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9:48PM

The SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015: HP RDX

32 - POTYThe SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015 is the HP RDX.

As mentioned here, HP RDX is a rugged, hard disk-based backup solution with native capacities that span four steps from 320 GB to 2 TB.

It is fast, reliable, fully compatible with Windows Server, and can run automated tasks via the included HP CDP application.4

More than anything else, it is quite inexpensive to deploy.

We are in the process of replacing DAT installations at client locations with this fast solution.

More on RDX can be found here.

c04217353c04045082Resultantly, and unequivocally, the HP RDX system is the SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015.

32 - POTY428 -STORAGE BACKUP - Z

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Paula Dallabetta and Calvin Z. for making this review happen.

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9:26PM

The SmallBizWindows Hardware of the Year 2015: HP Proliant Servers

30 - hardwareHP Proliant servers rock.

That’s no spin.

In fact, there’s no other way to spin it.

In performance, reliability, manageability, and serviceability, HP Proliant servers are completely peerless, and make other look like befuddled arrivistes.

One of the reasons for this are the innovations that HP constantly adds to the Proliants.

These investments add immense value to an already special product, and constantly increase the distance between it and competing offerings.

In September 2014, HP unveiled the latest iteration of their server line, Proliant Gen9 series.

Coincident with the release, I had the opportunity to be briefed a day or so later that same September by Mike Gill, VP, Platform Engineering, HP Servers, on the new ‘new’ in Proliant Gen9.

According to Mike, Gen9 required a completely new way of thinking about servers by HP.

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Servers had to stop being dumb, and begging to be part of the computing thought process, dynamically aligning pools of resources to a firm’s goal with laser-like precision.

The new Proliant Gen9 series are built for a software-defined world. They are cloud-ready, workload optimized, and fit into HP’s Converged Infrastructure offerings.

HP, I am reminded, is the only vendor able to deliver a full portfolio of servers to meet current and anticipated needs.

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That said, what bottom-line benefits do the Gen9 bring to the table?

    • 4x faster performance
    • 3x compute capacity with a lower TCO
    • 66x faster service delivery
    • Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Boot Mode in addition to Legacy BIOS Boot Mode
    • HP Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) 4 v2.00
    • Smart array controllers: performance, data resilience & security
    • iLO-based Agentless Management 2.0
    • HP RESTful Interface Tool: use of RESTful APIs through UEFI for server configuration
    • HP Intelligent Provisioning: supporting StoreVirtual Storage Appliance
    • HP Smart Update Manager (SUM) 7.1.0: stability with iLO federation
    • HP Insight Online: expanded device, configuration coverage and services support
    • HP OneView: enterprise partner integrations and automated storage

For SMBs and the lower midmarket, it gets better: the target here by HP is to lower CapEX by 60% in 33% less time.

That, folks, brought out the sunshine smile to my face!

Then there’s HP OneView, which is HP’s converged management platform for Proliant Gen9.

It has been further simplified, beefed up, and made more intelligent.

OneView is now 66x faster, and coincidentally, 66% faster at problem resolution when used with HP Insight Online. It now allows automated firmware updates to be replicated across a ‘sea’ of hundreds of servers in conjunction with HP iLO Federation. Server profiles are integrated with storage volumes, SAN provisioning, and direct-attach storage devices. HP VirtualConnect is also amped up, supporting both FC and FlexFabric. OneView converged management supports Microsoft System Center, and server profiling has been extended to HP Proliant DL servers.

With all these enhancements, HP Proliant Servers were again selected unanimously the SmallBizWindows Servers of the Year 2014.

My thanks to Mike Gill for taking the time to converse with me on Proliant Gen9 five months ago.

Many thanks to HP’s Jill S. & Kristen R. for making the briefing with Mike possible.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:09PM

The SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015: HP 5406R zl2 Switch

19 - NETWORKING -ZThe SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015 is the HP 5406R zl2 Switch.

HP has always been in the networking business, through its Procurve division.

However, their acquisition of the old 3Com/H3C products brought a broader range of products under the HP umbrella.

Since then, HP switches have grown more robust, more feature rich, more powerful, and infinitely more reliable.

The current culmination of that expansive growth is the HP 5406R zl2 Switch, which allows for wired and wireless switching for core and access layer solutions for both branch office and enterprise environments.

Image converted using ifftoanyThe HP 5406R zl2 was, IMO, created explicitly for the SMB space. It features a converged platform with built-in resiliency simplifies deployment, providing a minimum 30% improvement in SDN performance to enable business agility, and delivering a 43% lower cost than competition backed by no hidden-cost limited lifetime warranty.

Additionally, the 5406R zl2 also brings to the table

    • Provides out-of-box simplicity requiring no software licenses
    • Unifies wired & wireless policy via IMC single pane-of-glass
    • Provides investment protection with future-proof SDN-capability & OpenFlow 1.3
    • Improves application performance with low 2.1us latency & powerful 2 Tbps backplane
    • Offers flexible connectivity on up to 288 ports with PoE+, 1/10 GbE, & 40 GbE-ready
    • Eliminates up to 37% SmartNet surcharge1 with HP Limited Lifetime Warranty 2.0
    • Removes hidden costs with no add-on software licenses – all features included
    • Reduces CAPEX by up to 36% with 1 GbE, 10 GbE & PoE+ starter bundles

With those improvements, and the inclusion of HP IMC, which provides a single pane of glass management console and framework for managing this device, you can see why we had no second thoughts selecting the HP 5406R zl2 as the SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015.Image converted using ifftoany

I have been in possession of the HP 5406R zl2 chassis which came with an HP 20-port Gig-T PoE+ with 2-port 10GbE SFP+ v2 Zl module and a 24-port HP Gig-T PoE v2 Zl module, two (2) HP 5400R zl2 management modules, and two (2) HP 5400R 2750W PoE zl2 power supplies.

HP’s excellent IMC management solution is, of course, standard. (I hope to snag IMC brain trust’s  Les Stuart and Chris Young for a detailed tutorial on IMC one of these days.)

We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and to Sue Gillespie for taking the time to brief me on this product.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:07PM

The SmallBizWindows Storage Backup Product of the Year: HP RDX

28 -STORAGE BACKUP - ZThe SmallBizWindows Storage Backup Product of the Year 2015 is the HP RDX.

Prior to my introduction to RDX by HP’s Calvin Walker, my faith in backups resided solely in tape.

That hasn’t changed.

Especially for larger backup jobs that require automated tape libraries.

However, the utility of RDX is apparent from the instant you think about it.

4Fully integrated with Windows Server, and with cartridges that range from 320 GB to 2Tb in capacity, RDX brings fast USB 3.0 hard drive speeds to SMB server backups, with rates approaching 360 GB per hour.

With the simple drag-and-drop UI, and compatibility with most CDP (Continuous Data Protection) backup solutions, RDX comes in portable, shock-proof, and static-proof cartridges that are durable, yet interchangeable with all HP RDX docking stations, future-proofing your investment in the platform.

c04217353A free HP CDP application is included in the package. This is a full-featured program, allowing for scheduling backup tasks while running automatically in the background. RDX is also smart, disallowing the removal of cartridges whilst backups are scheduled, or running.WP_20141019_16_47_36_Raw

It is rated for 5,000+ load/unload insertions.

HP RDX is available in internal or external models. A rack mount model is also available.

WP_20140904_11_15_54_RawFinally, this rugged solution is very cost efficient.

This, without a doubt, is the premiere SMB backup and CDP solution on the market today. That is why it also a winner of the SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Paula Dallabetta and Calvin Z. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

Blackground Media

9:06PM

The SmallBizWindows Storage Product of the Year 2015: HP MSA 1040 SAN

27 - storageThe HP MSA 1040 SAN is the SmallBizWindows Storage Product of the Year 2015.

HP’s MSA-series entry-level SANs are favorites here, and the MSA 2040 entry level SAN has won our coveted SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award in 2013.

It has gotten better, with new software, and the line has expanded with the new MSA 1040 SAN, which runs away with this year’s top award for storage.MSA1040_SFF_LF

What impresses about the entry level MSA 1040 SAN are

    • Thin provisioning.
    • Wide-striping & rebalancing. This allows all volumes to utilize all storage resources in order to produce more performance. It also facilitates instantaneous volume expansion and rebalancing in the background to “level” the capacity utilization and boost performance.
    • Auto sub-LUN tiering: This is an automated, real-time tiering feature featuring two modes: performance, and archive. Both modes are automatic, and do not require user attention or input beyond mode settings.
    • Virtualized Re-direct-on-write snapshotting. According to HP, this feature “dramatically simplifies snapshot management by eliminating snap pool management. All snapshots have similar performance enabling more complex snap-of-snap and nesting capabilities.” Please see my clarification below.
    • 12Gb hard drives.

It also natively supports Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft Hyper-V.

Most importantly, MSA 1040 fully supports data-in-place upgrades to MSA 2040, future-proofing your investment.

All this, in a package that starts at under $6,500 MSRP for a SAN with the following specs:

  • 2 Ports/Controller, and each controller with 4GB cache each. Controllers are factory-configured with SFPs, and each controller supports the following interfaces: 1GbE, 8GbFC, 10GbE iSCSI
  • A maximum of 3 Disk expansion enclosures using enterprise SAS, SAS Midline drives.
  • Standard local replication, and optional remote replication
  • 64 standard snapshots with 512 optional
  • 29.4k/19.7k Random R/W (IOPS)

When you look at the advancements listed here, you can see why the HP MSA-series of SANs are without a doubt, both bestsellers, and definitely game-changers, in the entry level SAN space.MSA1040_LFF_LF

CORRECTIONS: March 3, 2015

      • The MSA 1040 can be upgraded to a MSA 2040-class SAN via a data-in-place upgrade.
      • The MSA 1040 does NOT support SSDs at all. That feature benefit is reserved for the 2040.
      • The MSA 1040’s virtualization features are available with the purchase of the available Advanced Virtualization Upgrade

We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the June 2015 timeframe.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

00 - Ivy

11:16PM

The AbsolutelyWindows Dell XPS 13 Review

There was a time laptop OEMs the world over seemed to be quite fearful of Apple, and tried not to upset that company by competing with Apple’s laptops, the MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro.

No longer.XPS 13 (5)

At their HP Discover Europe event in Barcelona, Spain, last December, HP threw down the gauntlet by previewing the HP EliteBook Folio 1020, which is designed to compete with the Apple MacBook Air.

Now, Dell has stepped up to the plate.

At the Consumer Electronics Association’s flagship event, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2015 this past January, Dell picked up said gauntlet, and proceeded to smack Apple unceremoniously, yet definitively, across their corporate face repeatedly with their new Dell XPS 13.

Folks, welcome to the future of Windows PCs.

At that time, I publicly expressed a desire to test, and review this device.

Well, my desire has been granted, as I am a recipient of a max’d out XPS 13 featuring the latest iteration of the Intel Core i5 CPU.

The Dell XPS 13 is both a stunner, and a flag-bearer. XPS 13 (4)

I have had the XPS 13 for a couple of weeks now, and I must tell you, Dell has seriously upped their game!

Dell is onto something good here.

The Dell XPS
Thanks to the investment, innovations, and advancements in central processing unit chip technologies being made by Intel, laptop computers have progressive gotten smaller and lighter, at the same time, performance is vastly improved or doubling every CPU rev, battery runtime is sweet, storage is hellishly improved, and screens are much better.

This XPS 13 comes with a quad-HD screen, ample RAM, a solid-state drive, and internal battery life listed at being up to 15 hours.

Unboxing
Fantastic job by Dell here.

The XPS 13 came in a package designed for the business professional on the go.

It came in a box that seemed quite hefty for the purported size of the XPS 13, which I hadn’t seen in real life at that time.

However, the big box was required for the package that came within it:

  •  
    • The Dell XPS 13,
    • The Dell Executive Backpack,
    • A laptop sleeve,
    • A multi-port adapter,
    • An external battery
    • A Microsoft Office 2013 Product key box
    • Multiple power adaptors
    • A welcome letter

The OOBE
I’ll let you peruse the OOBE slideshow below.

 

 

 

The Specs
The XPS 13 I have for review has the following specs:

  • Intel Core i5, latest (5th) generation part,
  • Quad-HD+ (QHD) 3200x1800 touchscreen
  • Intel HD 5500 graphics
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD.
  • Bluetooth
  • A/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Intel Ultrabook® format device

First bootup
I turned on the device after charging it for 4 hours. (I always charge new devices to 100% prior to first use. You should too.)

Bootup was normal.

I created my account, made me an administrator on the device, then deleted the default account.

I then proceeded to delete all Dell installed apps except Microsoft Office.

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Initial Review
This is a serious device.

Though only 4mm wider than a MacBook Air, XPS 13 packs a 13” monitor due to its impossibly slim – and almost visually nonexistent – 5mm wide bezel. Measurement taken at the top and sides.

The touchscreen, dubbed an ‘infinity display’ – think “infinity pool”, and you’d get the idea – is made an edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass display delivering 5.7 million pixels which is bonded to the aluminum case.XPS 13 (9)

Looks: This device is a stunner. For an angular device, it has none of the baggage that angularity brings. it is quite sleek, light, and, being machined of aluminum, sturdy enough to hold as a folio by itself, a thing I seem to be doing right now in order to speed my way through airports on day trips.

Display: The touchscreen QHD+ display on the XPS 13 is just beautiful. It is very responsive, and just exudes a feeling of competence. Apart from being visually stunning, the presented colors are vibrant. I enjoyed watching Snowpiercer, The Starvin’ Games, and the Nollywood movie Eran-Oku on it during a recent trip.

Power: It is powerful, sporting the latest Intel Core i5 CPU running along at 2.2 GHz. I played with the latest build of Windows 10 Technical Preview running in a Hyper-V VM on it without lags, hiccups, or whatnots.

Aesthetics: The full size keyboard is backlit, a requirement for me. The hand rest is sturdy – made of carbon fibre, I’m told. The entire packaging is solid, and feels bespoke, not like a frankendevice.

Battery Life: Without the benefit of a timer, I can declare without equivocation that this device had the longest battery life I have ever enjoyed on a laptop. Bar none!

I used the XPS 13 as my primary device on a short trip to Deepest Darkest just after I got it. The internal battery lasted as long as I needed it, through watching movies, playing around in a Windows 10 beta VM, working, and sleeping.

I didn’t even have a reason to use the battery pack in either direction.

Behold, another MacBook Killer!
In my preview of the HP EliteBook Folio 1020, I declared that I would like to test that device against a MacBook Air.

I want to do the same with the Dell XPS 13 as well.

Why?

Simple: these devices have raised the bar not just the difference between other laptops, they have, I believe, surpassed any Apple MacBook Air device out there.

This, is a MacBook Air 13 Terminator.

However, I want to dispense with anecdotal remarks, and give it a mano e mano test against that Apple device.

My dilemma is now which MacBook to buy to test against: the MacBook Air 13 for this XPS 13 or the MacBook Air 11 for the HP EliteBook 1020.

What is quite clear here is that Dell is starting to do good things again.

If the Dell XPS 13 is any indication, then the comeback of the company is rolling along smoothly.

I applaud it.

In about a month or so, I will be publishing a review of my extended time with the XPS 13.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Wifey has chimed in: I could buy a MacBook Air 11 for my review, wrapping it up within the 14-day return period, and then purchase a MacBook Air 13 for a test against this XPS 13. Returning it within 14 days as well. That’s why she’s the brains of this operation!

Disclosure: This Dell XPS 13 has been provided to me gratis by Dell for my review and to keep if I want to.

I had been thinking of giving away the device at the end of my review, but now, I’m not so sure. If anyone can come up with a reason why I should give it away, I may yet do so in a giveaway at the end of the review.

The backstory on the Dell XPS product line is here, while the Dell XPS 13 Product page is here.

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John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:32AM

The SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant DL180 Gen9

25 - RACKMOUNT - ZThe SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015 is the HP Proliant DL180 Gen9.

Why the DL180, and not the perennial winner, the Proliant DL380?

Simple: it is the new entry in HP’s Proliant rackmount offerings that excites us the most due to its combination of palatable pricing and features.

The dual-CPU-capable Proliant DL180 comes with the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors, offering users up to 12 cores and 16 DIMM slots supporting DDR4 SmartMemory. It can accommodate up to 12 LFF (large form factor) or up to 16 SFF (small small factor) hard drives. A pair of 1GBE ports are standard, 10GbE adapters are available. A SmartArray controller is also standard.

And it gets better. clip_image002

As with all Gen9 Proliant servers, HP has added several enhancements to Proliant: performance, manageability, support are all improved.

OneView is also enhanced in this generation.

For this and other improvements, coupled with the low-low entry cost, the HP Proliant beat out its bigger brother DL380, and is the SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015.

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We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April 2015 timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:28AM

The SmallBizWindows Blade Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant BL460c Gen9

24 - Blade ServerThe HP Proliant BL460c is, without a doubt, the best selling blade server on Planet Earth, and arguably the best performing in that same category.

For the Gen9 iteration of the BL460c, HP outfits the device with the new Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 CPU that should have users experience up to a 70% gain in performance over Bl460c Gen8. It has a 20Gb FlexibleLOM NIC, and USB 3.0. DDR4 DIMMs are standard over 16 slots, and if 64GB DIMMs are used, maximum memory for this server is 1TB. Not a misprint: one terabyte! Storage is available for 2 SFF (small form factor) drives.

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While being a Proliant is the most obvious reason why this server sits atop the pantheon of blade servers, there are a plethora of other reasons why.

Blade serves cannot be talked about without their management framework brought in.

Here, HP’s OneView platform coupled with iLO 4.0, iLO Federation, SmartArray storage controllers, exposed RESTful APIs, Insight Online, and Smart Update Manager extend the value proposition of Proliant BL460c.

clip_image004Consequently, the HP Proliant BL460c Gen9 is the SmallBizWindows Blade Server of the Year 2015.

Pending our upgrade to the latest HP Proliant c3000 blade chassis, we hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April 2015 timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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8:55AM

The SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant ML310e

23 - TOWER-ZThe SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015 is the HP Proliant ML310e.

Why the ML310e?

Simple, in our review of the ML310e here, we detailed what we liked about the server, and why we selected it.

From our review:

clip_image002What HP has done with the new entry-level Proliant ML310e is to raise the bar in performance, storage, and storage options, with the hot-pluggable hard drive bays, for example, reliability, implementation and management.

The ML310e Gen8 v2’s performance is several levels above that of the ML110 it replaces. Storage and RAM are expanded, and manageability, with iLO4, is quite smooth and easy.

We awarded it the SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award in July, and we are now bestowing the SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015 Award on it.

Our review is here.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

00 - Ivy

4:32PM

Trying to do the podcast thing. Again. Yet again. :)

I am thinking quite seriously of doing a public podcast again, this time bi-weekly.

Like my internal podcast – actually that podcast is ‘This week in Review” summary -, I would like this to focus on my thoughts and opinions on SMB-related news, products, and opportunities the past couple of weeks.

I also intend to invite subject-matter leaders in areas I am interested in to weigh in with their opinions.

I would like to make is last as long or as short as the topics at hand.

I will try to keep up with it, freeing time to record and edit the podcast, and post it on Vimeo.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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4:18PM

The SmallBizWindows Hybrid Laptop/Tablet PC of the Year 2015: HP Pro x2 612 G1

21 - HYBRID - ZThe HP Pro x2 612 is the SmallBizWindows Hybrid Laptop/Tablet of the Year 2015.

With a bullet!

Earlier last year, I largely abandoned the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in favor of the HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1, a 14” Intel Core i5 Ultrabook.

However, there were times when I wanted the use of a plain tablet, with the option for a keyboard, mostly when the need for inking in OneNote or taking freeform handwritten notes arose, a tablet was needed.

In walked the HP Pro x2 612 G1.

With a 12.5” 1080p HD display, 8Gb of RAM, a 256GB SSD, dual cameras, dual batteries, dual USB 3.0 ports (tablet and power keyboard each have a port), DisplayPort, fingerprint reader, a backlit keyboard, microSD and SD slots, and lots more, this device added something else the Microsoft Surface was missing in laptop mode: a base steady and sturdy enough to rest in your lap.

It even came with built-in LTE broadband functionality!

I liked it at once.

I must confess though, that I was initially taken aback because of the relative heft of the Pro x2, which at just over 4 pounds with the optional power battery isn’t anything to sneeze at. However, a further read of the accompanying spec sheet – and verified by me – showed that it was a a result of the ‘Power Keyboard’ base, which contained an integrated secondary battery providing juice to the primary battery in the tablet portion of the Pro x2.

Battery performance is excellent, with the Pro x2 able to go several days in non-use mode.

Another upside for this hybrid device is the price, which is rather competitive for the performance delivered.

I have used this device personally for the past several months, delivering a flogging to it. It has persevered,

I also have it running Microsoft Windows client Hyper-V, with which it has hosted my VM, handling them with ease.

One good thing: it never ran hot to the touch, even when under a heavy processing load.

I am impressed with it.

It is a very worth day-to-day hybrid device, and can easily substitute most user’s desktop needs.

A winner of our SmallBizWindows Superstar Award, the HP Pro x2 is the SmallBizWindows Hybrid Laptop/Tablet PC of the Year 2015.

As tested3

    • Intel Core i5
    • 12.5” backlit 1080p full HD screen
    • 8 GB RAM
    • 256 GB SSD
    • Backlit keyboard
    • Wacom digitizer and pen built-in
    • LTE broadband, Bluetooth, and a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
    • MicroSD & SD slots
    • DisplayPort slot
    • 2 USB 3.0 ports
    • Full size, spill-resistant keyboard
    • Dual cameras, front and rear facing, and
    • Dual batteries.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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10:02AM

The SmallBizWindows Consumer Tablet of the Year 2015: HP Pro Tablet 610 G1

17 - TABLET CONSUMER -ZThe HP Pro Tablet 610 G1 is the SmallBizWindows Consumer Tablet of the Year 2015.

Until as recently as three weeks ago, Surface 2 was looking to be a top contender in this category.

No longer.

The uncertainty surrounding both the underlying operating system of the Surface 3 device, and the prospects of the device itself going forward, make it unsuitable for recommendation.

That leaves the best entry-level tablet we know alone at this summit: the HP Pro Tablet G1

pt610The Pro Tablet wins here because it is inexpensive for the 10” tablet space, it runs Windows 8 Pro, and has all the accoutrements one expects from a consumer device: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, full HD for movies, 4GB RAM, and 64GB of flash storage. That storage is enhanced by the included microSD slot. Additionally, it has a microUSB port for connectivity and more.

Oh, and it is made by HP.

Right now, our Pro Tablet is running the January 2015 Technical Preview of Windows 10 quite issue-free.

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2Our review of the Pro Tablet 610 G1 is here.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

00 - Ivy

8:20PM

Company To Watch: Headspring

blackwithlogo- awThis is the first entry this year in my “Company To Watch” series

I had the opportunity to listen to a company called Headspring a couple of weeks ago.

Headspring is a fascinating study: it is both a consultancy and application development firm that provides both application development and process optimization services to Fortune 1000 companies.

“There is NO value in anything we do in IT unless someone is actually using it, and getting business value from it.”  Glenn Burnside, EVP, Operations, Headspring

Headspring LogoOne of their specialties is enterprise application development and delivery, where they assist their client firms in acceleration their returns on their investments in their application portfolio.

They do this by being there from the very start when pain is felt by the client company. By utilizing C-suite relationships, they are able to derive solutions that aim to align applications portfolio development with that business’s objectives, which generally center around rationalization alignment.

With mobility all the rage, Headspring has is performing more technology re-platforming, activating mobile enablement and cloud migrations.

“Great Software has the power to transform organizations.”  Glenn Burnside, EVP, Operations, Headspring

He’s right. Great software does possess that power!

Headspring helps in those business transformations by shunning the traditional routes generally used, namely on-premises staff augmentation, a nice euphemism for a battalion of engagement bodies the big consultant firms throw at projects, or offshoring, also euphemistically called ‘overseas labor arbitrage’.

What Headspring does, I am told, is utilize all [available] Headspring staff from their three integrated solution centers, as an adjunct to the client’s employees.

Using their own employees allows Headspring to be able to retain, and leverage the institutional knowledge Headspring staff possess.

Interestingly, Headspring performs their services under fixed-cost contractual arrangements, sharing the assumed development risks with their clients.

Yes, I know. That’s remarkable.

Not only so, but Headspring has a 90% on-time, on-budget completion rate.

Mobile computing was touched on several times in that briefing. As they – and I – see it, mobile computing is not supplanting PCs, but augmenting them, allowing non-traditional/low tech companies to leverage mobiles to enhance their businesses.

Here, Headspring is able to develop browser-delivered apps connected to legacy and enterprise systems, either in line or parallel to the client’s business needs to help deliver value.

“Nobody ever asks for, or wants software. They want more. They want solutions.”  Glenn Burnside, EVP, Operations, Headspring

You cannot put it more succinctly than that.

Why I Am Watching Them
Headspring interests me for several reasons.

First, their business model, whereby they perform the line of business transformation consulting, and actually undertake the development of the applications, mobile, enterprise, or web-based, for their clients.

Secondly, their committing their own staff, and facilities to the development of product.

Thirdly, and most importantly, their decision to execute contracts on fixed-cost basis. I am singularly impressed by that.

I hope to engage them in more conversations going forward, and bring the contents of those conversations to you.

Headspring is headquartered in Austin, with footprints in Houston and Dallas, but with a global reach.

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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8:15AM

The SmallBizWindows Mobile Product of the Year 2015: Apple iPhone 6 & iPhone 6+

14 - mobileI am selecting the Apple iPhone – specifically the iPhone 6+ and the iOS platform – as the SmallBizWindows Mobile Product of the Year 2015.

I know: you are stunned.

Do not be.

I have been a Windows Phone user since the days of the old Windows Mobile.

Actually, correction: I have been a loyal Windows Phone user since Day One.

Through nascent days to the heydays of 2009 where Windows Mobile was shipping 20 million licenses a year, to the current malaise where the horde of Windows Phone fanbois horde – snicker, snicker. A joke; for 20 fans, a horde does not make – rejoice at the shipping of 10 million Windows Phones. This, during the same calendar financial reporting quarter in which Apple shipped 74 million+ phones.

I jumped ship last December, quitting Windows Phone on Christmas Day 2014.20150202_020035000_iOS

The reasons for my deciding to do so is simple: I got tired of users, actual Windows Phone users, being relegated to nonentities as Microsoft treats telcos and OEMs as its actual customers*.

That said, my other reasons for this choice are simple, of which the next most obvious is the stagnation of the platform.

    • Stagnation with regards to software. See below.
    • Stagnation with regards to hardware. All you hear about are the low-end Lumia devices being created. That’s a way to win….
    • Stagnation with regards to the [end]user experience.
    • Stagnation with regards to app coverage. Much has been said about this. Personally, I don’t give a damn about the top line inventory numbers. What I care about is whether the top 100 apps have comparable Windows Phone applications. No.
    • Add stagnation with regards to the buying experience to this list. See my comparative iPhone buying experience below.

When I made a determination to go with an iPhone, I charged my staff with making sure we had the right MDM solution to accommodate my decision as it affected our all-Windows operation infrastructure.

Selecting the right iPhone
This was easy.

As blogged here, Wifey and #2 Son went with iPhone from Windows Phone in August 2013.

She ended up getting a 5S, while the kid got a 4S.

This past summer, #2 Son found out that he couldn’t update to the latest iOS since his device had reached EOL, and asked for “the next iPhone” for Christmas.

Annoyingly at the time, #1 Son also made the decision to exit Windows Phone, ostensibly for the apps, but generally because apart from a few apps, Xbox Live integration, and and the Windows Phone developer suite, he did not have device or platform compatibility with his friends.

I also decided to get Wifey the latest device as well. Since Wifey.clip_image001

When iPhone 6 and 6+ were announced, I waited to see, demo, and trial them.

Wifey and the boys went with iPhone 6.

Since I was paying, and this is America, I decided to supersize it, and I chose the iPhone 6+.

Like I said, easy.

Buying the iPhone 6+
This was easy.

Unlike my previous smartphone buying experiences, I didn’t have to select a mobile telco from which to but the iPhone.

iPhone 6 is created to operate with ANY United States mobile telco’s network.

Think about it for a minute: an iPhone 6x works on any mobile telco’s network.

Any one of them.

I like that: since I was purchasing the devices outright, I could take them along with me to any telco of my choice, whenever I liked.

How cool is that?

So I went to the nearest Apple Store and bought a total of four iPhones, three initially for my wife and kids, and mine a week later, when I had made the decision to go with the 6+.

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On Christmas Eve, I drove by the local Verizon Wireless store, activated the iPhone 6+ in about 5 minutes, and went along my way.

Easy.

Using the iPhone 6+
Not so easy.

I’m still learning.

So many gaps, holes, and outright oversights with regards to how Windows Phone works.

Upgrades to iOS
Since I have had the iPhone, there have been a couple of universal upgrades to iOS.

Guess what?

All iOS devices.

I was still stuck 2 updates behind on Windows Phone.

That’s the Windows Phone way!

Conclusions
It took a lot for me to discard Windows Phone.

However, it wasn’t an abandonment by me.

I, and all Windows Phone users were abandoned by Microsoft, relegated to the back bench behind the folks Microsoft regards as their real customers: the mobile telcos and hardware device OEMs. The same OEMs who have fled the Windows Phone platform in droves.

Remember that phrase, “Vote with your money”?

I did.

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To the tune of $3,132.32 to get four new, contract-free iPhone 6x devices.

I’m actually enjoying learning about iPhone and iOS, the quirks, feature gaps, enterprise fails and all.

At least, Apple is responsive to their true, heavily-fleeced customers, the end users.

I can feel Windows Phone and Microsoft fanboi no-nothings gearing up to argue this with me.

To them I say in advance: “Get lost. I have spoken, with my money!”

*That is a phrase I actually heard a Microsoft drone actually utter. Back in 2009. I will never forget it. I will NEVER forgive it either. Too bad I don’t remember the name of the imbecile who said it!

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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1:47PM

The “Real” Mobile Revolution–A Guest Post by Latiff Cherono

In my earlier post on mobile payments, I asked Latiff Cherono to weigh in on the impact mobile payments have made in daily life in Kenya.

His thoughts are below

The “Real” Mobile Revolution

clip_image002Image courtesy of @Prepaid_Africa

Mention “mobile money” and Africa to someone and you will likely hear “mPesa” in the reply. Much has been said about the revolutionary product, but until you witness it on the ground, it is hard for someone in the west to fathom how much of a game changer it is.

I grew up in Kenya in the eighties and early 90’s when access to technology was a luxury available to the select few. A measure of how successful a middle class family was not if you owned a car, but whether you had a landline phone at your phone. I left Kenya in 1995 to attend Engineering school in US Midwest. After graduation I worked as Process Engineer in the Automotive and Electronic manufacturing sectors for 10 years.

I witnessed the evolution of the internet boom, the peak of the PC age and the start of the connected mobile age with smartphones and later tablets. Though these changes were remarkable, they still appeared evolutionary. In 2011, I made the decision to move back to Africa, predicated on a need to improve personal growth. I have always considered myself to be an early adopter, keeping up with tech trends. Armed with the latest smartphones and gadgets I thought I was well prepared to school my Kenyan friends on technology. What I encountered on my arrival back into Nairobi completely changed my thinking on the power of technology.

As I drove from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport towards the City of Nairobi, I encountered the telltale signs of economic development: New construction had changed the landscape that I couldn’t recognize landmarks from my child hood, thongs of people all along the highway engaged in little business (one selling used clothing, the next selling soft drinks and snacks). Though I expected improvement, I wasn’t ready for the scale of change. We were then caught up in a massive traffic jam. Cars, busses and trucks were everywhere. In my childhood, automobile ownership was exclusive to the very rich, but now even the average professional was driving. How was this possible? My cab driver explained that buying a vehicle in Kenya, even with the 70% tax was within the reach of many more Kenyans. Paying close attention to people along the highway, I noticed many were on their mobile phones (dumb phones, we called them back in the States. “Smartphones haven’t made it to Kenya yet” I theorized.

As we sat in the traffic jam, a man pulling a hand cart laden with goods pulled up alongside us, controlling his cart deftly with one hand, and texting with his free hand. This in itself was a remarkable feat, as the cart must have had at least 500 pounds of market produce on it. However, what struck me as odd was that this cart pusher earned less than $10 on a good day, yet he had the time to chat? I asked my Cab driver how this was possible. The answer blew my mind. The cell phone was key to Hand Cart owners business. He used it to schedule deliveries with his customers and most importantly, receive payments. This means that hand cart owner could scale his business easily. I immediately understood the impact of Mobile Money. This “Third World” country had successfully created a solution that delivered transformative financial power to its entire public. A solution which did not need the latest gadgetry, was available on all platforms and elegantly simple. I smiled knowing that I was the one who would be schooled by the Real Mobile Revolution.

Additional Links:
In 2014 Kenyans moved KES 6.4 Billion, U$ 69.5 Million per day in mobile money. This includes Peer to Peer transactions (whether informal business like the handcart owner, or personal transactions like sending money to a loved one), Peer to Business (purchasing goods from a supermarket or service provider) and Business to Business.

Kenya - Card Payments drop 18.2 % in favor of mobile money.

Latiff Cherono is a Lean Consultant (Nairobi, Kenya and Pietermaritzburg, South Africa)

Training Leadership Consulting TLC

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1:29PM

Most Exciting Current Technology at SmallBizWindows: Mobile Payments

08- Most exciting current techIf you look at the landscape for payments, our increasingly mobile world requires payment technology the is equally mobile.

While the usual players are starting to see this, several new players are already here, with ideas that run the gamut, and options galore.

This, people is a very good thing.

Interestingly, the early leader seems to be a company that has correctly determined that there is a nexus between mobile payments and customer loyalty.

That company, folks, is Starbucks, with their eponymous card.

Which I carry, and have activated, thanks to Markham Lee. I have also connected it to my Microsoft Band.

Echo Mobile Solutions is another firm working on delivering new, actionable value to mobile payments.

I asked three of the smartest folks I know that are at the confluence of mobility, payments, and technology to weigh in on what they think the impact of Mobile payments would be.

Trent McMurray is a former Microsoft MVP for mobile devices, and the sounder of the mobile payments startup, Echo Solutions.

Actually, this is a very simple answer when you look at how simplistic mobile payments “should” work in the US and globally. One standard, (not technology) that will work wherever you can pay for goods and services.

I will define the “standard” as EMV, the technology behind or in front of EMV really doesn’t matter, as long as an EMV transaction takes place.

If this can be achieved, then the impact will be as large if not larger as when credit and debit cards came into existence. Therefore generating Trillions of dollars in transactions and revenue for everyone.

Trent L. McMurray, Chief Executive Officer
Echo Mobile Solutions LLC

I asked the same question of Markham Lee, a well-traveled technology consultant, and one of the most logical and financially astute gentlemen I am privileged to engage with:

“While the potential for impact is huge, I remain cautiously optimistic overall. I say this because large numbers of American companies are still sending paper checks despite the long existence of ACH payment technology, tap to pay NFC credit/debit cards never caught on in the US, citizens of major economies like Germany and Japan rarely use credit cards and the Japanese have been ignoring their rather extensive mobile payment tech and infrastructure for nearly ten years.

That being said I see the greatest potential for mobile payments in emerging markets, for everything from remittances, banking alternatives and everyday spending, as mobile technology will enable them to leapfrog to the future over their current lack of banking and payment infrastructure”

----Markham Lee, Tech Consultant & Co-founder of ABS Payment Systems

Latiff Cherono is based in his native Kenya, and there to see firsthand how mobility has fueled an explosion in Africa, where tiny Kenya virtually leads the larger economies in terms of innovation in several tech areas:

In lieu of a short quote, Latiff has written an informative guest blog on mobile payments in Kenya, which follows immediately after this.

It shows how a true groundswell is lifting the fortunes over there.

There you have it.

Mobile payments will be huge.

However, like all new technologies, the path to nirvana in mobile payments will be fraught with pain and pitfalls. Determined investors and stockholder's will need knowledgeable handholding to traverse the terrain.

However, success here will create a new breed of oligarchs.

Below, you will find a primer that Markham has freely provided on his reviews and tests of the leading mobile payments platforms in use in the United States.

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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12:39PM

The SmallBizWindows Collaboration Product of the Year 2015: Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e

11 - CollabThe Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e is the SmallBizWindows Collaboration Product of the Year 2015.

It wins this easily, despite going against a sister device that we are very sweet on as well, the Logitech ConferenceCam BCC950.

Then it comes to conferencing devices, the CC3000e is peerless.

Videoconferencing takes center stage

Technology has shrunk the world.

However, that shrunken world requires folks all over the globe to engage with, and collaborate.

3In the past that meant traveling back and forth to the far flung reaches of your distributed environment for face-to-face meetings.

Video conferencing solved that.

Then came the need for video collaboration.

However, in order to both conference, and collaborate better video told were needed.

In the recent past, that meant establishing a “Halo Room”, that award-winning dedicated twin room solution costing

Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000eFor under $1,000 you can have the Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e which offers full HD resolution, is foolproof easy to install and setup, is portable enough to be put into an average padded case and transported, works out-of-the-box with Microsoft Skype for Business (formerly Microsoft Lync), Skype, and Cisco WebEx. It is also supposedly compatible with other new-fangled unified communications platforms. Funny enough, I don’t know if it is compatible with or certified for Logitech’s own LifeSize US offerings.

It works out of the box, needing nothing, and the 280-degree pan, tilt, and zoom camera, coupled with the integral microphone array, make using the CC3000e a cakewalk.

Based on the feature list, the ease of use, and the extremely low cost, our panel found it quite easy selecting the Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e as out SmallBizWindows Collaboration Product of the Year 2015.

Runners Up

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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11:18AM

The SmallBizWindows Scanner of the Year 2015: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100

07 - SCANNER-ZThe Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 is the SmallBizWindows Scanner of the Year 2015 and also a SmallBizWindows Business Ready Award of Excellence recipient.

Small, fast, wireless, portable.

Those features alone put it in the offing. However, the ScanSnap iX100 delivered more value than that.

Having a built-in battery meant that it is truly portable. For recharging, the iX100 uses a microUSB cable. Any microUSB cable. That is a very smart decision, and extends the portability of the device as far as our panel is concerned.

Another plus is wireless, and manual duplex scanning.

1ScanSnap iX100 also has a very useful feature, PC-less scanning, which is in addition to the built-in easy-connectivity-to-Wi-Fi networks software: all you have to do is point your [mobile] device at the iX100 in device settings, and you are off! Seeing this feature in action across several devices and operating systems is impressive.

Unlike most scanners that are sometime quite ‘unintelligent’, the iX100 uses a custom processor, dubbed ‘G1’, that “not only created the PDF or JPEG file and corrects the image inside the scanner, but also creates a bridge between the iX100 and your [mobile] device to wirelessly transmit documents to your device at speed.”

Windows-Live-Writer-Shiny-New-Thing-to-Review-The-Fujitsu-Sc_14200-Again, impressive.

Finally, there’s the very good quality of the included software.

Here again, the iX100 shines. The software performs, auto-de-skew, auto-orientation, auto stitching, auto paper size detection, and auto color correction. It also allows users to perform dual scans of small documents such as ID and business cards.

Honorable Mention
2Bubbling under the ScanSnap iX100 is the Epson Perfection v600 Flatbed Photo Scanner, a winner of our SmallBizWindows Business Ready Award .

I like this device, which I have hogged for myself.

Employing a maximum optical resolution of 6400 dpi, though the Perfection v600 is perfect for photo scanning, it is also a very good home/SOHO scanner.

Perfection v600 was placed at a medical professional’s Windows-Live-Writer-d3610a97d4e3_E94B-office where it was used by the clerical staff there to scan and import old X-ray photos into their new EMR system*.

Like me they were very pleased with the features of the Perfection v600.

We highly recommend it for the very small office.

*We recommended the Epson Perfection v850 Pro Photo Scanner to this clinic because their needs require the performance and file management features the Perfection v850 Pro offers.

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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11:04AM

The SmallBizWindows Software of the Year 2015: Microsoft Office 365

09 - softwareMicrosoft Office 2013 is the SmallBizWindows Software of the Year 2015.

Surprisingly, this is the first win for Microsoft Office in any category here, if I remember correctly.

Well, feel free to notch our oversight as a slight, and a travesty!

For which we profusely apologize.

When it comes to desktop productivity applications, there’s only one product that resides at the pantheon of excellence: Microsoft Office, now in version Office 365 both as a subscription, and also as traditionally licensed boxed software.

I don’t believe there’s anything else I can add but to say that it works magnificently with Microsoft OneDrive.

Oh, and it is now completely free on devices 10” and less in screen size.

This is the best desktop productivity suite offered on Planet Earth!

What are you waiting for?

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:04AM

The SmallBizWindows Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e Review

3There was a time – in the not too distant past, mind you – when high definition video conferencing required a budget of at least half a million dollars, several months of planning, and dedicated high speed data links between them.

I know. I have seen the ‘Halo Rooms’, at HP and at DreamWorks Animation Studios.

They are explicitly planned-for solutions that deliver exactly what you money pays for.

For the rest of us without 6-figure budgets however, Logitech has created their ConferenceCam series, of which we reviewed the very fine ConferenceCam BCC950 here.cc3000e

As good as the BCC950 is, there is nonetheless a flagship device Logitech offers: the ConferenceCam CC3000e.

The CC3000e completely blows the completion away.

It is equipped with a full HD Carl Zeiss optical zoom camera with pan, tilt, and zoom functionality, an array of omnidirectional microphones, and best of all, compatibility with Microsoft Skype for Business (formerly called Microsoft Lync), which is the unified communications platform and standard in use here. It is also compatible with the consumer UC offering, Skype.

20150126_050706203_iOSVideo conferencing is a technology I have come to rely on in order to reach and collaborate with my staff wherever they might be.

The detail presented by the 10x lossless optical zoom is extremely useful, allowing my to be able to zoom in on whiteboards in Lake Elsinore or blackboards in Port Harcourt.

It has touch controls, a remote control, 90-degree field-of-view, 260-degree pan, and 130-degree pan.

The Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e even has NFC built into it!

I set up the CC3000e in my office at MedikLabs where it had to pan between looking at my ugly visage and a whiteboard used for my conferences.

What makes the CC3000e differ from other solutions I have used, and also the BCC950 is the crispness and detail of the video taken. In a word: superb. There’s nary any loss of detail even as I zoom closer to the dashboard. On the other hand, I have swiveled the view of the camera back to my face at zoomed distance quite a few times inadvertently, hearing my staff gasp audibly as my face permeates their vision. Which is undeniably funny.09_CC3000e Thin Client Video Meeting

In an unprecedented scenario last month, four staff members from Los Angeles were over here in Colorado, and we used the CC3000e to connect us to our on-site colleagues at a customer location in Marysville, California. What was most interesting about this was the level of engagement we had at this impromptu meeting which enabled us to not only resolve the issues that came up, but also allowed us to conclude the tasks that had brought the staffers to Colorado without having a trio of them dash off to Northern California to help resolve matters.

It definitely wouldn’t have been possible with even my former stalwart, the Microsoft LifeCam HD Studio.

The Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e has the features, the OOBE, the application and platform compatibility, and performance required of a true high definition video conferencing solution. Moreover, it is portable enough to be easily transported to wherever it is needed.

Additionally, it is priced right, as I see that this very evening, it can be yours for the low price of $851 delivered by Amazon Prime, a discount from the MSRP of $999.

Resultantly, it is the recipient of the SmallBizWindows Superstar Award.

It is that good!20150126_050613894

I have used and appreciated this device for the past few months. Alas though, sometimes very good things must come to an end. I have kept the CC3000e for an extraordinarily long period – Sorry A.F., my apologies! – and now, it must leave here.

I tell you this though: I see myself pulling the trigger on the CC3000e for both my Colorado and Lagos offices sooner, rather than later.

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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