Scary Times at MPC!

Wendy Fox -- aka, Dr. Nutter

Wendy Fox -- aka, Dr. Nutter

Sure, most of us are getting our daily dose of horror from watching the stock market.  And heaven knows that a lot of companies, ours included, are going through some trying times.  But I can tell you from personal experience that when the fun goes out the door, I’m generally not too far behind.

Which is why I appreciate the efforts at MPC to create some good, old-fashion Halloween fun for a lot of little trick-or-treaters.  My Blackberry pictures don’t do it justice, but today at MPC a lot of little kids (offspring of employees and family friends) will enounter everything from an Enchanted Woods and Haunted Forest (courtesy of our IT department), to a Mad Scientist Laboratory (a big shout out to my peeps

Mad Scientist Lab

Mad Scientist Lab

 in marketing).  Kudos to Wendy, Casandra, and Brad in the marketing department for the inspiration and effort.  I take back all the awful things I said last week about Casandra’s cubicle looking like the prop department at the community theatre.  Besides, I don’t often have the opportunity to pull out my Boris Karloff impersonation for the little ones. 

OK…this is hardly the hard-hitting, insightful, “behind-the-scenes expose” of MPC that you were probably expecting when you saw the blog title — and for that, I apologize if I wasted anyone’s time.  But there is an important message here: like the sage once said, “stuff happens”.  But life goes on…as does Halloween, kids, families, and seasonal celebrations.  Wall Street bail-outs, presidential elections, plunging share prices, and even challenging business situations are ephemeral.  The kids cruising the Enchanted Forest of MPC, eagerly anticipating the bounty that is about to accumulate in their little, plastic pumpkin pails: that’s the real stuff.

Happy Halloween to you all!

Yours Truly
 
Yours truly, Michael Boss (the infamous Kurt Cobain years)
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Never Send An Adult To Do A Kid’s Job

I got a chuckle out of a recent review of our TXTbook product in Tech & Learning Magazine.  Awhile back, the pub’s editor, Kevin Hogan, requested that we send an evaluation unit for a product review.  A few days later I pinged him to make sure that the unit had arrived safely (one can never be too sure).  He e-mailed me back a few minutes later to let me know that “the reviewer should be arriving home from school in a few minutes”. 

Based on the write up we received, I guess he wasn’t kidding!  And when you think about it, who better to review a product like TXTbook than a grade school student?  To get an idea of how we measured up with a real end user, I offer the following from the T&L review: 

PROS: The chassis design is rugged and built with a clear understanding of how children will treat this product. A handle strap is attached to the clamshell, which particularly impressed our student reviewer. The small keyboard and raised keys with white lettering cater to smaller fingers. The 1.6GHz Intel processor, 1GB of DDR2 system memory, and back-lit LED display make is easy to access kid-friendly sites like pbskids.org.

CONS: The TXTbook is saddled with Windows XP Home Edition, which our student reviewer found unintuitive. Plus, many of the software-based features and functions are unnecessary for students. Primary-level students will probably do better with other software to run on top of XP.

The bottom line: The attention to detail in this netbook’s design makes it a worthy contender for any K-6 classroom.

Kevin, please extend our thanks to your reviewer.  This could start a new category of product reviews for us.  I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have our DataFRAME iSCSI SAN reviewed by a high school math club.  You have to admit, it would sure make a case for “ease of deployment”!

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Safe Harbors and Hockey Moms

Those of you who count yourselves as both political AND technology junkies should appreciate a recent blog post from MPC’s technology partner, Steve Spence.

Steve Spence, CEO of NorthSeas

Steve Spence, CEO of NorthSeas

You may recall Steve (CEO of NorthSeas, the company that provides the software for our MailFRAME e-mail archival appliance) from an earlier interview I did with him on the application of Federal Rules for Civil Procedure (FRCP) to e-mail archival in mid-market enterprises.

Just in case you didn’t think there was enough FUD around this issue, recent civil proceedings affecting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and e-mail messages sent and received on her Blackberry demonstrate just how murky the waters of public disclosure of e-mail communications can get.

Steve points out that while the Alaska Public Records Act (APRA) suggests that e-mail certainly meets the APRA criteria for public records that should be “opent to inspection by the public under reasonable rules…”, the safe harbor that the Governor’s staff is seeking is to argue that her e-mail correspondence is protected by an Alaska Supreme Court ruling in 1986 that states a “deliberative process” privilege that “protects communications between the governor and (her) aides about policy matters such as internal communications about advice, opinions, and recommendations.”

Sounds like another classic confrontation between the populist forces of public disclosure and the upholders of executive privilege, right?  Well, here is where Steve’s blog gets really interesting.  Steve poses the question, “does the 1986 ruling give the Governor the right to utilize a communication system that cannot be captured for the record?  What assurance do the people of Alaska have that this system was never used for correspondence that should have been on the public record?”  Yikes!

At the risk of revealing any more of the plot of this fast paced tech thriller, you’ll simply have to read Steve’s blog for yourselves.  In the meantime, I’m going to call the State of Alaska and see if they are interested in a good e-mail archival solution.  I just happen to know where to get one.

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Can You Feel the Love?

As a computer supplier, we participate in plenty of product reviews…but this unsolicited e-mail remark from Kurt Dyrli, products editor for District Administration Magazine, was an unexpected pleasure.

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Technology Business Research Weighs In On MPC

Quoting from a recent report on MPC from the analysts at the market research firm of Technology Business Research. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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When the Game Changes: TXTbook Takes Off

Flashback.  The time: July 1.  The scene: the MPC booth at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Antonio.  Crowded around a very small notebook computer, a group of educators looks at the next “small” thing in 1:1 computing.  A month and a half later, MPC announces its ultra low-cost mobile netbook for K-6: TXTbook.

Fast forward.  I’m looking at a string of e-mails from our sales force announcing the latest TXTbook orders: a Florida school places purchases 200 TXTbooks for a 1:1 computing program after having initially considered an HP product.  Additional deals close to the tune of six figures, and one of MPC’s sales teams reports nearly $6 million in new biz opportunities.

And while I’d hardly offer the following statistic as the most compelling metric of TXTbook’s success, I’ve noticed from my blog stats that my post on the launch of TXTbook has garnered more views than any other blog I’ve written to date…by a long shot.  I confess to having mixed emotions about this, since I happen to think I’ve written some pretty cool stuff since then.  But you can’t argue with Main Street.

This being said, you can imagine my pleasure at opening the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue of Scholastic Administrator to find our humble little netbook prominently displayed on page 20 as part of the pub’s “Latest and Greatest Education-Friendly Tech Tools”.  A big shout out Senior Technology Editor Ken Royal for including TXTbook after first seeing it at NECC.

As fate would have it, TXTbook’s appearance in Ken’s publication coincided with an intriguing cover story: “One Laptop, One Child (It’s Easier Than You Think)”.  The thesis behind the story is that 1:1 computing may receive a big boost, not from expanding school budgets, but from the growing number of kids who are bringing their laptops to school.

While MPC’s formal announcement of TXTbook suggested that its price tag could shift some of the burden of one-laptop-per child from funded mandates to parental acquisition, the Scholastic article explores the game changing implications of more ubiquitous notebook computers in the classroom.  To quote from the article, which I heartily recommend to my blog readers in education…

The idea of having 1:1 computing in schools has turned from if to when, and while the last great hurdles remain price and sustainability, more and more administrators are wondering if the answer isn’t already in their students’ backbacks and bedrooms.

Sounds like a dream come true, right?  Not so fast…

Almost as soon as the idea of free technology starts drifting through administrators’ minds, reality intrudes with a highlight reel of bad what-ifs: What if students bring viruses, spam, and other threats to your servers?  What if students have such a mishmash of software that even completing a simple project in Word becomes a guessing game of “What Version Do You Have?”  What if students use the anonymity of their open computer to IM, watch videos, or download music instead of taking notes or listening to their teacher?

Thinking back to some of my teachers, I wish I’d had that option.  But you get the picture.  Which is why we’ve introduced TXTbook in the context of a 1:1 computing solution rather than focusing on just the price, form factor, or features.  Clearly, a game changing product has to be integrated into the learning environment within a technology context that addresses the challenges highlighted in the Scholastic article.

So…my thanks to Ken Royal and his publication for raising a set of issues that will be the subject of future blog and podcast topics as I talk to educators, MPC technologists, and technology partners that I believe offer some very interesting responses to a game changer like TXTbook.

Stay tuned!

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When the Burger Looks Like the Picture: A MailFRAME Experience

We all know the story.  You get the direct mail ad from your local fast food joint with an impossibly luscious hamburger pictured above a discount offer.  Coupon in hand and salivary glands in overdrive, you succumb to temptation — only to find upon unwrapping your guilty pleasure that…you guessed it…the burger bears little resemblance to the picture.

Little wonder, then, that one of the quickest ways to turn consumers into evangelists is to present them with a reality that exceeds whatever aural or visual bait you hooked them with.

Which goes a long way in explaining my delight in a recent conversation I had with Jeremy Boscacci, the network manager for New Trier High School District, located just 20 miles north of Chicago.  Jeremy, who just became a new dad a few weeks ago (hence the photo of a baby rather than a burger), and whose wife was actually in labor at the time of my conversation with him, also has the distinction of being the first customer for MPC’s enhanced version of MailFRAME — the enhancement being MailFRAME’s support of Exchange 2007 and iSCSI SAN.

In the case of New Trier High School District’s experience with MailFRAME, one can only say that the burger most definitely looked like the picture!  So much so that during the course of our conversation I couldn’t help but imagine that one of our product marketing folks had slipped Jeremy a content brief in advance of my call.  Right down the line, from the factors that compelled New Trier’s IT department to search for an e-mail archival solution to the actual deployment of the appliance, Jeremy’s experience uncannily mirrored MPC’s marketing claims.

By way of background, Jeremy’s IT department serves six surrounding schools with a combined faculty and staff of 800, in addition to 4,300 students.  Those of you who have read any of MPC’s white papers on the regulatory and compliance issues driving the adoption of e-mail archival solutions in education will appreciate the concerns of Jeremy’s district superintendent, and his subsequent imperative to find and deploy a technology that would address the implications of the updated Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to potential litigation involving the district.  In short, said Jeremy, “We needed to make e-mail archival a priority.”

Jeremy’s subsequent search for an e-mail solution also mirrored MPC’s positioning of the MailFRAME appliance vis-a-vis software and service approaches.  Jeremy looked at software solutions, but rejected these on the basis of expense as well as his aversion to loading software on the  IT department’s Exchange server.  Given the amount of e-mail to be archived, the option of using a hosted service presented routing problems.  After attending a webinar on MailFRAME, Boscacci decided that an appliance-based solution not only avoided the pitfalls of the other options he had considered, but also won out on another important criterion: cost.  “A 5,000 seat license came out to mere dollars per seat.”

in developing mid-market IT solutions, one of MPC’s sustainability goals is ease of deployment and maintence.  In the case of MailFRAME, Jeremy described it as “one of the simplest appliances we’ve installed,” adding that “we pulled it out of the box, made the configuration changes, and were up an running in two hours.”

In comparing the burger to the picture, Jeremy’s closing comments in our discussion resonated most loudly with regard to how MPC has promoted MailFRAME as the right solution for e-mail archival in the education market: “We’re covered from all legal standpoints, the appliance can work on any platform in the school district, and the playback functionality is tremendous.  MailFRAME proves that e-mail archival doesn’t have to difficult or costly to be reliable.”

Bon appetit.

Oh…as for the picture of Jeremy’s new baby, all I can say is that based on Noah’s older brother Luke, the burger must definintely have lived up to mom’s and dad’s expectations!  Congrats, Jeremy…and thanks for being an MPC customer.

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