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January 29, 2015

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How Microsoft Is Raising the Bar with Windows 10

Last week, Microsoft showed the world what the final version of Windows 10 will look like, unveiling a variety of new features and apps that signal a new direction for the latest operating system (OS). In fact, Microsoft execs claim the company skipped Windows 9 because 10 is such a radical overhaul rather than an incremental update.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to create more perceived distance between the new product and the Windows 8 debacle. Windows 8 and 8.1 were widely panned by both experts and the average user, combining to own just 12 percent of OS market share, far less than Windows 7 (53 percent) and even XP (24 percent), which is no longer supported.

Microsoft is going to great lengths to ensure widespread acceptance of Windows 10 by launching the Windows Insider program, a collaborative initiative developed to make the product more intuitive and user-friendly. Participants receive a technical preview of Windows 10 and are encouraged to provide feedback throughout development as updates are made. A Windows Feedback app can be used to offer suggestions and identify issues, while the Windows Technical Preview Forum enables insiders to interact with Microsoft engineers and other program participants.

At the top of the list of highlights for the new Windows 10 is the return of the Start Menu, which had been replaced by a confusing Start screen in Windows 8. Not only is the Start Menu back, but it’s bigger and can be viewed in full screen, providing users with one-click access to their most commonly used files and functionality. It can also be customized to include the user’s favorite apps, programs, people and websites.

Another major change is the emergence of Spartan, a new browser that is expected to replace Internet Explorer and be available on all mobile and desktop versions of Windows 10. Key features include built-in note creation and sharing capabilities, and the ability to save a page with one click for later viewing from any device. Windows 10 users will also be introduced to Cortana, a virtual assistant similar to Google Now and Apple Siri. Just say, “Hey Cortana” to receive help and take advantage of far greater intelligence than Cortana had in Windows Phone.

The Surface Hub, a massive tablet available in 55-inch and 84-inch versions, may represent the boardroom and conference room of the future. Surface Hub includes Skype for Business, OneNote, cameras, sensors and microphones, which are used by Windows 10 to deliver high-quality audio and video, recognize gesture controls, and enable the use of a smart pen to turn Surface Hub into a whiteboard.

Improved multitasking functionality, such as Snap Assist, helps users combine or snap apps together – up to four in a single window – and intuitively recommends what additional apps to use. Multiple desktops make it possible for users to easily create, differentiate and switch among different projects instead of having groups of apps and files that serve different purposes open on the same desktop.

Perhaps the most significant change in Windows 10 is that it represents Microsoft’s first cross-platform OS, capable of delivering a natural, seamless user experience across all Windows desktop and mobile devices. Universal apps, including the Microsoft Office suite of programs, a new Photos app and the new Spartan browser, will work virtually the same on a Windows 10 phone as a laptop. OneDrive will enable files to be synced and shared across devices and services.

Windows 10 is expected to be launched in late summer of 2015 and will be offered as a free upgrade for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users for one year. Let ICG, a Microsoft technology partner, show you how to best utilize the new features and functionality to achieve your business goals.


December 1, 2014

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8 Factors to Consider when Outsourcing Software Development

In a previous post, we discussed why you should consider outsourcing software development instead of hiring a full-time employee or contractor. Software developers are in demand, making them hard to find, expensive and difficult to retain. When you outsource software development, you gain access to an entire team of developers and greater accountability. Costs are also reduced because you only pay for the services you need, and the software development firm is responsible for purchasing and maintaining the technology resources that developers need to do their jobs.


The decision to outsource can be a relatively easy one. Choosing the right software development firm is a different story. Here are eight factors to consider during the evaluation process.


1) Look for a firm with diverse experience. A firm that has worked with a variety of customers and technologies will likely bring more to the table in terms of flexibility, adaptability and innovation than a firm that specializes in very specific technologies and industries. Of course, the firm should have plenty of experience in your industry and understand how your business works.


2) Don’t choose based upon name recognition. Big name software companies are often more expensive because you pay for their reputation. They may have a great team of software developers on staff, but you won’t be guaranteed to get the cream of the crop for your particular project.


3) Understand their development methodology. A reputable, experienced firm should have a well-defined process for software development that minimizes risk and includes regular communication. Avoid firms that are unable to clearly explain their methodology in detail.


4) Make sure they have enough developers. You software development needs will increase and decrease according to your business needs. The firm you hire should have enough developers to handle increased workloads.


5) Get and contact references. A reputable software development firm should be willing and able to provide references. Call them to find out what went well and what went wrong so you can learn from their experiences. If the software development firm doesn’t have a portfolio on their website, ask to see samples of their work.


6) Look for frequent deployments of application updates. Applications always need to be fine-tuned. Frequent releases – every one or two days – allow you to test and report bugs and benefit sooner from updates and improvements.


7) Find out what kind of support is offered. In most cases, you’ll need help configuring new applications, understanding various functionality, and learning how to use the software. The support you receive after the application is installed is just as important as the development process.


8) Test their responsiveness. Contact them by phone and email and see how long it takes to get a response. Ask a lot of questions and make sure the answers are sufficient. Poor communication and a lack of transparency should be deal breakers.


ICG has been designing, developing and deploying custom applications for more than 35 years. Let us use our experience and proven development processes to provide your organization with the software tools it needs to succeed.

November 24, 2014

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Why You Should Consider Outsourcing Software Development

Software developers are in demand. Sometimes viewed as the “creatives” of the IT department, software developers typically create the applications that make it possible for employees to perform their jobs and for organizations to innovate, gain competitive advantages, and better serve their customers. Every organization needs expert developers to succeed. This explains why unemployment for software developers is about half that of the national average.


Clearly, it’s a seller’s market. Software developers are able to ask for the moon and pick and choose from organizations that are in desperate need of their services. Hiring a full-time employee or contractor tends to be a long, expensive process. Organizations that lack in-depth understanding of software development risk prolonging the process by making the wrong choice. From a cost perspective, there is much more to consider than the employee’s compensation package. You have to purchase hardware, software, tools and licenses that the employee will need to do the job.


If you hire a software developer and that person leaves six months later, who will be able to handle those tasks? When talent is in demand, you have to be prepared for them to move on to the next opportunity, and have fresh talent ready to assume those responsibilities. Hiring in-house software developers can easily turn into a never-ending cycle of rehiring and retraining that drains time and resources and hampers the innovation that you were hoping to enable.


You can eliminate most of these challenges by outsourcing software development. Instead of looking for, relying upon and struggling to retain one superstar, you get a whole team with redundancy in skills and expertise. That means you only pay for the services you need, and you don’t have to worry about gaps in skill sets that often result in project delays and internal finger-pointing.


The firm you hire is also responsible for providing their software developers with the tools and infrastructure required to perform their jobs, which can dramatically reduce your capital and operational costs. Because each project is typically managed according to predefined milestones and objectives that are spelled out in a contract, outsourcing software development adds a layer of accountability and keeps projects on schedule.


In the next post, we’ll discuss what factors you should consider when contracting with an outsourced software development firm.

January 6, 2014

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Microsoft End-of-Support: Three Months and Counting


On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support several of its most widely used desktop and server products, including:

  • Windows XP SP3
  • Office 2003
  • Small Business Server 2003
  • Exchange Server 2003
  • SharePoint Portal Server 2003

End-of-support means that Microsoft will no longer release security patches and updates for these products after their sunset dates. If new security threats emerge, your organization will be vulnerable to attack.

Regulatory compliance is another major concern. For example, a Windows XP machine will not be HIPAA-compliant after support ends, so organizations responsible for protecting sensitive patient data and health information must upgrade. Retailers running point-of-sale and payment systems on XP machines will no longer be PCI compliant.

Using unsupported products simply isn’t worth the risk. But despite the looming deadline, Windows XP remains the second most widely used desktop operating system, with just under 30 percent market share. If you still have XP machines in your IT environment, it’s time to begin enacting a migration plan.

Most organizations are choosing Windows 7 because of the learning curve associated with Windows 8. Windows 7 is now the number one desktop operating system, with about 48 percent of the market, according to Net Market Share. Windows 8 and 8.1 together have about 10 percent. Apple products are becoming more popular in the workplace, although OS X holds less than 3 percent of the market.

End-of-support for Windows XP also offers an opportunity to reevaluate your desktop strategy. We will take up that topic in our next post.

If you’re using Small Business Server 2003, you’ll need to choose an alternative as this popular product is being discontinued. Microsoft is steering small businesses toward Windows Server 2012 Essentials, which enables anytime, anywhere network access on virtually any desktop or mobile device. But Windows Server 2012 Essentials is ideal for fewer than 25 users, whereas Small Business Server supported up to 75 users, so consider your organization’s growth projections when making this decision.

If you’re running Exchange Server 2003, it might be more cost-effective to move your email services to the cloud. SharePoint Portal Server provides an internal, web-based collaboration and file-sharing platform — cloud-based services might prove more efficient here as well.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not include Exchange, so you may determine that you don’t need to keep Exchange in house. In this case, Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office, is a solid option. Still, there are considerations: This pay-as-you-go service includes only the latest version of Office, so there may be compatibility issues if you have other software that integrates with Office.

We understand that this process can be overwhelming, so we are here to help you develop a plan that fits into your budget and minimizes disruption to your business. The experts at ICG can help you determine what IT functions you need, what options are available, and how you can benefit from these end-of-support deadlines.