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Bill Bennett


Tag: Microsoft

The world’s largest software company has repositioned for cloud computing offering software-as-a-service as well as cloud services. Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Office productivity software are important mainstays.

Curran, Dunne clash over Windows XP debacle

Months after Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP, thousands of New Zealand government computers still run the software.

There is no excuse for this costly and dangerous state of affairs.

At the National Business Review Chris Keall offers plenty of depth and background on the war of words between Labour technology spokesperson Clare Curran and Peter Dunne. The pair clash over the number of government Windows XP computers still in use.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of this is that Dunne has refused to release the information on how many computers are affected. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the number is higher than officials would like you to think.

It’s extremely poor management to allow things to reach this state. Microsoft gave plenty of warning about closing off support and extended its original deadline. The cost of upgrading from Windows XP is not high and most XP-only applications can run on virtual machines on newer versions of Windows.

iWorks or Office 365: Choosing a Mac, iOS suite

Apple rebooted iWorks early in 2014 with versions for both OS X and IOS. The software runs much the same on Macs and iPads although there are feature differences.

iWorks is free if you buy a new Mac or iPad. If you have older devices, you can buy the apps — Pages, Number and Keynote — from the app store.

Although iWorks is a suite in the sense that the individual apps play nicely together, Apple sells the components individually: the Mac apps are NZ$25 each while the iPad versions are $13.

Mac Office 365

On a Mac, Microsoft’s Office 365 means the four-year-old Office:2011. Microsoft promised a new version of its OS X software in 2014, at the time of writing it is overdue. I’m now told to expect it in the next few months.

Microsoft sells Office 365 subscriptions. There’s a NZ$119 per year personal subscription which buys just one copy of the software. A better deal is the $165 Office 365 Home which gives you the right to put the software on up to five computers and five mobile devices.

There are iPad versions of Microsoft’s main Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Although they are free to download, you need an Office 365 subscription to unlock them for serious work.

Apple Pages, Microsoft Word

Although Apple’s Pages is often described as a word processor, it is also a page design tool. In some ways it is like having Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher in the same package.

Pages comes with lots of layout tools. All the formatting stuff displays in a context-sensitive Inspector panel taking up the right-hand quarter of the screen. You only get to see the things that you need immediately.

As you’d expect, Pages does a great job of making words look pretty on a page.

Word processing purists will consider Pages lacks the power of Word. Lawyers and people needing to create complex documents may find Pages can’t meet all their needs.

Moving smoothly from Pages to Word

As someone who writes for a living, I like Pages’ simplicity. I hide everything and work on a big blanks screen hiding the Inspector screen and the tool bar from sight. That way the software stays out-of-the-way.

Many of the keyboard commands in Word work in Pages. In fact I can move smoothly between Pages and Word barely missing a beat.

Most of the people I work for expect to get Word documents from me. Pages can save in Word format, so that’s easily done. I’ve never had a problem with this, nor do I have a problem loading Word documents into Pages for editing. However, not everything comes across from complex Word documents, so you may run into problems if you are, say, asked to use Word’s tracked changes feature to edit someone’s work in Pages.

Numbers, Excel

Word may have more features than Pages, but there’s not a huge conceptual or practical gap between the two apps. In comparison there’s a huge gulf between Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet and Excel.

In the same way Pages has fewer features than Word, Numbers offers less complexity than Excel in terms of calculations. But what it lacks in computational power, it makes up in layout flexibility. You can have multiple tables on each spreadsheet tab, then move them around to make things look great on the display.

Because Numbers lets you mix text, graphs and numbers on each page, you can quickly create attractive-looking presentations based on your numeric information. Numbers is a great tool for business planning and even better for presenting plans to others.

Keynote, PowerPoint

Apple’s KeyNote and PowerPoint each have their fans. The two apps are more or less on a par in terms of what they do. KeyNote is the more flexible and some people find it easier to use than Microsoft’s presentation tool. It has some great features including the ability to mask out image backgrounds without the need for Photoshop or similar, expensive apps.

Mac users who rarely create presentations might do better with Keynote than PowerPoint thanks to the sample slides and layouts provided with the app. The Microsoft templates are so familiar to many of us that inexperienced Keynote users get a creative head start with the less familiar images, clip art, designs and backgrounds.

iWorks ahead for now

To get the most from iWorks, you’ll need an iCloud account. It’s the only way to store iWorks documents from an iPad, on a Mac you can store locally or in iCloud.

Office 365 and iWorks were both showing their age at the start of 2014. Apple’s suite now has the edge, but that could change when Microsoft refreshes Office. The iPad Office apps are excellent so are the latest Windows apps. This bodes well for the next Mac version.

If you only need some office apps, say, just a word processor, then a one-off NZ$25 — or possibly nothing — for each iWorks app is a better deal than the NZ$119 a year for the most basic Office 365 subscription.

Microsoft Office 365 has the edge if you work with Macs or iPad and Windows devices. And Office makes life easier if you need to work with others who are on Windows devices. If you are committed to Apple, you may prefer iWorks. As a bonus, it integrates nicely with other Apple software like iPhoto.

Image from Microsoft.co.nz website

Ministries, DHBs spend $2 million plus on XP extended support

Randal Jackson is still writing strong news stories for Computerworld New Zealand. Earlier today he filed:  Ministries, DHBs spend more than $2 million on XP extended support.

Jackson writes:

A document obtained from Labour MP Claire Curran’s office show that some government departments and DHBs are paying for extended XP support, even as others cease using the OS.

As the story points out between government departments and district health boards the thick end of 40,000 PCs still run Microsoft’s 12-years old and discontinued Windows XP software. Collectively the bill for extended support for these machines will come to more than NZ$2 million this year. That’s around $50 per device.

Presumably there will be support bills next year and the year after too.

Lame excuses

No doubt managers will be able to trot out justifications for sticking with the unsupported and increasingly dangerous operating system. The excuses don’t stack up.

The way government buys software licences from Microsoft means the cost of upgrading the OS isn’t a plausible excuse.

While it could true that some of the 40,000 machines are not capable of running a newer version of Windows, that doesn’t apply to any PCs made in the last six or seven years — that’s more than long enough to sweat hardware assets.

If departments don’t have or can’t pay for the skills needed to handle the upgrade, that is a terrible reflection on them and their funding ministers.

Sooner or later even XP extended must go

The most plausible excuse is that applications built for Windows XP don’t run well — in some cases at all — on newer versions of Windows.

That can be true, but modern Windows versions can run most XP apps in compatibility mode or in virtual machines. This may need work. I’ve news for the government departments, you’re going to have to do this eventually.

As for software that can’t be tweaked to run on anything other than XP… what’s the plan? Carry on indefinitely? Come on, it’s not as if you haven’t known for years this day would come.

Mac Word, Windows Word and Parallels desktop

Apple OS X Dock showing Word, Parallels and Windows Word pmMicrosoft says a new Mac version of Word is coming later this year. Hopefully, it will be more like  Windows Word 2013 than OS X Word: 2011.

When I switched to a MacBook last year, the thing I missed most was writing longer features in the Windows version of Microsoft Word. It does a great job of staying out-of-the-way and hiding complexity.

The Mac Word 2011 version has a few annoyances. I still struggle with them. Not least the way the most naked screen option resets the moment you switch focus to a different window.

Microsoft Word, Bootcamp

Recently I ran Word 2013 on my Mac in a Windows 8 partition using Bootcamp.

There are minor keyboard weirdnesses, but otherwise, it works well. The problem is that switching between OS X, which is more productive for other tasks and Windows requires a reboot. That’s not an efficient way of working. I don’t want to do that too often.

This week I’m running the Parallels Desktop 9 trial.

Parallels Desktop sets up Windows 8 in a virtual machine. You can configure Parallels to make Windows invisible and integrate Windows apps, like Word, with OS X. In effect this means I can run Word 2013 as if it were an OS X app.

OS X, Parallels Desktop 9

Parallels works fine, up to a point. I’ve tested a handful of Windows-only apps and the integration is first class. There are a handful of minor keyboard niggles — oddly not the same as those when running Windows Word in Bootcamp.

Perhaps the oddest behaviour is how the screen scrolling sometimes goes one way and sometimes goes another. A downstroke on the touchpad moves down screen while at other times that downstroke scrolls the screen up. It’s possible that’s a confusion between OS X and Windows over which OS is running the show.

I’m also not entirely comfortable that my Command-S keystrokes are saving the document — there’s nothing visible or audible to show anything has happened.

Parallels Desktop 9 good software but pricey

Parallels is expensive. A licence costs US$80, that’s around NZ$100. I’m told each new version requires a new licence, Parallels doesn’t sell updates. That seems expensive by 2014 software standards. I paid NZ$40 for Windows 8 and nothing to upgrade OS X from 10.8 to 10.9.

To be fair, Parallels is a sweet piece of software. It does a difficult job with panache. I’m impressed with how smoothly it works. You could forget it was there if it were not for the nagware message that continually pops up telling me to pay for a full licence.

However, I can’t reasonably justify spending 100 on that having a slightly nicer Word experience, especially when my Office 365 licence means I’ve already paid for a Word upgrade that could be just weeks away. So for now I buy that licence.

Update: I forgot to mention that I’ve round-tripping between Windows Word, iPad Word and Mac Word for a week or so and have yet to see a hiccup.

Now XP stands for expired

When future technology historians look back at our era, they may recognise the early years of the twenty-first  century as Peak Windows. And for most of that time, the top version of Microsoft’s operating system was Windows XP.

Now after 13 years of loyal, mainly reliable service, Microsoft has taken everyone’s favourite pet for one last drive to the vet.

It won’t be coming back.

From last week, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. That means no more updates and no more security patches.

When, inevitably, researchers find a security flaw in a more modern version of Windows, it’ll be fixed. But not XP.

Here come the crooks

Every cybercrook on the planet will know about the vulnerability. The code-literate ones will be able to write software to exploit it, the less technical crooks will get their hands on the software too.

There’s no rational excuse for not updating from Windows XP.

If you have bespoke apps written for the OS, there are ways to run them in more modern versions of Windows. There are compatibility modes and virtual machines. If those approaches don’t work, the apps are almost certainly risky anyway.


If your hardware is too old and feeble to run a more modern version of Windows, hold your head in shame you cheapskate. A spanking new PC will cost you less than you paid for that copy of XP when it was brand new 13 years ago.

Even if you are on a limited budget — I’ve been there too — you can pick up a second-hand machine capable of running Windows 7 for next to nothing on an auction site.

If you just plain hate newer versions of Windows, buy a Mac or a Chromebook, or get a copy of Ubuntu Linux.

Windows XP huggers in government

There are dozens of cheapskate or lazy corporations and government departments who haven’t got around to upgrading from XP. They can buy expensive, custom support from Microsoft. It’ll quickly work out to be more costly than upgrading.

The British and Dutch governments have signed up to pay. So have US government departments. It’s not as if they haven’t had years to get ready for the end of XP support.

Small companies and individuals don’t even have the option of a support contract. When, last November, I asked Microsoft NZ’s Dean Edwards if they could buy custom support he said prices are likely to start in the million dollar range.

Heartbleed wake-up call

While the Heartbleed exploit doesn’t specifically attack Windows, as far as we know, it is a wake-up call. The bug attacks websites and no doubt Windows XP equipped computers will connect to those sites. Microsoft isn’t planning to update XP to deal with the risks, so, days after the end of support XP users are already on the back-foot when it comes to the biggest threat in recent times.

If you simply must use XP, consider a third-party security product. There are free ones, but the best require a subscription, you may be better off tipping that money into newer kit. And be warned, while third-party security software companies will carry on supporting XP for as long as there’s a viable market, that may not be long. At best you’ll get a couple of years.

Although I’m usually supportive of people eking out their technology for as long as possible — a lot of upgrades don’t bring productivity gains — my advice is to move on from XP as soon as possible. Decent spanking new Windows 8 laptops and desktops (without touch screens) can be had for less than $500. There’s at least one Windows laptop on sale in New Zealand for around $400.

Frankly, if XP is meeting all your needs, then you could probably get buy with a tablet. They can be even cheaper. One simple security breach could cost you so much more than new kit. Upgrade. Please.