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TechsForBiz | Technologies for Business | Business IT Challenges and Solutions

Archive for June 2010

I have been using Windows 7 on a daily basis now for several months, and overall I am very pleased with it. Compared with Vista, it is much, much more stable and the Aero user interface is just plain gorgeous.

Speaking of the UI, Microsoft built in some really cool keyboard tricks that can make your life a lot easier and amaze your friends. Check these out (all of these involve pressing the ‘Windows’ key on the keyboard, followed by a second key–similar to the Shift or Control keys):

Win+Left Arrow: make the current window use only the left half of the screen.

Win+Right Arrow: make the current window use only the right half of the screen. (combine the Win+Left Arrow and Win+Right Arrow to quickly put two windows side-by-side)

Win+Up Arrow: Maximize the current window

Win+Down Arrow: “Restore down” the current window (make it smaller)

Win+Shift+Right/Left Arrow: if you have multiple monitors, this moves the current window to the right / left monitor, depending on which arrow key you press. Very cool.

Win+P (this is my favorite): bring up a list of available projector and display options. For example, you can quickly choose to send the video output to a projector, or extend the desktop onto a second monitor, etc. This is a much simpler way to accomplish this task than earlier methods, which generally were manufacturer-specific (e.g. Fn+F8 on certain Dell laptops)

Win+Home: Minimize all extra windows other than the currently selected one. You can also do this by “shaking” the window (clicking on the top of the window and quickly shaking it back and forth).

Win+{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0): automatically launches (or brings to the front if running) the first ten icons in the “quick launch” section of the task bar; for example, Win+1 automatically launches the first icon, Win+2 the second, Win+0 the tenth, etc. Note that it’s possible to drag-and-drop the order of the icons in order to put the desired icons in the right places.

And, last, but certainly not least, there is now a button on the extreme right side of the taskbar that, when clicked, immediately minimizes all windows and gives you an unfettered view of the desktop.

Stay tuned for more Win 7 tips and techniques!

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Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, is one of the biggest trends in business today. The notion of simply subscribing to a business application rather than purchasing and maintaining software and hardware is a compelling one. Companies like Salesforce.com and Google have built very successful businesses around the SaaS model, and today there are literally hundreds–perhaps thousands–of SaaS vendors.

Intuit, best known for Quicken and Quickbooks software, has a couple of SaaS offerings, including Homesites, a quick and easy way to launch and maintain Websites, and Quickbooks Online, a SaaS version of their well-known accounting software.

I have been running my business using Quickbooks Online for the past several months, and by and large have been very pleased with it. Granted, my needs are simple, mostly related to accounts payable and accounts receivable, but nonetheless I have become very dependent on the service to run my business on a day-to-day basis.

Intuit suffered an outage beginning around 7pm on Tuesday June 15th that continued for around 24 hours that affected the online versions of Quickbooks, Turbotax and Quicken software. Users, which by and large are small businesses, could not process credit cards, send checks, issue invoices, and do payroll. This outage had enormous impact on their customers.

The only notification users received was a sticky note on the Quickbooks website that said something to the effect of “We’ll be back soon…”  After the service was restored, Intuit put an apology up on the website, along with a lame explanation of what happened:

“Our preliminary investigation indicates the outage occurred during a routine maintenance procedure Tuesday night. An accidental power failure during that procedure affected both our primary and backup systems, taking a number of Intuit websites and services offline. While power was quickly restored, we’re working diligently to validate our systems and bring them back into full operation.”

This, in my opinion as a seasoned technology professional, is completely unacceptable. If a company is going to provide business-critical applications via the SaaS model, it had better be 110% sure that problems like this cannot affect all primary and backup systems at the same time. While details as to the exact mechanics of the failure may never come to light, I for one am seriously considering taking my business elsewhere–and recommending that others do the same. Intuit is obviously not ready for SaaS prime time!

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