Monday, November 19, 2018

Windows 10, Fall 2018 Update (v1809) Failure

Not going to sit here and complain about how 1809 deleted my user files (it didn't), or how it destroyed my activation key (it didn't).

My post here serves as more of a usability issue - a functionality glitch that someone at Microsoft might have missed.

We run the LTSB version of Windows 10 at my work to keep the operating system as stable as it can be.  With that decision was also the knowledge that we would be missing a few items that some folks might care about:

  • Microsoft Edge (latest browser - replacement of Internet Explorer)
  • Microsoft Store (their online purchasing system for apps, music and movies)
Losing Edge wasn't such a big deal.  Losing the Store and half my users lost their minds.  Some wanted the subsystem for Linux which stupidly requires the Microsoft Store to download and install - lame, Microsoft, very lame.

Some other users encountered some 'printer' issues that required the store to download the latest driver set and application (HP) - that is lame too.

But with the latest update to version 1809 of Windows 10, the LTSB nomenclature was changed to LTSC (B for branch in the former, and C for channel in the latter).  

With this update, we got the essential 1809 code update, but still lacking in those two areas mentioned above.

Here is the issue I have.  The new UI features are now updated to reflect the latest offerings in the Windows 10 non-LTSC installs... See picture below:

The striking item about the picture above.. is that for the first time, there is a THEMES area in a LTSB(C) install.  The second thing to see (and highlighted) is there are a lot of hooks into such things like the Microsoft Store.  Click on that item and you are met with: 

See the issue here.. You need the MS-WINDOWS-STORE to open the Microsoft Store, but it isn't installed.  

There are little issues like this all over the updated OS.  

Here is another one - from the SNIPPING TOOL:

I use this tool a lot in my daily activity and now I am prompted to move to SNIP & SKETCH (a better version of the snipping tool).  The problem is, you click the TRY button and it states that you need the app MS-SCREENSKETCH which you can only get from... drumroll please... the Windows App Store.

See the issue here.  It is as if Microsoft Engineers were simply too lazy to remove these items that now taunt you to go to the Store or Try this new App or update your Themes (btw - none of these UI issues were present in the 2016 LTSB version we are running here... only the 2019 LTSC).

Microsoft - please take a bit more time to discern which OS you are programming for and 'hide' these elements so people aren't taunted for the next 3 years.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

Proper Documentation REQUIRED!

IT is my life.  I have been in the field of IT since 1989, some 29 years (25 of which have been paid engagements/jobs).  My first computer was a Macintosh SE with dual floppy drives - no hard drive and 1MB of RAM.

Recently, I took over the entire IT organization at my company (Virtual Instruments) and while my IT strengths lie within Infrastructure (the servers, routers, switches, laptops, etc.), I am rapidly adapting my expertise towards managing the Application side of our business.  Here is a bit about that journey.

From Nothing, Order, Chaos and then Order again

I have been employed by Virtual Instruments since 2009.  While on paper, I am employee 76 - I am of but one of a handful that has been around since the beginning of the company to now.  All of my time was devoted to the Infrastructure side of the organization.  While our applications division work was acceptable in the past, it was not exceptional.   There was a period of time when we had a Director of Apps (Anne Riotoc) and she was awesome!  She had the requisite skills to manage the department and projects.  You knew where you stood with Anne and I cannot speak enough good words about her performance and professionalism.  Unfortunately, she left in 2015 and the lack of back-filling this position created a vacuum that created chaos and the 'wild west' attitude within our APPS division.   Our Apps department managed as best as they could, but with little oversight and too many tasks and not enough time.  From late 2015 to early 2018, they existed in mostly a fire-fighting mode.  The dark ages.  Lots of changes where made to systems, but almost zero documentation.  I took over in 2018 and my goal was to bring stability and industry best practices to help bring light to a department that was covered in shadows.  This also meant a fair amount of reverse engineering had to be done. 

We use an ERP system that has no direct integration with our CRM or warehouse system.  To get around this, we have to use middle-ware like BOOMI from Dell to offload the heaving lifting of orders from our CRM to our ERP and warehouse systems.  The issue I have run into multiple times is trying to understand what exactly the programmer was attempting to accomplish by his Boomi workflows (processes).  Some are straight forward and make perfect sense.  Some have multiple forked workflows that seem to be a meandering mess and at times, party incoherent.

There is nothing like staring at code and asking yourself, "What was this person trying to do here?".

How can we fix this?  I decided to employ what I knew from years of my IT experience to my Apps department.

An ITIL junkie!

Did I mention... I like ITIL?

What I have to say that I live and die by is this:  "There is no reason why a person in IT should forego the proper documentation".  Especially when excercising within the correct industry standard framework like ITIL or COBIT.  What is ITIL?  What are the stages:
  1. ITIL SERVICE STRATEGY - or, How to align IT DEPT activities with that of the core business
  2. ITIL SERVICE DESIGN - design & adapt services that support the business
  3. ITIL SERVICE TRANSITION - transition of service/system  through change management, testing and knowledge training on new system
  4. ITIL SERVICE OPERATION - Event and Incident Management in a nutshell
  5. ITIL CONTINUAL SERVICE IMPROVEMENT - identify and implement strategies to improve or provide better service in the future
Employing something like ITIL/COBIT towards a set of system/services won't allow for you to work without documenting things. 

The fluidity of my predecessors project skills, sans any IT framework, allowed critical details to be lost once the project was completed.  There was no documentation and almost no notes.  Forget understanding what logic went behind decision making.  Anyway - my point is that while our systems are stable and working, there has been a general lack of documentation as to the intent of the originating programmer(s) who have been developing things over the past.  Couple this poor documentation with poor architectural design and this brings about a system of operations that are more difficult to manage than they should be.

Following the framework while working on a new system, will assist in bringing clarity to the project.  While this article cannot dive into the specifics of ITIL, step-by-step, just know that using an industry standard framework like ITIL or COBIT will benefit your organization - greatly.  No IT team is too small to start adhering to the practices - a team as little as 2-5 people... can see benefits. There is a method in the madness of ITIL.  There is a reason it works. 

You can find general details about ITIL here:

While ITIL offered the framework to implement a system/service, it wasn't the only thing we required.  We needed a way to bring together our thoughts and ideas and document all that we were accomplishing through our processes.  This brings me to our tools...

New Tools

In order to give more clarity to our application systems/services, we started employing several new tools to assist:
  • Atlassian Confluence - cannot say enough about Atlassian. They have some remarkable tools and of all the WIKI like systems, I found that Atlassian is phenomenal.  Love the interface and ease of use - my users cannot be hampered by a tool when I am asking them to be agile in their thinking and analysis - the tool cannot get in the way
  • Jira or other HelpDesk - while we were already using a helpdesk system, I wanted to mention that you need to track issues/problems - No reason why there shouldn't be an incident or request tracking system.  Every IT team should have one - it is necessary for day-to-day operations and metrics
  • Github- storing source code or items within a repository is another way of not only documenting, but capturing versioning details - Github is an industry standard that is also a very wise tool to implement - while my infrastructure team doesn't use github, this is invaluable for an application team.
  • Monday.COM - while not really a tool for documentation, it is a good way to give clarity to multi-faceted projects.  My infrastructure team uses this for large scale moves of data center racks with a lot of moving parts and communication
  • SLACK - great tool for communication and collaboration

Rebuilding and Scaling

Today, given our new tools and mission statement, we are more visible and accessible to the organization.  We are doing more with a skilled and agile team and using contractors when required to fill technical gaps we might have.  More importantly, we are peeling back the onion layers on our systems and services that previously were black holes of data consumption.  

I am the virtual TOTO exposing the wizard behind the curtain.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Apple Announcement Day - Fall 2018

I won't bore you with predictions.  There are way too many sites that have a better line on the details and leaks coming from our little Cupertino based company.  I won't speculate on the offerings.

What I will do is editorialize on the death of the sub-$1000 smartphone.  While the iPhone has only been around for about 10 years, the cost of that device has gone up exponentially.  Long gone are the days of subsidized phone plans that made a foray into the smart world economically better than today's market.

You are left with two options - maybe a third:

  1. purchase the phone outright - I did this last year - cost $1200 dollars for the 256 GB iPhone X not including the tax and time spent waiting in line to get it
  2. purchase through an installment plan through cellular provider - not a bad offering, but all it does is spread the same payments out over 12 or 24 months - you will still pay the full retail cost of the phone, just in bite-sized chunks every month
  3. buy a used, older model phone (for a tech guy like me - not an option)
This year will not be any different.  I swore that last year, that the iPhone X would be one of my last smartphones from Apple - given the exorbitant pricing.  The iPhone X costs Apple about $400 to make, but sells for a minimum of $1000.  That is a $600 margin.

Here is a breakdown of the model, costs to manufacture (at the time) and retail cost (at the time) of every iPhone base model:

iPhone Jun-2007 $220 $499
iPhone 3G Jul-2008 $174 $199
iPhone 3GS Jun-2009 $179 $199
iPhone 4 Jun-2010 $187 $199
iPhone 4S Oct-2011 $188 $199
iPhone 5 Sep-2012 $194 $199
iPhone 5C Sep-2013 $173 $99
iPhone 5S Sep-2013 $198 $199
iPhone 6 Sep-2014 $211 $199
iPhone 6+ Sep-2014 ? $299
iPhone 6S Sep-2015 $211 $649
iPhone 6S+ Sep-2015 $236 $749
iPhone SE Mar-2016 $160 $399
iPhone 7 Sep-2016 $224 $649
iPhone 7+ Sep-2016 $277 $769
iPhone 8 Sep-2017 $247 $699
iPhone 8+ Sep-2017 $295 $799
iPhone X Sep-2017 $370 $999
iPhone Xs Sep-2018 ? $999
iPhone Xs Max Sep-2018 $370 $1099
iPhone Xr Sep-2018 $? $749
Take-aways from the above table (data grabbed from IHS over the years) is that Phone subsidies stopped around the iPhone 6/6S time frame.  This started in 2013 and moved through the carriers and by the time the iPhone 7 came around, the entire subsidized market had ended.

Also - The Xs, Xs MAX and Xr were announced today - I put their numbers there... but damn.   The era of sub $1000 smartphones is truly at an end.  There are a few great smaller companies out there making headway and doing some cool things for under $1000 - OnePlus is a great android option, but if you are in the Apple Universe and love that eco-system, you will continue to pony up.

The Apple Watch is a great example of that.

I had the 1 series - passed off to my 13 year old, now.  I have the 3 series with Cellular - paid $429 for that watch last year (Sept 2017).  Series 4 was announced today and the non-Cellular version starts out at $429 - with cellular now ponying up an extra Benjamin for the privilege of using the watch without my phone, which was a valued proposition at $429... but now it is $529!

Needless to say, to refresh my line-up for 2018... will set me back around $1800 or so.  WOW!

What point do I look at the value add and see what makes the best sense.  I think I will update the watch - because the EKG is worth the extra money.  But... the phone... I think I will wait to see the reviews on the camera and the other functions to see if the "S" is valued enough.