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.