due to being overpriced or unavailable from any supply chain, there are some people that revel in rubbing people’s noses in opulence.  By showing off how their tablet or smartphone gets emails and surfs the web, they are attempting to widen the IT class gap.  Sound like high school to you?  Air Jordans? Expensive blue jeans? Ringing any bells?  The same kind of people that liked to crow that their parents bought them a BMW in high school are the same ones that will gladly show off their iPad or Galaxy Tab solely for the purpose of snubbing you.  They could really care less about doing their job from it.

– BYOD is about entitlement.  I could go on and on about this one, but I’ll try to keep it on topic.  There seems to be a growing movement in the younger generation that you as a company owe them something for coming to work for you.  They want things like nap time or gold stars next to their names for doing something.  No, really.  This naturally extends to their choice of work device.  I’m going to pick on Mac users here because that particular device comes up more often that not, but it extends to Linux users and Windows users as well.  The “entitled” user thinks that you should change your entire network architecture to suit their particular situation.  Something like this:

User: I can’t get my mail.

Admin: You’re using the Fail Mail client.  We’re on Exchange.  You’ll need to use Outlook.

User: I’m not installing Office on my system!  Microsoft is a cold-hearted company that murders orphans in Antarctica.  Fail Mail donates $.25 of every shareware license to the West Pacific Tree Slug Preservation Society.  I want to use my mail client.

Admin: I guess you could use the webmail…

User: How about you use the Fail Mail Server instead?  They donate $2 of every purchase to fungus research.  I think it’s a much more capable server than dumb old Exchange anyway.

Admin: <facepalm>

I hope this doesn’t sound familiar.  One of the great joys of IT is telling users you aren’t going to reinvent the wheel just to mollify them.  However, in many cases the user demanding your change everything happens to sign your paycheck.  That does have the effect of ripping out one mail server or reprogramming a whole tool because it used/didn’t use Flash/HTML 5.

– BYOD is about never changing your perspective.  I have an iPad.  And an iPhone.  And a behemoth Lenovo w701 laptop.   And I use them all.  Often, I use them at the same time.  I see each as a very capable tool for what it’s designed to do.  I don’t read ebooks on my iPhone.  I don’t run virtual machines on my iPad.  And I don’t use my laptop for texting or phone calls.  Just like I don’t use screwdrivers like chisels or use a pipe wrench like a hammer.  However, there are some people that like picking up one device and never putting it down.  These people seem to believe that the world would be a more perfect place if they could sit in their chair and do their whole job from a touch screen.  They feel that moving to a laptop to type a blog post is a travesty.  Being forced to use a high-powered graphical desktop for CAD work is unthinkable.  I have to admit that I’ve tried to see things from their perspective.  I’ve tried to use my iPad to take notes and remotely administer servers.  Guess what?  I just couldn’t do it.  I’m a firm believer that tools should be used according to their design, rather than having a 56-in-one tool that does a lot of things poorly.

Tom’s Take

I think keeping your tools capable and portable is a very good thing.  I hate software that can only be run from a Windows 2000 server or needs a special hardware dongle to even start.  I love that tools are becoming web-enabled and can be used from any PC/Mac/toaster.  However, I also think that things need to be kept in perspective.  BYOD is a Charlie Foxtrot just waiting to happen if the motivations behind it aren’t honest and sincere.  Simply porting your management app to the App Store so the CxO can show off his new iPad while complaining that we need to scrap the company website because it uses Flash and no one will bother using their dumb old laptop ever again is really, really bad.  Give me a compelling reason to use your app, like a new intuitive interface or a remote capability I wouldn’t normally have.  Just putting your tablet app out so you can sound cool or fit in with the popular crowd won’t work any better than wearing parachute pants did in high school.  Except, this time you won’t get stuffed into a locker.  You’ll just lose my business.