From Google Apps to Office 365: Why my company ditched Google

You’re probably expecting me to write a scathing exposé on how I’ve come to dislike Google Apps. That’s quite far from the truth behind why we left Google. There is a lot more to the story than meets the eye. It goes way farther than just a decision based on boxes checked off on a spec sheet. After more than one month since making the move to Office 365 full time, I can comfortably say we made the right decision as a company.

And of anyone who can make an honest dissection of Google Apps against Office 365, I’d say I’m as well suited as anyone in the IT blogosphere to be passing such critical judgement. Notwithstanding my own personal usage of Gmail since 2005 and Google Apps for my IT company since early 2010, I’ve likewise been both a Google Apps Certified Trainer and Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist for years now. And I’ve personally been involved in Google Apps transitions for numerous small and large organizations in both the public and private sectors. So to say that I’ve been deeply invested in Google-ism for some time now is an understatement.

I’ve written some in-depth reviews of Google Apps and Office 365 separately in the past, and get frequent mail from both of them based on how I pitted one suite against the other in this category or that aspect. And while I’m not saying for a moment that I take back any of the statements I made in those pieces, I do honestly believe that “dogfooding” a given platform into your day to day business needs is the truest way to form the most accurate opinion of a product.

Surely, all of the monthly consulting time I spend helping other clients with their Office 365 and Google Apps installations gives me a raw insight with which to form solid opinions upon. But eating the dogfood you’re peddling to clients? That puts your own skin in the game in ways that doesn’t compare otherwise.

So that was my intended experiment of sorts. After spending nearly four years on Google Apps, learning its every nook and crevice, I threw an audible at my staff and told them we were transitioning to Office 365 by Thanksgiving 2013. And that’s exactly what we did. By Turkey Day, we were fully transitioned off Google Apps and drinking Redmond’s email kool-aid primetime.

The last month and a few days have been an interesting ride. From UI shock during the first week or so, down to natural comfort at this point. Here’s the skinny on what insight we’ve learned about leaving Google behind.

Forget Spec Sheets: This is a Battle of the Ecosystems

For anyone that has cold-called me asking about whether they should go Google or Microsoft for email, they know full well I don’t tote the corporate line that either company wishes. The big players in the cloud email arena tend to have pitched their tents in one camp or another. They’re either Microsoft Office 365 only, or conversely, stuck in Google Apps-ville. Unlike car dealers, where buyers stepping through the doors know exactly what they’re going to hear when they walk in, clients looking for honest direction for their email and UC needs want more than marketing drivel.

The battle between Microsoft and Google goes a lot further than who has bigger inboxes, more mobile apps, or whatever new whizbang feature can generate easy buzz. I’ve carefully learned that this is more-so a battle of the ecosystems at this point. Who’s got the all-encompassing platform that is looking to solve business needs the way your company views them? Who’s going to solve your email problems today, but offer you a segway to cloud document storage & unified communications & etc tomorrow?

That’s the question companies and organizations should be asking themselves. Because it’s the realization I’ve come to after our two-feet-first jump onto Office 365 a little more than a month ago. Google Apps isn’t a bad platform by any means. In fact, it’s pretty darn good. But in my eyes, when you view both suites as the sum of their individual parts, as a collective experience, Office 365 takes the upper hand. And I’ll explain why in detail.

At face value, Google’s core Apps offerings in the form of Gmail, Docs/Drive, Sites, and Hangouts are fairly solid offerings. But as a collective whole, they lack a certain polish. That x-factor which takes a platform from just good or great, to excellent. Google’s way is just that — the Google way or the highway.

This in-or-out dilemma exists in many facets in the Google Apps realm. For example, using Google’s Hangouts functionality for video and voice chat requires you to have a Google+ account activated. It’s basically a Google account that is opted into Google’s social network, Google+.

I have nothing against Google+ as I find it vibrantly different and more gratifying than Facebook these days, but forcing your meeting participants to all have Google+ enabled on top of having Google accounts as well? That’s more than a bit self serving if you ask me. In contrast, Micrososft’s Lync doesn’t require any of this for me to initiate meetings with external users. As long as I myself have a paid account for Lync, I can invite whoever I want (up to 250 of them, in fact) no matter if they ever had an Office 365 or Microsoft account in their life.

Google plays the same card on the way they treat Microsoft Office users. Sure, you can upload anything you want into Google Drive and store it to your heart’s content — but good luck trying to edit or collaborate on those documents in a web browser. Google will gladly convert those files into Google Docs, and force you to play the Docs-vs-Office juggling act in your file storage needs. We did it for years, but I had enough.

The same goes for Google’s half-hearted support for Microsoft Outlook. I know very well that Google has been advertising their half baked Google Apps Sync for Outlook tool for years. I’m far from an Outlook desktop app lover, as I use Outlook Web App nearly 99 percent of the time on Office 365, but I know many companies live or die by it. You don’t want me to describe the feelings that users of this plugin which have been conveyed to me. The comments I’ve heard in the field would make a Comedy Central comedian blush.

Not to mention that Google spent the better part of 2013 lambasting Microsoft for making changes to how Office installs via Click-to-Run, saying that their Sync tool wouldn’t be compatible with the new 2013 edition of Office for this reason. And then they made a 180 degree about face come November 2013 and released an edition of Sync that actually does work with Click-to-Run after all. I guess enough enterprise customers poured their lungs out at Google support and they eventually kowtowed.

Mind you, Outlook extensions of all sorts were functional with Outlook 2013 leagues before Google got their act together, including ACT! by Sage and ESET NOD32 Antivirus, to name a few. But I digress.

At face value, Google claims their Sync for Outlook tool is the perfect holdover for those who wish to use Outlook on Google Apps. In reality, I know this is far from the case. Of the numerous companies I’ve moved to Google Apps who are reliant on Outlook and use this tool, not one has been completely satisfied with the product due to bugs, glitches, and other oddities we run into all the time. Google should be advertising their Sync tool as sorta works, sorta doesn’t. (Image Source: Google)

If you take a look at the ecosystem that Office 365 affords, it’s breadth and approach is different in every conceivable way. Google believes in an all-you-can-eat pricing approach; Microsoft believes in paying for only what you need.  Google’s Drive cloud storage app treats Office files like the plague; Microsoft believes you should be able to work on the desktop or in the browser as you choose. Google’s Hangouts tool gets first class treatment in Google branded products only (Chrome, Android); Microsoft offers Lync capability nearly ubiquitously on almost every device and OS on the market.

The same can be said about Google’s approach to an industry compliance necessity for the medical sector, HIPAA, which has begun affecting our company due to our status as a business associate for healthcare customers. While Office 365 has supported full HIPAA compliance since its early days, Google has been a holdout until Sep of last year. Mind you, Sep 23 was the deadline under the HITECH Act amendment that stated health organizations had to be in full compliance by that date. In short, too little too late from Google’s end — they shouldn’t be surprised that healthcare is staying far away from their platform.

It goes without saying, then, that if you are solely chasing feature matrices when making your decision between Google and Microsoft, you’re only revealing half the story. An email platform in 2013 is not just an inbox; it’s a unified communications tool that will make or break the way your organization works with the rest of the world.

SharePoint vs Google Drive: Who’s Hosting your Cloud File Server?

Up until Office 365, my company was living a double life in terms of its document storage needs. We had an office NAS box (a nice QNAP TS-239 Pro II+, which we still use for bare metal client PC backups) that was storing traditional Office documents for some aspects of our day to day needs. And then Google Drive, which was the hub for collaborative authoring that we needed for our onsite tech support team and training team.

But this duality was causing more confusion and headache as time went on. Was something stored on the NAS or Drive? Was it a Word document that we converted to Docs? Which copy was the master at that point? I call this mess the “Docs v Office juggling nightmare” and I was sick of it. Google Docs is awesome for sharing and collaborating, but Google forces you into using their online file format; it’s an all or nothing proposition.

So we ate our own dogfood once again after the 365 move, and converted our two-pronged data storage approach into a single unified SharePoint “file server in the cloud.” It’s definitely not pick-up-and-play like Google Drive/Docs is, but the time invested in building out document libraries with proper permissions was well worth it.

First of all, Google’s thinking around how they allocate and manage storage in Drive has always driven my clients and myself nuts. Instead of being able to dole out storage space that is meant for separated, shared purposes — like shared folders that represent root file shares of a traditional server — they force storage to be tied to someone’s Google account. That is usually an admin, a lead user, or someone similar. In theory, it works decently, but you run into traps easily.

For example, if someone creates a root level folder outside the scope of a folder already owned and controlled by an account that has extra storage allocated to it, then anything placed inside that new directory will be counted against the respective owner’s storage quota. So as your organization grows, and people start using Drive the way that it was meant to be used — in a laissez faire kind of way — then you better hope all your users have a good handle on how Google Drive storage allocation works behind the scenes. If not, you’ll be falling into such “who’s storage are we using?” holes. The K-12 sector taking up Apps in droves is running into these headaches head on, I’m hearing.

SharePoint Online and SkyDrive Pro in Office 365 skip that mess altogether. If you’re working in true shared folders, or document libraries as SharePoint calls them, you’re working off pooled storage space available to all permitted users in your domain. By default, all E-level Office 365 plans (the only ones we recommend to clients) come with a 10GB base of shared space, with an extra 500MB of space added for each extra paid SharePoint user on your account. So if you are a company with 15 users and have SharePoint rights, you have 17.5GB of SharePoint space for your document libraries in the cloud. Simple as that.

SharePoint Online works hand in hand with SkyDrive Pro and allows me to securely sync our company’s entire cloud file shares to my laptop, which is locally secured by BitLocker in case of theft or loss. I have access to the exact same files on my desktop SSD (right side) as I do in the cloud and via web browser (left side). This is the cloud file storage nirvana I dreamt of with Google Drive starting back in 2012, but Google has thus far failed to deliver. As much as they claim otherwise, I can’t live in a Microsoft Office-less world … yet.

And SkyDrive Pro offers a completely distinct 25GB of space per person for their personal data storage needs. Think of it as a My Docs in the Cloud. It works more akin to the way Google Drive does, but for good reason: that space is ONLY meant for you, not to be shared with others in a file share environment. You can freely share docs out via Office 2013 or in Office Web Apps, but this is meant to be done on a limited basis with a few people. More formal sharing should be handled in document libraries in SharePoint sites.

Specs aside, have we lost any functionality on SharePoint? Not one bit. Usage of SharePoint and SkyDrive Pro is better in our organization now than under Google Apps on Drive previously, mostly due to there being no more need to juggle between what files can be Office documents and which ones have to be Google Docs. All of our Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) can be shared and worked on offline and online equally well. Office Web Apps don’t have 100 percent feature fidelity yet, but they’re on-par with what Google Docs offered for getting work done quick and dirty in a web browser.

And we’re going to be leveraging SkyDrive Pro heavily soon with a new way of digital work orders that we are going to roll out for our techs which mixes SDP along with Excel, topped off with our new chosen endpoint devices: Lenovo Thinkpad X230 Tablets. A technician’s workhorse laptop hybrid with full stylus-driven tablet functionality. Initial tests have been working out real well for us.

I plan on writing a longer expose on how we made the move to SharePoint, but at face value, we are enjoying  SharePoint Online due to the numerous benefits it has provided. We erased duplicity headaches, streamlined our file storage into one platform, and combined what Google Sites and Drive had to offer in combination with what SharePoint now does in one single interface.

I’m not saying Google Drive is a bad product in any way. But it didn’t solve our needs the way I had expected it to back when Google rolled out it in 2012. After loathing SharePoint for how complex it has always been, the new 2013 iteration is a refreshing product that when coupled with Office 365 is a no-brainer option for moving your file server to the cloud. And clients who we have been moving to SharePoint Online have been equally impressed.

Lync is for the Workplace; Hangouts is for Friends

Another huge tool we’ve grasped onto quickly is Lync for our intra-company communication needs. Our office manager is pinging our techs in the field with info and vice versa; I’m able to discuss problems with my staff over IM or free voice calls even in areas where cell signal is dead. And as I wrote about last year already, we ditched GoToMeeting a while ago in lieu of Lync for our online conferencing needs.

The battle of the ecosystems between Google and Microsoft is on full display in the video/voice/IM arena. Google is trying its best to transition a muddled 3-pronged offering landscape on its end into one single system. But for all their efforts, I’m still just as confused with their intentions because as of Jan 2014, we still have three distinct options for unified communications in the land of Google Apps.

Google Talk, the previous go-to option for intra-Google communication via IM and voice chat still exists in some remnants. My Google Apps Gmail account still offers it, for example. And then you have Google Voice, which has been Google’s POTS-enabled offering for more than a few years now for softphone telephone needs. But some of that functionality is being tangled into Google Hangouts, which is their bona-fide video and voice chat platform going forward.

If you asked me what Google’s UC strategy looks like in one sentence, I wouldn’t be able to answer you succinctly. It’s because at Google it feels like the left arm is on a different page than the right leg, and so you get the picture. They have a fractured array of offerings that all do a little something different, and many have overlapping features — and so the Google Apps proposition is confounded by too many choices, none of which present a single solid solution for what companies are yearning for in unified communications.

Stop the madness. Since our move to Office 365, Lync has been the answer to our frustrations. I don’t have to juggle between Talk and Hangouts for my conferencing and IM needs. I have one single app, one single set of functions to learn, and a tool which arguably ties into the rest of Office 365 very nicely.

Whereas Google relies on Hangouts, a tool that is for all intents and purposes a function deeply rooted in their social network Google+, Lync is an all-inclusive app that can stand on its own via various Lync desktop/mobile apps, but is also present in some facets in the web browser as well. As a heavy user of Outlook Web App, I can see presence information for my staff in emails that they send me, and the same goes for docs on SharePoint document libraries. It seems that I’m never more than a click away from starting a conversation over IM or voice with someone on Lync, reducing the barriers to getting the answers I need fast.

My favorite aspect of Lync has to be the universal access I have to the app no matter what device I am on. If I start a Lync conversation on my laptop at the office, I can head out on an emergency client call and continue the conversation on my smartphone (I use a Lumia 925 now) without a hitch. This was only possible on Google Apps when I was within the web browser and using an Android phone previously. Google doesn’t offer much of anything for Windows Phones; but Microsoft offers almost everything for Google’s and Apple’s platforms. Who’s playing favorites in reality?

Google Hangouts limits you to measly 10 person meetings. Lync allows us to max out at 250 participants, and we can even tie into fancy Lync Room Systems as shown above for formal conference style gatherings. It doesn’t cost any extra than the price of an Office 365 E1 account or higher. A darn good deal in my eyes — especially if you can ditch GoToMeeting/Webex altogether. (Image Source: TechNet)

Yes, I will admit Microsoft’s approach to Lync for the Mac desktop platform is still a bit pitiful, as numerous features in the Windows version are not available on the Mac side yet. And I called Microsoft out on it in a previous post. But from everything I’m hearing in my circles, Office 2014 for Mac (as we expect it to be called) will bring Lync and the rest of Office up to speed with what Windows users are afforded.

Another area that I am anticipating to launch any month now is Microsoft’s first-party Lync enterprise voice offering that will enable us to use regular SIP desk phones with the Lync service for full telephone capabilities. While we are using RingCentral right now without a hitch and love it, I think Lync-hosted cloud voice is the holy grail of unifying communications for my small business. And judging from the number of people that email me asking about this functionality, I’m not alone in my wants. Seeing what Microsoft reps stated last May about this coming-soon feature, all signs are pointing to an inevitable 2014 launch.

Is Lync perfect? Not by a long shot. Mac support is still dodgy and behind the Windows client. I deal with off and on bouts of messages that refuse to reach my staff with errors pointing to behind-the-scenes goofy Lync network issues. And Microsoft needs to vastly improve the Outlook Web App integration of Lync to the level of what Google Talk has in Google Apps; the rudimentary support enabled right now is a bit of a disgrace compared to what it could offer users like me.

But unlike Google, which continues to distribute its efforts between three hobbled apps (Hangouts, Talk, Voice), Microsoft is 100 percent committed to building out Lync. And that’s a ride I am comfortable sticking around for, as it’s serving us well so far.

The Truth Behind Google Apps and HIPAA Compliance

One of the primary reasons I decided to take a swim in Office 365 land is due to Google’s lackluster adoption of HIPAA compliance for their suite. If all you use Google Apps for is email and document storage, Google’s got you covered.

But is your medical organization interested in building out an internal wiki or intranet on Google Sites? Sorry, that’s not allowed under their HIPAA usage policy. Or are you looking to perhaps do some video conferencing with Hangouts between other physicians or even patients? It’s a hot and burgeoning sub-sector of healthcare called telemedicine, but don’t plan on using Google Apps’s Hangouts for it — Google says you must keep Google+ shut down in your Apps domain to stay compliant with HIPAA. The list of dont’s ‘doesn’t end there.

I reached out to Google Enterprise Support to get some clarification on what they meant by requiring us to have core services enabled to keep HIPAA compliance, and a Patrick from their department replied to me via email:

My apologies for the misunderstanding, you are indeed correct. If you are under a BAA, you can turn off non-core services but core services such as Gmail, Drive, Contracts etc must remain turned on

This is another unpleasant necessity for organizations that want to, for example, merely enable Google Drive for cloud document sharing between staff members but do not wish for Gmail to be turned on. Coming from the public education sector before going on my own, I know full well that the picking and choosing of services in Google Apps is a highly desired function and one of the biggest selling points for Apps to begin with. So what the heck, Google?

Don’t get me wrong. HIPAA compliance with Google is now fully possible, but only if you’re willing to bow down to Google’s backwards requirements of what you can and can’t use on their suite.

I had full HIPAA compliance with Office 365 on the first day we went live, and I didn’t have to sacrifice SharePoint, Lync, SkyDrive Pro, or any of the other value-added benefits that come with the ecosystem. Seeing that Google Apps has been on the market for over 3 years more than Office 365, I find it quite unacceptable for Google to come to the game with one hand tied behind its back, and late at that.

I’m calling Google out because I know they can do much better than what they are advertising now as HIPAA compliance with Apps. And until that happens, I’m refusing to recommend Apps for any clients even remotely associated with the healthcare industry so they don’t have to go through the pains I described.

Office 365: Still Not Perfect, But A Value Proposition Better than Apps

There’s a lot of things I love about Google Apps. Its release schedule for new features is blazing fast; much quicker than what Office 365 has. Google has a knack for releasing innovative features, even if they don’t fill needs gaps for what I am yearning for. And their all-you-can-eat price point of $50/year USD for Apps is a hard price point to beat even for Office 365.

But I’ve come to learn that wading through marketing speak and engrossing yourself in a product as massive as an email suite is the only way to truly uncover what each platform has to offer. No amount of consulting for clients could give me the insight on these two suites as actually using them day to day has afforded me, in direct knowledge and purpose-driven understanding.

I don’t regret for a minute the four years we spent on Google Apps. It’s a solid, good product. It’s second only to Office 365 in my eyes. Hosted Exchange, Lotus, Groupwise, and all the other second-tier options are far behind in contrast to these two suites in pricing, bang for the buck, and security/compliance standards. But Microsoft’s value proposition is one which I can relate to better.

Splitting the apps apart, you will likely find areas where Google’s respective apps do a better job at this or that. But an email platform investment is a two-foot dive into an all-encompassing experience that goes beyond the inbox today moreso than ever before. And that’s where I find Microsoft to be winning the ecosystem battle: in providing an immersive experience that doesn’t have rough edges drowning in engineering experimentation.

At the end of the day, I have a tech consulting business to run. While I enjoy fiddling with the ins and outs of features for my customer needs, when I come back after a ten hour day onsite, the last thing I want to be doing is bending over backwards to work the way a suite expects me to. And that is increasingly what I was feeling with Google Apps. Google’s vision of cloud computing is markedly different than most others’, and if you can’t abide by their rules, you will pay the price in lost time and functionality.

My customers have learned this very fact with the Google Apps Sync for Outlook tool. I’ve experienced this with our frustrations with Drive/Docs. And most recently, Google’s HIPAA compliance stance leaves me scratching my head. So for the time being, we’ve bid Google farewell for our own internal needs.

Will we return someday? I hope so. But for now, Office 365 is doing a darn good job and I’m more than pleased, even if Microsoft has its own kinks to work out with Lync and Outlook Web App. I’ve brought my company onboard for the ecosystem, not purely for an email inbox. If you can step back and objectively compare email platforms in the same manner, you may come to a very different conclusion as to what vendor you should be sleeping with tonight.


Bring back Classic Visual Basic

The vote for Microsoft to bring back an updated version of VB6 is now #5 (out of over 8000) on the Microsoft VisualStudio UserVoice site “Bring back Classic Visual Basic, an improved version of VB6″

Microsoft’s Universal Windows App Store Is Huge For Developers—And Consumers

Windows is now truly one operating system, whether you’re on a smartphone, tablet or PC.

Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 8 RT and Window 8.1—that is, the phone, tablet (sort of) and PC flavors of Windows—are no longer distinct operating systems that largely look alike but vary wildly under the hood. Microsoft has spent the last couple of years updating its disparate Windows versions so that they work together with the goal of letting developers write one app and deploy it—after some tweaking to the user interface—to Windows PCs, tablets and smartphones.

True, Microsoft’s operating system naming conventions are still awful. But that shouldn’t obscure the major step forward this code-base unification represents to developers, nor the benefits that will flow to users as a result.

All three flavors of Windows now run on a common software core, or “kernel,” with a common runtime (i.e., the set of tools necessary to run programs). The major remaining differences between them have mostly to do with how they handle user-interface issues across a variety of devices, input methods (think touchscreens vs. mouse and keyboard), hardware (not just CPU and memory, but graphics processors, accelerometers and other sensors) and screen sizes.

Microsoft knows that those differences still present obstacles for developers, and hopes to address many of them with an update to its integrated developer environment, Visual Studio 2013, which it announced at Build 2014 this week.

Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s director of the Windows Development Platform, describes it in a post on the Windows blog:

We’ve designed Windows for the long term, to address developers’ needs today, while respecting prior investments. We do this with one familiar toolset based on Visual Studio 2013, with support for C#, C++, JavaScript, XAML, DirectX, and HTML. The tools and technology stacks already used by hundreds of thousands of developers extend app development across Windows devices. Developers who have built apps for Windows 8.1 will find it fairly easy to reuse their work and bring tailored experiences to Windows Phone 8.1. Windows Phone 8 developers can use the same code, and also access new features, when they develop for Windows Phone 8.1.

Write Once, Deploy To All The Windows

The Visual Studio update allows developers to port existing apps across devices and their specific versions of Windows. For instance, if you have a Windows 8.1 app, you can use settings in Visual Studio to target smartphone-specific capabilities in Windows Phone 8.1. Visual Studio is designed to let developers use the same basic app code across different devices and Windows flavors, and allows them to emulate how an app will behave in each case.

From Microsoft’s perspective, the two most important takeaways for developers are these:

  1. You can build universal apps and share all the code while just making tweaks to the user interface
  2. Visual Studio offers a variety of diagnostics tools to optimize apps for use on different device—smartphones running Windows Phone, laptops running Windows 8.1, etc.

Essentially, Microsoft wants to make it as easy as possible for developers to build Windows apps. Given Microsoft’s minuscule share of the mobile market to date, you can hardly blame it.

In practice, this means Windows Phone developers—and you know who you are— essentially have three options. If you’ve built your apps using the Silverlight Phone 8.0 development tool, you don’t have to do anything; they’ll continue to work as is on Windows Phone 8.1.

Alternatively, you can update your apps to Silverlight Phone 8.1 to access the new features in Windows Phone 8.1, such as the Cortana personal assistant and customizable homescreens. Or you can migrate your apps to the universal Windows app platform with the new tools in Visual Studio. Of course, if you prefer, they can also just start from scratch and build a “universal” Windows app to Microsoft’s specifications, which would theoretically optimize it for the new unified Windows code base.

One of the biggest bits of news is that Microsoft is encouraging developers to use whatever tools they want. Whether a developer chooses to use C# or Visual Basic (VB)—or C/C++—to write native apps, it’s all good. Microsoft is also actively encouraging developers to build cross platform apps with JavaScript and HTML5/CSS and has promised an update to Internet Explorer 11 with hardware accelerated graphics support that takes advantage of a device’s GPUs while leaving the CPU untouched.

Buy Once For All Of Your Windows

For consumers, Microsoft aims to make the process of buying an app easier. If you buy an app for your Windows 8.1 laptop, you can automatically download it to your Windows Phone or vice versa. Microsoft insists that you won’t need to buy separate apps for separate versions of the operating system because, essentially, Windows is now all one big operating system now. The same is supposed to hold true for in-app purchases within these apps—they should migrate from laptop to tablet to smartphone as well.

Apple doesn’t do this. If you buy an app on Mac OS X for your iMac or MacBook, you will still need to download or buy the same version for your iPhone or iPad. Google doesn’t do this, either. If you buy an app or extension for Chrome OS, you will still need to buy that app for Android on Google Play.

Some individual apps for Android and iOS, of course, do let customers download versions for different devices—for instance, via a subscription service or universal login. But that’s up to the app developer. It’s not required by Apple or Google.

Branding Lessons From Walter White

1. To build brand, focus on quality.

The reason that antihero Walter White’s crystal meth becomes so valuable is that it’s of much higher quality than the competition’s.

Through a tight control of his manufacturing process, White creates a product that’s almost 100 percent pure. The competitors can only manage around 60 percent pure. As a result, the meth consumers (a.k.a. “tweakers”) all want White’s product, not that of his competitors.

When you look at all the great commercial brands, you see the same thing. The brand is built on product quality and suffers when quality declines. A good example of this is GM, which has struggled for decades to return to its former reputation for quality, a struggle that its recent recall makes all the more difficult.

2. Tie quality to a visual hook (brand image).

As is frequently pointed out in the series, White’s product has a blue tinge to it and consequently acquires the brand name Blue. The consumers of the product quickly associate the blue color with the purity of the product. The color, in other words, becomes the brand image. When other people unsuccessfully attempt to imitate White’s manufacturing process, the lack of the blue color is as fatal to the knockoffs as the lack of purity.

Similarly, great commercial brands always have a visual hook—a logo or, better yet, a look and feel—that people associate with product quality. Apple is a great example of this. Every iPod, iPhone, and iPad is easily identifiable—even from a distance—compared with their frequently shoddy competition.

3. Make distribution as important as brand.

Throughout Breaking Bad, White’s main challenge (and the majority of his problems) comes from his need for a distribution network. Needless to say, some of White’s problems in this area are connected to the fact that he’s selling a product that’s illegal.


5 Reasons why PowerView can’t replace Reporting Services

The other week I wrote a post discussing how PowerView was the future of SQL Server Reporting Services, and the killer features that made it a compelling choice.  Despite the numerous positive advances that PowerView brings to Microsoft/SQL-based reporting, there are of course a number of counter arguments.  I deliberately left these out in order to look at some of these reasons in a later post.

As such, here are five reasons why PowerView, despite all its pizzazz, is simply not capable (in its current form) of replacing the venerable SSRS.

1 – Customisation

Screenshot showing chart editing in SSRS Report Builder

One of the major shortcomings ofPowerView’s current implementation is its lack of customisation options.  Compared with vanilla SSRS, where you can tweak just about every single property of a control, the options inPowerView are extremely limited.

Take the charting component, for example.  In PowerView, you have a choice between 4 types of chart: Pie, Line, Scatter or Bar/Column (I’m not going to even entertain these as different types).  You can assign your axes and values, and choose a colour scheme for your view…and that’s it.  No secondary axes, scale breaks, major/minor tick marks, and so on.

SSRS is extremely powerful, and all the properties in standard SSRS objects are still there in the underlying RDL file (check out Dan English’s blog for a rundown of what makes a PowerView RDLX file), they’ve just been disabled.  It’s possible there might be more control in a future version of PowerView if Microsoft choose to expose more options, but for the time being, if you want customisation, you’re better off sticking with vanilla SSRS.

2 – Silverlight

Browser plugins are a pain in the ass.  One of the best things about the rise of complex JavaScript libraries and JS-based RIA’s is the fact that you don’t need to download annoying plugins and updates.  Thankfully, they’re on the decline as more and more companies move towards rich client-based frameworks rather than fiddly plugins.  Microsoft’s Silverlight is a nice enough attempt at getting in on the Flash market, and as plugins go, it’s miles away from being the worst offender – looking at you here Java, you bloated, offensive, security nightmare.

But it’s much easier when you don’t have to install anything extra to view your reports.

3 – SharePoint

Ahhh, SharePoint.  And not just SharePoint, but SharePoint Enterprise.  It’s like Microsoft’s own, personal licence to print money.  Yes, with Excel 2013 you can share Excel workbooks, but it’s a long way from being a portable, easily accessible solution.

SharePoint Enterprise is like Microsoft’s own, personal licence to print money.

Vanilla SSRS supports either SharePoint integration or a native mode Reporting Services server, which includes all the necessary components for deploying, managing, scheduling (more on that in a minute) and running reports.  It’s also much cheaper than forking out for a SharePoint Enterprise licence, requiring only the free SQL Server Express Edition to run an SSRS native mode server (at least in its most basic form).

Unfortunately, it’s currently SharePoint Enterprise only for PowerView, something that is sure to be a blocker to many SME’s in adopting PowerView in any serious manner.  Microsoft seem set on pushing SharePoint as an important part of their BI platform, but they really need to consider how to help people share the great things they create with the tools on offer.

4 – Automation

As I mentioned above, one of the great things about SSRS is its support for automation of report execution and delivery.  A lot of businesses rely heavily on the ability to create dynamic data-driven subscriptions and deliver reports directly to client and executive inboxes at critical times.

Screenshot illustrating the creation of a scheduled SSRS report

With PowerView not currently having any means of scheduling or automatic report delivery, there’s a large gap here that quite simply requires SSRS.  Even if Microsoft were looking to replace vanilla SSRS with PowerView, there’s a huge infrastructure shortfall that needs addressed.  Report automation and delivery is an absolutely critical business requirement, and one that PowerView and its supporting cast is simply not equipped to handle.  It’s great for the power users and self-service BI platform, but there’s still a massive need for the business support that SSRS can provide.

5 – Extensibility

Finally, one of the greatest, and most overlooked capabilities of vanilla SSRS is its sheer flexibility.  Even if you’re totally stuck on a report and can’t figure out a way to achieve your goal, you can always extend it by using some custom code.  Simple functions can be embedded within the report itself, while entire client libraries can be deployed directly to the report server, offering a huge array of features to even the simplest report.  I’ve used custom libraries to support complex string formatting and currency conversion, customisable column naming, and many other features.

You can add JS or .NET code toSSRS…really the only limit is your imagination.

Also, with SSRS offering a native web-based UI, there are loads of other options for extending the basic functionality and adding an extra layer of style to the rather static underlying controls.  In fact, Links has an excellent post on his blog showing how to extend SSRS charts with the excellent Highcharts JavaScript library, which turns the default static charts into interactive, engaging JS based controls.

But of course, if you can add JS or .NET code to SSRS, then really the only limit is your imagination.  There are so many possibilities.  PowerView doesn’t support any custom code in its current state, and it’s a huge limitation of the current component.


PowerView’s first iteration and a half (It’s a stretch to call the version in Excel 2013 2.0) have delivered a solid foundation and a great tool for power users, executives and prototyping.  As a self-service component, it’s simple, quick, and graphically very impressive.

But beneath all the fanfare, there’s a worrying lack of depth.  SSRS is a complex, flexible and scalable platform that offers something for every business, from the home-run self-employed effort, to multi-national, blue-chip corporations.  Its innate flexibility allows heavy customisation straight out the box, and the infrastructure behind it supports business processes and software.

A lot of people are worried about Microsoft’s future plans for corporate-level BI, and a lot of their focus over the past year or so has been placed in the self-service side of things.  As such, there’s not been much movement on new features for the corporate crowd.  While it’s great to bring BI tools to the masses, it’s important that the business users aren’t forgotten in the long run, as there’s definitely a need for multi-tiered BI in any organisation.  Here’s hoping that SQL Server 2014 and beyond bring some new developments to keep both sides, and those of us who see the value in both approaches, happy.

Power View: 3rd strike and Microsoft out?

Assume for a minute (OK, just for a second) that new Power View Data Visualization tool from Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is almost as good as Tableau Desktop 7. Now let’s compare installation, configuration and hardware involved:


  1. Hardware:  almost any modern Windows PC/notebook (at least dual-core, 4GB RAM).
  2. Installation: a) one 65MB setup file, b) minimum or no skills
  3. Configuration: 5 minutes – follow instructions on screen during installation.
  4. Price – $2K.

Power View:

  1. Hardware: you need at least 2 server-level PCs (each at least quad-core, 16GB RAM recommended). I will not recommend to use 1 production server to host both SQL Server and SharePoint; if you desperate, at least use VM(s).
  2. Installation: a) Each Server  needs Windows 2008 R2 SP1 – 3GB DVD; b) 1st Server needs SQL Server 2012 Enterprise or BI Edition – 4GB DVD; c) 2nd Server needs SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition – 1GB DVD; d) A lot of skills and experience
  3. Configurations: Hours or days plus a lot of reading, previous knowledge etc.
  4. Price: $20K or if only for development it is about $5K (Visual Studio with MSDN subscription) plus cost of skilled labor.

As you can see, Power View simply cannot compete on mass market with Tableau (and Qlikview and Spotfire) and time for our assumption in the beginning of this post is expired. Instead now is time to remind that Power View is 2 generations behind Tableau, Qlikview and Spotfire. And there is no Desktop version of Power View, it is only available as a web application through web browser.

Power View is a Silverlight application packaged by Microsoft as a SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services Add-in for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise Edition. Power View is (ad-hoc) report designer providing for user an interactive data exploration, visualization, and presentation web experience. Microsoft stopped developing Silverlight in favor of HTML5, but Silverlight survived (another mistake) within SQL Server team.

Previous report designers (still available from Microsoft:  BIDS, Report Builder 1.0, Report Builder 3.0, Visual Studio Report Designer) are capable to produce only static reports, but Power View enables users to visually interact with data and drill-down all charts and Dashboard similar to Tableau and Qlikview.

Power View is a Data Visualization tool, integrated with Microsoft ecosystem. Here is a Demo of how the famous Hans Rosling Data Visualization can be reimplemented with Power View:

Compare with previous report builders from Microsoft, Power View allows many new features, like Multiple Views in a Single Report, Gallery preview of Chart Images, export to PowerPoint, Sorting within Charts by measures and Categories, Multiple Measures in Charts, Highlighting of selected data in reports and Charts, Synchronization of Slicers (Cross-Filtering), Measure Filters, Search in Filters (convenient for a long lists of categories), dragging data fields into Canvas (create table) or Charts (modify visualization), convert measures to categories (“Do Not Summarize”), and many other features.

As with any of 1st releases from Microsoft, you can find some bugs from Power View. For example, KPIs are not supported in Power View in SQL Server 2012, see it here:

Power View is not the 1st attempt to be a full player in Data Visualization and BI Market. Previous attempts failed and can be counted as Strikes.

Strike 1: The ProClarity acquisition in 2006 failed, there have been no new releases since v. 6.3; remnants of ProClarity can be found embedded into SharePoint, but there is no Desktop Product anymore.

Strike 2: Performance Point Server was introduced in November, 2007, and discontinued two years later. Remnants of Performance Point can be found embedded into SharePoint as Performance Point Services.

Both failed attempts were focused on the growing Data Visualization and BI space, specifically at fast growing competitors such as Qliktech, Spotfire and Tableau. Their remnants in SharePoint functionally are very behind of Data Visualization leaders.

Path to Strike 3 started in 2010 with release of PowerPivot (very successful half-step, since it is just a backend for Visualization) and xVelocity (originally released under name VertiPaq). Power View is continuation of these efforts to add a front-end to Microsoft BI stack. I do not expect that Power View will gain as much popularity as Qlikview and Tableau and in my mind Microsoft will be a subject of 3rd strike in Data Visualization space.

One reason I described in very beginning of this post and the 2nd reason is absence of Power View on desktop. It is a mystery for me why Microsoft did not implement Power View as a new part of Office (like Visio, which is a great success) – as a new desktop application, or as a new Excel Add-In (like PowerPivot) or as a new functionality in PowerPivot or even as a new functionality in Excel itself, or as new version of their Report Builder. None of these options preventing to have a Web reincarnation of it and such reincarnation can be done as a part of (native SSRS) Reporting Services – why involve SharePoint (which is – and I said it many times on this blog – basically a virus)?

I am wondering what Donald Farmer thinking about Power View after being the part of Qliktech team for a while. From my point of view thePower View is a generous gift and true relief to Data Visualization Vendors, because they do not need to compete with Microsoft for a few more years or may be forever. Now IPO of Qliktech making even more sense for me and upcoming IPO of Tableau making much more sense for me too.

Yes, Power View means new business for consulting companies and Microsoft partners (because many client companies and their IT departments cannot handle it properly), Power View has a good functionality but it will be counted in history as a Strike 3.