Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Windows 10’s upgrade model temporarily wipes $1.6B from Microsoft’s books

Company defers Windows 10 revenue for two to four years because of free upgrades and updates

Microsoft’s decision to radically change the distribution and maintenance of Windows 10 put a $1.6 billion temporary dent in its revenue, the company said Thursday.

In a filing covering the March quarter, Microsoft pointed to the revenue deferral of Windows 10 — a relatively new way of accounting for the Redmond, Wash. company — as a reason for the 6% year-over-year decline in revenue.

“Revenue decreased $1.2 billion or 6%, primarily due to the impact of a net revenue deferral related to Windows 10 of $1.6 billion and an unfavorable foreign currency impact of approximately $838 million or 4%,” Microsoft’s 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) stated.

The $1.6 billion in Windows 10 revenue during the March quarter didn’t actually vanish: It was instead deferred and will hit the bottom line over the next two to four years.

Last year, when Microsoft outlined and then released Windows 10, it announced that it had to change how it accounted for sales because of its promise that upgrades and updates for the new operating system would be free.

For accounting purposes, a free upgrade requires a company to set aside some revenue from the sale of the affected software — in this case, Windows 10 — then recognize that revenue only when the upgrade is released. All the revenue from the software sale is eventually recorded, but at staggered intervals.

In Windows 10’s case, the interval varies between two and four years. Microsoft has never explicitly spelled out what Windows 10 sales are recognized in two years, which in three, and those in four. Instead, the company first said that deferral length would depend on the lifetime of the supported device, then added that “customer type” would determine the lifespan.

Microsoft does financial acrobatics to deal with the deferrals. It continues to record revenue as it has in the past, but then debits the “Corporate and Other” reporting segment by pro-rated amounts over the lifespan of the license. For $300 of revenue over a three-year stretch of Windows 10 Pro, for instance, Microsoft would recognize $100 in Year 1 — that money returned to the balance sheet in the Corporate and Other group — and defer the remaining for the second and third years, booking $100 in each. At the end of the three years, the full $300 will have been recognized.

If the deferral debits were eliminated, the company would have announced revenue of $22.1 billion for the quarter, not the $20.5 billion it did.

However, the deferred Windows 10 revenue didn’t change the revenue and operating income numbers for the More Personal Computing (MPC) division — a 2015 creation that includes Windows, Microsoft’s Lumia and Surface devices, gaming, and search — because sales immediately land under the group’s line.

MPC revenue increased in the first quarter, a change from recent reporting periods, which have seen declines: Revenue was $9.5 billion, up almost 1% from the same period in 2015. But Windows revenue was down.

Sales of licenses to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) — the bulk of Windows revenue — declined 2% year over year, with what Microsoft dubs “Pro” licenses, the more expensive versions of Windows aimed at businesses, down 11%.

As it has for years, Microsoft again blamed the struggling PC business for the decline in Windows revenue. Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood called the PC market’s March quarter “weaker than we expected” during yesterday’s call with Wall Street.

PC shipments in 2016’s first quarter declined by 11.5%, researcher IDC said last week. Rival Gartner pegged the downturn at 9.6%.

Hood attributed the 11% drop in OEM Pro revenue to “higher inventory levels” in the December quarter. Translation: Computer makers stuffed the channel with PCs late last year, then sold fewer than they had expected, leaving too many on shelves and in warehouses with licenses paid for in 2015.

Ironically, sales of consumer-grade licenses to OEMs increased by 15%, Hood said, crediting a “higher-than-expected mix of premium devices” for the upturn. She presumably meant the more expensive — and larger — tablets and 2-in-1s, and the pricier PCs. Both IDC and Gartner have repeatedly said that consumer PC sales have tanked because people aren’t replacing their aged systems after shifting much of their time on PCs to smartphones, and to a lesser degree, tablets.

Microsoft does not share the specific revenue figures for Pro and “non-Pro” license sales — the latter represent the consumer-quality versions — but the former again brought in more money than the latter during the quarter.

That will continue, Hood said as she issued her forecast for the quarter ending June 30, Microsoft’s final for its 2016 fiscal year. “In Windows, we expect our OEM Pro revenue to be largely in line with the commercial PC market,” she said, referring to the continuing decline now expected. “Our non-Pro revenue is expected to be above the consumer PC market, similar to what we saw in [the March quarter].”

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Exam MB6-701 Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 Retail

Published: June 30, 2014
Languages: English
Audiences: Information workers
Technology: Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012
Credit toward certification: MCP

Skills measured
This exam measures your ability to accomplish the technical tasks listed below. The percentages indicate the relative weight of each major topic area on the exam. The higher the percentage, the more questions you are likely to see on that content area on the exam. View video tutorials about the variety of question types on Microsoft exams.

Please note that the questions may test on, but will not be limited to, the topics described in the bulleted text.

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Setup and configure organizational parameters (15-20%)
Model an organization
Create models of organizations; create and modify organization hierarchies; create and modify an operating unit; apply best practices to organizational models
Configure retail parameters
Create and configure a retail workflow; manage reason and sub codes; manage operating units; define retail parameters; setup sales tax; define payment methods
Integrate stores
Configure Commerce Data Exchange services; configure the async server profile; work with channels; setup up store locator
Manage retail channels
Build an online store; configure social and marketplace integration; integrate a call center; create a warehouse; create retail stores

Setup and configure point of sale (POS) (15-20%)
Perform POS setup
Setup POS profiles (hardware, visual, receipt, etc.); build the POS to support mobile and tablet systems; configure POS extensibility features; determine the database connection status
Configure POS terminals
Configure a receipt format; setup keyboard mappings; configure POS permission groups; create screen layouts that use button grids and images; configure drawer operations; customize POS buttons
Configure barcodes and labels
Create barcodes for specific products, print shelf labels, create barcode masks, view the barcode for a specific product

Setup and configure products (15-20%)
Configure basic product parameters
Create a product; modify a product’s attributes; create a product master or variant; implement product translations, create, assemble, and sell kits
Build product category hierarchies
Create a category hierarchy; maintain the hierarchy; bulk edit a category; create a virtual catalog
Manage pricing discounts
Apply a discount period; give quantity discounts; discount products based on catalogs; adjust prices
Release products
Look up price list, discounts, sales transactions of a product; link products; check the product
Connect vendor information to products
Setup price margin on a product; determine the price point of a product; add vendor product numbers to a product

Manage retail operations (15-20%)
Manage workers
Setup a job; setup a worker; import user profiles; implement role-based security for retail; manage shifts
Report on retail information
Report on store metrics; generate sales reports; analyze sales; generate statements
Implement customer loyalty schemes and gift cards
Create a loyalty customer; build a customer loyalty scheme; report on customer loyalty; add products to loyalty schemes; create cross-company gift cards
Manage journals
Create a statement; calculate a statement; post a statement; configure batch processes to create statements
Manage inventory replenishment
Build replenishment rules; create and transfer orders; cross dock for product distribution; create a replenishment hierarchy

Conduct retail activities (15-20%)
Perform POS operations
Conduct a transaction; override a price; hold and recall a transaction; configure product and transaction attributes; void a transaction and payment
Make a customer quotation
Create a customer quotation; modify a customer quotation; convert a quotation to a sales order; cancel a customer quotation
Manage sale orders
Create, modify, recall and cancel a sales order; return a sale; picking up an order; change an order’s delivery method; issue credits; configure and accept deposits

Manage enterprise operations (15-20%)
Manage the retail transaction service
Configure the service connections; determine requirements for the retail transaction service; configure the retail transaction service for sales orders, sales invoices, returns, stock counting inventory, purchase orders and transfer orders
Perform retail operations using the enterprise portal
Login in to the portal; view reports for different roles; perform a stock count; receive a PO or transfer; receive and complete an order
Manage a call center
Create a sales order; provide customer service; upsell and cross-sell products; provide telesales scripts; manage payments


QUESTION 1
You are setting up a new store channel in Microsoft Dynamics AX 20012 R3.
You need to define the following receipt numbers sequence format:
[Store Number] [Terminal Number] [7 Digits] [“A”].
Which form should you use?

A. Functionality Profile form
B. Receipt Profile form
C. Number Sequence form
D. Receipt Layout form

Answer: A


QUESTION 2
You are responsible for maintaining sales quotations in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 for your company’s headquarters.
You have several quotations originally created in Enterprise point of sale (ePOS) for which the customers did not return to place an order.
You need to delete these quotations.
What should the status of the quotations be in order for you to delete them?

A. Sent
B. Confirmed
C. Lost
D. Approved

Answer: C


QUESTION 3
You are a merchandising manager for a large direct-to-consumer catalog company.
You need to provide specific product information that call center representatives can easily view as they place items on customer orders.
Which functionality in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 Retail should you deploy?

A. Target markets
B. Catalogs
C. Scripts
D. Source code

Answer: B

Explanation: Ref: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn497822.aspx


QUESTION 4
You are the distribution manager for a company. You use Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3. You are setting up cross-docking functions for planned purchase orders.
Which two items should you configure? Each correct answer presents part of the solution.

A. Date intervals
B. Product packages
C. Replenishment rules
D. Service categories

Answer: C,D

Explanation: Ref: http://technet.microsoft.com/EN-US/library/hh580575.aspx http://technet.microsoft.com/EN-US/library/hh597176.aspx


QUESTION 5
A sales associate provides a customer with a quotation for a group of items.
You need to review this order on the Enterprise Portal in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3.
Which site should you use to view this information?

A. Retail
B. Procurement
C. Customer Self-Service
D. Sales

Answer: D

 

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Rain clouds ahead: 10 bold predictions for the cloud industry in 2016

Warning signs for the cloud heading into 2016.

While I don’t like interrupting anyone’s business plans in particular, I have a jaundiced eye towards how clouds are bringing us rain, and how in 2016, the rain will drench us and try to drown us in data.

1. More cloud services shakeout/shakeup
Already we’ve seen the shakeout begin. HP Helion is now adjunct to HP’s old ally Microsoft and its Azure Cloud. Microsoft, which is in turn now scared to death of unlimited storage and the resources it’s chewing up, imposed strictures to OneDrive. No more happy terabytes with a license of Windows 10.

Portals as a business investment are down. Yahoo tried to do things with Flickr, but now seems poised to sell much of their non-Alibaba holdings. There are many minor portal players still in the game, but Facebook, the world’s greatest time suck, challenges all.

Here’s where I believe that something will happen: cloud storage will grow slowly, but steadily (see No. 3) because as we all know, nobody erases anything, and data will grow to fill the space allocated to it. How much junk is snoozing in your SAN? Been on Pinterest or Instagram recently?

2. Digital encryption divides will cause massive cloud exception handling

As the SHA-1 encryption protocol is retired, websites will be pushing users from the cliff of dead encryption. SHA-1 doesn’t take much computing power to use, and its users are generally those with old phones, ancient operating systems on slow desktop and notebook hardware, and even early (and cheap) tablets. Will users of low-value equipment be able to successfully transition back to the web?

Once the lights are turned off on SHA-1, easy-to-do encryption by millions of older devices will be eliminated. So will those users’ ability to run simple https web pages.

3. Chromebooks become the cloud access device of choice

As cloud app savvy increases, the need for huge notebook storage and processing power is in decline. Instead, we have cloud apps, simplicity, and generally less stuff to worry about being stolen or replaced. It becomes much more troubling for companies that make traditional stuff, as production lines shift rapidly towards Chromebook sleekness as the alternate device to a smartphone.

4. Your television now rats you out to the cloud (and maybe IoT, too!)

Huge unsorted piles of data are being generated by your holiday gift of digital ears in the living room. Yes, that cute little Samsung television is trying to take as much data as is rationally possible and transmit it to motherships for purposes of analysis.

At Best Buys or the Big Box, you’ll need to carefully read the terms of service (oh, right, it’s in the box) prior to connecting that TV to your Wi-Fi. And wear your bathrobe, please.

Great piles of data grub might be something you’ve actually enabled yourself via Amazon’s Echo, Siri, Cortana, and the myriad new verbal assistants that not only are incredibly handy, but which know your location and are dutifully listening for your next command.

When will the temptation for organizations to just, well, analyze everything you do commence? How are you sure it’s not happening right now? Plenty of people put black tape over the cameras on their tablets (perhaps for good reason, too) knowing that the cloud is like a sieve for your personal information. And IoT Analytics will strengthen as an industry. My stepson once wore tinfoil for a short period of time, carefully on his head. He was a pioneer.

5. OpenStack recipes for cloud containers become dominant

So you wanted to cook in The Cloud, eh? You’re not alone. Now that there’s an Open Container Initiative with seeming teeth, battles over deployed systems security provenance may be quieted, at least for a while. Value-added pieces evolve, with Food Channel-like organizations booming to provide Container Stir Fry, Seasoning Salts, and the infrastructure bits.

This also means that the dreaded specter of inter-stack organization harmony will be given more than superficial lip service, as each release of OpenStack requires even more studied intimacy at the API levels. Glue apps and components will do their best to become stickier and stickier as the elements of OpenStack look less like a stack and more like a homogeneous methodology. My prediction: OpenStack Releases actually slow down as adoption climbs, and more cooks get into the OpenStack kitchens, potentially causing drain sludge.

6. New for 2016: Huge Organization-as-a-Service (or, HOaaS)
Huge-Organization-as-a-Service (HOaaS) like the Dell-EMC-VMware merger will become commonplace, as Oracle, IBM, Dell, Microsoft, and even Rackspace attempt to eat Amazon’s lunch. Dazzling, dizzying, and absolutely opaque-to-compare offerings will emerge, with price lists published bi-weekly (daily in Washington, DC) in an attempt to spark a cloud services market share war, if only for stockholder visibility as everyone tries to remain relevant.

The HOaaS idea, time-honored, is that organizations that are busy, resource-challenged, or in need of that certain propellant that takes them either wholesale or a little bit into The Cloud sometimes need to obtain all of their kit from just one contact that they can scream at when things go awry—or they want to expand it all. The One Stop Shop approach has merit for many reasons, and in The Cloud, captivity may not be as difficult, due to an increasing number of cloud transport/mirroring apps.

This is a space where some organizations will put on bright, shiny new clothing, dubbing themselves newly evangelized (and Suddenly Agile!) service providers, while behind the curtains, the same old smoke and dance will fail to enchant all but their leaden client base. HOaaS will need to be fleet-of-foot to survive the tracks laid down by the leaders.

7. Content distribution networks meet NFV

CDNs are blossoming like tulips in Holland. They’re the only way that many cloud providers are surviving, as NetFlix, iTunes, and even captive CDNs from Microsoft and Amazon attempt to service their clientele. But the ability to rapidly reconfigure and take advantage of regionalized content distribution for cloud-to-branch and SafeHarbor quarantine means rapid configurations as situations warrant.

Open a pack of NVF—network virtualized functionality—sprinkle across your network bottlenecks, and suddenly inter-carrier operations and network reconfigurations become a cinch!

Ok, perhaps it’s not going to be prevalent in 2016 or even 2017, but the primitives are starting to emerge that allow large cloud clientele to do rapid network reconfigurations that permit major CDN functionality changes—especially within the spreading circuits of major cloud providers done in minutes, not months.

Will NVF and SDNs mean the difference between servicing all the queues or extreme network cloud constipation? We’ll soon find out!

8. 2016: The Year of the Consumer Cloud

Although Microsoft and phone service providers have begun to impose constraints on the concept of “unlimited,” the number of online streaming and storage services will rise and clog networks like no time in history, I predict. Whether social media, services applications, or raw storage, consumers are adapting to offloading their lives into The Cloud.

Why? Chromebooks, tablets, and other generally cloud-serviced devices will continue to dominate sales. People hate to back up. Some have never done this. Worse: some businesses never do this. Still worse: some government agencies don’t either.

As HTML5 grows up, web services—oops, “cloud services”—will continue to grow. Consumers, finding that that a 16GB iPhone or 32GB NextBook are simply too small for their storage needs will be happy to avail themselves of network storage, backup, archiving, and not having to take out the trash.

In some ways, The Cloud is like computational crack: once addicted, walking away might be murderous.

9. The international data blockade year begins

Without new treaties, cloud services and providers will now need to sequester data into various new international geographic regions. The European Union now bars many kinds of international data transfers, allowing Safe Harbor agreements that once permitted such transfers to push cloud providers into dividing data—and data business locales.

Data must now have provenance, kind of like fish and wine, so that we know varying rules and regulations—largely meeting the needs of privacy—aren’t violated. Many cloud hosting organizations are opening multi-national hosting sites for nexus, so as to comply with privacy regulations. How does a German traveling in Aruba deal with data sequestering? How about my upcoming trip to Barcelona? Can I email home? What about those ads I’ll click on while in Catalunya? Does my click stay in Catalunya, or is it MY click, and can it go home with me? Must Cortana speak Catalunyan and not Castillian Spanish? Can I use sign language?

The devil of the details of what Safe Harbor and data sequestering mean must become the crux of policy—not easily negotiated in a U.S. Presidential election year. In the interim, many in the cloud services sector are looking very closely at outcomes as infrastructure becomes replicated into the EU, but also Canada, and soon, great walls of data will become the norm…until something else happens.

10. Cars meet cloud

Although a slow maturation in automobile (and service vehicle) data has been around for a while, virtually all cars today have a transponder built in to them. Whether it’s autopilot or GPS suggesting the nearest Starbucks, cars will talk to the cloud, each other, hoarders and sifters of Big Data, and perhaps emergency responders (as some do now). There is money to be made. As usual, it’s money first, and not security and safety. This fact will become amplified in 2016, I predict.

What’s woefully apparent is that car cloud security is as primitive as a bad password on a good day. It’s become the crux of lots of laughter and mayhem at BlackHat. So gruesomely bad are the minimums—car door locks—that key replicators pop up in disguise on eBay frequently. And nothing talks to nothing.

There is little interoperability among car manufacturers, each of whom traditionally invents its own secret sauces, and with luck, OEMs them to each other. Once automotive cloud sites are breached—which they inevitably will be—the hardwired-thinking and design of automotive cloud technology will be devilishly difficult to repair, recall, or retrofit. Worse, at 80mph on a Wyoming freeway, it could mean death and litigation, the size of which must cause insurance company actuaries to awaken in cold sweats in the middle of the night.

But hey, it’s the cloud. Damn the security, full profits ahead!

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Are your IT certifications Helping your career?

There is no shortage of ways to advance your career, or your earnings potential. Racking up a bunch of certifications is one of them. But be careful it doesn’t have the opposite effect.

Specialization creates tremendous value in our economy. Adam Smith’s economic theory on the merits of specialization has been proven true over and over again. Yet, can you have too much of a good thing? That’s an important question for technology professionals and leaders to consider.

Key facts about IT specialization

How rampant is the scope of the IT specialization? Consider these facts:
IT specialization by industry. Following the 2007-2009 recession, many IT professionals have changed their focus to healthcare because that sector is adopting technology rapidly to improve care and comply with regulations. A 2015 Modus survey found that healthcare and education are forecasted to have the most significant need for technology talent. The increasing rise of start-ups focused on niche markets and products is another factor encouraging specialization.

IT certifications. There are more than 100 certifications available to IT professionals, including such popular one as the Project Management Professional (PMP), Microsoft certifications, ISACA certifications, Cisco certifications and Oracle certifications. Oracle, it should be noted, offers more than 30 certifications related to their products.

IT job titles. There are dozens of popular IT job roles in the market. Some titles reflect seniority (e.g. Developer vs Senior Developer, Software Engineer I vs Software Engineer II) while others speak to a technical focus (e.g. Infrastructure Manager and Java Developer).

Specialization means different things to different people. A college graduate might think of specialization in terms of hardware or software engineering. In contrast, a highly experienced developer may specialize in a certain flavor of Linux or the C# programming language.

Surely all this specialization leads to economic value, right? One way to answer that question is to look at data collected by recruiters.
The recruiter’s perspective: specialization boosts salaries … to a point

Recruiters have a unique perspective on technology talent and in-demand skills. After all, they’re interacting with a large number of candidates each year, and are able to determine which skills are valuable. According to Robert Half’s 2016 Salary Guide for Technology Professionals, some of the most valuable skills in demand in the U.S. right now include the following:

Microsoft SQL Server database skills: Adds 10 percent to salary.
Java development skills: Adds 9 percent to salary.
Microsoft Sharepoint skills: Add 9 percent to salary.
Cisco network administration skills: Adds 9 percent to salary.
Virtualization skills: Adds 8 percent to salary.

Those salary increases will vary by region and vertical industry, of course. But the above trends suggest a clear pattern: Becoming a specialist with a given company’s technology suite (e.g. Cisco and Microsoft) is an excellent way to build your compensation bracket. It’s also worth noting that Cisco and Microsoft are both large, well-established companies that have built loyal customer bases across corporate America. Specializing in software offered by smaller companies offering similar products and services may not add value because employers will not be able to understand or make use of them.

The way forward for your development: technical and leadership skills

Developing your career in the technology industry is a major challenge. In some cases, you may receive guidance from your managers and peers. In other situations, you’ll be left to your own devices. As you navigate to career success, there are two tracks to pursue in your professional development.

First, pursue the technical skills and knowledge you need to be successful in your current role. For example, you may specialize in Microsoft or Oracle products – applications that are in high demand according to recent research. These technical skills, especially for individual contributors, give you the ability to create results and earn credibility.

Second, look for nontechnology training and development to distinguish yourself from other technology professionals. If you frequently work with vendors, pursuing study in communication and negotiation training make sense. If your company is based in another country, you may want to add language skills to your toolbox.

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Router Gateway hackers and internet

The device that connects us to the Internet is dangerously vulnerable, security experts say. And while there are some signs of impending improvements, not much has happened in the past several years, while the threats have grown

It is generally accepted in IT that the weakest link in the security chain is the fallible and frequently careless human.

But a close second, many experts say, is the router – the device that connects people to the Web, sometimes called “the backbone of the Internet” – which is dangerously vulnerable to skilled hackers.

Those experts have been issuing alarms for some time, but they say that, so far, things have not changed much.
Dan Geer, chief information security officer at the venture capital firm In-Q-Tel and an adviser to U.S. intelligence agencies, speaking to a conference in Cambridge, Mass., more than a year ago, said most routers are almost comically insecure, given that they have, “drivers and operating systems amounting to snapshots of the state of Linux, plus the lowest-end commodity chips extant at the time of the router’s design.”

The only way to fix the problem, he said, would be to, “unplug all the devices, throw them in the dumpster and install all new ones.”
MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Free security tools you should try

And that wouldn’t fix it either, because the new ones are, “likely to have the same vulnerability spectrum that made this possible in the first place,” he said.

Jim Gettys, a systems architect, said last year that he had inventoried the age of the packages inside a number of routers, “and they are three to four years old on Day One. And without an update stream, you start with existing vulnerabilities, and it just gets worse from there.”

In an interview this past week, Gettys said he had, “seen little change in the market.”
Bruce Schneier, encryption guru and CTO at Resilient Systems, wrote more than a year ago in a blog post that, “the computers in our routers and modems are much more powerful than the PCs of the mid-1990s,” and warned that if security vulnerabilities in them are not fixed soon, “we’re in for a security disaster, as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers.”

Such security holes can allow hackers to access files, install malware on a network or use a victim’s security cameras to spy on him, without needing access to the computer hardware.

In a more recent interview with Network World this past April, Schneier said basically the same thing Geer had said a year earlier: “Do you know the way you patch your home router? You throw it away and buy a new one. And that is going to be a freakin’ disaster … Low cost, binary blobs, no one knows how they work, there’s no one to update them, lots of vulnerabilities, and we’re just stuck with it.”

How to Find Hidden Malware Lurking in Your Systems
And even if updates are available, they are too difficult to install for the average user, said Lawrence Munro, director at Trustwave.

“The key issue is that upgrading is almost always a manual process that is likely beyond the skill level of a home-user,” he said, “and patches aren’t available quickly in many cases.”
“The key issue is that upgrading is almost always a manual process that is likely beyond the skill level of a home-user.”

Lawrence Munro, director, Trustwave
Indeed, last December, US-CERT, part of the Department of Homeland Security, warned broadband router manufacturers about a vulnerability called “Misfortune Cookie” that been patched more than 10 years ago, but was still present on many deployed devices.

Researchers at Check Point’s malware and vulnerability group, who came up with the name, noted that, “if your gateway device is vulnerable, then any device connected to your network – including computers, phones, tablets, printers, security cameras, refrigerators, toasters or any other networked device in your home or office network – may have increased risk of compromise.”

And Mark Stanislav, senior security consultant at Rapid7, noted this week that in a contest at last year’s Def Con, hackers were able to demonstrate 15 zero-day vulnerabilities in more than a half-dozen of the most common Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) routers, including models from Asus, Netgear, DLink, Belkin, Linksys, Actiontec and Trendnet.

Not surprisingly, the contest was titled, “SOHOpelessly Broken.”
If it really is this bad, however, it would seem there would be more stories about disastrous takeovers of networks. Yet while mainstream media regularly report on major hacks, there are few, if any, headlines about router compromises.
“(Automatic firmware updates) can create new problems, especially if the user is unaware of the firmware being updated.”
markstanislav

Mark Stanislav, senior security consultant, Rapid7
That, Stanislav said, is probably in part because the average consumer may not even know what a router is. And, “the impact to an individual or their home network isn’t necessarily easy to determine without a very specific review of how their device was configured, what vendor it’s from, and what firmware it’s running,” he said.

“It’s a much more layered and nuanced story than, ‘Company X was hacked, your data is now a risk.’”

Robert Siciliano, online safety expert for Intel Security, agreed. “If the flaw is too complicated for mass media to break down for the general public, they avoid discussing it,” he said.

Munro agreed, but said it is also because the media don’t find it that exciting – at least yet. Remotely hacking a car and causing it to crash catches public attention much more than explaining how a router is vulnerable.

Gettys said he thinks it is because, “it hasn’t yet hurt in the pocket book at sufficient scale in the U.S.,” but warns that the hurt is coming.

“People have not realized just how insecure these devices are, or what mischief this can cause for the customers and others – they are being increasingly used as part of botnets to attack others,” he said.
“People have not realized just how insecure these devices are, or what mischief this can cause for the customers and others.”
jimgettys

Jim Gettys, systems architect
If there is any promising news to report, it is that there seems to be a growing awareness among developers and manufacturers that there is a problem.

“IoT (Internet of Things) devices in general are starting to focus more on easy firmware updates – automated processes that don’t require user intervention, and overall longevity of hardware updates,” Stanislav said.

“This will, ideally, trickle down into the SOHO router market eventually. As design patterns and technical challenges are overcome, disseminating updates quickly will become easier for manufacturers.”

Gettys said he is hearing behind the scenes that there may be some improvements, “in not-yet-announced products; but I leave that to the manufacturers and service providers announcements to come.

“But even with these glimmers of hope, I’m discouraged, as the economic foundation of the problem has not changed,” he said, adding that changes in the law making the manufacturers of routers liable for security breaches is the only solution.

“The idea that someone can ship a product and not have any liability for even basic maintenance and upgrade of the software it contains for its expected lifetime must change,” he said. Without it, “new entrants who do a better job won’t see a reward, and will have higher costs”

Stanislav said he has seen some vendors, “take a more cloud-based approach, where updates are an ongoing process that require less user intervention. But that can create new problems, especially if the user is unaware of the firmware being updated.

“We saw some outrage in 2012 for this type of auto-upgraded firmware from Linksys. This is a balancing act that vendors are still figuring out how to weigh,” he said.

Until major improvements occur, experts collectively recommend a number of steps consumers can take that won’t solve the problem entirely, but will make them less of a target than the average user:

Change the default password to one that is unique, long and complex.
If it is impossible to upgrade your router, buy a new one that does allow it. According to Munro, “the open-source community has offered alternatives for users by creating projects such as OpenWRT and Tomato, which provide open-source firmware to replace the vendor’s on common hardware platforms.” But, implementing them, “requires a reasonable level of IT skill,” he said.


 

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Let users choose enterprise cloud applications

It will benefit your organization, make you look like a hero and increase your job security

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Asked whether he was considering a cloud application for his company, a CIO of a mid-size organization said the downside risk of ripping and replacing the company’s existing on-premises application outweighed the productivity gains the cloud application might bring. Part of that risk, he felt, was his job security.

That sentiment is common. IT professionals, after all, are responsible for keeping the organization’s applications running and ensuring the security of sensitive data. When they do decide to make a software change, IT leaders traditionally consider criteria such as:

Not that IT historically has had many options given the high barrier to entry for new enterprise technology companies. But that has changed with the emergence of thousands of cloud applications that specialize in every enterprise niche. Cloud applications enable incredibly quick and widespread adoption across an enterprise, often without committing to a long-term contract or agreement.

In fact, as we’ve seen with the BYOD/shadow IT phenomenon, end users are effectively conducting market research on cloud apps themselves, and this presents a significant opportunity. What if we flip the application selection process on its head by leveraging users to select new cloud applications? While this is not a popular suggestion, there is a way you can approach this opportunity that will not only benefit your organizations, but make you look like a hero and increase job security at the same time.

Empowering users

Going back to the CIO referenced earlier, the decision to make a change should not be focused on an IT leader choosing a cloud technology for productivity or collaboration. While chances are good the “safe” choice will guarantee one’s job, at least in the short term, the downside of this decision-making process is the likelihood that the organization will miss out on emerging tools and products that make users more productive and happy. Instead, that leader should understand what his or her users want and need, and guide the organization toward a solution that’s right for both users and IT.

For example, all of the modern mobile device management solutions and their features — managed encryption, containerization, selective wipe and the general device-agnostic nature of most — were driven by this ground-up trend. Nowhere is this more evident than in the emergence of Apple products in the enterprise. Even five years ago, workers needed to retain their Blackberry smartphones for office use while using their iPhones on nights and weekends. Today, Apple claims nearly 70% of the enterprise market and most users love carrying one device to get more work done.

If IT leaders empower their users to select cloud applications, they will experience fewer tickets and change management challenges, and cultivate more champions while reducing complaints within their user base. The now well-known advantages to the cloud come to play through this process by enabling instant acquisition and company-wide access.

Many cloud applications also offer free trial periods or monthly contracts rather than a large upfront investment, further easing the process. While this may result in more upfront work and interaction with the end users in the short term, the long term benefits of happier workers and a more productive and efficient company will quickly outweigh the initial investment.

Rather than forcing change, empowering users will position IT as a helpful guide. Here are some tips that will help the transition:
* Survey your users on their thoughts. SurveyMonkey and other free applications are great ways to anonymously gauge the applications people are already using and those they’re interested in trying out. If possible, determine what Shadow IT is already connected to business processes. Common tools like API Access Auditing, your Firewalls and 3rd party tools can let you approximate what’s in use and where and is often very telling.

* Run internal betas of the most popular products within departments. Whether it be for mail, chat, storage, collaboration or other functions, there’s a good chance some user populations have already found a great tool for improving existing company processes. This step is the time to drive the tests, make sure the products work as intended, can scale, and has the level of security and management your organization requires.

* Develop software champions. The internal test groups will be your champions; incorporate them in the roll out to improve your likelihood of buy-in across departments, as a bubble-up approach will be much more effective than a trickle-down one. Often the best rollouts involve non-IT software champions with some sort of experience related to the domain of the new app.

* Merchandise success. Build internal case studies and document the metrics of success (time saved, email exchanges avoided, price reductions, user satisfaction improvements). Watch every new app closely. Use uptime or performance tracking tools so you can deliver metrics against the old system. Check your SLAs. For example, Forrester reports that users save an average of 12 minutes per day simply by using Google Apps as their communications suite, totaling approximately 52 hours a year per employee.

* Roll out. With buy-in from your key users and support from your team, it’s time to implement the new cloud software in a deliberate and controlled fashion across the organization. For more complex cloud apps your training needs to be highly tailored to specific use cases. Encourage good habits and reward power users with tips and advanced training.

* Gauge adoption. Once the product(s) have been rolled out take the organization’s pulse and measure total adoption. If there are units or departments with issues, focus on special training to bring them into the fold and ensure uniformity.

There are many new end-user cloud productivity applications gaining converts and boosting productivity across the world, including Dropbox, Slack, Hipchat, Google Apps and Office 365, to name but a few. In fact, your company probably already has a population using some of these applications, whether on work or personal accounts. There is a reason your users have these apps, and like them — they are all class leading in what they do.

Pushing back against these upstarts only provides a temporary finger in the dike, ensuring people will figure out a way to use the applications they want to use – but in secret. After all, IT is not there to be punitive, it’s there to enable users with awesome applications while keeping them secure.

Above all, you shouldn’t delay the decision to implement new software out of fear. Users today have a much higher tolerance for change, and when it’s really bad they’re not even afraid to start asking directly for it, particularly when they understand how the new software will make them better at their jobs, save time and reduce menial tasks.
insider cloud

Thinkstock
Done the right way—with ample communication and empowering the very people who will be using it—migrating to new cloud apps will fundamentally change the way your business operates. It will even help you secure your position in the company as the hero and set your organization up for the coming decade or two. There’s no question that change is difficult. But champions exist in your organization right now, all you need to do is find them.

 

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How to uncover the Dark Web

Cybercriminals love the Dark Web because it is almost impossible to track or identify them.

One of the best ways to understand your enemy – what he’s up to, what his capabilities are and how he can damage you – is to spy on him.

And according to some cybercrime experts, one of the easier and more effective ways to do that is to hang out where the bad guys do – on the Dark Web.
security tools 1

In a recent post on Dark Reading, Jason Polancich, founder and chief architect of SurfWatch Labs, asserted that, “most businesses already have all the tools on hand for starting a low-cost, high-return Dark Web intelligence operations within their own existing IT and cybersecurity teams.”

Such a data mining operation, he wrote, could be up and running in a day.

It is widely known in IT circles that the Dark Web is a thriving cybercrime marketplace offering multiple exploits, hacking for hire, stolen personal data and intellectual property, spam and phishing campaigns, insider threats for hire and more.

It is also a relatively secure place for criminals to operate, thanks to randomness, anonymity and encryption.

But just because it is difficult to track criminals individually doesn’t mean it is impossible to conduct surveillance on what they are doing. Polancich wrote that the Dark Web is the place to, “find out what may have been stolen or used against you and improve your overall security posture to close the infiltration hole.”

Is it really that easy?
According to Kevin McAleavey, cofounder of the KNOS Project and a malware expert, “easy” may not be the right word. But “possible” definitely is.

“Can anyone do it? You bet,” he said, “but only if you’re willing to pay people to sit around and just surf. Most managers consider that ‘wasting time’ and it’s often frowned upon, but it works really well.”
“Can anyone do it? You bet, but only if you’re willing to pay people to sit around and just surf.”

He said that was one of the things he did in a previous job – “follow the bad guys back to their cave so I could see what they were working on before they released it. But it was one of the most time-consuming parts of being ahead of the curve rather than under it.”

Nicholas Albright, principal researcher, ThreatStream, agrees. “These networks seem obscure to many, but with a simple tutorial, anyone could be up and running in less time than it takes to watch an episode of ‘Mr. Robot’,” he said.

“The hardest part of monitoring is really learning where to look. Many of the sites on these obscure networks move locations or go offline periodically. However, once an individual has identified a handful of sites, they frequently lead to others.”

He also agrees with McAleavey that it is labor-intensive, and does not always yield useful intelligence. On the “slow” days, “you might not see anything of value,” he said. “Furthermore, this requires an analyst’s fingers on keyboard. Deploying a ‘tool’ to do this job is not effective. Scraper bots are detected and regularly purged.”
“Nothing can replace direct monitoring of your own networks and assets.”

Others are a bit more dubious about the average IT department doing effective Dark Web surveillance, even if the budget is there. “The task of collecting raw information itself is non-trivial,” said Dr. Fengmin Gong, cofounder and chief strategy officer at Cyphort. “And distilling the threat intelligence from the raw data is not any easier. So while it is beneficial to do it, it’s not a task that can be undertaken by an average IT department effectively.”

That, he said, is because the average IT worker doesn’t have the expertise to do it, “and it’s not easy to get up to speed. It requires understanding of threats and data mining, which is a high hurdle.”

Fred Touchette, security analyst at AppRiver, is less dubious, but said the deeper the analysis goes, the more expertise is required.

“Initial high-level research should be easily executed by any research team that knows its way around implementing Tor (The Onion Router),” he said. “Once one gets a basic understanding of how Tor is implemented and how to use it, the Dark Web is nearly as easy to navigate, albeit much slower than the regular internet.”
“Once one gets a basic understanding of how Tor is implemented and how to use it, the Dark Web is nearly as easy to navigate, albeit much slower than the regular internet.”

“And once research goes beyond passive and into trying to find and possibly purchase samples, things could get pricey,” he said. “Depending on the merchant, sometimes free samples can be obtained, but not always. From here, the same tools and expertise would be required to analyze samples.”

Easy or difficult, most experts agree that enterprises monitoring the Dark Web for threat intelligence is not yet mainstream. “I am aware of technology researchers and developers proposing this as a complementary means to security threat monitoring, but it’s not very common as an initiative taken by enterprises themselves,” Gong said.

That may change, however, as more tools become available to make surfing the Dark Web easier.

Juha Nurmi, writing on the Tor Blog, said he has been working since 2010 on developing Ahmia, an open-source search engine for Tor hidden service websites.

And Eric Michaud, founder and CEO of Rift Recon, is also CEO and cofounder of DarkSum, which launched just last week and is promoting a search engine that it calls “Google for the Dark Net.”

Michaud agrees with Gong that effective surveillance of the Dark Net would be beyond the capability of most organizations smaller than Fortune 100. But he said with a search engine like DarkSum that indexes the Dark Net, they can do it. “We make it easy,” he said.

McAleavey said he has already done it. “All it really takes is setting up a couple of machines to crawl the Tor network with a dictionary list of interesting keywords to match up with, and then let it rip,” he said.

“Once the results have been put into the database of what was found and where, human analysts can then fire up a Tor browser and check out what the crawler found. The more keywords you have, the more results you’ll get, and the more people you have to rifle through it all, the better the chances of finding the needles in that haystack.”

Of course, indexing the Dark Web is not static. As McAleavey notes, sites on the Tor network, “often change their address every few hours or every few days, so you need to crawl again looking for those sites of interest because they probably moved since the last time you crawled.”

Michaud agreed, but said it is possible to keep up with address changes. While he wouldn’t discuss the techniques his company uses to do it, “we do it really well,” he said.

Whether it is worth the time and expense to conduct Dark Web surveillance is also a matter of debate. Gong contends that while it is helpful as a “layer” of security, it is not easy to do well. “It requires both sophisticated infrastructure and technical skills that are not trivial to establish,” he said, adding that, “it is not very crucial or affordable for an enterprise IT to pull off by itself.”

And he believes there is, “nothing that can replace direct monitoring of your own networks and assets.”

But Michaud said as it becomes easier and cheaper, it will be a necessary part of a security operation. “Enterprises are scared,” he said, “because they know they will be held responsible for data breaches if they aren’t proactive.

“If you’re just being defensive, you’re going to have a bad day.”


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Windows 10 is possibly the worst spyware ever made

Buried in the service agreement is permission to poke through everything on your PC.

The usual bumps of an OS launch are understandable and forgivable, but some of the terms of the end user service agreement for Windows 10 put the NSA to shame.

Microsoft is already getting heat after it was found that Windows 10 was being auto-downloaded to user PCs without warning, and more seriously, that it was using the Internet connections of Windows 10 users to deliver Windows 10 and updates to others.

But there are worse offenders. Microsoft’s service agreement is a monstrous 12,000 words in length, about the size of a novella. And who reads those, right? Well, here’s one excerpt from Microsoft’s terms of use that you might want to read:

We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to.

EFF, where are you?
The good news is you can opt out of that feature, but the bad news is it defaults to on. You have to go to the Settings and then open the Privacy applet, where you are greeted with 13 different screens to weed through. Most of the offenders are on the General tab, but you really should go through all tabs, such as what types of data each app on your system can access.
See also: How to change Windows 10’s default privacy settings

Second, Cortana proves problematic because it has access to your camera and microphone, and more importantly, it has access to your contacts, calendar, and probably all of your documents. You can turn this off in the Speech applet.

Next, the new Edge browser has its own share of new problems. Its integrated PDF and Adobe Flash reader has raised some alarms at Trend Micro. Trend is also concerned about the support for asm.js, a JavaScript subset from Mozilla that has been attacked before. However, Trend does like Edge overall.

Overall, we believe that Edge has reached a security parity with the Google Chrome browser, with both markedly superior to Mozilla Firefox. However, multiple attack surfaces still remain which can be used by an attacker. Given the sophistication and demands on modern browsers, this may well be inevitable.

Edge also comes with personalized ads, which can also be disabled.

There is other potential for exploitation. A Microsoft account is mandatory for many services, including Skype. This gives Microsoft more potential to collect info on you that you have to turn off.

Plus, Wi-Fi sharing defaults to on. That means you will be sharing your Internet connection with your neighbors if you leave it in its default state. So you have to open the settings and turn that off, too.

It seems like you will spend the first 10 to 15 minutes of using Windows 10 turning off all of the privacy-shredding settings. It will be interesting to see the fallout as more is uncovered.


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After losing Photos, is Google+ circling the drain?

Google says it’s committed to its social net, but analysts have doubts

If shutting down Google+ Photos isn’t the death knell for the social network, it at least indicates that Google is losing interest in the site.

“Long-term, it can’t be a good thing to have services removed from Google+,” Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, said about Monday’s announcement that Google is shuttering Google+ Photos. “I think removing services puts Google+ in greater peril than if Google was centralizing core services within the social network.”

Last year, Google separated its popular Hangout feature from Google+, where it had originated.

Despite these moves, Google said it is staying strong behind its social network.

“We’re committed to Google+ and are actively investing in it,” a Google spokesman said in an email to Computerworld. “We are incredibly focused on making it the best place to engage with others around interests and shared passions. Our most engaged Google+ users are connecting over topics ranging from home brewing to steam punk to tarantulas. And we want to build an even stronger community based around these connections.”

Google said is shutting down Google+ Photos first from Android and then from the Web and iOS. Photos has been one of the most popular features of the struggling social network, which never quite got the momentum or user affection that many had expected when it was launched in 2011.

The move comes just a few months after Google launched Photos, an app separate from Google+ that’s designed to help users to easily organize, edit and share their photos and videos.

At that time, Google also backed Google+.

“I can commit to … Google+,” Bradley Horowitz, vice president of photos and streams, said during Google I/O this past May. “It has an excellent team behind it. Some new blood has been brought in. There’s been a renaissance in thinking of Google+. It’s working really well in connecting people with shared interests.”

Shimmin noted that the move is more about the need for Google to better compete on mobile with rivals than plans to shutter Goole+.

“I think it’s more of a response to what’s happening in the marketplace,” he added. “Apple and Microsoft have been prioritizing photography as a means of maximizing their investment in mobile clients. What do we do with our phones? We take pictures with them. It’s not the best practice that anyone you share a photo with has to have an account in a particular social network.”

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said Google is trying to simplify things by having just a stand-alone Photo app.

“To a certain extent, they believe the stand-alone app will be more compelling if it isn’t concealed under Google+, which hasn’t been as successful as they had hoped,” he added. “Though, it does look like they are pulling emphasis from Google+, which would be an early indicator they are losing interest in it.”

If that’s the case, Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, is only surprised it’s taken so long.

“I have been waiting for Google+ to start shutting down since they started,” he said. “I think if Google could transform and improve Google+, they would have already.”

Kagan doesn’t buy Google’s reassurances about the site.

“This is a bad sign,” he said. “It sounds like it may be the beginning of the end for Google+.”


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Best office apps for Android, round 3

Microsoft’s Office apps are finally available for Android smartphones and tablets. Here’s how they stack up against past favorites

Getting serious about mobile productivity
We live in an increasingly mobile world — and while many of us spend our days working on traditional desktops or laptops, we also frequently find ourselves on the road and relying on tablets or smartphones to stay connected and get work done.

So where do you turn when it’s time for serious productivity on an Android device? The Google Play Store boasts several popular office suite options; at a glance, they all look fairly comparable. But don’t be fooled: All Android office apps are not created equal.

I’ve spent many hours testing and revisiting the six most noteworthy Android office suites — DataViz’s Docs to Go; Google’s Docs, Sheets, and Slides; Infraware’s Polaris Office; Kingsoft’s WPS Mobile Office; MobiSystems’ OfficeSuite 8; and Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which finally became available for both phones and tablets in June — to see where they shine and where they fall short. I looked at how each suite handles word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation editing — both in terms of the features offered and regarding user interface and experience. I took both tablet and smartphone performance into consideration.

Click through for a detailed analysis; by the time you’re done, you’ll have a crystal-clear idea of which Android office suite is right for you.

Best Android word processor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
MobiSystems’ OfficeSuite 8 offers a desktop-class word processing experience that no competitor — even with Microsoft in the fray — can match. The UI is clean, easy to use, and intelligently designed to expand to a tablet-optimized setup. Its robust set of editing tools is organized into easily accessible on-screen tabs on a tablet (and condensed into drop-down menus on a phone). OfficeSuite 8 provides practically everything you need, from basic formatting to advanced table creation and manipulation utilities. You can insert images, shapes, and freehand drawings; add and view comments; track, accept, and reject changes; spell-check; and calculate word counts. There’s even a native PDF markup utility, PDF export, and the ability to print to a cloud-connected printer.

OfficeSuite 8 works with locally stored Word-formatted files and connects directly to a wide range of cloud storage services — Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, OneDrive, and Amazon Cloud Drive — enabling you to view and edit documents without having to download or manually sync your work.

The only real downside to OfficeSuite 8 is its pricing model and convoluted sales approach. Search the Play Store, and you’ll find three separate offerings from MobiSystems: a free app, OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter; a $14.99 app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro + PDF; and another free app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro (Trial). The company also sells a dizzying array of add-ons that range in price from free to $30.

But wait — it gets even more complex: The top-of-the-line OfficeSuite 8 version reviewed here is accessible only by downloading the free OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter app, then following the link on the app’s main screen to upgrade to the Premium level. That gives you the most fully featured setup available — but it now requires an ongoing $19.99 yearly subscription to maintain (a change from when we last reviewed the product earlier this year). Regardless of the app’s quality, a recurring cost may be a tough pill to swallow — especially if you don’t have an expense account to lean on.

The best choice without a recurring fee is the $14.99 OfficeSuite 8 Pro version. That app is identical to the Premium app in UI and provides most of the same core features, with two noteworthy exceptions: a robust spell-check function (the Pro version’s editor will identify misspelled words inline but not offer suggestions) and support for a full range of standard fonts. (The Premium app does have a few other additional features, like an integrated photo editor, PDF scanner, and custom predictive keyboard, but those elements aren’t related to the core office experience and can easily be found in other third-party apps.)

To add those two noted omissions to the Pro version — you’ll probably want to get the fonts, at the least — you’ll need to pay $9.99 apiece for MobiSystems’ QuickSpell and Font Pack add-ons, which integrate with the app and fill the respective voids. Adding both elements to the Pro version would bring your grand total to a one-time payment of $34.97 — which, while not inexpensive, may be a better value than the Premium app’s $20 annual recurring fee for most users. Adding even one of those two extra elements would bring the total to $24.98, which is reasonable for what Pro offers.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: MobiSystems

Runner-up Android word processor: Microsoft Word
Microsoft’s Word app for Android is full of functionality but at times lacks finesse. On the tablet front, Word provides an interface that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s used Microsoft’s office suite on other platforms — and while it isn’t quite as intuitive or native-feeling to Android as OfficeSuite 8, it’s easy enough to figure out. (Some of the more problematic UI issues I identified in my initial review of the app have been rectified with recent updates.)

On the phone front, however, Microsoft falters. In its attempt to scale the app to a smaller screen, Microsoft has created a UI that’s clumsy and awkward in real-world use. Most commands are hidden behind a single editing icon at the top of the screen; tapping that icon brings up a bizarre bottom-of-screen panel that takes up half the interface, thus leaving you with little room to see your actual document. You also can’t use your on-screen keyboard while the editing panel is open, which is plain strange.

Interface aside, Word lacks advanced features that are present in other word processors, like real-time collaboration (which, curiously, is a core feature of Microsoft’s main Office 365 product) along with automatic saving, the ability to handle PDFs and other alternate file formats, and password protection — and it requires an ongoing monthly subscription if you want access to certain basic features like inserting page breaks or tracking and reviewing changes. Microsoft’s app is also limited in its cloud connectivity options, with OneDrive and Dropbox as the only choices available.

For many users, though, the familiarity of Microsoft’s software will serve as a strong advantage — and those who already subscribe to Office 365 in particular may be won over by the relatively consistent experience across platforms. Even with its drawbacks and limitations, Word for Android is a contender worth considering.

App: Microsoft Word
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android word processors
Google’s free Google Docs is a usable tool for folks with basic editing needs, especially those already invested in the Google ecosystem. While nowhere near as fully featured as other word processors, Docs excels at cross-device synchronization and multiuser collaboration: The app syncs changes instantly and automatically as you work. As such, you can access a document simultaneously from your phone, tablet, or computer, and the edits and additions show up in real-time on all devices. You can also invite other users into the real-time editing process and keep in contact with them via in-document commenting.

Infraware’s Polaris Office is a decent word processor held back by pesky UI quirks and an absurdly overpriced full-feature upgrade option. The app’s editor was clearly created for smartphones; as a result, it delivers a subpar tablet experience with basic commands tucked away and features stuffed into short windows that sometimes require awkward scrolling to see all the content. Polaris also requires you to create an account before using the app and pushes its $40-a-year membership fee to gain access to certain features — including PDF exporting, full cloud connectivity support, and the company’s own superfluous cloud storage service.

Kingsoft’s free WPS Mobile Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) has a decent UI but can be slow to open files. I also found it somewhat buggy and inconsistent: When attempting to edit existing Word documents in WPS, for instance, it typically takes several seconds for the virtual keyboard to appear — which I haven’t experienced with any other app. (I experienced this on multiple devices with WPS, so it wasn’t specific to any one phone or tablet.)

DataViz’s Docs to Go (formerly Documents to Go) has a dated, inefficient UI, with basic commands buried behind layers of pop-up menus and a design reminiscent of Android’s 2010 Gingerbread era. While it offers a reasonable set of features, it lacks functionality like image insertion and spell check; also, it’s difficult to find and open locally stored documents. In addition, it requires a $14.99 Premium Key to remove ads peppered throughout the program and to gain access to any cloud storage capabilities.

Best Android spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
With its outstanding user interface and comprehensive range of features, OfficeSuite 8 stands out above the rest in the realm of spreadsheets. Like its word processor, MobiSystems’ spreadsheet editor is clean, easy to use, and fully adaptive to the tablet form.

It’s fully featured, too, with all the mathematical functions you’d expect organized into intuitive categories and easily accessible via a prominent dedicated on-screen button. Other commands are broken down into standard top-of-screen tabs on a tablet or are condensed into a drop-down menu on a smartphone.

From advanced formatting options to multiple-sheet support, wireless printing, and PDF exporting, there’s little lacking in this well-rounded setup. As mentioned above, OfficeSuite offers a large list of cloud storage options to which you can connect to keep your work synced across multiple devices.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android spreadsheet editor: Microsoft Excel
Microsoft’s Excel has a respectable set of features and is quite commendable on the tablet side of things. The interface follows Microsoft’s typical Excel design and should require little to no learning curve for anyone accustomed to that software.

On a smartphone, however, Excel suffers from the same UI flaws as the company’s word processing application. Using the app on a smaller device is passable but not a great experience.

While the core spreadsheet functions are plentiful, as with Word, broader office suite features like real-time collaboration, save-to-PDF support, and password protection are missing in Microsoft’s mobile offering — and no notable features are added to Excel with a paid Office 365 subscription.

Again, it’s all relative. Excel’s impressive spreadsheet functionality and familiar presentation — not to mention its free nature — make for an appealing combination. However, be sure you’re OK with the aforementioned drawbacks compared to the higher-ranked OfficeSuite application.

App: Microsoft Excel
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android spreadsheet editors
Google Sheets is fine for basic viewing or tweaking of a simple spreadsheet but is quite limited in functionality compared to other contenders. You can enter and manipulate data and perform standard spreadsheet functions, but the app lacks tools for more advanced tasks like sorting cells, freezing cells, and inserting images or charts. Its saving grace is the integrated cloud syncing and multiuser/multidevice collaboration that Google does so well.

Polaris Office still suffers from a subpar, non-tablet-optimized UI — and with the spreadsheet editor specifically, touch targets are bewilderingly small, which is frustrating for a device that’s controlled by fingers. The app offers an admirable set of features, though, even if the options aren’t ideally presented or easily accessible.

WPS Mobile Office is OK but unexceptional: It’s sometimes slow to open files, and its Function command — a vital component of spreadsheet work — is hidden in the middle of an Insert menu. On the plus side, it has an impressive range of features and doesn’t seem to suffer from the keyboard bug present in its word-processing counterpart.

Docs to Go is barely in the race. Its embarrassingly dated UI makes no attempt to take advantage of the tablet form: Every command is buried behind multiple layers of pop-up menus, all of which are accessible only via an awkward hamburger icon at the top right of the screen. The app’s Function command doesn’t even offer descriptions of what the options do — only Excel-style lingo like ABS, ACOS, and COUNTIF. And during my testing, the app failed to open some perfectly valid Excel (.xlsx) files I used across all the programs as samples.

Best Android presentation editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
OfficeSuite 8’s intuitive, tablet-optimized UI makes it easy to edit and create presentations on the go. Yet again, it’s the best-in-class contender for most users. (Are you starting to sense a pattern here?)

OfficeSuite offers loads of options for making slides look professional, including a variety of templates and a huge selection of slick transitions. It has tools for inserting images, text boxes, shapes, and freehand drawings into your slides, and it supports presenter notes and offers utilities for quickly duplicating or reordering slides. You can export to PDF and print to a cloud-connected printer easily.

If you’re serious about mobile presentation editing, OfficeSuite 8 is the most well-rounded option available.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android presentation editor: Microsoft PowerPoint
Microsoft’s PowerPoint provides a strong set of tools for creating and editing presentations on the go, including an impressive array of templates, themes, and transitions. While it lacks a few bells and whistles present in OfficeSuite’s editor — like the ability to insert a freehand drawing into a slide — it has no shortage of options for creating polished presentations.

Like Microsoft’s other apps, however, PowerPoint for Android is missing basic office suite features such as password protection, the ability to export to PDF, and the option to sync with any cloud providers beyond Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Its phone interface could also be better.

Still, PowerPoint is pretty good, all in all — and it should be more than capable of handling the mobile editing needs of most users. It’s a small step below our top pick in both feature availability and overall user experience.

App: Microsoft PowerPoint
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android presentation editors
Google Slides is bare-bones: You can do basic text editing and formatting, and that’s about it. The app offers predefined arrangements for text box placement — and includes the ability to view and edit presenter notes — but with no way to insert images or slide backgrounds and no rich templates or transitions, it’s impossible to create a presentation that looks like it came from this decade.

Polaris Office has a decent set of features, including a small set of basic templates to help you get started. They’re far less polished and professional-looking than OfficeSuite’s or PowerPoint’s, but they’re at least something. Polaris offers no way to duplicate an existing slide, however, nor does it sport any transitions to give your presentation pizzazz.

WPS Mobile Office is quite basic, though with a few flourishes: The app allows you to insert images, shapes, tables, and charts in addition to plain ol’ text. Like Google Slides, it lacks templates, transitions, and any other advanced tools, and the results won’t look polished or professional.

Last and again least, Docs to Go — as you’re probably expecting by this point — borders on unusable. The app’s UI is dated and clunky, and the editor offers practically no tools for modern presentation creation. You can’t insert images or transitions; even basic formatting tools are sparse. Don’t waste your time looking at this app.

InfoWorld scorecard: Office apps for Android

The results are clear: OfficeSuite 8 is by far the best overall office suite on Android today. From its excellent UI to its commendable feature set, the app is in a league of its own. Of course, it comes at a cost: At $19.99 per year, the full Premium version isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for — in this case, the best mobile office experience with next to no compromises. For those who prefer a one-time payment rather than an ongoing subscription (who doesn’t?), the OfficeSuite 8 Pro version ($14.99) provides the same core experience, though you’ll have to purchase separate $9.99 add-ons in order to get an enhanced spell-check function and full font support (the latter, at the very least, most people will want).

Microsoft’s new Office apps are a distant second in overall quality, but they’re still quite good and worth considering — particularly given OfficeSuite’s elevated cost, and particularly for someone who is committed to Microsoft’s software and/or already a paid Office 365 subscriber. Even without a paid subscription, the Android versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are perfectly decent options for users who want respectable free apps for mobile productivity and aren’t worried about having the absolute best user experience or most complete set of features.

If basic on-the-go word processing is all you require, meanwhile — and you work primarily with Google services — Google’s free Docs app may be a viable choice. The company’s spreadsheet and presentation editors are less functional, but depending on your needs, they might suffice. And the full suite’s cross-device synchronization and multiuser collaboration are very compelling benefits of going the Google route — again, as long as your feature requirements are minimal.

Polaris Office is adequate but unremarkable. OfficeSuite and Microsoft’s Office apps are more powerful and pleasant to use, while Google’s productivity tools have the clear cloud-centric advantages. Polaris fails to stand out for any particular strength, which makes it difficult to recommend enthusiastically among the more outstanding alternatives.

WPS Mobile Office is a small but significant step behind that, meanwhile, while Docs to Go is far too flawed to be taken seriously as an option.

With that, you’re officially armed with all the necessary knowledge to make your decision. Grab the mobile office suite that best suits your needs — and be productive wherever you may go.


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A look at the new Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015

In March, Microsoft released Skype for Business Server 2015, its enterprise communications product that is the successor to both Lync Server for on-premises installations and Lync Online for cloud customers.

Skype for Business Server 2015 is a modest upgrade that takes care of a lot of plumbing on the server side but is more of a cosmetic polish on the client side. In this piece, I will take a look at exactly what Skype for Business is, what is new or improved in this release, some things to look forward to and perhaps some “gotchas” as well. Let’s dive in.

Busting some myths

Let me take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what Skype for Business is not:

Skype for Business is not a replacement for Skype. Yes, it seems Microsoft has done it again — it has created two services that seemingly have the same purpose and outcome but go about it in entirely different and mostly incompatible ways (think OneDrive and OneDrive for Business). Skype for Business is Lync, renamed. Skype that you freely download is still Skype, the same customer service Microsoft purchased from eBay a few years ago. It operates independently of Lync/Skype for Business, although some companies have


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Best tools for single sign-on

It has been a few years since we last looked at single sign-on products, the field has gotten more crowded and more capable.

Single mindedness
Since we last looked at single sign-on products in 2012, the field has gotten more crowded and more capable. For this round of evaluations, we looked at seven SSO services: Centrify’s Identity Service, Microsoft’s Azure AD Premium, Okta’s Identity and Mobility Management, OneLogin, Ping Identity’s Ping One, Secure Auth’s IdP, and SmartSignin. Our Clear Choice test winner is Centrify, which slightly outperformed Okta and OneLogin. (Read the full review.)

Single mindedness
Since we last looked at single sign-on products in 2012, the field has gotten more crowded and more capable. For this round of evaluations, we looked at seven SSO services: Centrify’s Identity Service, Microsoft’s Azure AD Premium, Okta’s Identity and Mobility Management, OneLogin, Ping Identity’s Ping One, Secure Auth’s IdP, and SmartSignin. Our Clear Choice test winner is Centrify, which slightly outperformed Okta and OneLogin. (Read the full review.)

Microsoft Azure Active Directory Access Control
Earlier this year Microsoft added Azure Active Directory to its collection of cloud-based offerings. It is difficult to setup because you tend to get lost in the hall of mirrors that is the Azure setup process. It is still very much a work in progress and mainly a developer’s toolkit rather than a polished service. But clearly Microsoft has big plans for Azure AD, as its new Windows App Store is going to rely on it for authentication. If you already are using Azure, then it makes sense to take a closer look at Azure AD. If you are looking for a general purpose SSO portal, then you should probably look elsewhere.

Okta Identity and Mobility Management
Okta tied for first place in our 2012 review and it remains a very capable product. Okta’s user interface is very simple to navigate. Okta has beefed up its multi-factor authentication functionality. It now offers a mobile app, Okta Verify, as a one-time password generator. It also supports other MFA methods. Okta has its own mobile app that can provide a secure browsing session and allow you to sign in to your apps from your phone. It contains some MDM functionality, although it is not a full MDM tool. Reports have been strengthened as well, but reports only show the last 30 days.

OneLogin
OneLogin was the other co-winner of our 2012 review and while it is still strong, its user interface has become a bit unwieldy. OneLogin has numerous SAML toolkits in a variety of languages to make it easier to integrate your apps into its SSO routines. It also has specific configuration screens to set up a VPN login and take you to specific apps. OneLogin’s AD Connector requires all of the various components of Net Framework v3.5 to be installed. Once that was done, it was a simple process to install their agent and synchronize our AD with their service. OneLogin has 11 canned reports and you can easily create additional custom ones.

Ping Identity PingOne
Ping began as on-premises solution with PingFederate, but now offers cloud-based PingOne, web access tool PingAccess and OTP soft token generator PingID. Multi-factor authentication support is somewhat limited in PingOne. You can use PingID or SafeNet’s OTP tokens. If you want more factors, you have to purchase the on-premises Ping Federate. Reports are not this product’s strong suit. The dashboard gives you an attractive summary, but there isn’t much else. Ping would be a stronger product if consolidated their various features and focused on the cloud as a primary delivery vehicle. If that isn’t important to you, or if you have complex federation needs, then you should give them more consideration and look at PingFederate.

SecureAuth IdP
Of the products we tested, SecureAuth has the most flexibility and the worst user interface, a combination that can be vexing at times. SecureAuth is the only product tested that has to run on a Windows Server. The interface is supposed to get a refresh later this year, but the current version makes it easy to get lost in a series of cascading menus. The real strength of SecureAuth always has been its post-authentication workflow activities. SecureAuth’s MFA support is strong, featuring a wide selection of factors and tokens to choose from. This is a testimonial to its flexibility.

PerfectCloud SmartSignin

SmartSignin has been acquired by PerfectCloud and integrated into their other cloud-based security offerings. They now support seven identity providers (Amazon, Netsuite and AD) with more on the horizon and more than 7,000 app integrations. The identity providers make use of SAML or other federated means, and come with extensive installation instructions. This is a little more complex than some of its competitors. When it comes to MFA support, SmartSignin is the weakest of the products we reviewed. They are working on other MFA methods, including SMS and voice, but didn’t have them when we tested. Also, MFA is just for protecting your entire user account, there is no mechanism for protecting individual apps.


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Can’t find all the tech people you need? The Blind Institute of Technology can help

The fledgling organization says there is a large untapped pool of talent waiting in the wings

Mike Hess is the founder and Executive Director of the Blind Institute of Technology, a Colorado-based nonprofit transitioning to be a national outfit, whose goal is to find tech roles for the chronically underemployed visually impaired community. Hess, who runs the organization with 40+ volunteers, including eight C-level executives on his board of directors, recently outlined his goals for Network World Editor in Chief John Dix.

Why did you start this organization and what is it about?

Mike Hess is the founder and Executive Director of the Blind Institute of Technology

I started in technology 18 years ago in the mid-90s and most of my career was in telecommunications. I started with US West as a mainframe developer and when US West Wireless started I thought that sounded fun so I moved over and that’s when I started expanding my technical skills. In the mid-2000s when VoIP became the latest craze I went and got Cisco certified and learned how to overcome those challenges, and then ultimately I ended up at Level 3 Communications.

Through all of that I noticed I was always the token blind guy in the organization, so I started doing some digging and came to realize the unemployment rate for the vision-impaired (VI) ranged from 70% to 80%. I found the numbers just staggering and I thought, I can make a difference by bringing awareness to executives here locally in Denver.

The first six to eight months was all about proof of concept. I kept knocking on doors, talking to executives, telling them about how I was able to overcome visual obstacles in environments just like theirs, so I was bringing credibility to the story. I was talking to them about the amazing candidates they were overlooking even as they were struggling to find talent. In Denver, unemployment within IT is less than two percent.

Was the focus to encourage employers to hire visually-impaired people or were you also out to encourage visually impaired people to pursue technology careers?

My initial focus was on awareness with a mission to impact unemployment. I didn’t start out to build a staffing or placement organization. That’s kind of evolved over the last two years.

Today BIT offers multiple programs designed to enable success in the workplace for both employers and the VI community. Our Education and Outreach Program (Art of Blinders) teaches organizations the true power of listening. These workshops help educate organizations about the innate assets a vision-impaired person brings to the workplace, and helps with organizational development by having participants practice listening skills while blind folded.

Our second program is Workplace Preparation. We provide technical assistance to organizations that are interested in learning how to make software accessible to consumers, or organizations that need technical assistance for a VI employee.

The third program is Certification and Training, so it is all about education. We have partnered with the Tuliva Academy in downtown Denver to offer technical certifications that are fully accessible in the classroom.

And the fourth program is Staffing and Placements. We have signed direct placement agreements and master service agreements with organizations for full-time employment, project and contract work.

Since we’re a 501C3 Nonprofit, organizations can donate to one of our programs to help us impact the unemployment within the vision-impaired community.

When you approach a large company, is it hard to get in the door or are they receptive to the idea and just haven’t thought it through?

When I talk to CIOs or CTOs I talk pure technology. I explain that bringing in technology to support visually impaired programmers adds less than one percent to software development lifecycle costs, and suddenly you have access to this large talent pool out there. Technically minded executives get this concept. Every organization is looking for scalability. When I explain how many millions of blind people there are, it’s kind of a no-brainer to start incorporating accessible technology in the workplace because it allows you to scale immediately.

Where I get more resistance is when I talk to HR types. Their goal is to mitigate risk, but I’ve found zero statistics that show that the visually impaired are any more problematic for organizations. As a matter of fact, all the testimonials and statistics I’ve found show that companies that have embraced the vision-impaired community have some of the lowest churn in the industry because, quite honestly, once I know my way to my office, I continue to walk that path. So I think the loyalty factor is a huge win for organizations.

So yeah, it’s kind of a mixed reaction, although the reason we’ve been able to grow is because when I talk to an executive I always ask if they can introduce me to two or three peers and they’re like, “Absolutely,” because what we’re selling is this amazing talent pool that they’re probably not tapping into.

How many people are visually impaired?

In Colorado alone there are 45,000 blind people between the ages of 18 and 64. And if 70%-80% are unemployed? Do the math. And the vision-impaired community has roughly the same level of higher education degrees as our sighted peers, which is about 20% percent of the population.

Then we look for the unemployed visually impaired that have what I call the AA standard. The first A is for attitude. Is your vision impairment an obstacle or is it a barrier, because if it’s a barrier, BIT is not the right organization for you. If it’s just an obstacle, and you’ve got the attitude that you can overcome whatever is in front of you, to me that is a great asset for any technical organization.

The second A is your aptitude. Do you have skills? We literally represent double master, double bachelor’s degree candidates that are just sitting on the sidelines right now chomping at the bit, waiting for a friendly organization to say, “You know what? I’m not worried about the accessible technology. I’m not worried about the perception. I’m just looking for a talented, loyal professional to help our group.”

What was it like for you to learn technology as a visually-impaired person? What kind of obstacles did you face as you pursued this career?

I think you’ll find a lot of vision impaired people can memorize copious amounts of information. When I was coding, my learning curve in the beginning was slower because I had to memorize large COBOL programs, although give me a couple of months and I was way more proficient because I knew exactly where to go to update my data division or go to my procedure division. I could do the correlating of data elements so much faster than my sighted peers because memorizing was secondary to them because they could just see what they were doing.

And because of my sight, I use a lot of tactile representations. For network topologies, for example, I would lay a document over a hard rubber mat and ask a coworker to use a pen to perforate around the shapes, giving me a tactical, three-dimensional layout.

So I leverage all my senses, I leverage every tool and technique I can. There’s actually a lot of science that quantifies how, if you use multiple senses during your transfer of information, your retention and recall go up exponentially. I’ve had high success of getting projects out on time and on budget and that is an anomaly within the IT network space.

When you were going to school for technology, was it hard to find adequate tools to help you learn?

In the early 90s IBM provided a grant to four community colleges and the program I attended was called Computer Training for People with Disabilities. It was designed to get people with physical challenges into technology organizations. There were screen reader and early speech-to-text software and other technologies, but when I first started the software that would help me had not yet arrived. However, there was another student there who had crippling carpal tunnel and so I said “I’ll be your hands, you be my eyes,” and for the first two months of the program that’s how we turned in our assignments. Today, 20 years later, the technology is so much better, thank goodness.

When you transitioned into the corporate world, did they have adequate tools for you?

Back then the technology was a lot more pricey than it is now, but organizations could write-off the investment and they were more than willing to do that because there was this boom in IT like we’re going through now.

Today the technology is so much better. One of the brilliant things Steve Jobs did with the i-devices, he went out and talked to the blindness community and made sure the very first i-device was completely accessible to the VI community. Now, for example, you have applications from companies like Salesforce that I can use to do everything a sighted person would do. The technology is 100% percent innate within iOS.

A lot of what we do now when we go in to talk to an organization is showcase the new capabilities. We say, “Here’s how the technology looks and feels, here’s some of the code you can implement, and here’s how our devices actually respond to that code.”

Are schools doing enough to prepare visually impaired people for tech roles?

In Colorado I’ve checked out all of the major universities, and the thing that saddens me is there’s not one program that actually offers an accessible technology class or tutorial. So BIT is going to be a game changer within the educational realm. We will challenge the IT programs to offer accessibility as a portion of its curriculum. Currently, Universities are not teaching anything about accessible technology. We believe that is important not just to have accessible technology available but teach students about using accessible technology. Therefore, graduates will know what it looks and feels like to code for accessibility.

We’re also partnering with a local technology school that has the curriculum for Cisco and Salesforce and Project Management certifications, and they’re going to be the first technical school in the country that is 100% percent accessible to the visually-impaired community.

So if we have a visually-impaired person reach out to us that has, say, a bachelor’s in English, we can say, “With that degree and with this certification, you’ll be able to line up for a project management role,” or something like that. So we can help them leverage their current skills, augment them with some additional certifications that are completely VI accessible, and then place them in an industry with the lowest unemployment rate out there.

Security is an interesting opportunity. A lot of healthcare organizations, for example, are building out security operation centers, and they’ve told us, “We just want the right personality. We’ll teach them the hard skills.”

Well, Mike, anything else that’s important to know about your organization that I haven’t thought to ask about?

I just want to reiterate that we have national reach. We’re completely connected with all of the blindness organizations nationwide, and this is of national importance and I know with community effort, with organizations who are just looking for talented, loyal people, BIT can absolutely be a brand name that they can come to depend on to help them get those resources out there nationwide.


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Is your social media presence hurting your job search?

You hear a lot about what you shouldn’t post on social media, but employers are starting to grow weary of hiring candidates who lack a social presence all together. Take control of your brand by balancing your personal and professional image to attract recruiters.

Social media can make or break your career. We’ve all heard at least one story of an employee getting fired over a Tweet or Facebook post. And when you apply to a job, most hiring managers will first turn to Google to vet your background and qualifications.

Whichever way you swing it, you can’t avoid social media anymore, and how you manage — or don’t manage — your social presence can make or break your job hunt. It’s time to take control of your image and start thinking of social media as personal branding.

Why does it matter?
Managing a Twitter feed and updating your LinkedIn profile might not seem important, but these outlets have become strong elements in recruitment. If you have a lax attitude to your social media accounts, it can hurt you just as much as having no social presence at all.

According to a 2015 survey from CareerBuilder of more than 2,000 employers, “35-percent of employers say they are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about that person online.”

You might think keeping your personal profiles set to private is the right thing to do, but many employers are starting to view a lack of public social presence as a red flag.

Take control of your brand
It’s important to be aware of your social presence and to take control of what you put out there. Recruiters aren’t really searching for salacious details about your life; most are looking to confirm that your skills and qualifications make you the best person for the job.

John Jersin, former Google executive and current CEO of Connectifier, says “you should have updated and accurate information everywhere someone might look. It helps you look consistent and organized, but it also gives you an opportunity to briefly emphasize important parts of your resume.”

And don’t forget, just because hiring managers and recruiters might be checking your social profiles, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a look at theirs. Learning more about the company you are working for as well as the hiring manager or recruiter can better prepare you for the interview.

Industry matters
In CareerBuilder’s survey, 76 percent of information technology recruiters and 64 percent of financial services recruiters turned to social media to find and vet potential candidates. Other industries that rely heavily on social media include sales, professional and business services, manufacturing, healthcare and retail. If you work in any of these industries, it’s definitely time to take your social media seriously.

Get Recruited
If you aren’t actively searching for a new job, but are open to interesting positions, maintaining a strong social presence can help recruiters find you. Controlling your personal brand can help ensure that potential job offers come straight to your inbox, rather than finding job listings and applying directly.

You should take note of not only LinkedIn as a strong recruitment platform, but Twitter as well. More recruiters are turning to Twitter to find potential candidates, and it is quickly becoming a resource for job seekers and recruiters.

In a recent study, Twitter was cited as having more job listings than any other platform, and 174 of the companies on the Fortune 500 have a dedicated Twitter account for recruitment. Your Twitter profile might not only help you find an opening with a company, but it might help the company find you.

A little mystery is good
Don’t run off and unlock all of your social media profiles right away. Some things are better left private, such as your Facebook profile or a personal Twitter account.

Dawn Edmiston, clinical associate professor of marketing at the College of William and Mary, says “I would definitely wonder about the background of a tech professional who had zero presence on social media, rather than the individual who has a well-managed LinkedIn and Twitter presence, but prefers that their personal social media such as Facebook remains private.”

The keyword here is “well-managed,” try to draw a line between your professional image and your personal image. Keeping your Facebook account private is probably a smart idea, but you might consider having two separate Twitter accounts – one professional and one personal.

What are they looking for?
The CareerBuilder study also revealed the top five things recruiters are looking for in your social profile, which includes inappropriate photos, alcohol or drug use, negative posts about past employers or coworkers, a lack of communication skills as well as any discriminatory or inflammatory content regarding race, gender, religion, and other issues.

“Forty-eight percent of hiring managers who screen candidates via social networks said they’ve found information that caused them not to hire a candidate — down slightly from 51 percent last year,” according to CareerBuilder.

However, the survey also revealed what type of social content made recruiters move forward with a candidate. This included any background information that supported the candidate’s qualifications, signs that the candidate’s personality would be a good fit for the company, a professional image, strong communication skills, and creativity.

Proving to recruiters that you can maintain professionalism on social media is a good sign that you will carry that over into your working life.

Time to get on board
If you’re waiting to see if social media is a passing phase, you’re going to be left behind. Recruiters using social media to find candidates has gone up 43 percent since last year and 39-percent since 2013, according to CareerBuilder.

“Researching candidates via social media and other online sources has transformed from an emerging trend to a staple of online recruitment,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

It’s time to get smart about your social presence and view it as a personal brand, rather than a personal outlet.


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Gartner shows two-horse race in IaaS cloud: AWS and Microsoft Azure

A “year of reckoning” leaves all other vendors behind

Research firm Gartner’s annual report card on the public IaaS cloud computing market shows there is one clear leader – Amazon Web Services – and another clear challenger – Microsoft Azure. And then there is everyone else.

“The market is dominated by only a few global providers – most notably Amazon Web Services, but increasingly also Microsoft Azure,” Gartner researchers say, giving Google Cloud Platform an honorable mention. “Between them, these three providers comprise the majority of workloads running in public cloud IaaS in 2015.”

AWS and Azure are the only two vendors in the “leaders” quadrant of the report, with AWS clearly taking the top spot. A series of other providers – including Google, CenturyLink, Rackspace, VMware, Virtustream and to a lesser extent IBM’s SoftLayer received fairly high marks, but none have clouds that rival those from the big two.

Between AWS, Azure and all the other vendors, there are significant differences, though, so Gartner says it’s important to pick the one that most closely aligns to your needs.

AWS: The “safe choice” in the cloud
AWS was the first to market with an IaaS offering, based on Xen-virtualized servers and hasn’t looked back. It is the “overwhelming market share leader,” is “extraordinarily innovative, exceptionally agile, and very responsive to the market,” and holds a multi-year competitive advantage over Microsoft and Google, Gartner says.

AWS can be complex though. Pricing structures can be confusing and opaque – it charges individually for some services that other vendors bundle. This leads many AWS users to employ a third-party management vendor to help manage costs and deployments.

Azure – the clear second choice
Microsoft’s significant market share in the enterprise IT market combined with its continual investments in Azure make it the chief competitor to AWS. The company has a compelling bundled offering: Its public cloud integrates closely with its on-premises management tools, such as Windows Server and Systems Center. While it’s not at the scale of AWS, Gartner estimates that Azure has more than twice as much cloud IaaS capacity all the other vendors in the MQ, other than AWS.

If there are any cautions against Azure, it is that some features are not fully production ready. For example, Azure has been plagued with significant outages – something AWS battled a few years ago – so Gartner recommends that customers using Azure for mission-critical workloads employ a secondary, non-Azure disaster recovery backup plan.
And everyone else

The vendor perhaps most likely to take on the leaders in public IaaS cloud is Google. It has a massive data center footprint that it uses to run its own operations, which it now makes available for customers to use. This approach has allowed Google to quickly offer a compelling IaaS without significant investment. But the company is not an “enterprise vendor” in terms of its sales, support and partner offerings. “Google needs to earn the trust of businesses,” Gartner says.

A company like IBM has somewhat of an opposite problem from Google, Gartner says. It has a broad set of initiatives in the cloud (through SoftLayer), including managed hosting, application development (through BlueMix), SaaS and bare-metal provisioning. But Gartner says they are not bundled well.

Rackspace is another company that has a strong set of offerings – from public IaaS cloud, to managed cloud, hosted private cloud and even bare-metal services as well.

But the company no longer specializes in self-service public cloud and instead is targeting customers who are looking to take advantage of its support expertise in deploying applications, limiting the company’s reach.

VMware is having trouble with adoption as well, Gartner says. VCloud Air is its public IaaS cloud, but Gartner says the most likely advocates of that platform are VMware administrators, not business managers and development leaders who may be in better positions to drive cloud strategies. Those VMware administrators may be more comfortable building out a private-cloud than using VMware’s public cloud.

CSC offers its own public cloud offering but it also provides consulting to help customers choose the best IaaS platform. A lack of investments in value-add services have led CSC advisers to recommend competitors clouds more than its own, Gartner says.

HP was dropped from the Gartner report this year because it’s focusing on a hybrid cloud strategy and its public Helion cloud division doesn’t have enough market share to qualify.


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