Michael Greene
Looking for 3D printing, Arduino, Rasbperry Pi and other home technology projects? All of these posts, including the Timelapse Engine project have been moved to my new technology projects blog, TechProjects.io.

Why I Gave Up On Windows Phone

I've been a Microsoft supporter (dare I say fan boy) since... well... as long as I can remember, and an equally strong critic of Apple for just as long, but last week I did something I never thought I would. I ordered an iPhone.

Why a fruit phone? Don't you hate Apple?

Hate is a strong word, but I have been extremely vocal and critical of Apple over the years. Apple hardware is simply beautiful, it's stable, and for the most part, everything just works (right?). What I dislike about Apple is the culture - something that has been rooted in every business decision they've made in the last 20 years... the idea that people will flock to buy something just because it's brand new and it has a fruit logo on it. I can't tell you how many people I've met that have every version of the iPad. This is completely unnecessary... nobody needs 5 iPads; you're gullible. I refuse to be proxy to that culture. I bought an iPhone 6 out of need, and any future purchases will also be based on need... will I run to the nearest Apple store to get the next phone as soon as it comes out? No.

The other frustration that I suppose I'll learn to deal with is the abundance of proprietary everything. What do you mean I have to carry around a proprietary charging cable to charge something that everyone else in the industry uses a Micro-USB for? What do you mean every licensed accessory is overpriced because of the Apple royalty? But that said, at the end of the day the big selling point of the iPhone is the ecosystem - and it's this ecosystem that helps me look beyond cultural and hardware inconveniences.

Why not Windows Phone? Wasn't it Amazing?

The Platform

Before I say anything bad, let me say that I've given Windows Phone 4 years to become what it could be. I've proudly recruited family, friends and peers to the Windows Phone platform. The operating system is beautiful. It's simple to use, it's clean, in short it works. The integration with OneDrive is great, and I've long said that any of the critical apps I need to get through the day are available on Windows Phone. What took me a long time to realize is that all those things that I just praised... are all available on other platforms as well.

Ecosystem

Need banking and travel apps? For the most part they're all available on Windows Phone. Want to be part of anything new and exciting? You're out of luck; it really is quite that simple.

As anyone that follows me over on TechProjects.io knows, I'm a huge supporter of Kickstarter. I love what it represents and the innovation that's derived from empowering people to try something new. Sadly, not a single one of my backed projects has plans for Windows Phone, and virtually every new product develops for Apple first, Android second, and Windows Phone third (if at all). This dilemma isn't limited to startups though.

Major companies develop for Windows Phone last. United Airlines as an example, released updated iOS and Android apps earlier this year, while the Windows Phone app still hasn't had the matching refresh launched. I can't fault them for that... if the user pool is so small that they would be better off spending their money elsewhere then that makes complete business sense. I've personally encountered dozens of "apps" that are just basically the company's mobile website packaged in an iFrame and tossed into the store... just to say they support Windows Phone. For the longest time, the Redbox app was like this. It took Fitbit ages to finally support Windows Phone... citing a lack of support for Bluetooth 4, which many (if not all) of the Nokia/Lumia phones support... and those are just three examples of hundreds and hundreds of companies that have placed little to no emphasis on the Windows Phone platform.

In my opinion, this is where Microsoft has failed. Microsoft has provided zero incentive to develop apps for their platform. It has taken us almost 4 years to get to the point where every day apps we need to survive are largely available. I fear it'll take another 10 years to get to the maturity of iOS or Android. Thinking back to my original Windows Phone purchase, I practically had to argue with the salesman in my local wireless carrier's store to get him to sell me a Windows Phone. That story is largely the same today... go to your wireless carrier and they'll likely recommend you an iPhone or an Android phone way before a Windows Phone. If you don't specifically ask about Windows Phone, or be pulled that way due to a sale or promotion, chances are you're going to leave with an iPhone or Android phone.

So now we're stuck in this chicken vs. the egg dilemma. Windows Phone can't build and retain market share without a mature ecosystem, and that mature ecosystem won't happen as long as the market share is too small for developers to invest in it.

I spent a lot of time pondering creating apps for Windows. There's such a gap in the ecosystem that there must be a good business opportunity there, right? I'm not so sure. With such a small slice of market share, any sort of niche app is going to have too small of a user pool to make it worth my time to develop.

Brand Recognition?

Everyone knows the name Microsoft. Anyone who had been using a cell phone since the mid-90s knew the name Nokia. I've had numerous Nokia phones over the years, and they were some of the best built handsets I've ever owned. When Microsoft announced the acquisition of the Nokia devices group I was thrilled. This was our chance to get out there, connect with customers, build great hardware, and steal market share. Sadly, this hasn't happened.

Microsoft and Nokia created some great phones together. My Nokia Lumia 1020 is fabulous. But now it has been announced that the Nokia name is being dropped and Microsoft's mobile devices will be branded with just the Lumia name. Well that's great if you're a Microsoft fan boy that knows the story, and knows where Lumia came from, but if you're a layman... what the hell is "Lumia"? The few sales people that were actually pushing Microsoft and Nokia phones in the past had the benefit of brand recognition... now they're trying to sell something nobody has ever heard of.

My Dilemma

This leads me to my ultimate dilemma. Microsoft has been my life for years, privately and professionally, but I also consider myself an innovative individual that wants to be on the cusp of new technology. Waiting months or potentially years, for a hardware or service to create a Windows Phone app just isn't for me.

Microsoft is going to have to spend oodles of money on brand recognition, educating users on the Lumia name, if they're going to have any chance at building the brand. I think it's too late for that. I feel like we're at a now or never crossroads for Windows Phone. The sad thing is that the Operating System is fabulous. It doesn't crash and hang constantly like my previous Android phones did (the primary reason Android was off the table this time around). It's clean, and simple to use. The live tiles make complete sense, and when properly used by an app are incredibly powerful. In short, it's a great platform that has been completely misguided and poorly released to the market.

If things change, then I'll certainly be back. But for now, it's off to greener pastures... and all sorts of cool home automation and hardware projects on Kickstarter.

Anatomy of an Intranet (Triangle SharePoint User Group)

Presented at the Triangle SharePoint User Group (TRISPUG.com) on October 7, 2014.

While many people see the intranet as a pretty (hopefully) homepage, in reality the modern enterprise intranet is a complex animal of many moving parts. Structuring of the information within the intranet, how that information is presented to the user, how the user interacts with it, how the organization manages it, and the physical branding that sits on top of all of it are all critical conversations to have if an intranet is going to be effective. In this session we’ll explore the building blocks of a successful intranet and discuss common intranet pitfalls to avoid on your next intranet roll-out.

PowerShell Introduction to Administering SharePoint On-Premises & O365

Presented at the Research Triangle PowerShell Users Group, Durham NC, September 17, 2014

As the role of the SharePoint Administrator continues to evolve, as have the tools. PowerShell has become an integral component of the SharePoint Administrator’s tool bag, whether administering SharePoint On-Premises, or as an Office 365 solution. In this session, we’ll look at day-to-day use cases of PowerShell as the primary tool for SharePoint administration, as well as the differences and restrictions between PowerShell for SharePoint On-Premise and O365.

Anatomy of an Intranet (SPSATL 2014)

While many people see the intranet as a pretty (hopefully) homepage, in reality the modern enterprise intranet is a complex animal of many moving parts. Structuring of the information within the intranet, how that information is presented to the user, how the user interacts with it, how the organization manages it, and the physical branding that sits on top of all of it are all critical conversations to have if an intranet is going to be effective. In this session we’ll explore the building blocks of a successful intranet and discuss common intranet pitfalls to avoid on your next intranet roll-out.

Securing Your Online Identity

The recent heartbleed fiasco has really underscored the importance of smart online identity security. Here’s a couple quick tips to help make sure you’ve reduced the risk of heartbleed as well as future identity security.

Change Your Passwords Often

Many businesses require you to change your work password every 60-90 days, and while we complain about it every time it comes around, we all comply (we have to). But at home, many of us (myself included) use the same password for years. The first big step to protecting yourself from a compromised online identity is to make sure you change those passwords frequently.

Be Smart About Your Passwords

Technical people like to tell you to use “secure” or “strong” passwords, but really what we mean is that your password should be complicated. Something like “P@ssw0rd!” is much more complex than “Password”. That said, the best password is randomly generated. Now you may be saying, “Great. Random passwords are secure but completely unusable.” If you’re on your phone logging into a service and you have to type in “~!sdflkjw932kjs*” that’s certainly not very convenient.

Convenience is relative though, isn’t it? What’s less convenient—taking a few extra seconds to get a password, or cleaning up the damage from a compromised online banking password? And let’s be honest with ourselves—that Facebook service that’s now in the background of absolutely everything, can do some real damage if your password gets compromised. I’d argue that you should protect Facebook to the same levels you protect your banking passwords—especially now that you can “Login with Facebook” on so many other sites and services.

Managing Passwords

Get yourself a tool like KeePass. Not only is it super simple to use, but it’ll generate random passwords for you, it’ll automatically type them into the browser for you, and there’s versions available for every phone platform too. The other cool thing about KeePass is that it encrypts the password database it uses, so you can store that KeePass file just about anywhere. Don’t rely on it just being on one computer—what if that computer crashes or your house catches fire? Consider backing up a copy of your KeePass file to OneDrive, Amazon AWS, or another cloud backup provider.

You also need to be smart about your password selection. Many less-techy folks simply alternate between a list of standard passwords that they use over and over. How many of you go to work with “Password1”, then when IT tells you to change your password you make it “Password2”. Don’t do that! Patterns like that make your passwords far more easily cracked.

Using Two Factor Authentication

Most of your critical services (banking, Facebook, etc.) support Two Factor Authentication, and if you're not using it you're just plain crazy. I'd go as far as to say anytime you have a chance to use Two Factor Authentication, you should be. This process essentially forces an extra step of validation when you try to log in. There's two main flavors: sending a text message with a verification code, and using an app on your phone to enter a randomly generated code. The first is pretty straight forward. If you're logging into Facebook as an example, you'll enter your username and password, then Facebook will prompt you to enter a unique code that they send to you via a text message. This process basically eliminates the risk of someone getting into your account if they only have your password. The latter process, using an app on your phone to generate that random number, is gaining popularity since it doesn't require you to consume text messages or wait for the delivery of that message. You will install an application on your phone  that will be synced with the service, much like those little RSA security tokens we used to carry around to VPN to the office. Most services support one or the other, not both, just look for a menu or an option to enable Two Factor Authentication and follow the steps they give you. Next to smart password management, this is the next best way to protect yourself. If a service offers it, you should be using it.

Protect Yourself

Look for browser security assurance everywhere you go. This tells you that the site is secure and protected by an SSL security infrastructure. Now, the unique thing about Heartbleed is that it in essence compromises the entire SSL infrastructure, but we won’t go into those details. Back in the day (I say that like it was more than a few years ago), you were told to look for a “padlock” or a “key” in the browser to indicate the website you’re on is secure. Modern browsers take it a step further and in some cases turn the entire address bar green. I’d go out on a limb and say you should never, ever, put any banking or credit card information into a website that doesn’t have a green address bar.

Next Steps

Go download KeePass for your computer and your phone, and familiarize yourself with it.

Change your passwords ASAP—especially if any of your websites are on the list of affected Heartbleed sites.

Discipline yourself to actually change your password frequently.

Remember that while Heartbleed has brought visibility to this, this isn't a one time thing where you just fix the current threat. As everything moves to the cloud and becomes reliant services like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. you need a strong identity management strategy.

SharePoint Branding Best Bets (ATLSPUG January 2014)

Diving into the world of SharePoint branding can be a real headache. What is the best practice for deploying my branding? How do I select a design firm? What is the impact of mobile devices and how do I ensure cross-browser compatibility? What are the new branding tools available in SharePoint 2013? These are all common questions that must be answered during the course of branding efforts. In this session we’ll look at the various aspects of SharePoint branding, and common pitfalls to look out for during your next branding project.