Amazon Kindle? To e-read or not to e-read?

I am a huge book fan. I love the thrill of buying books, I love the smell (don’t pretend like I am the only one), I love reading the blurb and the first chapter and getting excited about the next in a series. So if books “work” why go electronic? Kindles…what’s the fascination?

Kindle_PW

They are convenient, they are small, slim and have the capacity to store over 1000 books (you’d look nuts trying to haul its physical counterpart around the train station in rush hour!) Some people have complained about not being able to expand the memory (no slot available for a memory card), but, seriously who needs more than one thousand books in one sitting! You can always remove the ones you don’t want and put on new ones. For people that aren’t familiar, you don’t lose what you don’t have on your Kindle at any given time either. Amazon stores them for you like your very own library all accessible at any computer connected up the internet and the great thing about this library is you can be as loud as you want – no one can here you scream!

Anyone that loves a book knows this feeling: you buy a book, you think “ohhh psychological thriller, well this should be pleasingly gory”, you read 4 or 5 chapters no one has so much as grazed their knee and you’re not sure if Susan is actually as psycho as the blurb and reviews make out. Got a Kindle? Skip it and move on to the next book! Bored of a genre? Choose another! Want to read a comic? Read one! Of course you would have needed to have previously downloaded these to the device, but, Amazon has a function called Whispernet and you can get a new book effortlessly in seconds, so there isn’t really an excuse not to have another option. If you were holding a real book you’d be stuck on the train tediously trying to avoid eye contact with everyone whilst flicking between the book and staring at the ad you’ve read a thousand times before!

The main selling point of the Kindle is that the books are cheaper than the physical version. The most expensive thing about the Kindle is the kindle itself. A kindle Paperwhite, the newer version of the original Kindle is £109 off of Amazon. Not an overly expensive purchase in the grand scheme of things.

I did a bit of research to show why financially I think it’s worth having a Kindle – I am going to be comparing the prices of the paper versions and e-versions of The Gone Series by Michael Grant (yes, it is a children’s series, but I love it and we’ll have no judgments here!).

kindle

The above table shows the prices of the e-books bought from Amazon in the left column and the prices of the real books bought from Waterstones in the right. With a saving of £28.50 on the entire series we have claimed back just over 31% of our initial £109 layout for the kindle. So if you are a heavy reader the savings that you could make over 3 or 4 series of books would have rendered the initial price for the kindle void and then from there it’s just total savings! Thank you technology.

Also, Amazon does have a massive library of free, yes FREE, books that are readily available and pleasingly are treated much the same as the best sellers in that they rank in order of downloads and the list in constantly changing. Also www.archive.org stores over 2.5 million books completely free! A huge library and I am confident that there is something to suit everyone. There are other sites out there see http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2245146011 for a more extensive list.
Below are a few of the specifications on the Kindle Paperwhite taken from the Amazon websight. I’ve put the link below just in case I have inspired you to take a look.

Patented built-in light evenly illuminates the screen to provide the perfect reading experience in all lighting conditions (This light is amazing at first I was sceptical thinking that it would be uncomfortable looking into a light, but it is great. I think this is a fabulous idea for a person who likes to read a lot and has a partner who likes to sleep a lot. Its just a soft glow of light that only surrounds the Kindle and it beats having to get up and switch the light off). Even in bright sunlight, Paperwhite delivers clear, crisp text and images with no glare. (I tested this in the Cypriot sun. It’s true! I was also sceptical about this… But alas there was no glare!).

Kindle-Paperwhite

New hand-tuned fonts – 6 font styles, 8 adjustable sizes (This is very helpful for those of us less blessed in the eye department, the sizes are a good range and I am sure the sight challenged can make a selection suited to their needs).

8-week battery life, even with the light on (This is a pro and a con. Real books never run out of battery, they can go on for centuries but all in all the battery life on them is not bad at all. I have had mine going strong for 3 weeks and not charged it once, be aware that the 8 weeks above is when you have the light at its lowest and aren’t connected to WiFi etc.).

Built-in Wi-Fi lets you download books in under 60 seconds (It also lets you surf the net, it’s not great and by no means does it stand up next to a tablet or computer when it comes to this, but, this is an e-reader not a tablet or a computer and it works fine enough. Just using the internet connection to view and use the Kindle store is suited very well to the device).

The new Time to Read feature uses your reading speed to let you know when you’ll finish your chapter. This is a new addition on the Paperwhite and is not something on the Kindle Original, I think this bring back a bit of the anticipation that is an enjoyable thing with real books seeing how far away you are from the end and eagerly awaiting that final page, for me personally I think this is a great feature as I can time how long I have on say a train or plane journey and know how far I can get before I have to stop reading, it’s a great feature.

Check out the link below for the full specifications.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007OZO03M/ref=fs_cl

Do I think Kindles will replace real books like mp3s have taken over CD’s? No. They aren’t great for reference books or studying. It’s hard to find a page quickly or to go to the index and find a subject. It’s difficult to flick through and refer to the blurb and the cover. There is a search option available but it just isn’t the same. Textbooks and study guides I think will always be better in the physical format. Kindle books seem to have more errors in than real books and although this can be fixed it just doesn’t seem to be a big issue with the sellers. I have found a few too many in a couple of books I have read. Most of us can work out the error, mentally correct it and move on, but I guess I like my books without the errors.

One thing that I really dislike about Kindles, you can’t borrow out a book after you have finished with it. If someone recommends a book they have finished on a Kindle they can’t lend it to you, I suppose you could always buy it from Amazon but it just isn’t the same. Also not all books are available on Kindles so you have to have that in mind when you are looking through for a specific one.

Kindles are great for people who travel a lot, like technology and people that read a lot. They aren’t fantastic for students and they certainly don’t beat the cosiness of a real book. Financially it’s worth investing in a Kindle and as much as some of us won’t like this, they are the future and if we didn’t move forward we’d still be listening to music on gramophones and reading our paper books by candle light.

Give them a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised

What is my IT costing me? And how much should I be spending?

Today I want to explore how much you should be investing/budgeting on your businesses IT, and what the costs can be when you don’t.pounds-cash-mooney_142217

Typically, based on a 3 year lifetime, the cost of providing IT for a single member of staff is around £2100, or roughly £700 per year. This is the cost of the computer itself, a copy of Microsoft Office and the support associated with the machine, and a fraction of the costs providing infrastructure, such as internet, email and file and print services. These costs don’t factor in training on the basis that most people these days have enough knowledge to use Windows and Office.

Let’s assume that a member of typical London office staff commands an average salary of around £25K annually – the cost of the technology is less that 5% of their annual cost.

Now, for a small business £700 per year for supporting a single member of staff feels expensive. If you have 10 members of staff, you’re looking at £7000 per year. With this in mind, we see a lot of smaller companies scrimping on their IT spend as it is considered an intangible benefit and simply a cost.

In our experience, businesses that fail to invest appropriately generally lose efficiency through poor reliability, performance and a disproportionate amount of support. This means in years 4 and 5, the overall cost of the IT becomes significantly higher – this is mostly in productivity lost though maintenance, slowness and in some cases using outdated or aging software.

Another thing to consider is that by failing to improve and upgrade can lead to a crises situation where a complete system failure can lead to a member of staff being out of action for 1 or more days – the salary cost of this is roughly £100 per day, let alone the cost of lost business. If this turns out to be your server rather than a PC, this will hit £1000 per day salary costs (assuming 10 user business), plus the loss of any potential business (we’ll assume that your existing customers will forgive a day or two of being without your services), and the resultant increased workload which can hinder morale and add further cost if you find yourself having to pay overtime to make up a backlog of work. Added to this, last minute or panic IT purchases tend to be more expensive (typically increasing install cost by 50% and hardware by 25%) and the costs start to add up quite dramatically.

So, save yourself some heartache and grief. Plan and budget and appropriately. Failing to do this can lead to problems later that can cost you greatly. If you need some help with this, please come and talk to us. We can help.

Office 2013 or Office 365 – Which one should I get?

So this year saw the launch of Office 2013 and at the same time, Microsoft went all out with their SaaS (Software as a Service) offering – Office 365.

Office 2013Now on the face of it, both appear to be the same thing – one is a boxed copy of Office that you buy outright (roughly £180) and the other is a copy you pay £10 per month per user for.

O365 LogoSo you think…hey – this monthly thing sounds good. But wait, after 18 months it’ll cost me more than if I’d bought the product outright. So why would I want to subscribe?

They are not the same.

For some unknown reason Microsoft saw fit to change the licensing model of Office with the 2013 editions. Previously there was the ability to install (using the same license) a copy of the software on a laptop as long as it was in use by the same individual. Now the license is for one machine and one user. Microsoft originally even decided that once installed on a computer it was tied to that machine too, but backtracked after enough people complained that they’d need to buy another copy if they ever changed their PC.

The second massive change is the method of licensing the software. Instead of supplying a DVD and a key (for install and subsequent activation), with the boxed software you have to go through this convoluted process of setting up a Microsoft ID, entering the key from the box to register, then go to the download page and get a different key to then use to install the software. This is ok if there is just one of you, but if you have (say) 20 copies and want to be able to manage them, then you’re stuck. If you thought you could set up one Microsoft account to manage all of these licenses you’d be mistaken. There is no way to identify individual copies of the software and you’ll find yourself screaming when you can’t tell which key was used on which computer. Microsoft know this and admit it’s a problem but are not forthcoming with a solution. Arrrggghhhhh!

Not OK

In reality Office 365 is a bit more than just a subscription to Office 2013. We’ll explore that when we look at cloud computing but in this instance we’ll just look at the Office Suite itself.

Office 365 is licensed per user; currently each subscriber can install/use the software on 5 devices. So you can install it on your work desktop, work laptop, work tablet and home PC, as well as access it on your mobile device via Office Web Apps. Now if you are, like a great many, a user of several machines, then this makes financial sense, as ordinarily you’d now need to buy a copy of the software for each machine that you use. That could get quite expensive.

The other great thing about Office 365 is that as long as you continue to subscribe you are able to use the most current versions of the software. Availability of the latest version via 365 is not as rapid as via the retail or licensing channels but then you don’t have to pay extra for the privilege. And in any case, you possibly don’t want to be installing the latest version until a few months have passed or when you’re in a position to upgrade all your machines at the same time.

Lastly it is an easy way to standardize the software in your business and fix your software spend on a monthly basis. It also removes software from the PC upgrade cycle cost.

There is one big BUT of course. To use the software you have to continue to pay. If you decide at some point you don’t want to continue with it the software on your computers will stop working and you’ll need to either go out and buy the software, re-subscribe or license via other means.

It won’t surprise me that in the next edition or two, this will be the only way to use the Office suite of applications – the world is moving towards more subscription based models – the mobile phone companies have been doing this for years quite successfully and is now a proven model and indeed tends to tie in customers for the longer term.

So this Cloud computing thing – What’s it all about?

We are seeing more and more references to Cloud computing these days. It can mean any number of things, but we’ll look at what it means to us and how it can be applied to your business.

Cloud computing is commonly known as the sharing of resources, such as applications or services, via a decentralized network (typically the internet) known as a cloud.

CloudComputingA very obvious example of Cloud computing is something like GoogleApps. Everything you do is web based and the processing power and actual workings are taking place somewhere in the ether (cloud). The servers that provide the service provide the same or other services to other users in other parts of the world and by sharing these resources the cost of delivering the service tends to come down although this doesn’t necessarily make it cheaper.

So how can it fit in to your business?

Some of the main reasons to consider using cloud services these days are:

• Reduce your IT complexity
• Reduce costs
• Increase uptime and reliability
• Business continuity

Here at the Engine Room we use a small number of high quality cloud based services. These include Hosted Exchange, Cloud Backup, Office 365, VoIP and a number of web based systems.

The main types of scenario we find ourselves in is fully Cloud (using Office 365 and other services), or hybrid cloud where some services, such as file and print, is held internally on a server and others, email for example, are provided by a hosted Exchange provider. Which one is for you depends on a number of factors, but typically the distribution and number of users, volume of data and what line of business applications you run.

For the smaller business fully cloud based can make great sense as it removes the need for any complex technology on site, reduced hardware and software costs and lower overall system maintenance.

Cloud-ComputingFor larger businesses the case can be less persuasive for full cloud as your internet connection will be under a lot of pressure, and the cost of bigger connections can get quite serious, so hybrid tends to make more sense. Microsoft have stopped their Small Business Server suite of products (which included file, printing and email) so to replace this a mix of hosted email and local file and print makes sense as the licensing cost of the software for everything in-house can be quite substantial.

Cloud computing is here to stay and like Microsoft Office may ultimately be the only way to get the technology services we need.

How much should I spend on a PC?

This is not necessarily a question we get asked that much, but I do have some thoughts about this. This is going to sound slightly controversial, but most of the time, spending big money on a PC (or laptop for that matter) is often driven by ego (assuming the computer is for work rather than playing games). Not spending enough is driven by a poor notion of perceived value.

Well, where do we start?

The first thing to ask is what the computer is going to be used for. The amount of processing power in recent years has grown so much, that most PCs can run most business applications without breaking into a sweat. If you are doing typical office work, such as using Outlook (email), the other Office applications and surf the internet, then a good mainstream PC shouldn’t need to cost more than, say, £350. HP, Dell and a few others make good basic machines with an Intel Core i3 (Intel’s mainstream) processor, 4GBs of RAM, a decent sized hard drive and Windows 7 or 8 Professional. A good 13” laptop of a similar spec will weigh in at about £450.

HP Desktop

PCs costing less than this tend to be running “Home” versions of windows, or there are other areas scrimped on such as RAM (you don’t want to have less than 4GB these days), processor or the size of the hard drive (although not generally a concern unless you have a massive iTunes library!).

If you are more of a power user (and I’d say those in finance or graphic design fit into this category), then you should aim to spend around £500. At this price point you’ll get a really good bit of kit with an Intel Core i5 (think performance) processor, 4-6 GB of ram and possibly a  bigger hard drive.

Laptops are a slightly different equation as the more you spend (generally) the lighter, slimmer and sexier it is. Not necessarily more powerful but if you travel a lot, then the trade-off between weight and performance may well be worth it. These tend to be at the £800 upwards price point. These can also have features such as SSDs (solid state drive) which are essentially much faster hard drives with no moving parts and therefore  more robust if you travel a lot. HP Spectre Ultrabook

You may also need to budget about £180 for a copy of Office 2013 (and the really terrible licensing model Microsoft have adopted with this) plus a bit of time to get it set up and working smoothly. Generally there is a small amount of disruption with an upgrade such as this as some shuffling of data as well as the PC itself but good planning can avoid much of this.

Spending any more than this is generally not necessary. Core i7 sounds good – it is the top of the range after all, but unless you are using Adobe Creative Suite (and you may well be better off on a Mac in that case) or an Architect using Autocad 2013, these are best left to the gamers who can make the most of the performance.

The last thing is how long you should expect it to last? A later blog will explore the cost of technology in the workplace, but realistically you should be expecting a lifecycle of about 3 years – the machine will slow down over this time, the hard drive will be reaching the end of its reliable life (although they can fail at any time). Unless covered by warranty, it’s never cost effective to repair a PC over 18 months old either, as the cost of fixing almost always exceeds the replacement cost.