Saturday, July 01, 2006

Unified Communications

The latest installment of Microsoft's Executive Email contains Bill Gates' thoughts on unified communications as well as some hints on what Microsoft is going to do. I agree mostly with what he wrote, although I might not be as excited about Microsoft's implementation. It will probably be costly and require a lot of power. I do think communications should be more unified. It is a pain to have to manage several different phone numbers and email accounts. For instance, my church seems to send all announcements to my work email account, which I can only access at work. I'm not "impotent" enough to have remote access to my email. Whenever an important announcement comes out, if my wife doesn't let me know, I won't find out until I get back to work. I've had quite a few weekends when something I might have wanted to participate in or help out with was going on, and I didn't know because the email was sent out after I left work on Friday. I've asked to have my home address put on distribution a few times, but so far they haven't gotten to it.

I'm back in business using Outlook now, and yet after weeks of logging into gmail, I decided to run Outlook in offline mode and use it only as a calendar and task management program at home. Gmail is just too useable and too accessable through a web interface. Of course at work I have to use Outlook because we're on an exchange server.

My wife and I ditched our land line last year and went strictly with cell phones. I've been happy with this. My phone is always with me and so far telemarketers aren't using them. When we had Verizon, even though I was paying for the Call Intercept and all of the other "electronic warfare" features, my phone was still ringing about every 20 minutes all day. My blood pressure was through the roof. Maybe it's just me, but cold contact marketing really ticks me off. It wasn't enough to just ignore the phone. The fact that it rings was really annoying to me. I also worked in a support job at the time and my phone at work rang non-stop, so I didn't want to go home and listen to another phone ringing. Before our second son was born last year, my wife wanted to reduce our monthly expenses and our cell contract was up, so we renewed and got new phones and canceled the land line. This is nice. The only problem is that most people aren't used to this, so when people want to call my wife they usually call my cell and I have to give them her number.

I think that mobile computing has a long way to go. I have several devices, including 2 laptops and a Pocket PC as well as my cell phone. My wife wouldn't let me get a PocketPC phone at the time. We have Sony Ericson z500a models, which is great for battery life. We don't even have car adapters because these phones last quite a while. I do stick mine on the charger every night whether I used it during the day or not, but my wife will run hers until the battery starts whining. My Pocket PC is an HP 4700, which is a nice VGA screen. It has an amazing battery life as well. However, it's still too limited for serious use. My new laptop is nice and powerful, but the battery only lasts about 2 hours or so. It will go to sleep, so I could carry it with me during the day but of course in this day and age without an internet connection it's little more than a word processor and photo editor. I admire Apple laptops for their long battery life and built in cameras.

Here is what I would consider ideal for the time being, and this of course is subject to change on a moment's notice. I would love to have a Pocket PC phone but rather than the limited Windows Mobile operating system, I'd like a more full featured OS. The Origami pads show that you can put a full version of Windows on a small device, although the implementation is screwy. There should be a Familiar Linux version for my device soon. I don't have much use right now for a desktop computer. Laptops are nice. I would like to see a wireless broadband service that could be used by both laptop and Pocket PC phone but without having to pay $40 a month for each. A service should spring up that will work as one unified wireless internet and communication service for the entire family. Of course we should have competition here. Each service could put up towers and require encryption to access their network. I understand that security might be tough to implement but I believe this could happen.

I have not yet worked out a sucessful fantasy to combine work and home, especially my work. If we got rid of phone numbers and switched to email addresses you could tie your numbers into one identity and set your availablility on whichever device is best (cell, desk phone, IM, email, etc). When you get to work, say, you dock your cell on your work phone and so all calls to there, but if you leave you take your cell phone. This might work for me because my call volume is low. I've even left my cell number on my message while traveling or going on vacation and I still don't get calls from work. It's wonderful. My supervisor called me once while meeting with one of the groups who support us because he thought there was a problem with my timecard, but it was straightened out before I left the building and turned my phone back on. This leads to another problem with this kind of implementation: I visit buildings where cell phones are not allowed. Technically, I'm not supposed to have it in my building (I shouldn't have my Pocket PC either) but I keep it in my pocket. Everybody else has cell phones so I guess we disregard that policy by consensus. I can't figure out how best to integrate my work email into a single communications medium either because it's possible that I might have to deal with sensitive material. I have considered forwarding work email to my gmail account, but I probably don't want corporate messages indexed on Google's servers. We've already been encouraged to not install Google's desktop search for that very reason.

And of course, some of you might already be mad at me if your work life intrudes too much into your personal life. While I went back to Texas for my mom's final days, I remember one man in Baltimore-Washington International taking out his crackberry, looking at it, and asking in an irritated voice "What does my boss want this time?" Granted it was still during normal work hours, but I would flip if I kept getting calls while away. Once in a while is fine. I don't mind being called occasionally, but I'd go nuts being called by work constantly.

I think that unified communications is an interesting and needed concept, but there are many issues that must be resolved before we'll truly have this concept.
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