Archive for September, 2014:

Software stack from Eclipse could unleash Java developer army on IoT

The Eclipse Foundation is launching a free, open-source Java stack for IoT

There’s no single standard to link all devices in the “Internet of Things” and there may never be one, but the Eclipse Foundation wants to at least make it easier for developers to code for the standards that are out there.

On Monday, the group released its Open IoT Stack for Java, an open-source development platform for consumer and enterprise IoT systems that supports three major standards. The free download from Eclipse’s site combines the fruits of several projects that have been in the works at the open-source community. The stack includes support for the MQTT, CoAP and Lightweight M2M standards, as well as frameworks to build IoT gateways, home automation products and SCADA factory automation systems. It’s being announced in conjunction with the JavaOne conference taking place this week in San Francisco.

IoT spans many types of connected devices, including factory-equipment sensors, home appliances and in-vehicle telematics. Machines have been talking to each other for years, but mostly through proprietary systems from the closed worlds of specific industries, where captive audiences and low volume kept prices high and innovation relatively slow. IoT needs to emerge from that era by using more common hardware and software.

Though there are several emerging standards that help to tie together different IoT systems, most developers have had to write their own implementations of those standards, said Ian Skerrett, vice president of marketing at Eclipse. It’s much like the early days of the Internet, when many vendors created their own Web servers instead of using Apache, the open-source platform that in time was generally adopted, he said.

To help developers bring out new IoT devices more quickly, teams at Eclipse created implementations that they can pick up and use. Though the Open IoT Stack for Java won’t lead directly to broader interoperability, the release of these implementations should help move the industry from proprietary to standard, Skerrett said.

“Open-source implementations of open standards is how you get adoption,” he said.

The stack includes implementations of three standards, coming from different projects within Eclipse: Paho, already being used by IBM, is a Java implementation of the client for MQTT, a widely used machine-to-machine connectivity protocol, and Moquette is a Java-based MQTT broker. The Californium project implements CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol), a Web transfer protocol from the Internet Engineering Task Force. Another project, Leshan, brings a Java implementation of Lightweight M2M, an Open Mobile Alliance interface between IoT clients and servers.

Java, which Eclipse says has a developer base of 9 million, is much more widely used than languages such as C that are still common in the IoT world, said Chris Rommel, an analyst at VDC Research. The Open IoT Stack for Java should bring more programmers into the world of IoT development.

“It absolutely … can help democratize software engineering to make it a little bit more like traditional software development,” Rommel said.

But given how vast the IoT universe is becoming, Java won’t be the only path to that goal, Rommel said. “It’s still not going to be a fit for every project.”

Eclipse’s Skerrett acknowledged as much and said the organization plans to come out with IoT implementations for other languages, too.


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Two little words that destroy your credibility

We in IT have to realize that only users get to decide whether ‘it’s fixed’

We techies have a hard time building and maintaining credibility with our stakeholders. High expectations are hard to manage. Bugs happen. And we get blamed unfairly for all sorts of things that are out of our control.

But we also have a habit of making things worse, undermining our credibility inadvertently and unnecessarily. Probably the most common of these unforced errors comes in the form of two simple words.

“It’s fixed.”

Stakeholders have a variety of emotional responses to hearing us utter these words, none of them productive.

Some respond with excitement and gratitude. “Thank goodness! I’m saved!” If you’re dealing with issues that have no explicit definitions of “fixed,” such as performance problems, their imaginations run wild. They conjure fantasies of systems that work as they wish they would, faster, easier and more reliably than they really do. But these raised expectations rarely survive contact with reality, and when stakeholders’ dreams are crushed, we lose credibility. It wasn’t really “fixed” after all. They feel foolish for having had optimism and blame us for making them feel bad. Even if the problem is clear cut, like an error message, sometimes “fixed” isn’t really “fixed.” They still get the error message, or a new one. And they feel disappointed.

Others roll their eyes in skeptical disdain. “Yeah, I’ve heard that a million times before.” Having been let down too many times, they protect themselves from the pain of disappointment by crushing any hints of optimism. And they judge us as responsible for their negative reactions.

It doesn’t help that we usually tell them, “It’s fixed!” with infectious enthusiasm and pride. We’re problem-solvers by nature and love the feeling of having solved a puzzle. We feel that we’re helping our stakeholders. We feel competent and powerful. And our excitement intensifies their reactions, raising their expectations or triggering suspicion and cynicism.

To avoid triggering these negative responses, you just have to remember one simple principle:

It’s their job to declare something fixed, not yours.

If they declared that something was broken, then it’s their job to declare that it is no longer so. Your job is to invite them to decide. You may have to influence the criteria they use to decide, helping set their expectations about what is possible, and how “fixed” something can be. But you don’t get to make that call. They do.

Instead of declaring something fixed, do three things:

Tell them what you did in language that they can understand. “We found two places where we tried to speed up database queries.” “We changed one of the system configuration variables.”
Describe your observations. “It seems much faster now.” “We don’t get the error in the test environment.”
Ask them to try it out. “Can you test it out and see if it looks better to you?”

By asking them to decide, you avoid all the emotional damage wrought by those two seemingly innocuous words. It’s hard enough to build credibility with stakeholders. You don’t need to make it any harder.


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A conference on high-skilled immigration policy looks at big picture

WASHINGTON – A two-day conference on high-skilled immigration policy, which attracted researchers from the U.S. and Europe, offered Microsoft an opportunity to voice frustration over U.S. immigration policy.

William Kamela, a senior federal policy lead at Microsoft who detailed the stakes and options his company faces, said the firm will apply for “roughly” 1,000 H-1B visas in next April’s application period. “And we will get maybe 50% of those,” assuming there is another visa lottery, he said. Lotteries are held once the overall 85,000 cap is exceeded.

The company’s argument for access to more high-skilled foreign workers seems unaffected by its recent layoffs, even if the number of H-1B workers it seeks next year is potentially smaller than in some previous years. In 2013, Microsoft, for instance, received approval for 1,048 H-1B visas.

Microsoft is cutting about 14% of its workforce. The focus, instead, was on a need to find people with desired skills.

“At the end of the day, you do run into the very real reality that there are small numbers of folks in very select areas that a lot of companies want that we just can’t find,” said Kamela.

The National Academies held the conference, and Microsoft, along with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, were the sponsors. Microsoft was the only tech firm to appear on a panel.

Kamela sat next to Felicia Escobar, special assistant to President Barack Obama on immigration, on the panel. Kamela made it clear that Microsoft could shift some work to Canada or overseas — options for other multinationals who are in search of talent, he said.

“If I need to move 400 people to Canada or Northern Ireland or Hyderabad or Shanghai, we can do that,” said Kamela, who later explained that about 60% of Microsoft’s workforce is in the U.S., yet it makes 68% of its profits overseas.

Focusing on computer science related degrees, Kamela said that a recent graduate “probably has four job offers today,” and can go shopping for the best salary offer.

Kamela said that competition for these students is growing because computer science skills are now sought by all the major industries, including healthcare, financial services and manufacturing. “Every one of these industries needs robust IT departments,” he said.

Escobar was circumspect about what the president might do on immigration policy, but said major changes will be difficult. The president has said he plans to seek reforms through executive order in the absence of action by Congress.

“There are limitations – big limitations – as we think about trying to fix the system within the confines of the law,” said Escobar.

While the focus of the conference was on the “competition” for skilled immigrants, Escobar said that “when we think about a race for talent, I think we’re also thinking about our investments in people here, too — to increase the pipeline here” of skilled U.S. workers.

In talking about the difficulty Microsoft faces getting H-1B visas and high rejection rates as a result of the visa lottery, Kamela said it’s a bigger problem for a startup that submits only a few lottery applications.

“How do we make sure that those companies (startups) get a bite of the apple,” said Kamela, “and they’re competing against us and Google and we can pay more.”

Microsoft may well be the leading corporate critic of the H-1B program, and its officials have frequently appeared at forums and hearings on the topic.

Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard, raised warnings about increases in foreign workers.

Teitelbaum said there are “contradictions” with policies that encourage more students to pursue degrees in engineering, science and mathematics, while at the same saying “we want to import more scientists and engineers, particularly, on a temporary basis.”

“The message they (students) are getting is this is not an attractive long-term career path,” said Teitelbaum, who added that U.S. policies have produced a boom and bust cycle in STEM employment.

“If we have mass layoffs at the same time that the employers are claiming they can’t hire enough people, which is what’s happening, seems to be happening, right now,” said Teitelbaum, “they are going to get the message that maybe I should do something else.”


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Deep-dive review: iOS 8 packs some snappy new features

Additions to Apple’s new mobile operating system include interactive notifications, an updated Photo app and tighter integration between iOS and OS X devices.

It’s almost fall again, and so Apple has released the next generation of software that powers its mobile lineup: iOS 8. As always, this is a free update, and it packs new features and enhancements, both obvious and subtle.

Building on last year’s dramatic interface overhaul, iOS 8, which was released today, marks the second version of Apple’s mobile operating system to feature 64-bit code (last year’s iOS 7 being the first). This allows the iPhone to take full advantage of the 64-bit architecture built around the A7 chip in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and the second-generation iPad mini; as well as the upcoming 64-bit A8 chip in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

(For owners of legacy equipment, iOS 8 can run on the iPhone 4S and later, and the iPad 2 and later. The only iPod Touch that can handle iOS 8 is the fifth-generation model that’s been shipping since September 2012. However, not all features will be available for all devices and countries — Apple has provided a list of which features are available in which countries.)

iOS 8 retains the look and feel introduced in iOS 7 with added refinements throughout the system. The new functionality doesn’t feel bolted on, doesn’t slow the OS down or add bloat — a difficult trick to pull off.

Be warned, though: I have run into lingering bugs in the final release of iOS 8 (build 12A365). Some are obscure enough that you may never run into them, but the usual caveats and warnings apply regarding installing and running first-release software.

For this review, I tested iOS 8 on an iPhone 5S, an iPad mini (second generation with Retina display) and a cellular iPad Air. However, the main focus of this review will be based on how well iOS 8 runs on the iPhone.

Before you do anything else, go to Settings: iCloud: Storage & Backup and tap Backup Now. You will want a full backup of your data in case of an unforeseen event.

There are several ways to install iOS 8. The easiest: From an iOS device, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update and run the update. For this, you will need a Wi-Fi network and at least 50% battery life, or else the device will have to be plugged in. After the download is complete, your device will update in place, leaving all of your settings, data, media and apps intact.

The other way to upgrade your iPhone is to plug it into a PC or Mac running iTunes. You’ll have the option to either Restore or Upgrade the phone, with the Upgrade option leaving your settings, data, media and apps in place; the Restore option initially deletes everything on the device before installing a fresh operating system. If you’ve been having issues with your device, or if you’ve modified (or jailbreaked) ) the OS in ways Apple hasn’t sanctioned, then a Restore may be the best bet.

Once the upgrade is complete and the device rebooted, a multi-language Welcome screen will be displayed. Perform a Slide-to-Unlock swipe and Apple’s Setup Assistant will guide you through the process of connecting to a Wi-Fi network and enabling Location Services. If you chose to perform a Restore, this is where you’ll see options to set your device up as new or to restore from a backup via iCloud or iTunes.

Like iOS 7, iOS 8 is designed in layers, with views zooming you in and out of your content, interface overlays influenced by personalized backgrounds, and the parallax effect creating the illusion of graphics subtly residing on separate planes.

Last year, the Lock Screen was revamped for a far cleaner look and allowed users to swipe anywhere on the screen to call up the Home or passcode screen. In iOS 8, the Lock Screen gets additional functionality without added clutter.
ios email notification lock screen Michael de Agonia

You can reply to or dismiss a message notification on the Lock Screen.

One of the highlights is the new Interactive Notifications. These are notifications with optional action items, allowing you to perform specific functions without opening the app itself. An interactive notification can be activated by swiping to the right on the Lock Screen, bringing up contextually pertinent actions. For instance, an email notification, when swiped to the right, will allow you to respond to or dismiss the notification; you can also Mark as Read, Trash or dismiss the notification.

Starting in iOS 8, Apple has created APIs that allow developers to extend the functionality of some system functions, including — but not limited to — these interactive notifications. For example, the recent Apple keynote showed Facebook notifications with options to Like or respond to a post from within the notification. But I’ll get to more of this in a bit.

I’ve run into one annoyance with the new interactive notification, specifically as implemented by the Messages app: Notifications do not update if you receive another email while you’re responding. Nitpicky? Sure, but it would be nice to see the next message when responding to a specific thread. Otherwise, this is a useful step in the right direction.

Now is a good time to note that the Messages app has received some welcome new features, including the ability to name group messages, add and remove people from group threads, and — best of all — the ability to enable Do Not Disturb on a per-chat basis or leave a group chat altogether.
ios8 details screen messages Michael de Agonia

The Details screen in Messages offers a variety of options, including the ability to mute notifications.

To the upper right of a message, there is a new Details button that, when tapped, brings you to information about the contact and the conversation. It also shows you more ways to communicate with your contact (including phone/audio/FaceTime calls), share your location, mute the conversation and review the attachments shared in the conversation in one location.

The Messages app now has some handy shortcuts for sending pictures, sound bites and videos, but the caveat is that these features are only enabled when contacting users who have the iMessage service. If your recipient has a device that only uses SMS, then the Messages interface remains the same as before, lacking the quick shortcuts for sending audio or video new in iOS 8. That doesn’t mean videos and pictures can’t be sent; it just means that contacts relying on SMS do not show the updated interface.

When you are using the iMessage service, there is a camera and a microphone icon to the left and right respectively of the Messages text input area. Holding down the microphone automatically initiates a recording session, enabling you to give a quick spoken reply. When finished, without lifting your thumb, you can swipe left with your thumb to delete, or swipe up with your thumb to send.

The recipient will receive an audio file inline in the text conversation. This file displays as an audio waveform that can be played by tapping a play button. The message can also be played from the Lock Screen by simply raising the phone; the iPhone will sense the gesture and automatically play the message once you place the phone to your ear. From here, you can respond, and when you lower your iPhone, your voice response is automatically sent.

After using it over the summer, I found this to be a truly neat and welcome way to communicate, with all of the benefits of texting (such as the ability to pause and think before replying) without the pesky texting part.

Videos and pictures can be quickly recorded and sent, too. To send a picture, press and hold the camera icon to the left of the entry field, point at your subject, and then swipe up with your thumb. With this motion, the iPhone will take a picture and then automatically send it to your recipient.

To send a video, tap and hold the camera icon and slide your thumb to the right; the video will automatically start recording. To send the video, lift your thumb and tap to stop recording. Tap the up icon to send or the X button to cancel. As with the audio messages, recipients will receive the pictures and movies in the conversation text, and they’ll have the option to keep or delete the media.

By default, incoming audio and video messages are set to self-destruct within two minutes unless the settings have been changed under Settings: Messages.

One last update to Messages (and this actually applies to all updated apps): There’s a new photo picker featuring a much larger photo preview. When the photo picker is active, you can scroll through some recent photos from left to right, allowing you to select and send multiple photos and videos.

Speaking of photos, the Photos app also gets welcome updates.

Located at the top right of the Photo app, just to the left of the Select button, there is now a Spotlight icon (Spotlight is the iOS search engine). This allows you to search for photos using location and dates, which should help you find that specific picture you’re looking for. The Photo search field automatically includes recent results as well as some smart searches of recent photos. Interestingly, photo results are not available when a Spotlight search is conducted from the Home screen.
iOS 8 wallpapers

iOS 8 gets a variety of stylish new wallpapers.

The Photos app has gained some new editing features, too. When you select the Edit button on the upper right, the button is replaced by a magic wand icon, which automatically adjusts your photo to what it interprets as optimal levels. Generally, this auto-enhance feature does a good job bringing out colors and compensating for common lighting errors.

Near the bottom of the screen, there are buttons to Cancel the editing mode, Crop, Filters, Manual Adjustments and an option to Revert back to the original photo. Each button does what you would think; the Manual Adjustments button lets you tweak light, color and other settings using a simple drag-to-adjust mechanism that automatically adjusts specific parameters such as Exposure, Brightness, Shadows, Contrast and more. These settings can also be manually fine-tuned, if you’re inclined to tweak by hand. During editing, if you wish to see a before and after comparison of the photo, just press and hold your finger on the picture; the software will display the original file.

Within the Photos app, just above the Home button, there is an icon in the shape of a heart. Tapping this heart will automatically make that photo a Favorite and store that photo in a Favorites album on this device — and the Favorites album of every device that your Apple ID is linked to.

Given that the iPhone — and smartphones like it — went a long way to killing the consumer digital camera market, it only makes sense that Apple engineers would figure out ways to make photo-taking better.

One of the enhancements built into the Camera app is the option for a self-timer. Previously, this was available in third-party applications like Gorilla Cam, but it’s a welcome feature to have built in. The icon is located at the top menu to the left of the Camera Flip button. When tapped, the icon slides out of the way to reveal a 3- or 10-second countdown option. When either option is selected, the Self-Timer changes to reflect the change, which is helpful in determining at a glance if the Timer feature is on or off. Press the shutter to begin the countdown, with the remaining time in the countdown displaying on screen. Pressing the shutter button while the timer counts down cancels picture-taking process.

The Camera app now has five modes: Panorama, Square, Photo, Video and Time-Lapse. If you’re on an iPhone 5S or later, you also have a Slo-Mo option as well.

Personally, the time-lapse option is the one I’m most interested in. Anyone who follows me on Twitter and/or Vimeo, knows I love time-lapse shots. Before this feature was added to the iPhone, I used a cumbersome multistep routine with a GoPro camera to capture the footage, and a third-party application on the Mac called Zeitraffer to process it into a movie. By adding the Time-Lapse mode, Apple has turned this cumbersome multistep process into one that can be accomplished with ease: Press the Record button in the Time-Lapse section to start and press it again to stop. You can trim the resulting video by dragging a pair of sliders on either end of the video previews.

Another new feature: The Photo and Square shooting modes now offer built-in filters to the right of the on-screen shutter. Tapping the Filters button, represented by a three circle graphic, gives access to nine real-time previews of the filters. If you like a filter, tapping on it results in a full-screen preview.

Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, picks up a couple of tricks in iOS 8. It shows you exactly what you’re saying as you’re saying it and now lets you purchase iTunes content without launching the iTunes app.

But by far the most important feature update is the new Hey, Siri command. Now, when your iOS device is plugged into power, Siri listens for the command Hey, Siri. This is a feature I longed for years ago, and I’m glad it’s here. I found the Hey, Siri command especially useful in two specific situations: If you work from home (or in an area where talking out loud to the phone isn’t a big deal) or in the car. In fact, the Hey, Siri hand’s free functionality may tide over some Apple fans who are waiting for their cars to support Apple’s CarPlay technology.

A feature new to iOS 8 is Family Sharing, which allows you to consolidate up to six iCloud accounts under one credit card. All members under Family Sharing have access to each other’s purchases, including music, movies, TV shows, books and other content bought from the iTunes store.
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One of the benefits of Family Sharing is that each member can have his or her own AppleID and password. Apple also allows the creation of Apple IDs for children under 13 years old; but Restrictions and the Ask to Buy feature is turned on automatically for those accounts, and they need to be added to the family group by a legal guardian or parent.

Another benefit: Family Sharing automatically creates a shared family photo album and family calendar across your devices and automatically links family members with the Find My Friends app and service.

Perhaps the most useful feature for parents is this: When someone under the Family Sharing plan tries to buy something, parents get a notification that must be approved before the purchase and download can begin. This means no more accidental runs on your credit card due to purchases from children.

Support for iCloud — Apple’s umbrella term for a set of Internet services used to silently sync data across your Apple devices — has been beefed up in a very visible way. iCloud now has a modifiable file system in which you can create and store documents and other data. This new feature, called iCloud Drive, is essentially like a built-in DropBox for iOS and Mac users.

Like before, documents can be started on one device and finished on another, with all changes and edits applied across your other devices; the main difference is that you can create folders and arrange the data as you would any other directory on your Mac or on your iOS device via the in-app document picker. Even better: iCloud Drive is accessible not just on your Apple devices, but on your Windows PC, as well.
Search and Mail improvements

Spotlight’s search functionality has been expanded to display a new range of search results. Right from the Home screen, Spotlight can search for applications in the App Store, Wiki entries and map data for nearby places, as well as news stories. You can still search for content — like songs, TV shows, and books — but now the search shows results for matches on the iTunes Stores, too, and data like movie show times.

Mail gains some useful new features as well. For instance, you can delete, flag or mark an email as read using gestures. Swiping a finger all the way to the left on an email in the mail list deletes it, while a slow swipe to the left brings up options to Flag, Trash or access more functions, including reply, forward, move to junk, and the option to be notified if anyone replies to that email thread.
ios8 swipe email options Michael de Agonia

Swiping left in Mail displays email options.

Swiping across an email to the right brings up the option to Mark as Read (or Unread, depending on the message status). This is a customizable option under Settings>Mail, Contacts, Calendars>Swipe Options, but there aren’t many options to choose from. You can either Mark as Read/Unread or flag the email using the swipes; I would have really loved to see an option to Move to Junk. I think I would have used that feature more than anything else on the iPhone, actually.

Email subscribers to a Microsoft Exchange server can be happy knowing that Mail now supports automatic replies for out of office notifications and that Mail is aware of free/busy status in Exchange calendars.

Mail also recognizes reservations, flight confirmations and other data. When this occurs, Mail sends a notification prompting you to add that data to a calendar event or its appropriate location.
Stay healthy

Before iOS 8, I was using TactioHealth to consolidate all of my health and fitness data from my assortment of devices and apps. Now, with the built-in HealthKit, Apple is offering a single repository for this data, which is then displayed in the app called Health using a customizable dashboard. Third party apps can tap into the data that resides there and also have the ability to add their own data.

HealthKit tracks all sorts of data, including active calories, blood glucose, body fat percentage, caffeine intake, cycling distance, flights climbed, heart rate, lean body mass, respiratory rate, steps taken throughout the day, walking and running distance, and even vitamin intake.

There is even a medical ID card that contains your information, including medical conditions, medical notes, allergies and reactions, medications and emergency contact information. All of this is opt in; the app doesn’t go poking around for your data without your permission.

Apple is working with several hospitals on patient trials using the HealthKit services, according to Reuters. If this catches on, this could be huge for everyone.

Like HealthKit, HomeKit is a repository for specific data. Unlike HealthKit, HomeKit is focused on device data associated with home automation products. Devices with HomeKit support can even be operated with your voice, via Siri.

One of the major features of iOS 8 won’t be available to the general public until the arrival of OS X 10.10 (aka Yosemite), due in October. That’s because the next set of features links iPhones and iPads with Apple’s traditional Mac lineup in a set of features called Continuity. Continuity is made up of: Handoff, AirDrop, Automatic Hotspot, and, eventually, SMS relay.

Handoff is a great new feature in which your Apple devices are aware of what each is doing. If you need to switch to a different device, you can continue your work on that device automatically. For example, if you’re browsing the Web on your Mac and decide to go outside, you can continue reading that webpage on the iPhone by swiping up the icon located on the lower left of the Lock Screen. That icon changes depending on what app you are using; swiping up on the icon will open whatever you were doing on the Mac on the iPhone, continuing your work on one device exactly where you left off on the other.

It works in the other direction, too. If you start an email on the iPhone and return to your Mac, an email app icon will display on the left hand side of the Dock. Clicking on that icon will open up the email you were composing on the iPhone right where you left off. And that’s just one example; Handoff works with many of Yosemite’s built-in apps, and the technology is open to developers so they can incorporate these features into their apps.

AirDrop lets iOS and Mac users share documents, photos, videos and other data wirelessly and securely. The difference with AirDrop in Yosemite and iOS 8 is that (finally) Macs can wirelessly transfer files to iOS devices and vice versa.

Automatic Hotspot is a feature I initially underestimated. This is a zero-configuration personal hotspot, allowing your Mac to access the Internet using a cellular-connected iPhone or iPad. With this feature, any cell-enabled iOS 8 device logged in with your iCloud information can be easily set up to be used as a hotspot. iOS 8 devices just show up under the Mac’s Wi-Fi list — a single click grants you access to the internet.

This feature can really come in handy. My neighborhood suffered a power outage over the summer. On a whim, I clicked on the Wi-Fi icon in the Mac’s menu and noticed that my iPad and iPhone were listed. One click later, my MacBook Pro was back online, no muss, no fuss. That’s impressive.

Another great feature is the ability to make and receive phone calls from the Mac or another iOS device. For example, if your iPhone is being charged on the other side of the house and you receive a phone call, your Mac and other iOS devices now display the Caller ID information, and you can pick up the call on any device. It works the other way, too — if you dial a number from your Mac or iPad, the devices will use the FaceTime app to route the call through the iPhone, including numbers from contacts or webpages.

Finally, SMS support lets your Mac or iPad send SMS and MMS messages right from their respective apps. (Previously, only iMessages between Apple devices were possible in the existing app.) This feature is due in October.

As you can see, the features in Continuity extend the usefulness of Apple products by allowing new kinds of interaction between devices. Unfortunately, unless you signed up for the public beta program, you’ll have to wait until Yosemite is released in October. Trust me: These features are worth the wait.
Encouraging development

Speaking of waiting: Many iPhone fans have wondered whether Apple engineers would ever allow the use of third-party software to extend functionality and, with iOS 8, that wait is (mostly, kind of) over. iOS 8 has some features that will give developers the ability to extend the operating system without compromising security through Extensions.

As I mentioned earlier, Notification Center will now support third-party widgets and actionable alerts; additionally, the Sharing button can be customized with third-party actions and additional sharing options. For instance, developers can add actions like Translations or their own photo filters to Apple’s Photos app. Documents and specific app data are available to other apps via secure APIs, so that data is no longer living in its own silo.

While the built-in keypad now provides contextually sensitive suggestions on a per-thread level, that’s not the only news for virtual keyboard fans. Extensions offer support for additional third party keyboards as well, so expect a flood to hit the market shortly after iOS 8’s release.

iOS 8 also opens up other possibilities for developers by allowing access to Touch ID results, as well as new directions for their apps with Camera, HealthKit, HomeKit, PhotoKit and CloudKit APIs. These new APIs grant developers access to specific aspects of the operating system without compromising user security.

Developers also have access to other underlying technologies called SpriteKit, SceneKit and Metal that should help create some amazing games. Finally, Apple has introduced Swift, a new programming language for building iOS apps.

Following up last year’s successful iOS 7 launch couldn’t have been easy. But overall, the new features in iOS 8 are really handy, and are implemented in ways that don’t slow down the system or bog down the interface with clutter.

There are some features that Apple has taken longer to implement compared to its competition — such as the ability for apps to access each other’s data or support for third-party keyboards — but Apple added these features without compromising on security by creating APIs specifically to address those shortcomings.
Bottom line

Do I recommend iOS 8? Like any first-release software, there are a few rough spots and lingering bugs — but for the most part, iOS 8 is as responsive and snappy as iOS 7 before it.

iOS 8 introduces some new features that you will be using on daily basis, including the handy actionable notifications and — when Yosemite is released in October — all of the features under Continuity. Many people will love the fact that applications are now allowed to extend the operating system beyond Apple’s original specs, and still others will like Apple’s new health-tracking initiatives.

There is no doubt iOS 8 is packed full of really handy features, and other than the obligatory warning regarding first-release software, I can sincerely recommend upgrading to iOS 8.


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6 Hot New IT Roles for 2015

The breakneck pace of change in the IT industry is forcing you to change the way you think about attracting and hiring skilled workers. Here are six new IT roles for 2015 and advice on how to find talent to fill them.

The pace of change in IT has always been brisk, but technology advances such as virtualization, the cloud, service management and a focus on information management and collaboration have forced businesses into a dead sprint to keep up. And as technology changes, so do the skills, knowledge and job roles needed to design, build, implement and manage these cutting-edge technologies. The majority of IT organizations aren’t prepared for the battle, even as the war for talent rages on.

A Continuing Talent Crisis

According to a report by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a member-based advisory and consulting company, almost 80 percent of IT organizations don’t provide training, coaching or education for skills they expect will increase in importance, and 61 percent don’t have skills forecasts for IT as a whole. Organizations without a clear plan to address these needs risk getting left behind, says Andrew Horne, managing director of CEB.
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“The IT talent crisis isn’t new, but there’s a considerable shift happening in the skills that are in demand. We’ve identified six major roles we see as being the ‘future of corporate IT’ that we think most, if not all, innovative companies will need going forward,” Horne says.

There are plenty of opportunities for collaboration, both internally and with customers and partners, Horne says, but most organizations just aren’t good at it. With the growing digitization of business, this role will be responsible for understanding how and why employees collaborate and developing a collaboration and social media strategy, he says.

“They’ll need to know what tools for collaboration and social engagement are available and which will work best within their organization,” Horne says. “There will also be a need for the talent in this role to understand how best to foster communication and collaboration among teams.”

Candidates for the role will have backgrounds not typical in IT today, such as marketing, communications and even behavioral sciences like anthropology or organizational psychology, according to CEB.

Technology Broker
The ubiquitous nature of affordable, easy-to-use cloud-based apps has led to an influx of these applications into the enterprise, says Horne. “In the past, IT was in charge of all technology purchase decisions and developed specific vendor negotiation and purchasing skills,” Horne says. “Now, almost every department from marketing to finance has the ability to buy apps they feel will benefit their group, but in some cases these folks are more willing than able.”

A technology broker provides buying advice and negotiating support to divisions across a company to make sure purchasing decisions are sound and that technology’s compatible with existing systems, Horne says. Some brokers will have a sales or business development background, others will come from procurement or have experience managing IT providers, but all will need to help others within the company make informed decisions based on their previous experience, says Horne.

Information Insight Enabler
Most organizations have an abundance of information, reports and statistics, but aren’t using that effectively to drive business and strategic decisions, says Horne. “And information insight enabler is something of a big data role; they act as coaches, not just technologists, to help business leaders and front-line employees to derive greater insight from management reports,” he says “These folks understand the data and know best how to put it to business use,” he says.

Candidates will have experience in market research or financial research, or in analytics and statistics.

User Experience Guru
One of the major obstacles to adoption for traditional enterprise software is poor user experience – take ERP solutions, for example. “A lot of legacy enterprise tech just isn’t user-friendly, and people won’t use something that’s poorly designed or complex, and that impacts productivity in a negative way,” Horne says.

“When it comes to productivity tools for collaboration, analytics and mobile, employees will find a more usable alternative, even if it’s not ‘approved’ or provided by IT, so a user experience guru is necessary to understand and improve the user experience and improve collaboration and productivity,” says Horne.

Cloud Integration Specialist
As cloud usage increases, so does the number of business leaders purchasing their own applications and software packages (see technology broker). Unfortunately, Horne says, these individual buyers often don’t consider integration and compatibility issues with existing enterprise systems, and that can mean major business headaches.

“A cloud integration specialist is dedicated to navigating these coordination and integration issues as well as managing and educating purchasers and users on compatibility and on working with vendors to ask the right questions,” Horne says. Because of their need to understand both back-end systems and new, cloud-based technologies, candidates for this role will have the most traditional IT background of these six roles.

End-to-End IT Service Manager
The concept of IT-as-a-service requires a role that integrates business, information and technology to create end-to-end IT services that increase flexibility while maintaining efficiency, says Horne.

“This end-to-end services model takes everything IT does and stitches it all together – all the technology, data, support, applications, strategy – to create flexibility, responsiveness and efficiencies,” Horne says. These candidates will fill more senior roles with experience in areas such as service delivery, business engagement, and technology sales and marketing.

“IT-as-a-service creates an environment where IT adapts to support current practices, current business needs, incorporates new and different technologies and makes it all work seamlessly,” Horne says.

Filling in the Blanks
But identifying these roles isn’t the same as having a plan in place to develop and hire the talent to fill them, says Horne. Even the most innovative organizations will need a plan to develop talent from within and then to hire for what they can’t grow themselves.
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“Smart companies will plan to develop talent for these roles from within their existing teams, and once they’ve identified the right skill sets and where they are lacking, they’ll hire for what they don’t have,” Horme says. In the past, companies would identify a needed skill, go look for a candidate, and hire them as-needed. That worked for awhile, says Horne, until the rate of change in IT just became much too fast for hiring to keep up. Today’s lightning-fast IT environment demands a new way of looking at attracting and hiring talent, he says.
Creating a Workforce Plan

“Now, you need a workforce plan – a forward-looking plan that takes into account the future roles, skills, competencies you need. You’ll also have to be more selective when you’re hiring; you might have to change your value proposition, increase your compensation rates, or your benefits and perks. You also have to spot these skills you’re looking for within your own organization and be able to develop them,” Horne says.

It’s a matter of changing your mindset to keep up with the rate of change in the industry, Horne says. One important factor is including your IT teams and leaders in the search, vetting and hiring process to make sure IT and business needs are being met.

“Don’t try and make these hiring decisions in a vacuum or make them exclusive to executives. Don’t hide these roles from your IT team. Engage them in figuring out what holes need to be filled, what positions they need, and also who they have currently whose skills could have additional value,” Horne says. “If you already employ people with cross-functional experience, you can build on existing skills and teach or train the others. You’ve already gotten ahead of the curve,” he says.


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How to avoid 10 common Active Directory mistakes

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.

Managing user privileges in a Windows setting presents numerous challenges for admins tasked with keeping everyone’s information safe and secure. Serious damage can be accomplished by those with elevated privileges that have bad intentions, but sometimes vulnerabilities are introduced by IT admins managing Active Directory (AD). Below are 10 common mistakes:

1. Everyday accounts with elevated credentials. Most security savvy organizations avoid this mistake by giving users with elevated privileges, such as a domain admin, a normal account to log onto their machine and a privileged, or, what many refer to as a .adm account, for elevated access. The reason for the separation is to avoid security breaches such as a spear phishing attack while logged into the account with elevated credentials.

2. Turning off Object Protections. Have you ever been working on something, hit the delete key, and realize just how big a mistake you were about to make if it weren’t for the confirmation asking if you were sure you wanted to delete? This is usually followed by the moving of your mouse to the cancel button with brain surgeon like precision. A better option would be to never turn off object protection.

3. No consistent way to deal with obsolete accounts. Have you ever seen an Active Directory with significantly more user accounts than actual users in the organization? This is often a telltale sign of an organization without a good policy for dealing with obsolete accounts. Enabled accounts that aren’t actively being used are one of biggest security threats in any organization. Develop a plan to disable and ultimately delete obsolete accounts.

4. Putting all your eggs in the hands of the brilliant scripter. A mistake many organizations make when it comes to mission critical scripting is having all their eggs in the basket of a single scripter who is the only one that can make them all work. You need to make sure at least two people understand, have access to, and can create and modify any scripts running in your environment. This prevents the single point of failure in case the person who created the script leaves your organization.

5. Putting users in domain admins. When in doubt, delegate rights. Despite the level of flexibility provided for delegation in Active Directory, it’s been 14 years since Windows NT people still added users to domain admins in lieu of doing proper delegation. Ignoring the concept of least privilege is a major security issue.

6. Poor Active Directory Design. I once heard of an organization that structured its Active Directory design based on the alphabet. There were 26 top level OUs, one for each letter. Under each top level OU were functional OU’s like Sales, Marketing, Development, etc., each replicated 26 times. Needless to say, provisioning and de-provisioning of user accounts, group policy management, and permissions management was a nightmare to support. Shortcuts were taken, and most users had too many rights.

7. Refusing to extend Schema under any circumstance. Any good Active Directory administrator will tell you that extending the schema in your AD is not a decision that should be made lightly. Once your role out a schema extension there is no native way to role it back. This is not to say there is never a good time to extend schema. Weigh the pros and cons of addressing your business critical issues with a solution that extends vs. one that does not. If the best decision is to extend schema, do so with caution. Even though you cannot delete the extensions once deployed, they can be deactivated and rendered inert.

8. Poor backup/recovery plans. If someone deletes 10,000 directory objects today, how quickly can you recover? If an automated feed from HR improperly modifies the telephone number on thousands of users, how do you recover? Planning and testing recovery options are a must for all organizations to quickly recover from mistakes. Figuring out how to recover after an automated feed or user error puts you behind the eight ball and impacts downtime.

9. To slow to modernize. Not many companies want to be on the bleeding edge of any software rollout; however, being four to five major versions behind is the other extreme. When the trigger to upgrade is EOL on support, you’ve missed out on many advances in technology that you couldn’t capitalize on because of the age of your infrastructure. You don’t need to run the latest version of AD days after it is released; however, using extremely dated versions presents numerous challenges. Put together a modernization plan for your Active Directory domain controllers to stay closer to the latest code stream without living constantly on the upgrade treadmill.

10. Shared Administrative Accounts. I once worked with an organization that failed an audit because too many users belonged to the domain administrators group. To resolve this issue, the company removed all users from domain admins and added back only two accounts.The problem was that everyone who used to have domain admin accounts received account logon information for the two new domain admins.

This company didn’t actually decrease the number of people with elevated privileges, but, removed a layer of security and accountability by allowing users to share privileged accounts. In other words, there is no accountability when numerous people share credentials to an account.

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