My software and services – 2018

Previously, I detailed the hardware that I used in my work:

My gear

In this article I’ll look at the software and services I use most.

To start with, I use Windows 10 Professional with the Fall Creators Update installed on all my desktop machines and Windows Storage Server 2008 on my WD Sentinel DX4000 NAS. I have upgraded all my immediate families machines to Windows 10 Fall Creators Update without any issues as well. I ensure that these machines are kept secure and up to date using Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS).

Unsurprisingly, I used Office 365 for things such as a email, OneDrive for Business, Skype, Office desktop software and the like. What maybe somewhat surprising is that, although I have access to a free Office 365 tenant from Microsoft as a partner, I don’t use this in production. I have a completely separate paid tenant for my business.

Why is that, you may ask? The main reason is that I use my Microsoft Office 365 tenant for demonstrations and testing. I don’t want production data appearing when I do demos to customers and prospects. Having to two separate tenants means complete separation of the data.

I am considering upgrading my production tenant in which all my family machines run to Microsoft 365 and connecting all the devices directly to Azure AD. This will provide far more control and functionality for all as well as making it easier for me to manage. I will however need to look at upgrading some Windows 10 Home edition machines to Windows 10 Professional before I undertake this, but I am pretty sure I’ll be moving this way in 2018.

I of course use all the standard Microsoft Office desktop software such as Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc however, the key application from the suite for me is OneNote. OneNote is my go to Swiss Army knife for just about everything digital. I use it to capture all sort of data. I even use it as a diary as I have detailed previous here:

One of the ways I use OneNote

The reason OneNote is key is because:

1. Just about everything I put in there us searchable

2. It is freely available across all platforms.

3. All my information is synced and accessible on all devices.

4. It is available on the web or offline if needed.

Another key service I use everyday along with Office 365 and OneNote is Azure. Typically, I use it for running up virtual machines that I test various things with but I also use it to backup my local data as well as that of other members of my family using Azure Backup.

Azure desktop backup

There is just so much that can be done with Azure. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I could use it for. I see Azure becoming a larger and large part of what I do every day.

One of the changes that I have made in the last year to the way I use Azure is to implement nested virtualisation. This has allowed me to collapse an array of stand alone virtual machines into a single machine saving significant amounts of money as well as providing additional functionality.

I use Lastpass to keep my passwords and private information secure. It allows me to do things like generate and store unique passwords for each website that I sign up for. It is also available across all browsers on my machine (including Microsoft Edge).

For a subset of my local data that I wish to remain secure I use Truecrypt to create encrypted volumes. All my Windows 10 machines run with full disk encryption thanks to Bitlocker, but stuff like financial and customer data I keep inside Truecrypt volumes for that extra layer of security. I understand that Truecrypt is no longer maintained and may have some very minor security flaws, but for how and why I use it, it is more than adequate.

To capture my desktop for my online training academy or my YouTube channel I use Camtasia. I use SnagIt to capture screen shots and add highlights and emphasis to these. Snagit allows me to capture complete screens or specific areas quickly and easily.

To compose and publish blog articles I use Open Live Writer.

To keep track of where I spend my time on my desktops I use RescueTime.

For improved email productivity I use Microsoft FindTime and Boomerang.

For chat and web meetings I use Skype for Business from Office 365. I encourage anyone to connect up to me via my address Chat is generally always faster at resolving things than traditional email.

For protection, apart from the standard Windows 10 tools, I use Malware Bytes but find that Windows Defender provides excellent protection. However, the main weapon is keeping bad guys at bay is ensuring all my systems are up to date. Thanks to Windows 10 and Microsoft OMS I can do this easily.

Inside my browsers I typically have the following plugins:

Lastpass which provides automated insertion of web site credentials.

Nosili which provides productivity enhancement thanks to background sounds. My favourite is rain.

Pushbullet which connects alerts from my Android phone to my dekstop browser and allow me to share information easily between them.

GetPocket which allows me to save and categorise websites URLs, which I then typically read at a later time. Has its own dedicated mobile that I can use on any device.

The Great Suspender which puts unused tabs in Chrome to ‘sleep’ to save memory.

Windows 10 Accounts allows single sign in for Office 365 using Chrome.

I use the automation sites If This Then That and Zapier to automate many different tasks. A good example of one of these is automatically publishing to various social media sites. I am now using Microsoft Flow more and more for automation and I am looking to dive deeper using things like Azure Functions in 2018.

For my Office 365 and Azure email newsletters I use Mailchimp.

My preferred public social networks for business, in order are:

1. Twitter

2. Linkedin

3. Facebook

The Apowersoft software allows me to display both iOS and Android devices on my Windows desktop which is really handy for demonstrations and presentations.

I also use Yammer extensively but for more specialised roles and thus don’t consider it really a ‘public’ social network, more a private one.

YouTube is also something I use daily for business and pleasure. It use for both education and marketing as well as entertainment, thanks largely to the XBox YouTube app. As I have recently added an Xbox One S to my collection I can now use the Amazon Prime Video app to watch The Grand Tour during my downtime.

Another major ‘social’ tool I now use everyday is Microsoft Teams which I use with those inside the CIAOPS Patron program. I have an dedicated Team that is available externally to which all Patrons have access. In there we have separate channels for things like Azure, Microsoft 365 and even cryptocurrency. Thanks to Microsoft Teams there are additional resources back ending this like a SharePoint Team site which provides even greater functionality for CIAOPS Patrons.

I use a lot of other software and services but the above are the main ones I use pretty much everyday that I’m at my desk.

I am always looking for ways to improve my productivity and effectiveness with software and services. If you therefore have something you can recommend to me please don’t hesitate to let me know what it is.

Review – Veho Pebble Smartstick Emergency Charger

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category pages.

How many times have you needed to charge your phone and you couldn’t find a power point? Or all the power points have been taken by others charging their devices (happens at conferences and at airports a lot). All you need is just enough charge to send that email or make that quick call but without a recharge you are stuck? We’ll here’s a great little gadget to help, the Veho Pebble Smartstick Emergency Charger.

Basically, you charge it up from a USB port prior to stepping out. Then you connect it to your device, with the huge variety of connectors that are provided. This will normally give you more than enough charge to keeping going through the day and get done what you need to do.
Obviously, it takes a while to fully charge the Smartstick but the idea is that you do that the night before from your PC or wall jack. You then throw into your bag as you head out and you’ll be pretty secure that you should be able to get through a whole day not needing to look for a charger.
The really great thing is that it comes with so many connectors that fit just about all your devices. It is small and convenient and quite stylish. It is a little bit heavier than you expect but that’s because it is a battery. However that is not a hindrance at all.
This is a really great travelling accessory and I’d recommend to anyone who have every had to scrounge around for a power point to do some ‘desperate’ charging. Adding one of these to your kit and topping it up before you leaves almost guarantees that you’ll never need to look for a power point during the day.

Review – Capdase Karapace Touch Case for Nexus 5

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page at:

The good guys over at Mobilezap have provided me with another Nexus 5 case to review here. This one is more your traditional cover in that it simply fits over the back of the phone. It leaves all the Nexus 5 buttons and fitting available for use directly.
This means that in some areas the cover doesn’t completely cover the edges of the phone (like around where the power cable plugs in). This potentially leaves the phone un protected at that point, so if you drop it and it fall at a certain angle your phone may get damaged.
What I like about this cover is that it is really thin and add little bulk to feel of the phone. I also like the material that it is made out of. The feel is much better and ‘gripper’ that other neoprene style covers.

The cover is easy to pop on and off while fitting the phone like a glove. If you want something light, convenient and like a skin on your phone with a great feel then I’d recommend this cover.
Thanks again to Mobilezap for the opportunity to evaluate.

Review–Padpivot NST Ultra Portable Universal Tablet stand

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page at:

A rather interesting stand this one. Basically it is a base with a swivelling base. Onto that base you can either lies the iPad or use it to prop the device up as shown.
In portrait mode the stand worked really well I found on the desktop, it was easy to view and could be operated normally. The only downside in portrait orientation is that you can fit the power connector on at the same time (if you want it down the bottom of the device, like I think most people do).
In landscape mode the stand held the iPad fine and allowed the power connector to be attached but when you try and use the iPad you find yourself pushing it around the desk. This is because, in portrait mode, the stand width is not wide enough to prevent the leverage you generate working at the edges of the screen. This wouldn’t be a huge issue except you need to push the on/off button regularly.

The curved base also supports attaching the stand to something like  a chair arm for using when watching TV. It however relies on a strap to hold it steady on the arm of a chair so you’d need to have a chair is a gap under the arm to accommodate this. Not many lounge chairs have this these days so its functionality here is somewhat limited I feel.
Overall the unit works well on the desk and provides the functionality to be used in a number of different ways and locations. It is small and light and even folds up if you want to use while travelling. The only other major downside to the small issues mentioned above is that you really need to take it out of any travelling case to use it generally and this can be a bit of a pain. However, if your iPad spends most of its time one a desk or you want a stand to take with you while travelling, then this handy little stand works a treat.

Review–Targus rotating case for iPad

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page at:—black.htm

You snap your iPad easily into the plastic holder inside the case and then you can use it on the go or at your desktop, all with this case.
What I really like about this case is the fact you can easily rotate the iPad and use it as a stand both in landscape and in portrait. It is quiet sturdy so it makes an excellent addition to any desktop environment. You can then swivel it around and use the case like a normal folio when you are on the road.

I also like the quality of the case, which is typical of Targus products. It has a nice leather feel to it on the outside and the inside is felt lined. The case has a number of ridges into which you can prop the device when you want to use it on your desktop to get just the right viewing angle along with an elastic strap to prevent the case swinging open when you are travelling.
It would have been nice if the case was a little thinner and perhaps had a locking mechanism to prevent the iPad from swivelling unexpectedly. As a business user I’d also like to see more storage locations in these types of cases. Somewhere for business cards and notepaper would be great, although this unit does a pen holder which is handy.
Overall a great unit for your iPad, high quality and suitable for the desk or out on the road.

Review–Sonivo Universal Induction Easy Speaker

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page. Information about this specific unit can be found at:—black.htm

I must admit that I am a little puzzled by this product. Generally speaking I listen to audio from my phone via a headset. When I do occasionally listen to the phone speakers they are generally loud enough. This unit certainly does amplify the sound from the speakers but I am still puzzled as to why you would use one of these.
I will also admit that most of audio listening I partake in is podcast or audio books rather than music so perhaps I am not the target market for this device. The device is certainly easy to use and works right out of the box as described. You simply turn it on, place the phone on top and it amplifies the sound from the speakers.
Although the documentation with the device shows the phone lying flush with the device I found that I had to angle my Nokia Lumia off centre to get it to work best. If I didn’t do that then the volume was too low and you got a lot of background noise. Not a major issue but a little bit puzzling given all the other images I saw of a phone on the device.
I think this device would have a good home on your desk where you could easily place your mobile on top to amplify audio. It looks very modern and would easy suit most environments. The device charges easily via a USB cable and has a conveniently located on off switch.
What I would have liked to see perhaps is an actual volume adjustment on the device. Perhaps a volume wheel like you find on alarm clock as well as an on/off or mute button. This would be handy if you were listening to audio at your desk and you needed to silence it quickly to answer the phone.
All in all, a stylish piece of kit that wouldn’t be out of place on any desk. It is easy to use and does what it claims, however a few more additions would have made it a little bit more convenient in my opinion.

Review–Belkin trifold iPad case

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page at:—black.htm

Initially I had the ‘magic’ Apple iPad cover which was fine until it ripped and I dropped my iPad and it ended up scratching the back which that cover doesn’t protect. I then moved to using the Apple iPad ‘magic’ cover and a hard shell back. Problem there was the hard shell tended to snap where it was thinnest (i.e. around the speaker and other parts that needed to be exposed.


The Belkin trifold iPad case is a pretty good option if you are looking to protect your device. Firstly, it look very professional and includes an elastic strap on the inside to hold a few pieces of paper.

The cover is a neoprene like material which is quite spongee and does a pretty good job of protecting the unit.


The iPad clips very securely into the holder on the inside of the cover, being held in place in each corner. All the device button, connections and ports are still easily available even when the unit is in the cover.


Like the original Apple cover you can fold the case cover around and stand the iPad up as shown above.

I would have liked to have seen the cover made a little stiffer to give it some more rigidity when propping up the device. I would have also liked to have seen some form of pocket or shelve in which I could have put my business cards. That way I’d always have my important business information when I have my device.

These however are minor downsides to what is a very nice case that will well protect your iPad in the wild.

Review–Otterbox Defender Series for Lumia 920

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category page at:

One of the downsides to mobile devices these days is that they are generally pretty fragile. If they get dropped from typically waist height they seem to have an alarming ability to twist in the air and fall on their screens or a corner. In the worst case this results in a unusable device, in other cases a fairly damaged unit.

Now many people need to use their phones in hostile environments where they really need more protection than a standard case or ‘bump’ can provide. This is where the Otterbox comes in.


It is basically an enclosed shell that you insert your phone into and then you encapsulate that in a neoprene like skin. The result is a very protected device.


Initially when I opened the Otterbox I couldn’t work out how to get it open to insert the phone. Turns out that you need to remove the neoprene like skin from the Otterbox and then you can open the case to insert the phone.


It fits snuggly and everything clips together with a resounding ‘click’. Once you place the neoprene-like skin back around the box holding the phone you need to ensure that it mated all the way up to the lip of the box.

With all the done your phone is now pretty much indestructible. You can them clip the phone into the holder which you can attach to your belt. Again, there is a resounding ‘click’ when you mate the Otterbox to the holder. That says ‘it ain’t going nowhere’.

Now there are some minor issues with the unit. Firstly, the hole for the external headphone jack doesn’t line up with the phone jack. You can of course still open the flap and still use any headset but seems strange that it doesn’t line up. The unit does have a number of locations where the elements could gain access to your phone, so don’t go thinking this is a waterproof container.

Here’s a quick video demonstration of the unit I did so you can get a better idea:

Having all this protection does make the phone that much bulkier and you really need two hands to get it on and off the belt holder which may prove a little tricky at times, however as something that will provide almost 100% protection for your Lumina 920 then this is the protective case for you.

In summary, if you really need high end protection for your Lumia 920 so it will survive incidents that would render a other phones inoperative then this is the protective case for you.