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Logitech LifeSize: A talk with Rafi Anuar

Last month, I talked about LifeSize and how we were looking at it as a video conferencing solution.

I had the opportunity to talk with Rafi Anuar, Director of Product Management for Logitech LifeSize.

What I wanted to find out was more information about the company, their products, and their target market.

Based on that conversation which, like the several other conversations I have had with and about LifeSize, took place over a LifeSize video conference, I learned a bit.

Started in 2005 with an eye on high-definition video conferencing, LifeSize is based in Austin, Texas.

As I understand it, LifeSize was architected for simplicity, and also for interoperability with existing computing platforms.

Active Directory Compatibility

It adheres to LDAP, and fully integrates with Microsoft Active Directory, including contacts.

To me, being able to integrate with AD is huge, as it increases immediate usefulness, since [LifeSize] users do not have to recreate contacts in the app.

According to Rafi, one of the goals LifeSize set out to do with their products, is deliver an uncommon ease of use to users.

He feels that coupled with auto provisioning, LifeSize has delivered on that goal as it tried to stay within user’s natural workflows, this based upon feedback from their users.

WebRTC Client

Another intriguing feature of LifeSize is the WebRTC client.

For users who do not have an opportunity to download the desktop client, LifeSize has developed a browser-based video-conferencing client that utilizes the nascent WebRTC standard. This allows users of most modern browsers – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer being the exception – to use LifeSize. That is quite cool.

LifeSize Hardware

In addition to the LifeSize software and hosted service, the company produces dedicated hardware.

From a line of nice touchscreen phone systems to their minimalist Apple-esqe remote controls, Logitech LifeSize hardware is, in my opinion, well thought out.

Getting LifeSize

Logitech LifeSize is a 100% partner-driven line.

As part of Logitech, LifeSize is banking on the global reach of their parent company to help them deliver to partners around the world.

LifeSize has different licensing schemes, each coming with software upgradeability, with packages designed to help users tailor it to their business needs.

A LifeSize survey and a potential reward
Logitech LifeSize is looking to delve more into the minds of potential partners and users as regards audio and video conferencing, and learn more about user experiences and usage patterns.

To accomplish this, LifeSize is holding a survey which asks questions pertinent to them.

Participants will be entered into a drawing, and 5 lucky yobs will be gifted a $200 Amazon gift card each.

Well, that’s not bad.

However, I would like to add something to that: anyone who sends an email to and then completes the survey, will be entered into a drawing to win one of the following:

    • 1TB Seagate MyBook Pro External Hard Drive
    • 500GB Portable Hard Drive
    • Xbox One Titanfall Controller.

If you send an email to , and win any of the Amazon Gift Cards, you will automatically be eligible to select one of the prizes above as well in addition to the three winners.

The survey is here, and our entrant’s email addresses would be randomized, and winners chosen. One prize per winner only.

LifeSize Survey:

NOTE: These prizes given by AbsolutelyWindows. Open to US residents only.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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Microsoft & Online Confidentiality

Office 365. Windows Azure. Exchange Online.

In one form or another, my family and I consume all of these Microsoft services.

While I was OTG last week, I read about Microsoft's apprehension of a former employee who used his Hotmail account to illegally distribute some Microsoft intellectual property.

He was found out when Microsoft ‘reviewed’ the contents of his Hotmail account.

From the TOS for Hotmail, Microsoft is in the clear, having spelled out the terms for such an incursion clearly, in this article titled, “Strengthening our policies for investigations”.

I like that Microsoft listened to the noise in the blogosphere, and clarified matters.

However, it still makes me wonder: can I now or still trust them with documents or data I entrust to their services, or let reside in their cloud.

Feel free to believe that the Edward Snowden revelations haven’t helped, Microsoft's clarifications or denials notwithstanding.

Does ease of implementation, expediency, invisible support, and price trump privacy?

I have this same problem with getting my largest client – in terms of revenue to us – to even consider Exchange Online.

I have no issues with using the services personal matters.

However, our business emails are hosted on-premises.

Microsoft, though, still remains the most trusted company that I engage with.

Still, should I worry?

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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Microsoft, set Windows 8.1 free for XP users

Even for a limited time!

Isn’t that a genius idea, I ask, as I contort my body trying to pat myself on my my own back?

Seriously, how hard is that for the Satya Nadella and his minions to grasp?

While I was OTG to Deepest Darkest, I read about another hare-brained scheme from Microsoft aimed at enticing XP users to switch.


This time, the Mensas at Microsoft came up with the brilliant idea that they’d give folks who gave up their Windows XP machines by buying a brand spankin’ new PC up to a $100 rebate. If said new PC is valued over a minimum of $500.

I mean, who is the fucking moron at Microsoft who comes up with this shit?

Do you remember the Windows Vista Ultimate Extras?

Or the Windows Vista Buy A Windows Vista Ultimate License for $299 (or whatever it was) and get the opportunity to upgrade Windows XP for was it $99 or $199?

Or the stupidly-priced upgrade costs for Windows 7?

Again, I ask, who is the fucking moron at Microsoft who comes up with this shit?

Isn’t this nonsense priced to fail?

Aren’t the board members at Microsoft recipients of subscriptions to rags and glossies?

Give a rebate for a PC?

Seriously, are these idiots serious?

Isn’t the best option staring these fools in the face?

Obviously not, so let me help them:

Make Windows 8.1 FREE for legally licensed users of Windows XP

Even if it is for a limited time, say 6 months.

Furthermore, this free upgrade would contain hardwired and unchangeable Microsoft services attached as a condition of ‘free’!

This is such an easy answer, I should gloss myself ‘Simple Simon’.

I’m serious.

Listen, our studies have shown that Windows 8 runs just as fast, or perceptively faster on hardware used for Windows XP.

As a result, why shouldn’t Microsoft use that as Eve’s Apple in order to bring XP users into current-day computing goodness?

Such a decision will amount to a double win for Microsoft, whereby Microsoft gets incredible goodwill for throwing the cheap yum-yums who still run XP the proverbial bone. Moreover while free, the ‘free’ Windows 8.1 upgrade would help Microsoft bring oodles of potentially lucrative revenue, either in direct monies such as subscriptions, or in the form of mountains of monetizable data. or both.

Finally, such an offer carries with it a long tail of potential revenues for everyone in the PC ecosystem.

Think about it:

  1. A substantial segment of the potential upgraders are going to have issues. Bring in the technicians.
  2. A comparable segment of potential upgraders will find out that their PCs are really beyond EOL, either due to obsolete components, or really cheapo innards. They are going to need new PCs.
  3. Peripheral manufacturers are going to sell a gazillion doodads. Ka-ching.

All this would be done because the misers did not want to upgrade their PCs in the first place!

Meanwhile, Microsoft would be in a cool catbird seat, having given away Windows 8.1 for ‘free’, and not squandering the good joss generated by the offer.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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Solving Windows Phone’s Last Mile Problem

Before I went OTG, I went down to a Verizon Wireless store in the Denver area in order to get a screen protector for my Nokia Lumia Icon.

Good size crowd, everyone pretty excited.

I walked around trying to get at the screen protectors, and tried to listen to the sales pitches.

Astonishingly, the salesdrones there were herding the sheeple towards a crappy Motorola Android phone!

Needing to find out why, I asked to join a sales pitch being delivered to a random customer.

I asked the salesdrone why not the Samsung Galaxy, which he proceeded to give a merciless verbal beatdown, deriding almost all features of that phone.


I was too, since I was under the impression that the Samsung Galaxy line represented the hero devices for Android smartphones.

Making matters worse, the drone was quite dismissive when I inquired about Windows Phones, making me bite hard on my tongue in order to continue the charade.

It was quite the puzzler, I tell you.

Then, it hit me: spiffs!

Yes, good folks, spiffs.

Seriously, why else would these yum-yums peddle those infernal phones if it wasn’t for the instant [monetary] gratification of spiffs?

Winning the Last Mile
Over the past several years, Microsoft has lurched from one forgettable marketing foray to another.

However, despite the obvious superiority of Windows Phones, the mobile OS hasn’t gotten the traction it deserves.

Even if we give Apple due credit for the great campaigns they’ve run, we still run into the paradox of all those incredibly ho-hum Android handsets trouncing Windows Phone.

Just how, in a sane world, does that nonsense happen?

Based on my observation at that VZW store and several similar encounters over the past few years, I find it easy to postulate that Microsoft hasn’t solved Windows Phone’s ‘last mile’ problem.

Microsoft may be successful in creating buzzworthy marketing campaigns that capture the imaginations of Microsoft Fanboi, please the Microsoft execs, and bring visions of great sales to their telco partners.

However, those same campaigns wouldn’t mean nada if the foot soldiers that actually help yobs in the store are incentivized to move lesser, unworthy products.

Believe me, even if the telcos honchos instruct their salesdrones to focus on Windows Phones in order to pad the telcos bottom line, those instructions are doomed to fail once any Android device maker steps forward with the carrot that is a spiff.

For those minions, spiffs are a very tangible inducement.

Which work very well.

Now, I do not deign to say I understand Microsoft's demand generation strategies at all.

However, I know when shit ain’t working.

Right now, it ain’t.

Unless, and until, Microsoft solves the Windows Phone last mile issue. It would always remain Cinderella’s sister.

Oh, and by the way,, the Verizon Wireless store did not have any screen protector for the Lumia Icon!

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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HP announces HP ConvergedSystem for SAP HANA

The decision that IBM was selling its x86 server business to Lenovo had me wondering just how quickly HP was going to use that as a cudgel to completely decimate IBM in delivering integrated solutions.

Well, it didn’t take long.

Earlier today, HP announced the latest weapon in its Converged Infrastructure portfolio, and it was a doozy.

From a performance standpoint, it completely blows IBM – the current competition – away.

However, as we all know, any SAP solution is more, much, much more, than just hardware. Implementation takes the software, the hardware, and a very dedicated cadre of SAP professionals in tow. All of these, HP has in spades.

HP ConvergedSystem for SAP HANA


First announced last December at HP Discover Europe in Barcelona by the HP VP for Converged Infrastructure as part of a forward-looking hardware project and under the name Project Shark, the new HP ConvergedSystem for SAP HANA is the beast HP announced.

By all metrics, this product trounced the current incumbent from IBM quite handily.


More impressively, HP brings the experience and might of HP Services, formerly EDS, into the mix.

That bit immediately brings HP up to part with, or as some folks I spoke to observed, surpass IBM, in SAP experience.


Making the point for their expertise, even HP IT runs on SAP HANA.

That, is dogfooding it at it’s best!


Including the performance boost, HP is also aiming for a short order-to-deployment of as little as 15 days. HP will provide support, of course.


The roadmap above shows that HP is not resting on laurels, and plans to rev the ConvergedSystem for SAP HANA even further in a short period of time.

With Lenovo’s purchase of the IBM x86 server business, the underlying server hardware in IBM’s SAP solutions now become suspect, as they must now source server hardware from others. Furthermore, as Lenovo is a low-cost producer, I don’t think anyone believes that their pace of server innovation would pick up. In fact, the general consensus is that it would slow to just over a crawl.

As HP Converged systems have the unsurpassable Proliant DNA imbued into them, primacy in this space seems to be passing to HP from IBM.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



Videoconferencing with Logitech LifeSize

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on Logitech LifeSize. Tomorrow, I will post a blog of my conversation with Rafi Anuar, Director of Product Management for Logitech LifeSize. Subsequent to that, I will post more on my experiences with LifeSize going forward.

Video conferencing and webinars have, for me, greatly reduced the amount of time I spend traveling to either my offices, events, meet with clients, or to confer with consultants.

Internally, we use Microsoft Lync for messaging, and we use HP Virtual Rooms for video conferencing.

However, both of them have their issues. Lync is excellent, and quite capable for internal communications and messaging. However, it is a bear to use for video. I know that video conferencing is possible. I just don’t have the resources to throw at it for that.

HP Virtual Rooms is adequate for us, in that it allows us to set up ad hoc conferences very easily. That’s why we use it.

Recently though, I have had a client with manufacturing partners in the Far East develop a requirement for rapidly implemented video conferencing. For that firm, the video fidelity of HP Virtual Rooms isn’t up to par.

To satisfy that request and others that have been made of us, we had to look.

Fortuitously, I had the opportunity to learn about Logitech LifeSize.

Logitech LifeSize is both a product and a company.

Co-founded in Austin, Texas by Craig Malloy, a longtime veteran of the video conferencing industry, Logitech’s LifeSize unit has products that I have found to be quite innovative, and interesting.

For one, LifeSize has two distinct product lines: for on-premises, and hosted. Secondly, on-premises LifeSize is itself delivered as a virtual machine!

These two features alone make LifeSize a product to try.

While the first is exciting, the second is positively brilliant.

The ability to run LifeSize as a VM from the get-go brings all sorts of HA and redundancy into the use of the product. If you mix in the ability to use the two preeminent hypervisors today, VMware and Hyper-V, then you have a product that is virtually future-proofed, as far as on premises is concerned.

According to Logitech LifeSize, the following configuration is required for optimal performance:

Virtual Machine Specifications HW processors: 2x Intel Xeon E5-2650, 2.0 GHz RAM: 32 GB DDR3 1600 Disk space: 100 GB min Network: 1 Gbps min

NOTE: Virtual machine configuration values are based on actual test results using a dual socket E5-2650 processor (Sandy Bridge), 32 GB RAM, with Hyper-threading enabled. Hyper-threading is required to achieve desired performance levels. Enabling Hyper-threading doubles the number of physical cores in both VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V and is represented as vCPUs. Both VMware and Microsoft license their virtualization technology based on the vCPU capacity.

For the cloud, LifeSize offers two products, LIfeSize Connections & ClearSea in the Cloud.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



The SmallBizWindows Innovators of the Year 2014: Echo Mobile

clip_image002Echo Mobile, the mobile payments platform, and its backend processing service, are the SmallBizWindows Innovators of The Year 2014.

Yes, an app that is currently iOS-only won. On this blog.

You are probably asking yourself why.

Therefore, I will tell you: three things: the reporting, the Windows Azure backend, and the future-proofing.


The Reporting
Echo Mobile does something no other mobile payments platform does today: instantly deliver a wealth of demographic and location information based on sales to the customer.

This information is customizable, and can be as broad or as granular as the customer requires.

The rich information Echo Mobile generates, is enhanced a whole lot more with the inclusion of inventory data, which is presented in a tabular or a very informative graphical format.

The Windows Azure Backend
What enables the reporting in Echo Mobile is the fact that it is 100% built on Microsoft Windows Azure.

This is quite cool.

Using Windows Azure allows Echo Mobile Solutions – the company – to be more mobile, and take advantage of all of the advances that Microsoft spins into Azure with increasing frequency.

It also allows the company to instantly and invisibly – to the users – ramp up both the computing requirements needed to maintain the QoS they strive to maintain.

The Future-proofing clip_image003
Echo Mobile is probably the first mobile payments service that has – according to a little birdie, and stuff I have actually seen – a Chip & PIN reader solution!

Yes, a mobile payments solution with the future-to-the-USA-market Chip & Pin solution.

This solution is something that is currently being baked into Echo Mobile Payments, and should be rolled out within the next few months.


blackwithlogo- awGoing forward, Echo Mobile Payments roadmap, with Windows Phone, Windows, and Android versions set to roll out shortly coupled with the three points above, have us completely stoked about the product, and resultantly, it is our SmallBizWindows Innovators of The Year 2014 award winner.

Moreover, this is a product we shall be keeping our eyes on.


For those interested, Echo Mobile Solutions has a pilot program.

Potential participants can email

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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The SmallBizWindows Consumer Product Of The Year 2014: Microsoft Surface 2

CONSUMERIn the consumer space, Microsoft Surface 2 reigns supreme.

In revving the product from SurfaceRT to ‘2’, Microsoft addressed most of the shortcomings in Surface.

While weighing about the same, Surface 2 is slightly thinner, and now sports full 1080p HD resolution. It runs Windows RT 8.1, an NVIDIA Tegra 4, and has ditched the twin 720p cameras in favor of a 5.0 MP (rear) and 3.5 MP (front) solutions.

Idle time is up marginally, but is now comes with a USB 3.0 slot.en-INTL_L_Surface_2_32GB_P3W-00001_mnco

For those who require a lot of primary space, Surface 2 is also available with 64 GB of drive space in addition to the standard microSD slot. Incidentally, SanDisk introduced a 128 GB microSD card at the recently-concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

When you mix in the included Microsoft Office 2013 – now with Outlook, there is no doubt that this is one great consumer product, and a fantastic value.

If only Microsoft would include a keyboard at the flyaway price…..

Nonetheless, this product is good enough to win the SmallBizWindows Consumer Product Of The Year 2014 Award.

Honorable Mention
Dell Venue 8 Pro

This product surprised me.

We had tried an Asus 8” tablet sometime last year, and I was greatly underwhelmed.

Dell Venue 8 Pro is different.

Utilizing the latest Intel Atom, it is a full-fledged Windows Tablet in one’s pocket.

With Microsoft Office 2013 installed, this small device seems ready to take on tasks of larger-screened units, and has completely displaced the Apple iPad Air for small tablets as far as we are concerned.*

* We never gave the iPad any chance of a foothold anyway.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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HP Proliant Servers & Firmware Updates

While too much information can sometimes kill you, I can say without reservation that a definite lack of information has the ability to accomplish that task at warp speed.

A few days after we selected all HP Proliant servers as our SmallBizWindows Servers of the Year 2014, what started as an initial contact from a very good friend turned into a veritable Internet pile-on.

My buddy, HM, asked me if I was aware of the changes HP had made to their firmware entitlements regarding HP servers.

The question, coming from him, a leading authority on storage and servers, took me by surprise.

“What service contract options are available for HP rackmount servers, as it seems firmware updates will require attached service contracts going forward.”

A Sinking Feeling
Tell me, isn’t that a very odd situation?

I called my EVP Rod Kowalsky in Seal Beach, and ask just what was going on. I also reached out to folks I knew at HP ESG to find out what.

Well, Rod was upset. He had gotten calls from a few of our staff asking the same questions re Proliant firmware as well. They were not pleased as well.

Based on his read of the situation, it seemed HP had decided to make server support a profit center, and in the process gouge loyal customers of their hard-earned Latinum.

To both of us, this was very unlike HP.

Unfortunately, it was on a Friday, and I was not able to get a reply form anyone at HP over the weekend. My weekly trip to Los Angeles was scheduled for that Tuesday, February 11, and I planned to get answers then. In lieu of that, I arranged to have a conference call or a face-to-face with my [HP] account manager.

Then on Sunday, I read this blog, facetiously titled “Customers for life” on the HP Technical Support Services blog.

I blew up.

Immediately and completely!

A VERY Bad Idea
Go ahead, read it.

My takeaway from the blog, even as I re-read it again while copying down its URL, is that, “Hey, we are HP, we have taken away a ‘right’ you have traditionally had, and one that you felt you would always have. We don’t care, and dammit, you all are going to pay us for that privilege. And, by the way, since you might whine and moan about it, we want to perfume the pig that is this decision by couching it in the globally condescending phrase, ‘aligning it with industry best practices’. You’re welcome.”

Think about it: here is HP, the worldwide, and undisputed leader in servers talking about restricting or eliminating user benefits, because of, get this, “industry best practices”.

Seriously, WTF, right?

It was as if HP had forgotten that little fact, and was now trying to be some other, lesser company, pegging its loyal customers in the process.

It was incredible.

You had to peel me off the roof of my NE Colorado office.

I believe I must have shouted, “Are you fucking kidding me?” or something, because my Princess came running into my office asking if all was well!

Now, I really wanted to get to LA, and Tuesday couldn’t come fast enough!

Over the rest of the weekend, a veritable flood of complaints came my way, mostly from peers and from IT professionals who were rightfully concerned about the new restrictions placed on their investments.

Oh, several Cisco droids took this as an opportunity to pile-on, for which I had no reply. Which hurt.

HP Reaches Out
Some companies are quite proactive in harnessing social media to gauge the pulse of their brand.

HP is one of them, and it is blessed with some staffers that take their charges to heart.

‘KR’ is one of them.

On Monday morning, and seemingly out of the blue, she reached out to me via email and private messages in order to get my perspective on the situation.

I informed her that I was upset, and that this entire issue wasn’t what was needed.

She promised to get me to someone in the know, and promised to suggested a talk with Jim Ganthier.

A Better Explanation
Tuesday morning in LaLa had me talking with our PAM.

His first reply was that we, Logikworx, and also by proxy, our clients and their computing environments, would not be negatively impacted by the new policies since all servers in our inventory were attached to a support contract.

While that mollified me somewhat, I still saw the policy as customer hostile, and a policy almost guaranteed to give other server OEMs a foothold into the hearts of IT pros.

Where Do Old HP Proliant Servers Go To Die?
Simple: they are resurrected, and live on in the basement and garage labs, used and beloved by IT pros around the globe.

These are the same IT pros that HP seemed to want to alienate.

Now, more than ever, I needed KR to help me talk to someone at HP who could illuminate this.

A Phone Call With Jim Ganthier
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Jim Ganthier who is Vice President for Global Marketing for HP Servers on this matter, and this matter alone.

Jim is a friendly, affable, and extremely knowledgeable tech guy. Moreover, being in charge of marketing for HP Servers, of which Proliants are a part, I am sure he had gotten an inkling of how the sentiment of users for the policy change was going.

His first words to me, after the greetings, were “No John, we are NOT taking away the abilities of users to get firmware upgrades.

I will paraphrase his answers to my question during our call below.

John Obeto II: Why this policy change?

Jim Ganthier: What our technical support teams found out were that some unscrupulous VARs were trying to put EOL servers back into the market using updated firmware. That has to stop.

JO2: Why the need for a support contract?

JG: The basic support contract only requires registration for use. No fees at all. Moreover, all safety and security upgrades will be foreseeably free.

“All Proliant safety and security [firmware] upgrades will be foreseeably free, especially for the SMB, Education, and enthusiast communities.”

JG: What we (HP) are trying to do, is make sure users have direct access to the latest firmware and support options. It is not a monetization play.

JO2: Your Tech Services blog post, “Customers for life”, has got to rank as one of the most facetious I have read in a long while, so much so that it is eerily reminiscent of missives from Microsoft. Nowhere in that article did it enumerate the benefits loyal users were getting from this change. Why is that?

JG: it was just a messaging breakdown. While we wanted to inform users of our change as soon as we made it, we unfortunately did not inform then eloquently enough of why the change happened, and of what benefits, they might be receiving from the change.

JO2: We attach a services contract to 100% of the HP servers we use internally or implement for clients. However, when Proliant servers reach EOL, they are in high demand for use in home labs and for experimental purposes. What should these class of Proliant users, who tend to be extremely influential in helping enterprises determine which server brands are purchased, now think of HP in general, and Proliant servers in particular?

JG: Nothing has changed. HP will continue to improve and deliver the best possible servers they can buy. Our support will continue to be available to them. What we want to do is be able to make sure that our clients aren’t hoodwinked by unscrupulous dealers.

To summarize

The bottom line: “All Proliant safety and security [firmware] upgrades will be foreseeably free, especially for the SMB, Education, and enthusiast communities.”

Based on information I have been able to obtain, this was a misunderstanding caused by inept messaging. While nothing had changed fundamentally in the benefits available to users, the muddled messaging made it seem like benefits were being cancelled, making the Proliant user base antsy, and angry.

That shouldn’t have happened.

Silly stuff like this allows rivals to gain mindshare, and worse yet, a foothold.

I hope going forward, HP takes steps to remedy such gaffes in the future


“All Proliant safety and security [firmware] upgrades will be foreseeably free, especially for the SMB, Education, and enthusiast communities.”

In other words, apart from the muddled messaging, it was, to quote The Bard, much ado about nothing!

An AbsolutelyWindows Freestyle video with Jim can be found here.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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The SmallBizWindows Laptop Of The Year 2014: Microsoft Surface Pro 2

LAPTOPHearing people pan the Microsoft Surface Pro at launch due to its supposed rivalry with iPad, it was quite obvious that they were uninformed.

For without a doubt, they were missing the importance of Surface Pro, both as a standalone product, and in the laptop category.

One thing the original Surface Pro was, and Surface Pro 2 improved on, was in the suitability of the device to be used as a laptop replacement.

Even after Microsoft’s Panos Panay took the time to elucidate them, the yum-yums still didn’t get it!en-INTL_L_Surface_Pro_2_128GB_6CX-00001_mnco

A faster CPU coupled with greater, about doubled battery life has made it the perfect Windows laptop, leapfrogging Surface Pro 2 logarithmically over the closest device, the Apple MacBook Air.

You can’t beat the value.

Resultantly, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is the SmallBizWindows Laptop of the Year 2014.<

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



The SmallBizWindows Storage Device Of The Year 2014: HP MSA 2040 SAN

STORAGEsmallbizwindows3The year 2013, in my mind, was going to be the year when we went to 3PAR, albeit the low-end 3PAR storage devices, for storage.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to The Forum: HP introduced the MSA 2040 SAN Appliance.

As reviewed here, the HP MSA 2040 SAN Appliance is an exemplary piece of equipment for the SMB space.

It is priced right, provides an incredible performance boost from the prior series HP P2000 SANs, and, if needed, comes in a sweet all-SSD configuration.

It is easily deployed and managed, and used SAS, midline, and the afore-mentioned SSD drives.msa2040_SFF_FT

Those features make the MSA 2040 the solution to beat, and the baseline by which we judge all other entry-level SANs.

Consequently, we are glossing it with the SmallBizWindows Storage Device Of The Year Award.

As everyone on Terra who needs enterprise-class, no compromise storage knows, HP 3PAR, is the ne plus ultra when it comes to storage.

You cannot do better that 3PAR.

However, 3PAR, even at the low end, is not for thrifty pockets or budgets.

HP MSA 2040 website

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



The SmallBizWindows Servers of the Year 2014: HP Proliant Servers

SERVERThis category had the entire selection crew team here at AbsolutelyWindows stumped.

We use quite a few HP Proliant servers as part of our daily routines.

All of the time, the Proliants are just there, silent, unobtrusive, just performing their assigned tasks.

They are very well made, extremely reliable, and very easy to cost-justify.

So, it came down to deciding which server would garner the award.



The contestants:
HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 MSG8-002

This is the new entry-level server in HP’s Proliant inventory. However, do not let the device’s diminutive size and price fool you: this is one serious one-to-ten-user small office/branch office device. Reviewed here.

HP Proliant ML310e Gen8 v2 c03780971For us, the ML310e Gen8 v2 is our redefinition of the low end as far as SMB servers are concerned. Like the MicroServer Gen8, this low-cost server packs a lot, with reliability and Proliant DNA engineered in.

HP Proliant ML350e Gen8 v2 ml350eWe standardized on the Proliant ML350 a couple of years ago, and we have never regretted the decision. The ML350 servers are rock solid, have bulletproof performance, and give our client’s computing environments the reliability they expect from their servers.

HP Proliant ML350p Gen8 ml350p gen8The ML350p is the heavier, more powerful version of the ML350 series.

HP Proliant DL380p Gen8 dl380p gen8Our trusty standard rackmount Proliant.

We also have a few older Proliant blades, and I am thinking of ordering a couple of Proliant BL460 blades to augment the blades here and in NoCal with them.bl460c gen8

SERVEROver our several conversations on the topic of deciding which of them would become the SmallBizWindows Server of the Year 2014, we realized that the entire HP Proliant line of servers deserved the award.

While various Proliant servers have won the Award previously, our continued use of the servers, and more importantly, our continued excellent user experience and satisfaction with the server line informed us that short of expanding the Server Award into categories, this year, and this year only, we should give the Award to the entire HP Proliant Server line, giving merit where it is due.

There you have it: the SmallBizWindows Server Of The Year 2014 is HP Proliant Servers. The entire line.

Very well deserved.

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The SmallBizWindows Utility of the Year: Stardock ModernMix

UTILITYOf all the little utilities we used last year, just one stands out as being truly innovative and immediately useful: Stardock ModernMix.

One of the great head-scratchers, and basically the primary reason for the perceived failure of Windows 8x so far, is the “two worlds” concept of use.

As delivered in 8.0, Windows requires you to work either in Metro mode, or in the [old-style] ‘desktop mode.

Either. Or.ModernMix_logo


And just to make sure you were not confused enough, they – the Microsoft Windows dev team – took out the <START> button from the desktop mode.

To crown it all, they declined to deliver any information or clarification on what users were supposed to do once they had Windows 8 installed. Nothing at all.

Into this breach stepped Stardock, which has a stable of great Windows customization apps.

You should think of, and call Stardock ‘the Sysinternals of Windows customization’.

They really do have an app for just about anything in the Windows client you need to customize.

Stardock first brought to market a product called Start8, which mimicked the old Windows fly-up and fly-out menu scheme.

Then they went for gold, and delivered ModernMix, which is an app that encapsulates Windows 8 Metro apps for windowing on a Windows 8 desktop.

Pure genius.

Thanks to Stardock’s ÜberMeister social media guru, Spencer Scott (Twitter: @islanddog), I was able to obtain a copy of ModernMix.

Folks, this product is inspired.

For people who work mainly on the desktop, this product exposes the grave mistake with Microsoft’s ‘two worlds’ strategy with Windows 8: the switching between Metro and desktop is jarring, non-intuitive, and quite inelegant.

With ModernMix, users are able to use Metro apps, and most importantly, use those Metro apps side-by-side with the desktop apps they use in their daily lives.

The greatest praise I can heap on ModernMix is that it is truly install-and-forget.

You install it, set the parameters you want it to perform at, and then forget that you have it on your system. All Metro apps automagically float in windows on the desktop, and just work.

In fact, the only feedback I had for the Stardock team was this

That was it.

All I want is an app that would do what ModernMix does when I am working from the desktop, and perform the reverse, Metro-fying desktop apps when I want to work in Metro.

These past few weeks, there have been rumors that the current Windows team is returning Windows 8 to some of the conventions used in prior releases of Windows.

Thus validating the brilliance of this app.

The SmallBizWindows Stardock ModernMix Review is here.

Stardock ModernMix website

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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The SmallBizWindows Collaboration Product of the Year: Yammer

COLLABORATIONCollaboration Product of The Year is a category we have not visited since 2010.

While SharePoint has gone from strength to strength in the years since then, a new product, Yammer, has taken off in this space.

Presciently purchased by Microsoft in 2012 for a rumored $1 billion+, hammer is immediately very easy to use.Yammer_logo

Yammer is a great stepping-stone in showing what ‘enterprise social’ could be to new adherents.

However, it is much more than that: it is easy to use, is updated at a blistering cadence, and over the past couple of years, created a vibrant ISV community that continues to add value to the platform.

Add in Microsoft’s ownership and SharePoint, and you have a product that is definitely one to use.

Moreover, it is priced very well, at just $3 USD per user per month.

Incidentally, a basic network account is free.

Yammer is at

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The SmallBizWindows Printer Of The Year 2014: Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540

PRINTERFor the past 2 years, the Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540 has been the workhorse deskside printer used at The Orbiting O’Odua, MedikLabs, and the primary recommended deskside printer to our clients.

To sum up from our award from last year, the WorkForce WP-4520 is a compact, fast, durable, and inexpensive printer.

It is relatively silent, and consumables are also decently priced.

Moreover, the past year has seen Epson improve on its cloud services, and add more partners and platforms to its printer line.wp-4540-01

Resultantly, the Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540 is again our choice, and the SmallBizWindows Printer of the Year 2014.

Based on my hands-on time with it, and information, I had thought that the new HP Officejet Pro X series would be our award winner for this year.

However, despite the incredible speeds it offers, the cost of ownership of the Officejet Pro X, as measured in replacement inks, is quite unreasonable.

How unreasonable?

A brand new Officejet Pro X 576dw can be purchased for about $589.00. a set of all four colored inks for the device cost around $100 less than that, at $489.

I just can’t grok why.

Going forward
For 2015, we will be introducing a high-end printer award to segment the departmental printers from the deskside devices.

For high end printing, we are currently using two MFC devices: the HP LaserJet Enterprise 700 color MFP M775dn and the HP LaserJet Enterprise M4555f MFP devices. They are being tested against a leased Kyocera-Mita MFC device.

Due to the very short period of time we have had with these printers, we will not make any decisions on awards in the high-end category this year.

Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540
HP OfficeJet Pro X
HP LaserJet Enterprise

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The Blackgrounder Hands-on: Dan Bennett & the new HP Z1 G2 Workstation

HP’s Dan Bennett kindly gave us a software demo on the new HP Z1 G2 workstation.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



The Blackgrounder Hands-on: Mike Diehl & the HP Z1 G2 Workstation

Last week, I went over to the HP Workstation Group’s offices in Fort Collins, Colorado in order to get some hands-on time with the new HP Z1 G2 workstation.

I was also lucky enough to get Mike Diehl, the father of the Z1, and Worldwide Program Manager for the device, to show us what is new and exciting with the product.

My previous post on the Z1 G2 is here, including specs.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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The new HP Z1 G2 All-In-One Workstation

HP Z1G2 anti-glare with Thunderbolt, Left ViewIn 2012, HP delivered the Z1 workstation.

It was a complete game-changer in workstations!

Developed and released as the industry’s first workstation with true workstation-class parts, from Xeon CPUs, workstation memory and graphics, RAID storage and more, the Z1 completely re-wrote what users should expect from all-in-one workstations.

Indeed, before the advent of the HP Z1 workstation, all entrants – yes, ALL ENTRANTS, and I can say this without fear of contradiction – in the AIO workstation field, were without a doubt unashamed, warmed-over consumer devices, with the associated weak, mostly Intel graphics, and other components.

As great as the Z1 (now referred to as Z1 G1) is/was, HP didn’t stand still, and yesterday, they introduced the next rev of the device, the HP Z1 G2 workstation.

In a briefing early last December, we were introduced to the Z1 G2.

HP Z1G2 Touch with Glass screen, 10 Finger Touch_hero

What HP has done, is basically reengineer the device based on feedback from users.

The result is a new iteration of the device with improved processors, components, the addition of Thunderbolt® technology, touch functionality, and more.

Jim Christensen is Director for Media Relations at HP, and he posted a blog on yesterday about the HP Z1 G2.

The specs of this workstation can be found below

HP Z1 G2 specs

© 2002 – 2013, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited



Andy Marken’s Content Insider #319 - Rise, Fall

Designing, Picking the Next Tech Winner is No Easy Task


Predicting the Future – We all like to do it, predict which products are going to be hot, which not; which will live for years, which will fade quickly. Lots of people try to tell you what you’re going to like and what you’re not. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes…

Have you ever wondered why:

  • Fortune tellers post hours? They should know when you’re coming
  • You never hear about a fortune teller winning the lottery or cleaning out Las Vegas
  • More of them aren’t key members of product design teams or on the board of directors of companies
  • More VCs don’t employ them instead of some kid who just got his/her MBA from a major name school and knows what the consumer will want/need in 5, 10 years

It’s all because they don’t really know what’s just around the corner or what new company, product, service, idea is going to be the next great thing anymore than you or me. If they did, more than one out of 10 start-ups would still be around at the end of five years.

And companies wouldn’t introduce stuff only to see you walk out of the store with another company’s stuff.

Count Your Losses
Go ahead, look around your office or home at all the stuff you were positive was going to make it big and have really great staying power.

Instead, they sputtered, died, became niche products like:

  • Beta and VHS player/library
  • LaserDisc player/library
  • PalmPilot
  • Netbook
  • 3D glasses – active and passive
  • 8-in, 5.25-in, 3.5-in floppies
  • Your favorite here_____

And, of course, there are the hundreds of Internet/web-based companies that have come and gone leaving no residue behind except bruised egos and unfulfilled dreams.

None of them were necessarily bad ideas, bad products. Often it was because the folks who developed and marketed them hung onto them too long and were unwilling or unable to kill the product with a newer, better, faster, cheaper solution.

Shrinking Cycles
What’s keeping company folks from getting a good night’s sleep is that the product/service life cycle is getting shorter and shorter.

The auto industry used to have a design life cycle of 3 years. Today, they’re doing honestly new product introductions – not just incremental changes -- every year.

The CE/PC industry used to have an annual product refresh cycle. That has shrunk to a six-month, even a three-month cycle.

It’s getting so bad that the day after you start developing the next great thing, others in the organization are developing its replacement.

Both teams are hoping theirs is the product that you just gotta’ have.


Laugh-In – One of the many highlights of the Rowan & Martin Show was the awarding of the Fickle Finger of Fate Award for a stupid or dumb mistake. Today, it’s something far less funny, more painful for companies/products; it’s stagnant sales.

That’s right; ultimately, it’s you the consumer (business and individual) who determines which product is fought over when folks wait in line for the store’s doors to open or is stolen when you’re out of the room or walking down the street.

Consumers also vote with their money as to which product/service gets Rowan and Martin’s infamous Fickle Finger of Fate Award … and how quickly.

Speeding Adoption
Acceptance, adoption, disillusionment is happening faster and faster:

  • The PC took 21 years to achieve 50 percent market penetration
  • Cellphone - 16 years
  • Color TV - 10 years
  • CD player - 12 years
  • DVD - 8 years
  • Laptops - 10 years
  • Smartphones should be there in 7 years
  • Tablets should take 5

In the case of the last three, there are experts (normal people who like to predict the future) who say each is going to replace/kill the other.


Product Release – With almost military precision, companies strive to get optimum consumer attention as well as deliver shock and awe among the competition. With today’s always-on, open organizations it’s increasingly difficult to surprise competitors and consumers.

It’s not just the product category the companies want to dominate; and despite their neat slogans – “designed for humanity,” “do no evil,” or other neat sound byte, they want to terminate the competition.

Companies, like their products, have their day in the sunshine and their dark days.


Sometimes it’s fact, sometimes fiction, sometimes wishful thinking:

  • Nokia “owned” the cellphone market, dominating everyone/everything. Then MS rescued them and they’re shedding products, people to recuperate.
  • Motorola had a great run with their phones, stumbled and Google bought em and now … well, we’ll see.
  • Apple set the pace for smartphones and established the tablet market and now no matter how many the consumers buy, it just ain’t feeling the love.
  • Lenovo bought IBM’s PC division and suddenly respect returned to the industry pioneer.
  • Samsung, the company with its fingers in everything, is designing and marketing flawlessly … for the time being
  • RIM (Research in Motion) and its Blackberry were kings of the mountain and are now hoping (begging) someone/anyone to buy the carcass

It’s true that with many of the companies and products, much of the problem can be laid at the feet of management. They become overconfident that whatever they offer, consumers will snap them up.
You didn’t.

But as Ben Thompson wrote in a recent blog, even the best futurists, forecasters, management thinkers, “experts” sometimes get it wrong. They also try to tell each other why they’re “more right.”

For example, consider your always-with-you smartphone.

There are two leaders – Apple, Samsung - and a lot of wannabes.

Experts got their first views of the iPhone 5C/5S and said they were going to be disasters or modest successes. Consumers didn’t care and bought 9M in the first weekend! Samsung’s Galaxy 5 flavors got mixed reviews even within the same publications and still folks bought them.


Same story.

But both firms have been doing well because they’re focusing on the consumer, not the person writing the review, forecasting the future.


Uncertainty Ahead – Good engineers/designers usually have a clear idea of the next-generation product/service they are certain the customer wants/needs. The problem is once it gets in the customers’ hands, usage is often far different from the product plans. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it makes for some tough driving.

They will also face challenges because consumers talk with other consumers (friends/family) and make their decisions based on “facts” that aren’t on a specification sheet or price list.

Consumers weigh the features, benefits and costs that are most important to them.
And don’t kid yourself, it holds true in business decisions as well.
There are logical reasons for every rationalized decision.

The challenge for the people making and marketing the products (and fortune tellers) is that it is impossible to predict, measure, document when taste, priorities will shift.

Here’s where industry experts can help the company time the roll-out of the next big thing you just gotta’ have and make you wish you didn’t have yesterday’s model.

Next time, you’ll get it right.

Trust me … I’m an expert!

G. Andy Marken is founder and president of Marken Communications

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The SmallBizWindows HP Networking PS1810-8G Switch Review

The HP Networking PS1810-8G Managed Switch is truly The Little Switch that CouldPS1810_8Gswitch_FT

smallbizwindows1As part of a review package for the HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8, I received the HP Networking PS1810-8G switch, a conformably-designed companion managed switch to the MicroServer.

Sporting 8 ports, it is immediately apparent that this device is designed for small offices.

Consequently, I reviewed it personally on a subnet here at The Orbiting O’Odua initially, and I put it to use in a company rightly sized for it.

The HP Networking PS1810-8G Switch

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The HP Networking PS1810-8G Switch as it sits on a Proliant MicroServer Gen8

Aesthetically, this little switch is just like any other switch you can pick up for mere pennies at any mega-big-box store.

However, by being a managed switch, it offers a whole lot more.

This device offers a high level of default specs, but the ones that matter to me are:

  • HP Proliant Server Dashboard — enables autodiscovery of HP ProLiant Gen8 servers in the network; provides up-to-date server health status for up to ten monitored servers
  • Simple web management — allows easy management of device by even nontechnical users with its intuitive Web GUI
  • Secure web GUI — provides a secure, easy-to-use graphical interface for configuring the module via HTTPS
  • SNMPv1, v2c — enables devices to be discovered and monitored from an SNMP management station
  • Dual flash images — provides independent primary and secondary operating system files for backup while upgrading
  • Port mirroring — enables traffic on a port to be simultaneously sent to a network analyzer for monitoring
  • IEEE 802.1AB Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) — advertises and receives management information from adjacent devices on a network, facilitating easy mapping by network management applications
  • IEEE 802.3af PoE-powered device option — obtains power provided by a standard PoE device connected to Port 1; deploy the switch wherever an Ethernet cable can reach as a power outlet is not needed (8-port model only)
  • VLAN support and tagging — supports up to 64 port-based VLANs and dynamic configuration of IEEE 802.1Q VLAN tagging, providing security between workgroups
  • Jumbo packet support — improves the performance of large data transfers; supports frame size of up to 9220-bytes
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) — encrypts all HTTP traffic, allowing secure access to the browser-based management GUI in the switch
  • Automatic denial-of-service protection — monitors six types of malicious attacks and protects the network by blocking the attacks
  • Management password — provides security so that only authorized access to the Web browser interface is allowed

A full list of the specs can be found here.

I connected the PS1810-8G directly to our router using the ready pipe I have installed for just that very purpose

Managed switches differ from unmanaged switches in that some operational parameters can be modified by users in order to customize performance of said switches to the user’s networking environment.PS1810_8Gswitch_BK

Using the HP Networking PS1810-8G Switch
I connected the PS1810-8G to four of the HP Proliant servers here at the Orbiting O’Odua: a ProLiant MicroServer, a Proliant MicroServer Gen8, a Proliant ML350 G7, and a Proliant ML320e Gen 8. The final port went to primary 24-port managed switch* in use here at the O’Odua.

Autodiscovery of Proliant servers is one of the PS1810 series, and it did its job here.

For the MicroServer Gen8, I used the trunking feature of the switch to combine two ports on the switch, and the two NICs on the MicroServer in order to create greater bandwidth. MicroServer Gen8 is being used here for file services, with 10 TB of hard drive storage provisioned by its embedded HP SmartArray controller.

In order to do so, I directed my browser to the switch’s default IP address of, which brought up the simple web management interface.

For a very cost-efficient – read that as “relatively cheap” switch – manageability is one of the reasons why this device seems to be a bargain: Proliant Gen8 server autodiscovery, VLAN support, the use of trunking, are features that can be configured via the web interface.PS1810_8Gswitch_BKLF

Next up was the real world test of PS1810-8G.

For this, I selected an attorney friend’s offices in Los Angeles. He has a single lawyer, 2 paralegal practice in the San Fernando Valley.

I set up the device in place of his current cheapo Trendnet 8-port device.

Going into the web interface again, I added his Dell server – he’s a friend, not a client! – to the managed servers list, trunked it, and let them use it.

smallbizwindows1This is quite a nice device, both for its functionalities and its price.

Light, web-managed, advanced features, and HP Networking reliability, and Proliant autodiscovery make this a very good buy.

It was easy to use, and unobtrusive in operation.

For the price and manageability, we think it is a very good value, and we recommend it.



* We currently use a rival 24-port managed switch here in the Orbiting O’Odua.)

** The SmallBizWindows HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 Review is here.

© 2002 – 2014, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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