Empowering the Office with Apps

microsoft-powerapps

The novelty of mobile apps has long since faded but their usefulness and functionality is ever increasing with more advance and creative apps being developed every day. Creative apps are not just limited to the big app stores but can also come directly from developers to businesses bypassing the app stores all together.

These apps can streamline processes and naturally enable mobility within an organisation. Some business apps have broader appeal for example providing mobile versions of larger desktop applications other apps have a much more niche appeal and will need to be custom built for its use.

Microsoft has announced a new tool called PowerApps for creating apps, not aimed at developers but anyone familiar with their hugely popular office suite.

The apps created will run on all mobile platforms including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The tool aimed at businesses, using an office-like interface including the ribbon to create apps to make office life easier. These can be published from the application and then access via an intranet link on other employee’s smartphones, tablets of PCs.

PowerApps has now launched on the Windows Store as a free download and requires a Office 365 account to login. Click here to download.

This Week’s Technology News – 10th November 2014

Microsoft-Logo

Microsoft’s wants government at the table for “arms race” privacy talks
Speaking at Harvard Law School, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, described the increasing battle between technology companies and governments over data access and user privacy as unworkable, along with the need for integrated discussions from different government departments. “Ultimately there are only two ways to better protect peoples privacy: stronger technology or better laws,” he said.  Smith confirmed that a new consensus had to be sought to balance public safety and personal privacy – hence the spate of courtroom battles in Europe and the US to protect their position (as last reported in our blog on 8th August).

A reminder that Microsoft’s first sea change was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September 2001 when Microsoft and other internet companies and telecoms organisations agreed to voluntarily share data with US law agencies.   Microsoft adopted the principle that if it was legally obligated to do something it would comply, but otherwise it would not and that if its Government desired greater powers that had to be agreed by Congress.

The second game changer was the leaking of classified information about widespread surveillance and data collection by the US government, from disaffected NSA worker Edward Snowden. The impact of this was an immense loss of trust of technology companies by enterprise customers, with heightened concerns in Europe, Brazil and Japan.  Microsoft’s own survey found a 10-15% overall drop in trust from customers.

Besides strengthening encryption, Microsoft’s counter was to bolster its legal position around its enterprise client’s data:  “We said, if the US government came and served a subpoena on us, seeking the email or other records of an enterprise customer, we would resist that, we would go to court, we would argue to a federal judge that that subpoena ought to be served on the customer, not on us. Second, we said that if the data in question were stored exclusively outside the United States, we would go to court and challenge the extraterritorial reach,” Smith said.

Smith continued:  “One could understand a rule that would say, if you have an American citizen or resident, that is storing data in another place, one could imagine a public policy rationale that would enable the US government to serve a warrant. That stands in sharp contrast to the current position that the Department of Justice is taking in the lawsuit. They are basically saying, if the data center was built or is operated by an American company then they can reach anything inside. That really goes to the heart of sovereignty.”

US citizens might start to bristle if they thought about the long game.  For example, Chinese firm Alibaba is likely to go ahead and build a data centre in the US.  What then if the Chinese Government, Russian, Iranian or North Korean Government wanted to gain access to data stored in an offshore country?  How are those citizens’ rights protected, as it would no longer be by its own constitution and laws.

It is right for Microsoft to push this issue hard on the principle, as it goes right to the heart of the debate around safeguarding data, and on which our business rests.  But it is also about the policies and governance of that data along with compliance, to ensure end to end assurance and retain the trust of our business customers.

 

Microsoft changes direction with its Office strategy boosting BYOD in the process
For Microsoft, both Windows and Office have been the two big money makers for a long time. Despite the continued success of Microsoft Office, big changes are looming due to the rise of small, smart devices.

For many years, shareholders and consumers alike were demanding Office should also be available on devices like the iPad and Android tablets, as this is where the mobile market share was, in addition to Microsoft’s own tablets. This year Microsoft delivered the app, however users needed a paid Office 365 account to edit documents with no option the buy the app outright as with competitors’ alternatives.

Now Microsoft has changed their tune yet again, opening mobile Office for all.   Now users can download the free app and edit documents without either a one-time payment or a subscription charge. This marks a huge strategic change of direction for the Office team, once a premium, mobile consumers and workers alike can use best-of-class Office for free instead of look-a-likes.

In addition to a change in business direction for Microsoft, giving everyone free and easy access to Office on the go makes going BYOD a much simpler proposition. Now, no matter if a user comes in with an iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet (Windows Phones already came with Office so were always easier to manage), you can now direct them, even automatically with an MDM platform, to download the free Office apps without the need to worry about subscription accounts or managing paid downloads.

Of course with employees even more likely than ever to be editing documents on their mobile device, the need for a coherent MDM policy to secure and contain the data becomes paramount.

 

Microsoft “catapaults” new technology to the visually impaired
Microsoft have announced a unique partnership with Guide Dogs UK charity and urban design group Future Cities Catapault to empower and offer independence to blind and partially sighted people in the UK. This has the potential to change the lives of over two million people in the UK alone.

Most successful projects have a personal connect which drives effort forwards. In this case it was a visually impaired Microsoft employee who cued the firm into collaborating on the pilot.  Microsoft acknowledges a lot of information comes from GPS and annotated maps in the Cloud, not just the lampposts on which the beacons sit.

The technology uses a headset that talks visually to the user with 3D sound conducted through bone conducting headphones ie. “parked cars and overhanging trees ahead” and clicking noises to confirm a desired route and assure the user they are staying on course.  The relayed information on location and navigation data is made via a smartphone (Windows or android) along a boosted route indoors or outdoors with wifi hotspots and bluetooth beacons.  It is like an intelligent Sat Nav for the walker enabling those affected to step out with increased confidence to safely navigate a town or city thoroughfare.

The spinoffs are two fold.  From an employment perspective, the potential for the visually impaired to seek employment and travel to work for the first time when they would not have done so before is huge. With 246 million people across the UK and US visually impaired and 65% out of work, this could change the landscape for accessing employers.   Secondly, the wider ramification of a near invisible technology could extend into an additional technology lifestyle assist, with realtime traffic information (“Your bus is running 10 minutes late”), to assistance in exploring cities or finding places.

This week’s technology news – 11th April 2014

Heartbleed attack
This week the news of the Heartbleed bug has been causing a panic amongst internet users and website owners. The bug, discovered by Google Security and Codenomicon just this week has been in place since 2011. Sites running OpenSSL are affected, with hackers being able to eavesdrop on secure connections without leaving a footprint. The bigger services that was affected were; facebook, Instagram, google, Dropbox and yahoo! These have now been patched, however we recommend a password reset for users of these accounts. Site’s not using OpenSSL were not affected including Microsoft and Apple. The culprit of the accidental bug has since been identified as one of the contributors to the open-source project, however the bug was not discovered during review and before being cleared for final release. The immediate issue would seem the mass reliance on open source code for our web safety, but the real issue, whether you use open source or an in house development team comes down to code being reviewed thoroughly before being added to the live code pool.

Unfortunate timing Dropbox unveils corporate plans during Heartbleed
One of the biggest Cloud file sharing services is Dropbox however it’s not a name often recommend for corporate use. Dropbox is attempting to change this perception by giving everyone ‘two dropboxes’ one for personal use the other for business, which is managed by your company. Organisations incorporating this will be able to wipe or move all data in this container without access to the user’s personal documents. The irony of this announcement is although Dropbox is going out of their way to show how businesses can trust them with their data it comes in the same week Dropbox admitted it was vulnerable to the Heartbleed attack, potentially putting users passwords and documents at risk.

Microsoft Office for iPad is a hit with over 12 million downloads so far
It was a long time coming – but many think it was worth the wait. Microsoft has announced its official Office Apps for iPad have been downloaded over 12 million times. The apps are well positioned for both home and business use, keeping the fonts and formatting your used too, but portable, on the device most people own. Although 12 million free downloads is impressive, the more interesting number would be to how many Office 365 subscriptions Microsoft has sold to new iPad users during this time. Microsoft has yet to release this information but the subscription is required to go beyond read-only and to actually edit documents. Many questioned if keeping Office initially exclusive to Microsoft tablets was a strategic move and it may have well been. If so it seem Microsoft has had a change of heart or simply seeing a bigger opportunity in getting subscribers into Office 365.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 4th October 2013

MS Office is no longer the selling point it once was for phones & tablets
Microsoft has been using Office as a selling point for Windows Phones and Surface tablets. Apple announced at WWDC that all future iPhone and iPads will be able to download the iWork apps for free. Google is now following suit with a partnership with Quickoffice to allow free access to all Android users. This diminishes Microsoft’s USP in this market. When Office 365 is available on all phone platforms but only by subscription, why pay for 365 when can use an alternative programme for free? To take back control, Microsoft needs to ensure their mobile Office tools are undisputedly best in class and that you get what you pay for.

Screen scraping – the big steal
Defined as copying all the data on a target website, screen scraping in this instance is not the reluctant exercise with your car on a frosty morning. Rather, it is a means for companies to anonymously harvest time critical data and profit from rival websites. Affected industries include financial institutions, bookmakers, online insurance companies, online directories and the travel industry – with loss of revenue and diluted confidence in brand. Blocking measures to differentiate between genuine customers and the 40% of scraper traffic is tricky and the impact can slow up servers and reduce bandwidth. It is a growing problem sign of a new direction in industrial espionage.

Is Government’s new Joint Cyber Unit – the new Mi10?
In a bid to counter the spiralling threat of cyber attacks, the Government has announced the creation of a new Reservist division of IT experts, both full time and part time to work alongside regular forces in defending national security. The JCU will also have the capability to launch strikes in cyber space. With the goal of protecting computer networks and safeguarding vital data, the Government is making a public effort to interface with private sector expertise. Let us hope it thwarts logarithmical IEDs in time.

Windows Phone on the rise in the UK
Windows Phone is still gaining market share. Growth in Europe, especially in the UK shows significant increase. 12% of UK smart phones sold are now Windows Phones against 3% in the US. Nokia produces the majority of Windows Phones now with a strong brand loyalty across Europe. With the Microsoft-Nokia deal planned, the idea of dropping the Nokia brand may backfire, given that the ‘Lumia’ brand Nokia has been using on its Windows Phones is searched for more online than ‘Windows Phone’ itself. The wrong brand choice could undo much of the promising growth occurring on the Microsoft Phone platform, thanks to Nokia.

World’s first digital laser
South Africa’s CSIR laboratories have created the first digital laser. Using an LCD inside a laser, the normal digital pictures were converted and the laser output changed in real time from one mode shape to another. This evolution offers an advancement from traditionally costly devices and time consuming control of the laser beam and has the potential to become a disruptive technology to the current market. The researchers believe (and hope) this has widespread implications for future technologies and applications across devices from communications to medicine.