» Archive for the 'Desktop Productivity' Category

The Note Taker’s Dilemma

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Mankind has been taking notes using paper and pencil since paper and pencil were invented.  We do it to capture ephemeral information that would otherwise escape us, and to aid our fallible human brains, which often do not recall things clearly or at the precise moment we need them to.

Note taking on paper is easy, but limited in features.  There is no Google-style search, no way to ensure that notes are automatically stored in a filing system, and no way to instantly make exact copies of a note or piece of information.

Two solutions on the market today offer similar approaches to the problem of capturing and storing ephemeral information.  OneNote 2010, part of Microsoft’s Office 2010 suite, is the latest iteration of the company’s solution that first debuted in 2003.  Evernote, which launched in 2008, offers both free and paid versions of its software, which provide a similar feature set.   On a basic level, both solutions allow users to use a desktop client, a browser-based application, and mobile applications for smartphones to take notes, store links and documents, digitize hand written notes, upload pictures and make them text searchable, record audio, share notebooks with other users, synchronize notes and notebooks between devices, and search through stored information.

OneNote is tightly linked to other Microsoft offerings such as Outlook and Word and, just as those offerings, features advanced editing capabilities, templates, and more structured file organization.  However, when it comes to mobile phone support, OneNote is limited to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s recently launched mobile platform.  It is possible to access the OneNote Web App via a smartphone browser, but that isn’t an optimum solution, as the user loses what I consider to be the best feature of the mobile application, which is the ability to take text searchable pictures of notes or business cards from a smartphone.

Evernote, on the other hand, lacks the tight integration with office productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and doesn’t offer the advanced editing tools and templates that a power user would typically require.  It is, however, available on multiple platforms including Apple iOS, Palm webOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, and Windows Mobile. (There is, however, no Evernote for Windows Phone 7 mobile application at this time.)  A key feature is Evernote’s Trunk, an online application and hardware store that allows download and purchase of applications and hardware that integrate with Evernote.
The dilemma for the knowledge worker then is integration with everyday office tools versus greater platform support.  For the Microsoft Office-centric knowledge worker, OneNote has a clear advantage, but for the user that depends largely on his smartphone and who probably doesn’t have a Windows Phone 7 device, Evernote is the more attractive option.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

The Tools We Use

Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira
While we are discussing an upgrade, can we work on the clothes and hair too?

Now that we've gotten a system makeover, I think something else needs updating too...

Three of the tools we use the most to create and record information were invented in the last one hundred years.   Just as the invention of the printing press and moveable type by Gutenberg launched a revolution in the distribution of books (and later on, newspapers, magazines, and other printed material), several nineteenth- and twentieth-century discoveries begat a revolution in the distribution of individually-crafted documents, namely the typewriter, the photocopier, and word processing software.

These three inventions did more to shape the creation and mass distribution of information (both in individual and mass quantity) than anything that preceded it in the history of mankind.

At the same time, however, these benefits came with a price: the better the technology has gotten, the more copies of information have been able to be made and distributed.

Indeed, until the era of the laser printer arrived in the 1990s, creators of documents had two choices.  There were those few documents important enough to warrant the investment of time and energy in setting type and printing and the overwhelming majority of documents that didn’t, many of them of an ephemeral nature.  The photocopier closed the gap between commercial printing and low-volume copying (which had been more likely to have been handled via carbon copies than anything else).   It also gave knowledge workers the ability to distribute anything and everything to as many people as they wished, just as e-mail does today, albeit with less speed and efficiency.

The typewriter and the photocopier opened the door for knowledge workers to create and send documents to multiple recipients but there were still some significant limitations compared to what is available today using e-mail.  The distribution of documents within a building or campus was relatively easy and done via intra-office mail or simply by dropping off the document in the recipient’s inbox.  For those people traveling or in a different office or company, documents were typically sent by mail and this meant that they would not arrive until several days later.

Today, the norm is to measure the arrival of documents in seconds – and our new discoveries allow us to create more documents, more drafts and versions of the documents we are creating, as well as to distribute them to dozens if not hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a button.
That change is one of the key reasons why we have to contemplate the problem of Information Overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Conversations with Microsoft: Office 2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

It is easy to forget when we are presented with a piece of software that nothing about it is random. Software does not spring forth fully formed from its developers as Athena did from Zeus; rather, it is the result of years of research, development work, and testing.

It is also easy to overlook the fact that all that work is done by people, not faceless programming automatons. It is the unique personalities and personal goals of these people that shape a product , drive innovation, and impact the end-user experience.

The users of a piece of software, however, typically doesn’t see any of this when they install and run a program. They see features, icons, wizards, and may benefit from upgrades and enhancements in new versions without really understanding – or even thinking about – how these came about.

Microsoft Office has as many as 600 million users worldwide, of which 500 million are properly licensed. That makes it the most widely-used application in the world – and the introduction of a new version can have a significant impact on millions of knowledge workers and how they work.

What we don’t get to hear very often is the perspective of the people involved in creating Office 2010 from the ground up. Microsoft allowed us to talk with its developers in the final months of the development of Office 2010 and we asked them what they did to improve worker productivity and what they were most passionate about.

You can find out what they had to say in Conversations with Microsoft.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Plato Turns 50

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 by David Goldes

Imagine a world without the collaborative tools we take for granted today. Decades before the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web, computer pioneers were building Plato, a system that pioneered chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, online forums and message boards, and remote screen sharing. 

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself. -Plato

Plato (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was the world’s first computer-aided teaching system and it was built in 1960 at Computer-based Education Research Lab (CERL) at the University of Illinois and eventually comprised over 1,000 workstations worldwide. It was in existence for forty years and offered coursework ranging from elementary school to university-level.  

Social computing and collaboration began on Plato in 1973. That year, Plato got Plato Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chatrooms), and Term-talk (instant messaging).  

Plato was also a breeding ground for today’s technology innovators. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s chief software architect, worked on the Plato system in the 1970s as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many others including Dave Woolley, who wrote Plato Notes at the age of 17, Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (the e-mail system) in 1974 at the age of 18, and Doug Brown, creator of Talk-o-matic, continued to develop collaborative technologies in their careers.  

Don Bitzer, credited by many as the “father of Plato,” is the co-inventor of the plasma display and has spent his career focusing on collaborative technologies for use in the classroom.  

This week we celebrate Plato’s 50th anniversary. Why a week and not a day? I spoke with Brian Dear, whose book on Plato (The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the Plato System and the Dawn of Cyberculture) will be published later this year,told me “[I]t’s hard to pin down an exact date, due to a) it being open to interpretation as to what qualifies as the first day — when the project got green-lighted? when they started designing it? when a system was actually up and running? when they did the first demo? — and b) there’s little lasting documentary evidence from those earliest weeks.”  

“May 1960 was when Daniel Alpert’s interdisciplinary group that had held meetings for weeks about the feasibility of the lab embarking on an automated teaching project, finally submitted its report to Alpert. He read it, thought about it, and decided to ignore the group’s recommendation to not proceed. Instead he asked if a 26-year-old PhD named Don Bitzer wanted to have a go at it, and Bitzer agreed. Consequently, on June 3, Alpert wrote up his own report to the Dean of the Engineering School, which instead of reiterating his group’s recommendation to not go forward with a computer education project, stated that they were indeed going forward. Bitzer went right to work on it, brought in others to help with the hardware and software, and they had a prototype up and running pretty quickly that summer. The rest is history.”  




David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Why We Need to Revisit the Office Suite

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Slowly but surely, managers are beginning to realize that facilitating efficient collaboration amongst their legions of knowledge workers is a strategic priority.  Time for the office to evolveWhile this will certainly come through the deployment of improved knowledge sharing and collaboration tools, few managers know which tools they should consider deploying, so inertia sets in and they make few if any changes.

This is unfortunate because tools that were leading edge five or more years ago simply do not have the type of functionality to support the way we need to work today and in the coming years.

Let’s take word processing, for example.  In many respects, these tools have changed relatively little from the word processing hardware introduced by IBM in the 1960s.  That early hardware supported text entry, editing, and printing, and yet even as more features have been added over time, the way people use word processing tools has changed very little.  A Basex survey in early 2010 revealed that 25% of knowledge workers still print out their documents to compare the comments and edits they get from colleagues.

Today, companies have a choice in their core desktop productivity tools.  Not only does Microsoft offer the now-ubiquitous Office suite (the 2010 version was just released), but Google offers a cloud-based suite and OpenOffice.org offers an open-source solution.

While these three offerings will all competently compose documents, present slides, and crunch some numbers, their capabilities vary greatly when viewed in the context of how knowledge workers actually work.  To dig deeper into the differences between these offerings, we developed an entirely new version of our Knowledge Worker Impact Quotient, a tool we use to help potential users of an offering to understand the potential positive or negative impacts the piece of software might present.  We then applied this analysis to the offerings from Google, Microsoft, and OpenOffice.org, with somewhat surprising results.  There was little difference between the offerings in terms of very basic functionality but once any kind of collaborative or knowledge sharing processes were applied, significant differences became apparent.

Our findings and recommendations are available in two reports, “:What’s New in Microsoft Office 2010″: and “:Three Variations on a Theme: An In-Depth Analysis of Office Suites from Google, Microsoft, and OpenOffice.org”: – online here at http://www.basex.com/2010

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Office Suites…

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by David Goldes

…But Were Afraid to Ask

We’re pleased to announce two reports focusing on the office suite and desktop productivity market, coinciding with Microsoft’s launch of Office 2010.

Which suite should I use now?

The reports, “Three Variations on a Theme: An In-Depth Analysis of Office Suites from Google, Microsoft, and OpenOffice.org” and “What’s New in Microsoft Office 2010,”  are intended for the manager who wants to understand the dramatic changes in the office suite market.

The two reports analyze the important new and updated features of Microsoft Office 2010, and compare the suite of applications to Google Apps Premier Edition and the OpenOffice.org Productivity Suite.

The report, What’s new in Microsoft Office 2010, is the industry’s first in-depth look at the new Microsoft Office 2010 suite, which consists of updated and redesigned applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mail, mobile work, meetings, and collaborative workspaces.

Three Variations on a Theme: An In-Depth Analysis of Office Suites from Google, Microsoft, and OpenOffice.org, is a complementary report that takes an exhaustive look at these offerings and judges them based on their ability to form the foundations of a Collaborative Business Environment.

We were admittedly hesitant about recommending an upgrade from Microsoft Office 2003 to Microsoft Office 2007 due to high training costs and a lack of a consistent interface and told many companies to skip Office 2007 entirely.

Now we need to examine the move to Office 2010 in an entirely different light.

A few issues managers should consider include:
- What’s really new in Microsoft Office 2010?
- How do the tools found in office suites enhance organization-wide productivity?
- What are the differentiators between the offerings and how will they lower costs, speed time to market, and increase your productivity?
- What are the strengths and weakness of the three office suite offerings?
- Fundamentally, which office suite offering is right for your company?

These two reports are available online to Basex:TechWatch readers at the special introductory price of $299 for the set.  A free executive summary is also available.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Poor, Neglected Office Suite

Thursday, May 13th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Perhaps it’s because desktop productivity applications such as word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software are so ubiquitous and have been around for so long (relatively speaking) that many people take them for granted.

When will our suite be upgraded?

People have been using computers to process words for decades but the ante has been raised significantly in the past five years, as knowledge workers have come to rely upon basic desktop productivity tools to not only provide basic functionality but to either offer or work in concert with applications that support the levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration that are de rigueur in the twenty-first century Knowledge Economy.

Microsoft has long owned what is considered the office suite market although a host of companies have been nipping at its heels, offering everything from free, open-source suites to free online suites.

The two most prominent competitors, OpenOffice.org, which offers the OpenOffice.org Productivity Suite, and Google, which offers the free Google Apps as well as the paid Google Apps Premier Edition, have captured a tiny percentage of Microsoft’s 600 million users yet the amount of mindshare these offerings enjoy goes well beyond their actual market presence.

Many organizations have sat out the last one or two upgrade cycles in both the Microsoft Office and Windows arenas and they also haven’t upgraded their PCs, which, in many cases, may be five years or older.  As a result, the clock is ticking and these organizations will need to make decisions about new office suites this year and next.

While free software may sound appealing, the reality of the situation is quite different.  Since the market for desktop productivity tools is so large, and office suites comprise the single most-used tool or set of tools used by knowledge workers, we decided to put Microsoft Office 2010 under a microscope and see what has changed and how those changes impact the knowledge worker.  In addition, we also dissected and compared Microsoft Office 2010 and its two closest competitors, namely the Google and OpenOffice.org offerings.

We put our findings in the form of two very detailed reports and they are now both available to you online.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Google Shifts Gears: New Version of Google Docs Launched

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by David Goldes

This week Google announced the preview release of an enhanced Google Docs offering.  The latest version introduces new collaborative functionality, enhancements to the basic document and spreadsheet applications, and a new standalone diagram and drawing tool.  It is currently available to current users on an opt-in basis.

There are two aspects to the new release, 1.) collaboration tools that are unique to Google Docs, and 2.) enhancements to the applications that improve its competitiveness with other office productivity applications by adding missing features.

Google has added real-time collaboration functionality, similar in some respects to what is found in Google Wave, for the joint editing of documents and spreadsheets.  Other users (up to 50) are visible via a colored flag attached to the cursor that shows their position in the text within the document editor, or a color-coded outline of the cell selected in the spreadsheet editor.  Changes made by others are visible in real-time, with no need to refresh the document to update it.

It might be slightly uncomfortable for some knowledge workers to have their typos and not-ready-for-prime-time thoughts visible to colleagues, but the benefit of eliminating potential document conflicts may compensate in most cases.  This way of working may not be for everyone, but in certain scenarios it may make eminent sense, such as when collaborating to fill in a spreadsheet or jointly editing a document.

The document editor has been enhanced with some new functionality, including commenting, support for floating images in documents, as-you-type spell check, and the ability to set tabs with a ruler interface at the top of the screen.  The spreadsheet tool has also been enhanced with cell auto complete, a formula editing bar, and the ability to drag-and-drop columns.

The new release also includes a standalone diagram and flow chart editor.  The application enables users to create drawings and export them in PNG, JPG, SVG, and PDF file formats.  It is aimed at business use and appears best suited for flow charts and organizational diagrams.  Just as the document and spreadsheet editors, real-time collaborative editing is supported, as is the ability to start a chat session with coauthors.

Under the hood, Google Docs is also much faster, thanks to a new JavaScript layout engine and the use of HTML5.  The trade off, however, is steep as off-line use of Google Docs will disappear.  On May 3, Google will discontinue support of the previous version of Google Docs, which had allowed for offline access to documents via the Google Gears browser extension.  The company has stated that it intends to replicate the functionality with HTML5, but has not announced any specifics or a time frame.

This leaves the many users of Google Docs who require offline access in a bind.  Internet access is far from ubiquitous and there are still many places, such as most aircraft or mountain retreats, which the Internet does not reach.  The new release of Google Docs does add very appealing functionality but it comes at a significant cost.

Google’s move comes at a time when Microsoft is about to release Office 2010, which includes online access to documents and a fairly robust feature set in addition to the Office rich client, which does not require an Internet connection to work.  Organizations that want to ensure zero downtime when it comes to desktop productivity should steer clear of Google Docs until this issue has been resolved.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Evolution of the Office Suite

Thursday, April 1st, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Ten years after the PC revolution, desktop productivity software began to appear as part of suites.  In 1989, Microsoft introduced the first such offering with Microsoft Office on the Macintosh platform (a PC version followed in 1990). 

Time for the office to evolve

Time for my office to evolve?

It probably didn’t occur to the early designers that they were taking the first steps to integrate functionality that would – a few years later – start to positively impact the productivity of hundreds of millions of office workers.

One outcome of what became known as the suite wars was that Microsoft vanquished its competition (WordPerfect in word processing and Lotus 1-2-3 in spreadsheets) and became the dominant desktop productivity offering.

The concept of an office suite was originally more marketing than technology.  Bundling a word processor (the most popular desktop application) with a spreadsheet program (the second most popular) and presentation software would capture three “sales” all at once.

Up until that time, software used for desktop productivity purposes, be it processing words or calculating figures, was decidedly single purpose for much of its history.  At some point after PCs and networks became the de facto means of managing documents and finances, it occurred to developers to share certain functionality, such as a spell checker, across multiple programs.

Then technology such as OLE (object linking and embedding) was developed.  This allowed other programs to provide limited functionality within a host program, such as the generation of a chart or graph in a word processing document.

Today we take office suites for granted and Microsoft Office (in all of its iterations) has become the most widely deployed software application in the world, with an estimated 600 million users worldwide.

Microsoft has not, however, been sitting still.  Later this spring, the company will launch Microsoft Office 2010, a suite into which it has invested upwards of $2 billion in development costs.  Indeed, few people are aware of the extent to which the company conducts research and studies the users in its attempts to improve the knowledge worker’s experience with software and leverage what people can accomplish with the tools.   We have been testing the Office 2010 beta and will be reporting on it in an in-depth report shortly, but all signs point to a greatly improved user experience with far more support for knowledge sharing and collaboration than previous versions have offered.

Incidentally, by the time Microsoft releases Office 2010, many of its software engineers will already be working on the next version (code-named Office 15), an application that knowledge workers will not see until 2012 (presumably in beta form) at the earliest.

In the meantime, expect an in-depth look at What’s New in Microsoft Office 2010 next month in this space.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Outlook 2010

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Cody Burke

As perhaps the most widely-deployed e-mail client in the corporate world, Outlook is where many knowledge workers spend a majority of their time.

A new Outlook

E-mail is so central to knowledge work today that the inbox has evolved into the nexus for not only communication, but daily tasks, scheduling, and document and project management.  As a result, it is of paramount importance for knowledge workers to have an e-mail experience that fully supports their work.

The forthcoming version, Outlook 2010, receives multiple enhancements and features that were first introduced in other Microsoft Office applications.  Perhaps the most significant addition is the Fluent UI and Ribbon.  While the Ribbon has had its critics, notably those stalwarts who prefer the old drop down menu system, the fact remains that it is now the primary user interface for Office and adding it to Outlook was a logical step in order to create a unified user experience across the Office suite.

We found QuickSteps to be one of the most intriguing and promising new features.  Quick Steps provides one-click buttons to automate common and recurring tasks such as filing e-mails, sending e-mail messages to predetermined groups of co-workers, or initiating a meeting with all members of an e-mail chain.  To automate more complex or personalized tasks, Quick Steps also allows the user to create custom buttons that control the desired functionality.  The Quick Steps feature increases individual productivity by saving small amounts of time multiple times each day.

Outlook now also features the new Backstage View, which provides access to settings and account information (for more on Backstage, see our previous analysis).

Another enhancement that has been rolled across all the Office applications is integration with OneNote.  From the Outlook tasks list, the user can access notes in OneNote by selecting the new Task Notes function.  From within OneNote, notes can be turned into tasks that are synched with Outlook task and appear on the Outlook calendar.  The integration allows users to use OneNote to create tasks, but subsequently manage them from within Outlook.

To address the misuse of e-mail, such as all-hands reply to alls and the unintended inappropriate e-mailing of confidential information, Outlook now has MailTips, an alert system that notifies the user when he is about to send a message that violates e-mail usage etiquette or formal rules.  Actions that would prompt an alert include sending potentially confidential information to people outside of a workgroup or the organization, large distribution lists, recipients who are out of the office, restricted addresses, recipients who are using automatic replies, and violations of size limitations for e-mail attachments.  The feature requires Exchange 2010, which works with Outlook to determine if an alert is necessary as recipients are added and the message is being composed.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.