Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The iPad as a System Administrator's Primary Device: Part 5 - The Data Collecting Device

GREAT DATA COLLECTING TOOL

Another great iPad tool for the system administrator is a database app. There are a few options out there but I chose to go with HanDBase for the iPad. I have used HanDBase for many years on the Palm OS platform. The thing that I have always liked about HanDBase is that they have always been community centric. They allow users to share databases that they have created with other users. As a result, even novice used can get started fairly quickly. In my administration duties, I work with many vendors, products, devices, users, passwords, and services. Keeping track of all these things can be huge chore. Having a portable database to store this information in, makes organizing and updating this data easier.

Since all these things enter mingle: vendors sell hardware, hardware contains software, maintenance agreements support both software and hardware items, users use hardware, hardware, software and users have issues that I need to tracked. HanDBase allows me to enter and access this data while on the go.

HanDBase allows databases to linked to each others so that data can be kept in their own databases yet be used or accessed from other databases. HanDBase has a many years of experience in the mobility arena. They understand how important mobility is, but they also understand that that mobile data needs a way to be transferred to and managed on a desktop computer as well.

THE WORLD WIDE WEB WITHOUT FLASH

Obviously, as an administrator, I need to use the web to research issues. I love using the browser on this large screen to view my Internet content. While the lack of Flash has been an issue, it has not been a deal breaker. I used Frash on my Jailbroken iPad to allow me to view most Flash content. Frash is still in it most earliest stage, so it is not without issues. Most of the issues I could live with, the only major issues is that some sites that contained Youtube videos could not be viewed in Safari when the Frash module was installed. The web site would interpret this content as Flash instead of the Html5 video that it was, so as a result the page would not be able to properly display the content. Because I can install and uninstall Frash pretty quickly and these videos could still be viewed in the Youtube player, I was not too upset about this side effect.

Frash did not do well with a lot of the interactive Flash sites, like those that requires arrow input from a keyboard. I also liked that Frash allowed me to determine which Flash elements I wanted it to display. When a page was displayed, the Flash element would be indicated with a capital "F". So a single web page could have several "F's" displayed; clicking on the desired "F" instructed app to display that content. So you could avoid seeing this Flash ads if you choose to. I sure hope websites adapt to Html5 faster so that this becomes a non-issue, but until then the Jailbreakers have a slight workaround to ponder.

Each and everyday, the web sites are adapting not just to the iPad, but to mobile devices in general. To date, non of the mobile operating systems handle Flash. The Flash has been promised for the WebOS for over a year and has yet to materialize.

ADOBE IS NOT EVIL - PDF IS GOOD

As much as I hate to have to read the manual for my technical stuff, it is not always avoidable. Most software and hardware solutions have PDF manuals. Whether you currently have a collection of PDF or need to find a particular one for a particular solution, Goodreader is a must have application for iPad. It allows you to store, manage, share and read your PDF collection. Ever need to do a quick study on a particular topic? Well with Goodreader you can search he web for PDF files and download them to your iPad. You can also enter an URL to a PDF to download it as well.

You can protect access to the Goodreader application and to individual files with passwords. So if you have a PDF document that includes passwords, you don't have to worry about unauthorized eyes seeing the information. Goodreader also allows you to exchange documents with the most popular cloud based storage systems such as Google Docs, box.net, Dropbox and many more. I love it. There are tons of other PDF-centric applications, but for $0.99 you get a whole lot of usability.

I am one of those IT guys that can two finger type faster than some multiple finger typists. Fortunately I don't have to do much longwinded typing for my jobs, but I definitely have to do my share. My documents tend to be more illustrated "How-To" documents. Having the ability to create documents on the fly is a must. Most of those that I work with use Microsoft Office products, so I have to be able to exchange documents with them. Documents to Go allow me to do just that. I have no problem working with and creating Word and Excel documents on the iPad. I also can do some minor manipulation of PowerPoint documents; however, I was shocked that DocstoGo don't allow me to actually present a PowerPoint file from the iPad. Either way, it is a must have app for the system administrators. The built-in apps allow you to open and read Microsoft Office documents, but if you want to create and manipulate documents on the iPad, you want to have Documents to Go.

CAN THAT THING PRINT?

One of the most common question asked of me, from someone considering an iPad purchase, is "Can you print from it?". The answer is not simple, because it is both yes and no. The iPad does not come equipped with a printing function, but many developers are scrambling to allow this function as quickly as possible. With only a few months on the market, there are some very promising printing apps coming to the marketplace. I won't recommend a particular app, but I have tried a few. They all have varying ways in which they attempt to allow you to print your documents. None, in my opinion are perfect and hope that Apple will address this need soon than later.

Most printing apps allow you to print whatever can be grabbed by the copy and paste function on the iPad. This means that you print only raw text without any formatting. Most have the ability to print pictures, so photos and screenshots can be printed. This allows some formatted documents to be printed, but only what is displayed on the screen when the home button and power buttons are pressed at the same time. These print jobs can be printed to networked or wireless printers without any desktop involved. Newer apps have features that allow desktops to be used as a print server. This inclusion of the desktop allows most documents to be printed with full document formatting as long as a program resides on the desktop that can handle the needed file type. These early apps do not offer solutions for average iPad users, but for System Administrators we typically have access and understanding necessary for these rudimental solutions to work.

Here is the truth. I have had many laptops, but I have seldom needed to print anything from one. In every environment that I live and work in have a printer in it and I a desktop computer. I have always printed from those desktops. My job laptops are configured to work on a domain or company network. When I have that laptop at home, it cannot connect to my network at home (easily), so I never even consider printing from the company's laptop while at home. If I take a laptop offsite on the road, I never print anything while at the hotel on conference center. I believe full-fledged printing will eventually come to the iPad, but it is not a deal breaking thing that should stop anyone from enjoying the freedom it allows.

Apple has taken on this obvious feature and includes it in their iOS 4.2.x update for the iPad.

ENTERTAINING IDEAS

Another reality that exists for personnel within the information technology profession is that we have period of waiting. I might be installing a new hardware or software and have periods of downtime as I wait for the next step. I may be on hold with a vendor or external support representative and have to wait for even longer periods. During this downtime you will need, like the Apple TV advertising states, "an app for that". You need a good game that offer high fun level with varying amounts of time needed to complete the game. Games like Plants and Zombies or Field Runners are great games because they allow you get a quick fix or a long drawn out episode of game play. Both allow you to pause and continue at your last position after exiting game or placing the iPad in standby.

I also like a game called Osmos. The game is simple and challenging. You move your organism through the environment to become the largest organism in the space. The music is nice and serene. When I want to get my drive on, I fire up Asphalt 5. This car racing game is not so much about driving simulation as it is about driving fun. I also enjoy a little rough play with Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior. This Mortal Kombat, Tekken or Street Fighter type games is fun, challenging and have great 3D graphics. This game makes it clear that Nintendo and Sony has a competitor in Apple. There are tons of games to choose from and you should have your handful of games to play when the time arises. Fruit Ninja is a lot of fun and offers some 2 player action as well.

Some times when I arrive at a workstation to assist someone, they are not always in a happy mood. Talking Carl is a great distracting app that can break the tension. I often say that Talking Carl is great for kids and drunk adults, but it works great for your distracting frustrated IT customers. The iPad will warrant a lot of attention as it but with Talking Carl you can have them focused on the iPad without you having to explain what it can do. If you don't know, the app features a red creature that repeats whatever it hears. It also responds to touch. You can tickle it or poke it in the eye. Try it out on your next tech run.

AUDIBLE OPTIONS

Another way to fill those gaps in time or to make good use of the time spent on the job, is to have some good audio to listen. Whether you are on site, traveling to a location or stuck at your desk, the iPad can enhance your environment. I listen to different types of audio on my iPad. Music is an obvious option as the iPad is also an iPod, but all of the music does not have to reside on the iPad. I love The Pandora Radio app and I use it often. It allows me to set any mood that I like. Pandora is a web based service that requires that you be connected to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection or 3G connection. Pandora is simple to use; type in a song, artist or a composer's name to create a radio station. Once the station is created, it will play songs that sound similar to the a song, artist or a composer's style. By clicking the thumb up or thumb down I icons, you can further personalize the particular station. You can create addition stations from other songs, artists or a composers. I have seen a limited for the number of stations allowed. There is a 40 hour monthly limit for listening time. I have never reached that limit, but know people who have. Pandora One is a $40 a year service that removes that listening cap as well as remove those advertisements.

In my profession, being connected to the Internet is mandatory so this is not a problem. Being connected allows other connected audio options to be enjoyed. I love Podcasts and I use them to learn about many different subjects. I can connect to my desktop and sync podcasts via iTunes, but prefer to save the disk space for other things and elect to stream my podcasts over the air via an iPhone app called Stitcher Radio (I hope they upgrade their software to utilize the iPad's huge screen soon). Stitcher Radio strings your choice of podcasts together seamlessly into an adhoc Radio station. You can tag podcasts as favorites which allow you to access them faster to hear future shows.

Books on tape or digital books can educate you through a subscription service called Audible.com. Within their app, you have access to your library of audio books. Audible is a monthly service that has a huge selection of relevant digital audio books as well as periodicals like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Their are different payment plans for those that listen to a lot or little. Even if you cancel your monthly subscription, you can still listen to your prior purchases.

Sometimes in this type of job, you can have stressful moments. WhiteNoise Pro is a great app that allows you to escape the stress. You turn it on to listen to the forest, rain or whatever sound allows you to escape. You have seen those sound machines, that are available at many stores from $25-$150, that emits relaxing sounds. Your iPad can do that fancy stuff too with apps like WhiteNoise Pro.

A TRULY MOBILE DEVICE

I never take my laptop with me on the road anymore. The convenience of the iPad is just too useful to ignore or deny. Last night, I was waiting on a call from our Controller to start a SQL backup. While I was waiting on her call, I needed to conduct a transaction at the Michigan Secretary of State office (SOS). If you have ever visited one of these offices in Detroit, you know how long and slow these lines are. When I got the call to start the backup, I didn't have to worry about losing my place in line. I simply opened my portfolio (aka iPad case), powered on the device and got the backup going in seconds. There is no way I could have done that as easily or as fast with a laptop or a netbook. Every aspect of my support life has been made easier with the iPad.

People often mistake portable with mobile. They are not the same thing. A smart phone is mobile while laptop is portable. The smart phone designed to be used virtually anywhere. The iPad is designed to be small enough and light enough to be used anywhere as well. The laptop is designed to be "taken" virtually anywhere. A laptop has to be "set up" at most locations. It is too heavy to be used most places. I could have taken my portable laptop to the SOS office with me, but it could not have been used as easily. I could have charged the battery to a full charge prior to my visit, left it logged in to both the laptop and the remote system, changed the setting that locked the screen and changed the setting that would keep it from hibernating when the lid was closed just to come close to emulating the iPad performance. You can argue that a laptop or maybe a netbook is just as mobile as the iPad, but you would just be blowing smoke into your own face and clouding the truth that a laptop is designed to be portable. The laptop is designed to be carried somewhere and setup before it is used. It is designed for mobile camping, that is to say there is some assembly required in most instances. At the least, it better be camped near a power source to be useful for any real time.

CONCLUSION

The iPad is truly a device that seems to have no place in your life until you use one. To use one is to love one. No other portable device will get so much attention as the iPad. It's BIG beautiful multitouch screen, mobile size and long lasting battery life makes it the perfect device for doing your email, web surfing, research, data collection, portable gaming and so much more. The instant-on feature is taken for granted, but it is it's biggest feature outside of the long lasting battery. The iPad is a huge iPod touch and I am thankful for it. I own a 16 GB iPod Touch and loved what it could do. I though hard and long about getting the iPad when it was I already owned the iPod Touch. I am glad I did. My only regret is getting the 16 GB iPad instead of at least the 32 GB.

Will there be a newer iPad with fancy new features? Yes! Just like there were new laptops and new desktops to lust after upon your purchase of that last shiny device. This is a reality with any electronic or technology purchase - get over it! You can't live your life in fear of what will come next. The honest truth is that you will get your money's worth out of your purchase of the iPad. Everyone in your family will enjoy it and it will never have a dull moment in your home. The iPad also makes a great alternative for a laptop in your business. Face it, most people that have a laptop in the business world have it in addition to their desktop.

Many others have a laptop on their desk and have yet another laptop for the road. These road warriors have very little need to print on the road. They simply need access to the essential functions that the laptop offers. Most people purchased a laptop in the past because it was the only alternative to carrying their desktop around with them. They never had another option until now. Now they can type that paper while waiting for the plane. They can watch multiple movies on the plane without having to consider how much battery power is available. They can now attend their conference without having to arrive early to ensure that they can get a seat near the one or two power outlets. They don't have to apologize to fellow conference attendees for making them trip over the power cords. They don't have worry to about burning their legs when they have short pants on. They can simply enjoy the freedom that the device brings and get their tasks completed.

Carl Brooks
http://www.iamthereforeipad.com

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