Tag Archives: Microsoft

Implementing Single Sign On using Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure logoThis week Microsoft announced that it will be extending Active Directory on the Azure cloud. This is a major selling point for Microsoft Azure.

Azure Active Directory has been around for about a year now. It enables organisations to create large Active Directories (up to around 500,000 users), providing a Single Sign On (SSO) solution based on an enterprise-level Identity Management standard. Azure Active Directory extends a company’s existing Active Directory to offer a single login across applications, for free.

The new Premium offering, now in preview (i.e. beta) phase, supports unlimited users, two factor authentication (including phone calls and text messages), to provide a Single Sign On solution across Azure applications, even non-Microsoft ones. If an organisation creates a custom app on Azure, they can add Active Directory as their own branded SSO system, competing with the likes of Facebook Connect, Twitter, and so on.

Organisations have been requesting these types of systems for a while. At Endava we build and host customers’ websites which have millions of users. Identity Management (IM) systems are usually licensed on a per-user basis, which is unaffordable for clients who offer free user accounts, so in the past we’ve usually built custom solutions for IM. Windows Azure Active Directory Premium offers this as a cloud based Identity Management system on a monthly cost rather than per user.

Many IT professionals predict public cloud offerings as the end of private data centres. Other IT professionals think that public cloud is fine for consumer apps, not enterprise level. I believe it depends on what the enterprise is trying to do that makes public cloud an option or not.

Azure Active Directory, especially the Premium offering, significantly strengthens Microsoft’s public cloud offering for the enterprise and provides an affordable IM solution for all websites.

A double family hack

Hacked Mac
Credit: Willy López on Flickr

In a rather odd coincidence, both my mum and mother-in-law’s computers have been hacked in the last couple of weeks.

My mum has a Mac and once the hacker got in (we think it was through an email attachment in Hotmail), they changed the computer system settings and the language – which was quite clever because my mum just left the computer on, clicking around trying to get the language back to English. I suspect the longer the computer was left on, the longer the hacker had to make more changes on the system.

Once the hacker had control of her Hotmail account, they sent out emails saying my parents were abroad and in distress, and required some cash to get them out of trouble. The email looked 80% genuine – good enough for some of my parents’ friends to call me and ask if they were OK.

Unfortunately for my mum, I don’t know very much about Macs, let alone being able to look at an Arabic version of Mac OS and get it back to English. She had to call a computer trainer to come over and help return her computer back to normal, including installing some security software.

Hackers managed to get into my mother-in-law’s Gmail account. We still don’t know how they did this. The first we knew of it was when hackers sent an email to my wife (they didn’t email everyone in the contacts – for instance I didn’t get the email). The email didn’t look like computer generated spam, so my wife phoned her mum and recommended she change the password straight away. The password was already complex – I had set it up originally, including a capital letter, numbers and letters, punctuation and a decent length.

My mother-in-law then called a few days later to say she hadn’t received any emails since the incident. I looked at her laptop and the hackers had set up a Gmail rule redirecting all email into the Bin straight away. This was clever because it meant that for all the emails sent from her account, if someone replied to ask whether it was genuine, the reply would have gone straight to the Bin without my mother-in-law seeing it.

I guess the key takeaways are to keep changing the password regularly, and keep it complex. Never ever open attachments in emails unless you really are expecting something and it looks genuine.

The operating system vendors, Apple and Microsoft, and now mobile operating system vendors too, have a tough balancing act. They have to provide a marketplace for third parties to produce security software, but they also have a duty of care to make their systems secure for users. The argument is that if say, Microsoft, bundled anti-virus software with Windows, the third parties would be out of business within days.

However the email providers don’t have such a balancing act, and really should be prohibiting certain attachments to emails, or checking their contents properly.

Why didn’t Microsoft win the Premiership rights for the new Xbox?

Microsoft Xbox One
The Microsoft Xbox One. Lovely console. Silly name.

The new Microsoft Xbox console looks like it will be an amazing piece of kit, with voice activation and what looks to be (no pun intended) some impressive image recognition too.

Microsoft is firmly focussing on the TV market. The current Xbox allows users to watch video on demand, but the new one will support live TV as well, with a fully integrated EPG (Electronic Programme Guide).

Many people have questioned whether the world needs another generation of games consoles, and many people have been suggesting Apple will release an Apple television or a decent version of their Apple TV product, which is currently too ring fenced to appeal to a mass market. Microsoft has answer both questions admirably, by providing a cutting edge games machine as well as a highly interactive STB (Set Top Box).

There had also been rumours that the new Xbox might not have an optical drive at all, that all games will be downloaded in a similar model to iOS devices. Microsoft has answered both end users who want a second hand games market, and the games developers’ business models by not making the console backwards compatible. So if you enjoy playing a specific game, you’ll need to either keep your existing Xbox console for that game, or buy a new version when it’s released for the new console.

Microsoft also announced a $400 million deal with the NFL to provide interactive TV experiences during matches. I question whether users want this level of interactivity during sport, but Microsoft (and the NFL) clearly believe many users do want it.

The surprise is that Microsoft didn’t win the rights from the Premiership football rights during the recent bidding with BT. BT want the Premiership to boost their BT Vision product. Winning the Premiership would have similarly boosted the adoption rates for the new Xbox. Perhaps Microsoft doesn’t want to go head to head with broadcasters, but this is probably inevitable (and underway) by supplying the de facto platform for Netflix.

The craziest part of the new Xbox is the name. During the announcement I saw a friend’s tweet which asked “Why is it called the Xbox one when it’s the third one? – asked by my son who’s seven year’s old” And apparently the Xbox one is what eBay sellers refer to the original Xbox in listings!

Billion Dollar-o-Gram Infographic

Billion Dollar o Gram 2013One of my favourite websites, Information is Beautiful, has released the 2013 version of their Billion Dollar-o-Gram infographic.

The information is fully backed up by sources.

Some key, staggering highlights:

  • The Worldwide TV industry is worth 3/5ths the value of Apple
  • Nice to see that humanity spends over 3 times as much on healthcare as military (I would have feared it would be the opposite way round)
  • The Illegal drugs market is worth 3/5ths of the cost of the war on drugs
  • OPEC revenue is ‘only’ twice as much as Apple’s capitalisation
  • Apple’s capitalisation ($500bn) is just short of Microsoft, Google and Amazon combined ($524bn)
  • The money spent on the Global Financial Crisis could have ended extreme poverty four times over (and still had money left over to triple the charitable donations by the US public)
  • The global gambling market is worth only slightly less than the worldwide global revenue from cannabis
  • Apple’s capitalisation is just short of the value of the worldwide global Beer market (in 2015)!

How to deal with Internet services that are closing down

Death of Internet servicesThere has been a lot of discussion on the web this week regarding three separate services: Google Reader, Evernote and Posterous. I have talked about how our Internet trust will be broken soon, and each of these three vendors have demonstrated this in their own ways.

Google have shut down their Reader service. It doesn’t bother me too much – the service was satisfactory, nothing more, and I prefer to read RSS feed in Outlook. Reader was a free service, and its users’ main complaint is how it knocked other services out of the market only to stop the product years later when everyone has gone bust.

Evernote announced that it’s service has been compromised, “…but don’t worry…” passwords haven’t been compromised. What its users don’t understand is that the content in the thousands/ millions of notes probably was compromised. So if you used an Evernote page for passwords or other confidential data, well, it’s probably not so confidential any longer.

And while Posterous announced a while ago that they would be shutting down, I’ve spent a few evenings this week moving this very blog from Posterous over to a new provider. I’ve actually bitten the bullet and moved the blog over to my own personal server. I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of moving it again.

Playing Devil’s advocate, the services above are free. You pay peanuts (or nothing), so you don’t get a chance to say “Hey, I was using that…”.

As a learned friend of mine once said, “Today’s gift is tomorrow’s expectation.”

So what’s the advice for the future?

Firstly, corporates take note. If you use these services, be prepared for here today, gone tomorrow. Use PaaS (Platform as a Service) vendors – Salesforce, Google Analytics, Endava (shameless plug), etc., but make sure your data is transferable, accessible and secure (not necessarily in that order).

Secondly, consumers need to be similarly aware. I have a simple approach – I assume all new startups can be gone in an instant, and are operated by a fourteen year old in their bedroom somewhere dodgy. Only once the trust builds up will I invest more time with content.

As I mentioned before, Google Reader doesn’t affect me. Posterous… well, whenever I’ve been to blogger meetings, everyone is talking about WordPress and I felt like I was on the wrong platform.

Evernote is the one that has annoyed me the most, because it’s (present tense) such a great product. But I can’t trust it. And my corporate security guys have said we can’t use it any longer (or any similar services).

So I’ve started using OneNote again. A few guys in the office use OneNote, and since I got the new convertible Ultrabook, OneNote makes sense. And then I discovered the OneNote iPhone app, which syncs with my laptop… and boom! I now have an enterprise version of Evernote.

Whilst writing this article I noticed that Menshn has shut down as well. Menshn was a great idea, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first users invited. I say it was a great idea, although I hadn’t logged on for a couple of months, so it hadn’t quite replaced my preferred social networks.

But the morale of this post is that if I had invested huge amounts of time and content, I’d be pretty miffed at the moment that it’s now all gone.

2013 Digital Media predictions

In 2010, 2011 and 2012, I made some predictions about Digital Media in the following year, and in late December of each year I reviewed and scored them (here’s the results from 20102011 and 2012 Digital Media predictions).

Last year some work colleagues accused me of playing the predictions safe. Interestingly one of the predictions was about the share price of Akamai, yet they didn’t invest in the company despite my prediction about the price increasing…

So here are my 2013 Digital Media predictions:

1. Many, many new devices will be launched

We’re so used to hearing about Apple launching new devices that it’s easy to forget there are other vendors out there. In late 2013 we’ll see the new Xbox and Playstation arrive, and I expect they will be amazing. Remember how revolutionary the Wii controllers were? And then Kinect moved the game (no pun intended) on to show controller-less games. I expect the next consoles from Microsoft and Sony will improve upon Kinect – fasters response times and more playability.

I’ve been promoting 3D printers since 2010 http://blog.bradbox.com/the-real-3d and predicting that every year will be the year it becomes mainstream. In 2013 I really really really expect people will be buying them! You’ll be printing disposable cutlery, kids toys and anything else you can think of – all at home. Sites such as shapeways http://www.shapeways.com/ are already appearing with designs to download and print.

2. Yahoo! Makes! A! Comeback!|

Competition is always healthy, and the dominance of Facebook has been unhealthy in the last couple of years. The top photo sharing library, Instagram, was acquired up by Facebook and its charm of degrading photo quality all but disappeared in six months.

Step forward Marissa Mayer of Google fame (…how the world had underestimated how good a job she made of Google Maps until Apple tried it!). Yahoo!’s share price has increased 30% from $15 when she joined to almost $20. She’s spotted the power of Flickr (which I have always preferred for my personal photos and as a creative commons library for this blog).

I reckon Yahoo!’s share price will be at least $30 by the end of 2013 and we’ll see some quality innovation appearing from the company.

3. Microsoft to return

Messenging tools – Yammer, Skype, MSN Messenger, Lync. Office 2013. Windows 8. Surface. The new Xbox. Bing. Exchange 2013. Sharepoint 2013. Office 365. Skydrive. Azure. We think Facebook is ubiquitous, but it doesn’t come close to Microsoft. There is no other technology company that we use so many of its products across our personal and professional lives.

Anecdotally I’ve spoken to many people who have moved to iMacs in the last 12 months and are either disenchanted (“It still slows down over time like a PC”) or use Microsoft Windows on their iMac anyway!

2013 will be an amazing year for Microsoft in terms of value and brand positioning.

4. Indoor GPS

Shopping malls seem to be growing. We’re so used to using our smartphones as GPS devices in the outdoors, that it seems obvious to start using them for indoor navigation too.

Macy’s have used indoor GPS (http://mashable.com/2012/11/08/macys-indoor-gps/) as part of their app. Expect to see shopping malls and retailers add similar functionality to their apps. It will also be interesting to see if Google/ Bing/ Apple will add indoor navigation to their map products.

5. Learning to switch off

Have you been to a campsite recently? They’re packed. Mud has become fun again, not considered a biohazard any longer. Escaping technological comforts has never been better.

One of the most welcome releases of the iOS 6 in 2012 was ‘Do Not Disturb’. We want to gain control back from mobile and electronic interruptions. When I write documents and presentations, I now switch Outlook off. Interruptions are annoying and lower our productivity. My laptop has alerts popping up from Outlook, Gmail, Tweetdeck, Skype and Dropbox.

Expect to see more ‘Quiet modes’. Windows 8 has brought back full screen experiences rather than multiple windows – we’ll get a lot more work done this way.

6. Context sensitive

Google results have felt relevant to us because if I type in a search term, it will present me with relevant information. If I type in ‘Indian’ it lists local Indian restaurants, followed by Indian motorcycles (because Google knows I’m interested in bikes).

In 2013 we’ll be using websites that will take a number of factors into account – from the weather, to profiles of ‘similar’ customers, our previous interactions, social media feeds, whether we’re on a mobile or desktop and so on. I don’t think wider society is ready for noticeable personalisation, which I feel is a shame, so we’ll see much more subtle changes to user interfaces and results in the next 12 months.

7. The end of the QR code

QR codes annoy me – how can an illegible symbol be better than a human readable web address? The answer is that QR codes were supposed to be a trackable or more complicated link that we lazy humans wouldn’t use if we can read it.

QR codes should have been the first step to one click impulse purchasing, so that a consumer could select a specific product at the bus stop, and pay within seconds. Instead, marketing companies have dumbed them down to illegible web site addresses.

At the end of 2013 I’ll report on the last time I saw a QR code – it will have been several months.

8. Healthcare apps

My GP surgery started a website booking system (that’s completely unusable – I tried registering twice). In 2013 we’ll start using Facetime and other apps to communicate with healthcare professionals and companies.

Healthcare companies will start using social media to help us improve our lifestyle in innovative ways.

9. Drones buzzing in the sky

Robocop had it all wrong with ED209 (http://www.omnicorp.com/). Why would you have a security robot in the future when you can have a flying drone. You can already buy drones with cameras that provide real time video streaming.

In the future, if you’re at home and hear a noise downstairs in the middle of the night, you won’t go downstairs trembling, you’ll send a small drone downstairs to have a look around.

Back to 2013 though, we’ll start seeing security companies using drones to patrol the outside of buildings. There are some interesting social questions that will be raised though – do you own the airspace in your home? If you send a drone to the next door neighbour’s garden, who do you complain to? Can you shoot it down? Will we start having surface to air missile units on our roofs? Is it really science fiction?

 

If you can migrate email to Google Apps you deserve a medal

Vbhxjipkum

I’ve finally done it. I’ve moved a domain over to Google Apps for business. Google should give users a certificate, in fact a medal, for such an accomplishment.

I’ve been saying for a while that if I was to setup a new company tomorrow, the last thing I’d do would be to buy an email server. You can’t just buy an email server – you also need to think about archiving, backing up, and anti-virus. And pay for someone to run those four servers.

Google and Microsoft offer similar email applications that include variations of office productivity tools and then like. They also provide various levels of collaboration.

My current ISP who hosts this domain wanted to start charging for email services, but the webmail client is just awful. I chose to move my email account to Google Apps (for Business) because I’ve always like Gmail, and reading the how-to-migrate documentation made it look simple.

That was six weeks ago.

The first hurdle was that my domain name was already in use by Google Apps. The error message would have been funny if it weren’t so frustrating:

There are [0] users at bradbox.com using Google Apps.

If you don’t see the funny side, please read it again.

And this is where I hit the major issue with Google. There’s no one to call when things go wrong. There’s not even a premium rate phone number. Or an email address.

You need to rely on friendly users trawling through the Google forums helping people like me out.

So I posted my message, and a few days later someone answered. He asked me to wait a little longer, and I did. He then said he’d spoken to someone at Google who said I need to wait a little longer.

Fast forward a four weeks, and alas, I could register!

The Google interface is still very technical. I know that I’m unlikely to break anything too seriously (no sniggering at the back please), so I played around with a few settings to get Mail up and working. It’s really not for the feint-harded though. You can see they’ve tried making it relatively simple with some help bubbles and wizards, but I doubt many people continued their migration at this point.

One of the first things you need to do is prove that you own the domain (by adding a subdomain to the domain that was CNAMEd with a crazy, crazy long address). So I went through the wizard, and followed the wizard but I received an error. Again, a really big hurdle. I searched for the problem on the web, and many users reported the same problem – that long address was too long.

I contacted my ISP, but they couldn’t help, or rather than didn’t want to. And I don’t really blame them – try walking into Tesco and asking them how to cook the stuff you just bought at Asda. Or walk into a Ford dealer and ask how the radio in your VW works.

Hidden away was another method of verifying the domain by uploading a file to the web server. I went for that, and lo and behold, I had a verified domain.

I now wanted to move my existing emails over to the new account. So I clicked on help. But after a couple of clicks, I was seeing 404 broken links.

Two hours later, I decided to do it the old fashioned way and download the email from the previous ISP into Outlook, and then upload it again into Google. Actually, I still haven’t done it, because I’m in denial and don’t really want to see hundreds of email in my personal account – it’s bad enough at work!

And that’s my story about moving to Google Apps. It’s far, far too complex.

Now do you see why I deserve a medal?

Either Google needs to start offering real end user support (a phone number), or enable other companies to offer IT support for the home, or start handing out medals.

Why Enterprises need to move to the Cloud

2492158122_edc901e8371

I went to a Microsoft hosted seminar this week on “Azure (Microsoft’s public cloud offering) in the Enterprise”. Microsoft have hired David Chappell for a worldwide tour. David is a fantastic speaker, and the truth is that I wanted to see David more than hear about Azure!

If there’s something consistent about Microsoft events, it’s the fact they know how to choose their venues. Their campus in Reading is impressive, if a little sterile. This time it was in the Royal Mint Court opposite the Tower of London.

David started the talk by defining the term ‘Cloud’.

I have been vocal about the difference between virtualisation and Cloud. To me there’s a huge difference, but the problem is that so many competitors in the market call their virtualised stack a Cloud, that it’s easy to look uncompetitive if you don’t join in the buzzword marketing bingo game.

David’s definition of Cloud is:

A self-service portal on top of pooled hardware.

If either of those don’t exist, you’ve got a virtualised infrastructure, not a Cloud. Sounds fair to me.

His definition continued:

If this Cloud environment is hosted on your own hardware, it’s a Private Cloud. If the hardware and self-service portal is available from an external provider, it’s a Public Cloud.

Again, sounds fair.

On David’s tour across the US and Europe so far, apparently the feedback he’s been receiving is that the UK are among the most advanced Cloud users. We (in the UK) believe that the Cloud is the future, and enterprises are already starting the migration. Geography is important with the Cloud, because so many different countries and industries have different compliance measures that it can become difficult for some enterprises to move right now.

We also discussed the main reason most organisations think they want to move to the Cloud… cost. However most organisations don’t know the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of a web app, let alone the monthly or even hourly cost, so it’s impossible to compare. Adding in the elasticity of the Cloud makes the TCO argument much more difficult and I took this away as a “You need to start working out these time based TCO costs soon”.

The whole session, much to David’s credit, was highly interactive, with good questions and companies discussing their own case studies.

One company claimed they now didn’t own any infrastructure at all. I’ve been saying for a while now, that if I were to start a company tomorrow, I wouldn’t own any infrastructure either. Why does anyone buy a mail server any more? A mail server needs an ant-virus server and an archiving server. Or you can get an Office 365/ Google Apps service on a per user cost that has these services bundled together, without the support costs.

We’re now seeing companies without any infrastructure at all – their workforce have laptops connecting them to all their remote services, from email to file storage, CRM, accounting, and the list goes on.

Big Data also came up in conversation. Companies can either create their own Hadoop clusters, or use a public Cloud (Amazon, Google and Microsoft all offer similar services). Why would you want your own Hadoop cluster, which requires skill to setup, additional servers (tin) and maintenance, when you can quickly spin up new clusters when you need them?

I asked the group whether they have ported third party software into the Cloud. From my experience software companies are behind on the commercial models that Cloud environments require. Typically you buy software licenses and then pay annual maintenance. But what happens if you shut down a server for a month, or a week, or an hour? You still need to pay for the license. What happens if you need extra servers for a few hours a week? You need annual licenses for this.

The group said that they either had to buy additional licenses or were just given bulk licenses from the software vendor for the same cost they were already paying. David’s answer is that because enterprises are only starting to move to the Cloud now, software companies aren’t under any pressure to change their models. This will change as enterprises do move to the Cloud.

One software vendor at the event said they offer their software as a PaaS (Platform as a Service) for the same cost as their software licences.

David asked him why he wasn’t charging a premium for a hosted platform, and the vendor answered that it costs him less to host than the people required to support customers installing it themselves, and he’d prefer to move his customers over to the PaaS offering. Time will tell if this model is adopted more widely. The fact is that software vendors will need to change their models whatever happens.

And now on to comparing Azure against the other two big Public Clouds from Amazon and Google. The prices are all very similar and lowering to beat each other, so it’s not price.

Microsoft’s USP is very simple – Microsoft partners have experienced Microsoft support for several years. You can speak to a Relationship Manager and a support desk. Have you ever tried getting support for the others?

I’m trying to move an email domain from an Exchange server on to Google Apps at the moment for my personal email. However there’s a problem with my Google account because I once registered for a Google product that is now discontinued. And that problem is blocking the Google Apps migration. There’s no phone number to call, not even an email address. I have to ask a volunteer on Google Groups to help me. It’s taken two weeks and I’m still getting the error message.

So, Microsoft are using the superior support argument as the reason to move to Azure, and I agree with the logic. David explained that we trust Microsoft as the Operating System, which is the easiest point of entry to break into; far easier than trying to break into a Microsoft Data Centre – so data security shouldn’t be a blocker to move to the Cloud.

Enterprises moving their services to the Cloud is already happening, at least in the US and UK. There are models we need to deal with – time based, TCO is a difficult measurement before we can hope to measure any ROI (Return On Investment).

PaaS and Cloud go hand in hand, and if Enterprise IT departments don’t understand this yet, I suggest they speak to David soon.

Photo courtesy of Waleed Alzuhair on Flickr

Office 2013 review

Office_2013

When Windows 8 is launched later this year, Office 2013, the very latest version, will be launched around the same time. I’ve been using the preview version of Office 2013 for the last few weeks and it’s a good upgrade.

Most of the changes appear superficial. Windows 8, ironically, doesn’t seem to have Windows – applications are back to full screens, and Office 2013 has been designed in this way. All the Windows borders are white (no more transparent borders), giving a minimalist feel to the applications. The first time PowerPoint loaded I thought it had crashed – it was a plain white window until I started clicking around.

The biggest, and in fact the only, change with Word is the ability to open PDF files for editing. I don’t know how whether the technology is licensed from Adobe, but I can’t see any reason to buy Acrobat any more, if Office opens, edits and saves PDF files. And more to the point, I now can’t see the point of a PDF file at all.

The key difference with PowerPoint is that the default slides are 16:9. This is great for my large home monitor which is 16:9, but most of the projectors I use at client offices are still 4:3. And 16:9 was available in Office 2010, although it wasn’t obvious how to find it.

On both Word and PowerPoint there are some very subtle updates to provide nice shadows to SmartArt (I never understood why shadows for pictures differed from SmartArt in 2010). Most of the upgrades are very subtle – such as a non-blinking cursor in Word which seems to glide across the page (if you can type fast enough) rather than blink erratically.

The focussed cell in Excel is similar – it seems to transition from one cell to the next.

I’ve been using Office 2013 in parallel with 2010. There are some quirks when running them on the same PC, but I can live with those. I’m far too afraid to open Outlook 2013 though, for fear of losing emails, or upgrading my various offline archives, so I haven’t reviewed Outlook yet.

All the applications have SkyDrive as a file location higher than My Computer – Microsoft definitely making that move to the Cloud. SkyDrive is good, but it’s just not as good as Dropbox. Dropbox cleanly extrapolates Cloud storage for the end user. SkyDrive still shows temporary directories when you save files there – it just isn’t as clean.

However if you open SkyDrive from a browser, you can edit the documents inside the browser – just like Google Docs. Like so many Microsoft products, it’s 90% of the way there, it just needs some finessing.

Is Office 2013 worth upgrading to? Sure, it looks much, much nicer. If you think this sounds too vain, you’re right. I can’t find any new features of the type which Office 2010 gave us over its predecessor such as SmartArt, and the auto correction.

Do you need to upgrade to 2013? No. When you get Windows 8 though, you may well want a cleaner interface though.

 

Delete the save button

4593468383_24b4bf2b831

One of the joys of having children is looking at the world as you know it from a completely different viewpoint. Watching my own children use the Cbeebies website before they could even read remains the best demonstration of usability that I’ve ever seen.

My children now span school years 1, 4 and 5, and from about year 3 onwards, a large proportion of homework is done on a computer. My kids’ school uses a national website where kids have their own login, and it sets the homework for the child. Wikipedia has replaced Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Google Image search has brightened up essays.

Most of the time, the kids use [the excellent] Google Docs for documents (they’re a little too young for spreadsheets), and they use PowerPoint for presentations. However there’s a huge usability difference between the two applications which the kids really struggle with – and it’s a major difference between Google and Apple iOS versus Microsoft applications: the concept of ‘saving’.

If you’re a child who’s grown up with Google and iOS devices, the concept of needing to ‘save’ stuff is alien. You don’t need to save or even confirm changes on an iOS device. You don’t need to save notes for the device to remember them. And in Google Docs (now Drive), you don’t need to save documents either.

However as soon as children start using Microsoft Office applications, they need to save their documents and presentations, and suddenly the complexity of computers comes crashing down – drives and drive letters, folders, even filenames add on a level of technology that Google and Apple have done such a great job of removing for the last five years.

The next version of Office needs to address this once and for all. The necessity of files and all of their relations – drives, folders and file extensions, can now safely be removed.