The Viability of the Chromebook

 

I admit it. I have been interested in Chromebooks since they were first introduced over a year ago. I can’t help it – they have buttons and a screen, don’t they? When I first visited them, I wasn’t really moved by the specs or the reported performance. But, oh, what a difference a year brings.

 

Year two brings some new Chrome-puter offerings. Google has been working hard over the past year to improve its browser-based OS. This shows. And Samsung, the manufacturer of Google’s computing brainchild, has just introduced a couple of new Chrome-powered devices that step up the hardware. The Chromebook laptop and the Chromebox desktop. Both hover around the size of an iPad. Both run the Chrome operating system. And both offer worthy, reasonably priced options for all but the most hardcore geeks and power-users. Versions of the computer range from mid $300s for the desktop model to mid $400s and $500s for the wifi only and 3G laptop models.

 

Like booting your computer up in 7 seconds? The Chrome-puters have your back. The new OS is faster, able to work with Microsoft Office documents natively and offers viable multitasking. Another great reason to consider the Chrome-puters is the ability to sync your Chrome browser settings across devices – simply log in to the Chrome browser on your Chromebook and elsewhere and you will have the same exact experience.

 

There is no doubt that the Chrome-puters will be a great fit for heavy users of Google’s various applications. And don’t mind the browser-based apps – many of them look and perform just like local apps and often include off-line modes. There are apps for most any purpose – check the Chrome Store if you doubt it.

 

Bottom line: Chrome OS has always been easy to use, but the hardware deficiencies and glitches kept me initially at a distance. The newest offerings are starting to look very interesting. At least for a second, more portable computer than your bulky laptop. Especially if you love some Google. Yes, I’d say the Chrome-puters are getting viable. You can check them out online, or at select Best Buy stores in the U.S. Check out the official Google video below:

 

Chapman-biz-plan

When You Need A Fast Business Plan, Fast

Do you need a business plan for your new venture? Writing a business plan is a specialized form of communication resulting in a document encompassing certain expectations, much like a résumé. To do it well, you could invest money into how-to books, not to mention the hours spent adding, subtracting and tweaking your text as you polish the piece to a sheen.

Of course, there are apps for that too. One such app is Enloop, a free for starters, and paid for more, online tool for creating a credible business plan.  The app creates a plan from scratch, and supplies to more difficult information sought out by bankers, investors and financial types. Enloop states that the system is developed by MBAs, accountants, and software developers. Not only do you get the text for each section, you get an explanation in basic English explaining each section. You can modify parts and Enloop will update the whole. Makes refining the plan a lot easier. Enloop also generates customized financial forecasts, including Sales, Profit & Loss, Cash Flow and Balance Sheet forecasts. You can adjust the complexity of the plan and forecasts up to 36-month inputs.

Enloop will even score your plan using its own Enloop Performance Score or EPS. The better the plan, the higher the score. You can invite colleagues to view and edit your plan, and download, share and print on the fly. In addition to the EPS, Enloop also gives a report card that evaluates forecasted performance based on overall score, three important financial metrics, and a cash-flow positive status. Enloop can also generate ratios.

That’s a lot for free. With paid, you get more ratios, better customer support, a PDF of your plan without the Enloop logo, more business plans, and more detailed financials. Still, though, for a quick free option, it’s hard to beat their basic functionality.

For something different, you can also try out Plan Cruncher, another free business plan service. This one looks to condense your business plan into a single page summary using symbols for shorthand. Plan Cruncher’s icons remind which questions your business plan must answer.

  1. Are you ambitious? Can you build a business?
  2. Do you have the skills to build the product or service?
  3. Can you already demo the product?
  4. Have you worked out how to monetize the product?
  5. How much investment capital do you need?
  6. Do you have a revenue forecast?
  7. How long will it take to reach profitability?

The quality of the executive summary affects how quickly and well Plan Cruncher can summarize your plan. The resulting plan summary will look like this:

The idea here is to get a summary into the hands of a potential investor that can give them the good information right away. Because time is money, you know.

Another great quick tool can be found at the $100 Startup – a one page business plan PDF with essentially 10 questions, the answers to which form the basis of the plan.

Whatever your need, these tools should get you well on your way to forming up your next amazing venture.

You May Be Illiterate If You Can't Program

There was a time in our past when reading and writing were a luxury reserved only for the rich and the well-educated. Now, it is freely accepted that the ability to read and write is the rule, rather than the exception. Or at least it should be.

 

But there is a new movement afoot that is pushing the idea that literacy should also include the ability to program. ReadWriteWeb describes this concept in a great blog post. Proponents of programming as a measure of literacy explain that we are rapidly moving to a standard of interaction that rates the communications between man and machine and machine and machine at equal importance as communications between man and man. He or she who can master machine language will control two-thirds (or thereabouts) of the flow of information.

 

Others argue that it is more important to master fundamental communication before worrying about coding and mastering the ability to speak machine. In other words, learn to read, write, perform math, and hold a conversation, as the article quotes StackOverflow.com creator Jeff Atwood.

 

I think there are good reasons for embracing all forms of communication. Whether we measure a person’s literacy by their ability to code or whether we relegate coding to vocational status is largely irrelevant. If you want to maintain a degree of control over the new communication landscape that includes conversations with and between machines, then there is plenty of reason to learn to code. At the very least, perhaps we should view coding as another “foreign” language to be offered to young children in school, along with French, German, Spanish, Latin and English. At the very least, children should be given the opportunity and be encouraged to learn so that they can more readily engage in these machine-based conversations in meaningful, active ways rather than passively watch the end result flow by on their computer and smartphone screens. If the means and methods of communication are controlled by a small group of interpreters, then much of the conversation may be lost.

 

I started my love affair with computers learning how to code in Basic language. When I wanted to make changes to my web pages and blog, I taught myself enough HTML and CSS to get the job done. Why not? If you are interested in learning to code yourself, check out Codeacademy, a great project by a couple of guys who tired of the difficult process of learning to code. The site simplifies learning and makes coding fun.

More Appealing Conference Calls With Uberconference

 

If you are the inventor of Google Voice, what exactly do you do for an encore? Well, fix the marginally tolerable conference call process, of course. Craig Walker of GrandCentral which morphed into Google Voice and now of Firespotter Labs has a very nice solution to some of the irksome issues surrounding the traditional multi-party teleconference. Uberconference allows fast and easy entrance to conference calls, with nice management tools to substantially smooth the process.

 
Gone are the PINs and the question marks as to who is on or off the call at any given moment. Gone is the annoying noise in the background. When you are invited to an Uberconference, you get an email with a call in number and a text message. When you call that number from your identified phone number, you are automatically authenticated.  Or you can choose to have the conference call you once it starts. Furthermore, you can see a visual dashboard on your computer sceren which identifies the speaker and even serves personal background information culled from public social media profiles. The app also allows the organizer to identify the noisy participant and mute the line.

 

It’s also free, but you may have to wait after submitting your email and requesting an invitation. U.S. only right now, and iPhone and iPad apps are on the way (presumably Android too since Firespotter Labs is a Google Incubator project). There also will be a premium service and it appears the added features may be dial-ins from local numbers, the ability to make outbound calls, capacity for larger conference groups, the ability to pay for a number, larger conference sizes and maybe transcription.

 

Did I mention it’s free? Have you looked at what ATT or Verizon charge for their crappy service? Are you interested? I thought so.

 

Not ANOTHER Social Network? Microsoft's So.cl

Yup. You heard that right. Microsoft is getting into the act too with its own social network called So.cl (pronounced So-shull). Do we really need another social network? Well, maybe, if it can bring something new to the table. So.cl’s angle is the ability to share your searching, presumably via Bing, with others in order to elicit commentary and maybe help someone else who might be looking for the same thing. Hence the “Find what you need and Share what you know” tagline. The status update box is actually titled “what are you searching for?” You can toggle the box to a more traditional style update as well. When you enter text in the box, the text hits your feed with related search results, also presumably via Bing.

 

 

You can add tags to save the search terms to a list, much like a favorites or bookmark tool. Items in the news feed can also be commented on or tagged by others. Another slightly different twist is the Video Party function – you can watch YouTube (and only YouTube at this time) videos with friends and chat about what you are watching. It also has a question feature, not quite so robust as Quora, and the ability to find and follow people with similar interests or topics of interest.

 

 

The interface is clean and you can make rich posts with montages of images and links from Bing when you search. Very sharp looking. People can comment on your posts – very social indeed.

 

The idea of saving your search results in a visually-appealing way sure sounds a lot like Pinterest, but it isn’t quite the same as a visual bookmarking service. The idea appears to be the creation of micro-resource posts for your friends and for yourself.

 

So.cl is being designed with educational institutions in mind, but it is currently open to the public for testing – it’s a product of Microsoft’s Fusion Labs. Who knows how long it will last or whether it will hit the prime time. But, I think it might have a chance. The social search angle hasn’t been fully developed yet and it seems an easy way to share knowledge and expertise. Why not head on over and try it out. Then head back here and post your feedback and your best guess as to whether this newcomer can survive in the dog-eat-dog world that is social networking.

 

Knowledge Graph: Google's New Search +Your Mind

They say that knowledge is power, and rightly so, particularly in the Digital Information Age (my term, FWIW). Access to information is important, but being able to leverage via machines the extra step that links the pure data to contextual relevancy is the current Holy Grail of Search. Pioneers in the digital knowledge game like Wolfram Alpha and Siri have been making extraordinary inroads in pairing correct answers to natural language questions. Semantic search – the ability to parse contextual meaning from a search inquiry by making connections across data sets – is the key to the next step in the evolution of search.

So, where is Google, the de facto King of Keyword Search, in all of this? Well, as of yesterday, right in the thick of it apparently. Google has introduced a major new refinement of its venerable Search Product called Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph appears to be a matrix of contextual connection behind the pure search terms that assist Google in showing results that make sense, as well as direct answers to queries right on the search results page. Instant results will highlight the answer Google believes you intended to find, as well as other possible answers to your question that make sense based on context – the connections between data points. The example from Google’s blog post debuting Knowledge Graph is the phrase “Taj Mahal”, which could be a monument, a Grammy award winning singer, a casino or the Indian restaurant down the street. Before, Google’s search would simply turn to its vast store of crawled data to find sites where the words “Taj” and “Mahal” appeared near each other, putting the sites that had the most clicks for those keywords at the top of the list. With Knowledge Graph, Google takes the next logical step by “guessing” the meaning you intend when you type “Taj Mahal” and presumptively returning relevant results. Pretty freaking cool.

To make this happen, Google is leveraging content stored in trusted sites, such as Wikipedia, Freebase, the CIA World Fact Book and other locales. Not unlike Wolfram Alpha, which turns to its own internal knowledge base comprised of data from official public or private websites, and systematic primary sources.

There are three main features of the new Knowledge Graph.  First, searchers will see different collections of results accessible via one click – click over instantly and tell Google which segment you are interested in researching. New summary info provides information on people, places and things right on the search page, obviating the need to click through to Wikipedia – good for quick bits of information, leaving you free to click through to get more detail if you need. Finally, Knowledge Graph takes it all one step further by providing the second tier information that users tend to look for after making their initial search. Google apparently is able to map those secondary searches and make the information easier to tap into, collapsing first and second searches down and improving search efficiencies. Google also shows other searches that people commonly made when searching for the same information. Google has accomplished the corralling of data in such a way that it can parse likely intent and direct searchers along the search path in a reliable fashion.

Is this all good? Well, not quite and definitely not for power searchers. Yet. Google’s new toy will work best with people, places and things and mostly likely with well-known people, places and things. More arcane and obscure information likely hasn’t been properly mapped yet, particularly since it appears Google’s tool depends on what lots of other searchers tend to do. Which raises an additional question regarding what lots of other searchers tend to do – if you are not your average searcher looking for not your average information, you might find the Knowledge Graph more hindrance than help at this point. However, I wholeheartedly applaud Google’s efforts (as well as Bing’s similar effort released earlier). There is definitely a place for instant, contextually-relevant results in everyone’s search plan. My sense is that it will REALLY get interesting when contextual, semantic search can delve the deeper recesses of data and make finer connections. Like the connections our billions of neurons make when we cogitate on a problem or try to recall key information. I can hear Majel Barrett’s voice now. Is the age of Artificial Intelligence upon us? Maybe. Just maybe.

 

Is Your Smartphone Killing You?

Seems a dramatic question, especially on a blog that is so mobile-friendly. But, as often is the case, there is another point of view on the benefits of cell phones and smartphones. Sure, they make your life “easier” by keeping amazing tools and applications close at hand, wherever you might be. But that constant companionship has drawbacks. Tony Shin’s infographic lists out some of the pitfalls of unfettered cell phone use, which brings home one of my favorite mantras: everything in moderation.

 

Cell Phones Kill
Created by: OnlineMastersDegree.com

Sharepoint on the iPad? Yes, with Harmon.ie

 

We use Sharepoint at my company. And, we’re not alone. Better than 78% of corporate America uses Sharepoint, the web application platform developed by Microsoft that handles web content management, document management, collaboration, document management and report creation. It feels a bit like an internal enterprise social network, with not so much of the social elements, but heavy on the information sharing.

 

When more  than three-quarters of corporate America uses Sharepoint and about 94 percent of the Fortune 500 are either testing or deploying the iPad in business, it makes some sense to marry the two. Harmon.ie has done just that – the app makes Sharepoint accessible on the iPad via HTML5, making it possible for users to enjoy the same SharePoint experience on the  iPad as on a desktop.

 

View the Sharepoint site on your iPad, get real-time updates, access and share information with colleagues while on the go, and access Microsoft Office Online.

 

There are three pricing tiers: Free, Premium and Enterprise. The biggest difference between Free and Premium is the ability to upload and edit documents and manage email. Check out the comparison chart here. Premium costs $19.99; Harmon.ie Enterprise edition for the iPad is coming soon.

 

It is a great, business and iPad-friendly addition to your mobile Microsoft experience. Check out the screenshots below for more details on what you can expect from Harmon.ie mobile.

 

 

 

Brand Yourself with BrandYourself

Why bother to build an online presence if you can’t monitor and control it? Emphasize the positives and de-emphasize the negatives with BrandYourself, a startup that helps you control Google results for your name through good, old-fashioned SEO. SEO, or “search engine optimization” still works in this modern-day and age of social, so it is worth devoting at least a percentage of your attention to it.

 

BrandYourself leverages  the familiar dashboard / profile set up, easy to activate with step-by-step directions. When I say step-by-step, I mean it. They walk you through the process of setting up your profile and boosting your content, educating you on the why along the way. I even learned a few things setting my profile up.

 

There are free and paid options. BrandYourself users employing the free option can optimize up to three links they want to push up in search results for their names. Your profile page will assist you in linking out and into that profile, which increases  Google page ranks. From your profile on BrandYourself, you can  link out to other online profiles, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or your own sites and blogs. And it will help you promote them, with guidance on how to improve SEO for each site. Paid options give you unlimited sites to link to and optimize.

 

Another interesting feature of BrandYourself is the ability to track who is looking at your profiles and links – the feature is brand new as of thisTuesday. The feature shows you where visitors to your BY profile are located and where they work, based on their IP address. This is done by matching the IP addresses from the visitors to BrandYourself’s own database of publicly available IP addresses. Is this useful? Well, it really only tracks the biggest players – the publicly available IP addresses of smaller players probably aren’t listed in the database. But it certainly will motivate you to keep your BY profile spiffy. And that isn’t a bad thing when you are trying to control your online SEO.

 

 

So, why would you go paid versus free? Here is the comparison chart from their site:

 

 

And here is their pricing:

 

 

You can find my BrandYourself profile here. Since it is free for the basic service and three links, why not give it a try?

 

 

Google's New e-Discovery App – Vault

Leaving no part of the business software suite untouched, Google has recently introduced its new e-Discovery product within its Apps for Business offerings. Called Vault, it serves to automatically store and save emails and chat sessions of users within a Google Apps ecosystem. Like any good e-Discovery product, Vault allows you to easily preserve, retain and retrieve information that may be needed in the course of litigation.

Vault is, like most Google offerings, cloud-based and quite easy to deploy according to reviewers. It is instant on and provides access to all  Gmail and on-the-record chats. It’s a bit different – instead of making copies of the tracked content and storing them in a separate storage locale, Vault merely changes how users “see” their content – when an end user “deletes” emails and IM sessions, they are removed from the user-interface view but retained on the Google Apps servers.

 

 

Vault costs $5 per user per month, on top of the $50 per user per year, $5 per user per month Google Apps fee. While it certainly isn’t “free”, like many Google products, the price is doable from a small business perspective.

 

Vault is not the only Google product that can be used for e-document preservation and retrieval – Google Message Discovery is already available and being used by Apps users, at a cost of $33 per user per year. Message Discovery operates more like a traditional e-discovery solution – with copies of docs stored in a separate section of the server. Google advises that the differences between Vault and Message Discovery include:

 

(1) Google Apps Vault is built natively in Google Apps and provides a true manage-in-place capability

(2) Vault can archive on-the-record chat messages

(3) Vault plans to support additional data types in the future (stay tuned for more information). GMD only supports email.

(4) There is no time limit on retention. GMD has a maximum retention period of 10 years

(5) Easy set-up through the Apps CPanel. GMD has a separate, non-integrated user interface

(6) Vault supports archiving email and on-the-record chat messages in all languages that Google Apps supports. GMD does not support as many languages, particularly double-byte languages.

(7) Vault can leverage existing migration tools for Gmail which gives customers more flexibility and can lower costs.

(8) Vault can be deployed “on-demand” and immediately begin applying information governance policies to the data that exists in your domain’s Gmail inboxes (legacy and newly created data). GMD starts capturing messages from the time that it is deployed and requires Historic Message Journaling to load historical email into the GMD archive.

 

At release, Vault is available to new Apps customers only. Google assures that it will be available to existing Apps customers in the future, with automated data migration for Message Discovery users. Google likely will expand Vault to other Google products as well, such as the Google Talk client and perhaps even Google voice transcripts.

 

Google has released the video below outlining it’s Vault product. Take a peek: