The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Toshiba CB2

I have written hundreds of articles and dozens of reviews over the years. I can honestly say that reviewing the Toshiba 13” FHD Chromebook 2 has been the most difficult. The difficulty has arisen from a number of directions. On one hand Toshiba has directly addressed many of the gripes chromebook users have had (IPS display, 1920×1080 resolution, battery life). On the other hand there have been some very questionable choices such as materials and build quality. Because of the positives, there are only two chromebooks that can even be compared, the Samsung 13” FHD Chromebook 2 and the Pixel. The first makes good sense, similar price, features etc. Comparing to the Pixel has been an adventure. I will explain more as we walk through the review.

Toshiba CB2 groupI have created a unique comparison approach for this review. I feel confident I can efficiently and effectively contrast the Samsung and the Toshiba. In each major category I can clearly identify a winner. When comparing to the Pixel, outside of battery life the Toshiba always loses, so I pondered how to effectively communicate the comparison. I have chose to identify a percentage of the Pixel’s excellence that the Toshiba achieves.


Samsung vs. Toshiba  – Tie

Toshiba vs Pixel – 75%

Using the Bay Trail processor for a few weeks was a great way to compare with the Samsung ARM processor I used for over a month in Europe on a daily basis. I have really gotten a very good feel for both, to use for real work over time, and they perform similarly. They are both a step slower than the Pixel or other muscular Chromebooks like the Dell or Lenovo. This step down was NOT severe enough to bother me in any substantive way. Sure, a pile of tabs opened simultaneously will take a second or two longer. This is not really important to my productivity. As memory seems to affect things more (all 3 had 4GB of RAM) on Chrome OS, I found productivity to be strong with the Toshiba. Given the way Chrome OS is developing I do not expect it to become a problem in the future.

Octane 2.0 using the latest stable release (38.0.2125.110 (64-bit))

Pixel – 20488
Dell 11 – 11680
Samsung CB2 13 – 6904
Toshiba CB2 13 – 7517

Some notes on the benchmarks. While you can see my rant on benchmarks here, it should be noted that the four Chromebooks all have very different processors in them. I can honestly say that the experience with ChromeOS does not drop off much moving between any of these devices. When looking at the range of scores it appears there should be on the surface. I would continue to argue that memory is far more important to a smooth Chrome experience than processor speed.


Samsung vs Toshiba – Toshiba in a landslide

Toshiba vs Pixel – 80%

Both the Samsung and the Toshiba have Full HD 1920×1080 screens. This is where the similarity ends. The Samsung uses a TN display (circa 1990’s) while the Toshiba employs an IPS display which has become the norm in the last decade for displays used by reasonable humans. An IPS display is simply required for outdoor use and I have been stunned that it has taken this long for them to start becoming standard on Chromebooks. My theory is that manufacturers made millions of TN displays for Netbooks a decade ago. These displays have been sitting in a warehouse all this time and they figured they could dump them on a platform they thought likely to fail and make a few bucks. No facts to back this up, just a theory.

The Toshiba screen is quite nice. It is sharp, the colors are correct, and the viewing angles are very good for a laptop at this price point. The only real negative is the lack of a matte finish. The glossy, glassy nature of the screen makes outdoor use more difficult. Not as poor as the Samsung but a headache-generator to be sure. I am writing this article in direct sun at the moment. I will be pausing for a while after this section because of the glare and the associate headache that is starting.

Comparing the Toshiba screen to the Pixel is interesting. Next to a display like the Samsung’s the Pixel looks fantastic, next to a good display like the Toshiba you really see the excellence. It was very similar to when I compared the Pixel to a Macbook Pro. You simply had to say wow. I still have not seen a laptop screen at any price that is better than the Pixel.

The format was interesting to contrast as well. The 16:9 aspect ration of the Toshiba is quite different than the 3:2 aspect ratio of the Pixel. Both can provide side by side windows effectively but the Pixel offers much more height. I think the 3:2 aspect ratio is superior in screen sizes over 15” while 16:9 provides the needed width for multitasking at smaller form factors.


Samsung vs Toshiba – Samsung in a landslide

Toshiba vs Pixel – 20%

Toshiba DesignUsing the Toshiba CB2, feeling the materials and looking back at recent product lines, I cannot help but scratch my head at the awful designs Toshiba comes up with. I have become truly curious what broken process is yielding such poor results on top of very well executed engineering. I get the feeling that as a company, Toshiba would sit down at a five star restaurant and order a Mountain Dew and a plate of chicken fingers. There seems to be a lack of any sense of class at all.

For example a few years ago we needed a laptop quickly. My partner went to the local Micro Center and picked up the most powerful laptop he could. He picked up a high end Toshiba machine we labeled “racing stripes” for its big, gaudy red stripe and liberal use of chrome in the chassis. This unit would embarrass most high schoolers, it was so obnoxious. Mercifully the unit died but left a strong impression on us.

The Toshiba CB2 is similarly lost in terms of design. The outside cover is presumably inspired by a waffle iron. There is also one advertisement on the unit that cannot be removed–for Skullcandy of all things. Why would I want a nice Chromebook that I use every day, and which would appeal to businesses and institutions, to constantly associate with a brand like that? Absolutely goofy in my opinion.

End of rant…

I know I am going to be criticized on this rating. I have this simple proof to offer, we ordered three of the Toshibas, and two of them have had build issues. One of the units has had all but two of the screws fall out of the bottom. One of the other units has a piece of paper (shown in the picture below) sticking out from behind the screen.Toshiba-CB2-Screen-Defect

Then there are the materials used to make the devices. In my review of the 13” Samsung CB2 I lamented the use of cheaper materials than the 11” CB2. Here I can tell you that the Samsung is made of far better stuff than the Toshiba. I think Toshiba chose the worst materials I have seen on a Chromebook and possibly on any laptop I have ever used from a name brand manufacturer.

The issue was simply amplified in my week long alternation between the Pixel and the Toshiba. I was reminded by the starkness of what my eyes were beholding, the Pixel is still the best laptop made in my personal opinion. Yes, most people lament the Pixel as an overpriced idiotic exercise, but it has been a wonder in my heavy use. By contrast I was constantly irritated by the chassis (color, texture, etc) every time I switched back to the Toshiba.

The only positive I found with the chassis design was the lightness of the device. Likely because of the cheap materials the Toshiba is a breeze to carry around compared to the other two. I have no idea what the spec sheets say, the device simply felt the lightest in regular use.

Keyboard, Trackpad

Samsung vs Toshiba – Toshiba

Toshiba vs Pixel – 90%

When it comes to the keyboards all three of the devices have excellent feel and sensitivity. I can easily touch type my way around without any loss of productivity or consistently missed combinations. These are all first class keyboards, the Pixel uses obviously higher end materials but this does not affect the performance of the other two.

I am beginning to wonder if there is a “Keyboard Czar” at Google that oversees all the input devices used on Chromebooks. I am seeing a very nice consistency and quality in all the Chromebook keyboards I use. A big pat on the back is deserved to whomever drove the manufacturers to use decent keyboards instead of the awful stuff you see on many cheap Windows laptops and netbooks.

In the touchpad department the devices are close, but the Pixel and the Toshiba are simply better. The surface might not hold up as well as the Pixel over time (plastic vs glass) but it feels fantastic. I also like the click pressure required on the Toshiba best of all the devices. It is very natural and superior to even the Pixel in constant, all day, use.

Battery Life

Samsung vs Toshiba – Tie

Toshiba vs Pixel – 200%

Everyone knows the Pixel has barely passable battery life. This is partly why it is my “roam around the house” device and not my “go everywhere” Chromebook. The surprise was the equality in battery life between the Samsung and the Toshiba. I expected the IPS screen and Intel processor to cause the Toshiba battery to be shorter-lived than the Samsung. It was not, it was fantastic. In my travels the last couple of weeks the Toshiba could go all day with heavy use. I rarely worried about the battery, and it charged very quickly. By contrast the Pixel runs out of juice by lunch and takes the rest of the day to charge!


Sorry to disappoint but the Pixel is still king, even when compared to the latest MBP from Apple. The Toshiba did not best it.

BUT, the Toshiba is an easy recommendation despite the chassis irritations because of the price and the screen. You simply cannot find a better balance if your focus is not on looks. In weeks of use I could not find any real flaws in the technical execution of the device. It is a very effective tool and I ultimately make my choices on this basis. I will be retiring the Samsung after a short stay in my arsenal and using the Toshiba as my primary Chrome OS device

I give the Toshiba a strong recommendation, I have not seen a better low cost device. As successful as it has been so far, I expect other manufacturers to follow suit and end this silly use of antiquated, awful displays.

JIRA Workflows for 1st Timers

New JIRA users often run into a predictable set of problems when they jump in to build a workflow. If you are new to JIRA, I encourage you to get some training before you move beyond learning and start pushing workflows to users. If you want to get going quickly, here are some guidelines that can help

Some common problems are:bigstock-Newbie-Blue-Grungy-Stamp-On-Wh-72764086

  • Starting with a custom workflow. Before you do this, set up a project and send real work through the default workflow. By doing this you will gain an understanding of what workflows do and more importantly, what they do not do. Jumping into a custom workflow guarantees starting over at some point.
  • Dead ends in the workflow. It is not unusual to create a status that transitions responsibility for the item out of your organization. An item can sit there for quite a while, but make a path to return. There should never be a status in your workflow (including closed) that has a transition in but not out.
  • The opposite extreme to dead ends is when every status can lead to every other status. This is often a new JIRA user’s response to the frustration of a poorly designed workflow. This is a cop out, take the time to understand the work and build a workflow to support it. Think through your workflow and build a natural path that covers the primary use case. Work has a purpose and is not scattered, your workflow should reflect this.
  • Confusing statuses and transitions. First, a status is, as named, a state. It is a resting point in the path through the workflow. A transition is a move between two states and represents specific actions. Second, here are some analogies that might help: Statuses are to transitions like nouns are to verbs or cities are to highways.
  • Reverse paths are very important to users. Even if it does not make sense from a workflow perspective, users will make mistakes and move an item forward accidentally. Give them a quick, easy way to fix it, unless you want to be fielding a series of requests to manually move items between statuses. Always make a way out for a user that accidentally clicks a transition.
  • Once you learn how to build restrictions on transitions use them sparingly. This is a common mistake in many areas of IT. Over-restriction ruins what might be a positive user experience.
  • Minimization is important. It is very common for new workflow designers to lay out statuses where an item will never land for more than a few minutes. Take a look at your workflow, and unless it is a critical point to log, do not make a status of this type. I use the following rule: if an item will never spend the night in a status, the status should not exist. If you have a status that is really important and the user must take action, consider making it a field on a screen that pops during a transition.

JIRA is an enterprise class application and as such requires a certain level of training to be effective. Find a mentor who has used JIRA extensively, take a look at any of the online training resources available. If you would like a quick formal training that will get you running, you could consider our class at If you would like a deep sequence of training on specific topics, Atlassian has some great courses available here.

JIRA Training 103 – The Right Tool

I was reflecting on my time at the Atlassian Summit today and put some pieces together. Throughout the conference I would hear the keynotes (mostly Atlassian leadership) and session speakers wax on about the improvements in the products and where things were going. (On a side note, this was one of the best events I have attended in my career. Well run, excellent content, and great participation from attendees that came in from around the world.)

I have found the Atlassian products to be very effective and on the mark in terms of enhancing productivity. The message I heard loud and clear from the Atlassian speakers was that they are streamlining their toolbox, making it easier to use, more efficient, and more intuitive. I am impressed with the persistence they have shown in this increase of efficiency as I have watched the product develop over the last few years. It has not succombed to the mind-numbing massive feature infusion so prevalent in our industry. There are countless examples of this phenomenon, led very obviously by Microsoft products.

[box type=”note” size=”medium” border=”full”]Other JIRA Resources

Other JIRA Articles:

JIRA Training 102 –The Little Things 
JIRA Training 101 – Workflows
Using JIRA – Be a Winner not a Loser
Adapting a Microsoft Project mind to a JIRA world

Our JIRA Training Course:
JIRA Boot Camp


What I find interesting is how this attractive message was diluted and changed not far from the main stage. I spoke to various business leaders and speakers at the “Bash” and in the halls. For the most part I heard a lot about process improvement, amazing new features, visibility into teams, improved (increased) reporting, and better (more) documentation. These can be good things, but they miss the point of the tools’ creators. It reminds me of how hard it is to change mindsets and habits. Business leaders have been conditioned to want more data, more information, deeper analysis. Often this runs counter to a business’s primary mission and, if uncontrolled, can be very destructive.

Lets slice it this way: if you want your organization to be profitable and successful you need to maximize the output of your organization. This means that the supporting pieces around the core work (the part that makes a profit), need to be as small as possible and the core work needs to be as massive as possible in your workflow. Successful managers think this way and the Atlassian tools are built to accomplish this. Reporting, timekeeping, and yes, even user stories are supporting mechanisms to the core work, yet the expansion of these was the focus of many of the non-Atlassian speakers and attendees at the Summit.

Stay Focused

Online support. Toolbox with tools on laptop. 3dThe focus starts at the usage and configuration of your workflow in JIRA. With a good workflow, important actions and reporting metrics can be automatic or at least reasonably simple. Some of the new features like automated transitions and integrated dev tools facilitate this well. As you lay out your workflow, be sure to deconstruct your processes to understand what is critical to your business productivity and what is not. Spend the extra time to keep your staff in that highly productive part of your workflow. Focusing on improving the productive capacity of your team will not only help you but it will help your staff feel empowered and successful.

Looking Ahead

The incredible efficiency offered by JIRA and other Atlassian tools has opened up a whole new set of markets for the company. The relentless focus on productivity has pushed JIRA in particular into the forefront of workflow management. It is quite simply flexible enough to run most organizations better than very high dollar systems employed by corporations. I think we will see a transformation in the coming years. What started out as a developer’s issue tracker could very well be the engine that drives business for many years ahead.

Europe on a Chromebook

Much has been and will continue to be made of the viability of Chromebooks as a primary computing device. Microsoft launches direct attacks, inadvertently validating the platform. I see posts often lamenting the lack of gaming support. I judge computing devices by how well the device enables me to do what I need to. It is a functional decision. I have been using a Chromebook as my primary computing device for close to two years now. This last month in Europe was the first time I ventured beyond reach of either a PC or Mac. I have not used them much over the last two years but I have used them.

DSC_0207I posted information on the kit I took to Europe here (

The Chromebook was the ARM based Samsung CB2 13” with a 1920×1080 screen and 4GB of RAM. My wife also brought her phone and our Dell 11” Chromebook. The Dell has a speedy Haswell CPU, and 2GB of RAM. These are really 2 quite different devices that many would like to mash together. The Samsung has more memory and a much higher resolution screen, it is also more svelte and lighter than the Dell. The Dell is made of nice soft touch materials and has the fast Intel processor. Battery life on the two is roughly equal, both very very good.

europe-mapEven though this was a vacation, there was significant work that needed to be done each week for our business. I run a custom software company, Oasis Digital Solutions, and my wife is the controller. Customers still need to be responded to, software releases need to go out, new contracts need to be signed, projects cannot be ignored, employees still like to be paid and we still need to bill each week. These are pretty heady computing tasks. Here are a subset of the computing processes we used regularly just for business:

  1. Editing and creating large docs
  2. Manipulating large spreadsheets
  3. Editing PDFs with Electronic Signature
  4. Online Chats
  5. Screenshares
  6. Video Chats
  7. Email, Browsing

To support our trip we had some significant computing needs as well. I used the Sony lens camera and my phone camera to take nearly 2000 pictures and videos. About 16GB worth. I am a believer in backups so each day I would transfer files off of the micro SD cards to another storage device we carefully stored away. I also backed them all up to Google services which are backed up by Spanning Backup. My wife journaled on the Chromebook each day as we went. We knew we were seeing more than we could possibly remember. We would like to share our trip with family and friends. We also used Google Maps heavily and planned our days using the Chromebooks.

The performance of the Chromebooks can be viewed on a couple of axes. First, there is performance. My metric is different than most, I watched to see which Chromebook we tended to use more. The online and offline performance is also important. Many of the times we had opportunity to use the CBs were on trains without internet access. They can also be judged in terms of storage space and battery life. Here are our conclusions:


By the fourth day of the trip we both preferred to use the Samsung. The extra screen space and memory won the day. I am more firmly convinced than ever than an ARM processor is ok and 4GB of memory is a minimum. The Dell is an excellent device but is struggles with many complex pages open and the memory disappears quickly in the latest versions of Chrome OS. When we streamed an HD movie in Dusseldorf we used the Samsung without problem. When we had Hangouts with our daughter and grandchild from St. Louis, we used the Samsung. The one exception was when my wife was working on a bunch of spreadsheets, so I used the Dell.

I did start getting into the habit of shutting down the Samsung instead of closing the lid. There is some sort of memory leak going on in the latest OS releases that I am not pleased about. Fortunately it takes only a few seconds more to boot instead of un-suspend. I expect they will fix this problem soon, as it seems to be affecting all of my Chrome devices.

Overall we found the performance of the CBs to be fantastic. We never hit a spot where we could not do what we needed in a timely fashion. This made the trip much better.

Offline Use

We did not have internet at all times. In fact we used the CBs pretty extensively in an offline mode. Most of this was content creation and manipulation. For example we would write documents, create spreadsheets, and edit photos. We also used the opportunity to review documents we had stored locally intentionally before boarding a train. The process was quite painless.

The camera I brought was a Sony DSCQX100 lens camera. I used it held in my hand with the phone as a viewfinder. Because the camera was round I ended up with an inadvertent slight tilt to many of my photos. This meant a lot more photos needed to be rotated than normal. I found the tools on my Android phone to be faster than the process on the CB. The tools are there but getting to them from the file manager is not as seamless as it could be. With that said the process of moving the files back and forth was simple because I have a USB stick with a micro USB connector. It works really well with smartphones.

Storage and Battery Life

I expected this trip to be the point I would finally start to get irritated by 16GB of storage on a typical CB. I simply was not. I downloaded a movie to watch offline, I moved photos around, I stored piles of documents for offline use, all without a hitch. Because the model is to store in the cloud and use locally, there is not a build up of little used files on the device. I have rarely found myself creating new folders locally. The files I need I keep in a pile, they sync up and when I am done with them I delete them locally. Storing too much locally defeats the backup strategy, also, so there is not a drive to keep things (pun intended).

Battery life was simply fantastic. I never once through the trip found myself watching my battery or working to conserve. These devices can go and go and go. We would go days without charging them when we were only sporadically using them. On heavy use days we would simply charge overnight. Any time we went out we did not take a power supply with us, it was simply not needed.


PICT_20140825_192211This trip confirmed to me that I no longer need a PC at home. I removed my last one from my entertainment center last night. Its function as a media center PC was replaced by a $35 Chromecast last year. I will still keep a Mac around at the office, but it is not critical either. I will say that I am tired of TN displays. Once manufacturers get rid of all of these old netbook parts lying around and get to real business we will all be better off. The Samsung is a huge winner with an IPS display. I say that because I came back to write this article and others on my Pixel. The Samsung is a fine device and there are none better for traveling, but when I am sitting at home or the office, I want a nice display. Visuals are important.

Chrome OS has successfully defied its detractors. It is a robust OS with capabilities users need in 2014. It is fast, efficient, and most of all, reliable. Users can bounce from machine to machine with ease, your entire portfolio of apps will be available in minutes from the first login. There is not another OS that can boast that feature. I still think the biggest advantage of Chrome OS is a little harder to see at first. When a user buys a Chromebook they are getting a machine that will increase in functionality and speed over time. In any other ecosystem the device slows dramatically over the years.

I am really excited to see where the platform goes over the next year.

Has Google Crossed Over?

In the life of corporations, especially technology companies, there appears to be a tipping point where they cross the line and begin to bleed their customers at a greater rate than they provide new value. A couple of good examples are Apple, Cisco, and Microsoft. Earlier examples are IBM, Digital, and Wang.

microsoft-windows-xp-logoWhen Microsoft rolled out XP they demolished the competition and dominated almost the entire PC market. Once they felt the battle was won, they almost completely stopped innovating and providing value. There was little offered to bolster XP over the coming years and the market moved away from them. Microsoft’s focus in these years was building their bottom line, especially through licensing. Prior to XP licensing was important, they had to make money, but innovative value lead the way. We can clearly look back today and see the missteps they made in mobile, tablets, and netbooks.

smarnetCisco is an even clearer case. They built their company with strong marketing and strong value. Part of the value they created was through their maintenance programs (SMARTNet) on their products. This service cost money and was built into every sale providing rapid updates and support for all sizes of customers. Over time they became obsessed with these fees, increased them year after year, held customers hostage, and relegated any “uncovered” products useless. They had almost completely eliminated any real competition in the networking space but opened the door when they stopped taking care of the customer first. Once profits came first customers started leaving them and continue to do so at a strong pace.

apple_logo_rainbow_6_color-260x300Apple is a unique company in that they have actually gone through this cycle twice! In the 1990s they were on fire and poised to take over the PC space. Their operating system was polished and feature rich and their hardware was very good. Their arrogance in thinking that only they were capable of making decent hardware eventually opened the door for Microsoft. They fell so low that Microsoft invested heavily in them to prop them up and avoid Apple disappearing. What eventually happened is a literal repeat of history. They are riding high but clearly their view that they have to completely control hardware opened the door for Android and Google. It will be interesting to see how far they fall this time.

dr-seuss-google-logo-300x123Now we finally get to the question of Google. Google has built itself by providing very functional tools and applications for almost no cost to build a user base. This has worked so well they are now tops in mobile, tablets, and rising fast in the PC market with Chromebooks. This last few months a shift appears to have occurred and it was right in my face this last week in London. Google has started to show me results that benefit them and do not necessarily relate to my needs at all.

Anyone who has driven in London knows that there are good routes and awful routes, not much in between. I have been using Google Maps navigation since its inception eventually eschewing dedicated GPS devices for my phone or tablet. This has worked consistently and wonderfully. In London Google consistently wanted to route me past advertisers, sometimes adding as much as an hour to my route. This happened consistently every day. After we gained familiarity with the city we were able to intercept this silliness and avoid it, but it was costly the first couple of days.

Dead End Trail In Badland National Park South DakotaOne of the best examples was when we were near Hyde Park. We needed to navigate back to our cottage in Flaunden from that side of the busy shopping district. There was a very clear path that led straight away from the immense congestion and towards Hemel Hempstead but Google kept trying to re-route us past Harrod’s and Selfridge’s and Madame Tussaud’s through a couple of miles of deadlocked tour buses, commuter buses and taxis. The “recommended route” more than doubled our trip time and would have placed us in much more dangerous traffic. There is an interesting liability here as well. The navigation app would literally override our route selection to put us back on a stressful and slow path past advertisers. It is hard to communicate how horrible this was, and if we had not been educated we could have been in a very bad situation–including missing a flight when our nav route suddenly changed from around the city center to right through the business district. Google was certainly making our trip harder, not easier.

We have also begun to see search results that are more advertiser-driven  or politically-filtered, but that is a little harder to prove. I believe Google might have just tipped over a line that they will look back and regret. The way to stay on top is to provide value. Be so consistent that your customers do not even think twice about using your products vs. the competition. We will see if I am correct but we may look at 2014 and 2015 as the years Google started to decline. I am writing this on a Google Chromebook, using Google Docs offline. I will update this by hotspotting with my Android phone later. I am firmly into the Google ecosystem but it appears they have gotten a little fat and complacent. Starting to look for the next big wave.


Samsung Chromebook 2 11 and HP 11, Better Than The Dell?

Last week I contrasted the Samsung CB2 13” with my stable of Chromebooks and my Chromebox. I purchased a couple of additional Chromebooks for our Intern Hackathon prizes. I took the opportunity to try the units and get some impressions fresh off of the other review. I think this allowed me to quickly and efficiently evaluate the units.

DSC00091The prizes I purchased were the HP 11 and a Samsung CB2 11”. Regarding the HP, I assumed that because I was 6 months removed from the original HP, and the unit was being restocked, that this would be considered the “Revised” HP 11. It turns out there is a new version coming soon that most people have tagged with that moniker and the current model is considered the original.  With that in mind, let’s first compare the two Samsung models.

Samsung Chromebook2 11 vs. 13


Materials are simply much better on the 11 with a couple of exceptions. The lid is soft touch plastic, the rest of the chassis is just a little nicer. The 11 just looks better. The material used on the touchpad is the primary enhancement for the 13. The gray of the 13 is unappealing while the black of the 11 looks really rich and sharp. As stated in the last review, it seems counter-intuitive that the smaller, less-expensive unit would have superior construction, but that is the case here.


The 11 is not as bright as the 13, and the color temp of the panel is a lot warmer. The viewing angles are similar(possibly slightly better on the 11). The panel on the 11 is nice for its size, but when using 1366×768 vs. 1920×1080, resolution is the clear winner. Windows are not usable side by side on the 11 like they are on the 13.

Keyboard, Touchpad

In comparison to the touchpad on the 13, the 11 feels a little irritating. The touchpad on the 13 is smooth like glass, but it is not cool to the touch. The layout of the two keyboards are almost identical, but the pressure and depth of movement required is superior on the 13. Touch-typing is the automatic experience it should be, not a process that requires corrections and attention.

Can the HP and Samsung 11 compare with the Dell 11?


I keep having iMac flashbacks to the 1990s looking at the HP. Did they hire a designer from that old team? This sure feels like one of the old clamshells from Apple. The HP chassis is different from most others, and depending on your preference you will likely either love or hate it. The HP and the Samsung are distinctly thinner and lighter than the Dell, which is a clear advantage. That said, the Dell is still better made in my opinion. The materials Dell uses are top notch for this price point, I am still amazed with the soft touch plastic around the keyboard.

I do like some of the extra design touches on the HP. As a Pixel owner, I appreciate the LED strip on the lid of the HP. I am disappointed other manufacturers have not taken this up as a “standard” feature. It seems to me it could be quite useful for notification, customization, and entertainment purposes.  The color around the keyboard is fun. I never really mind a little whimsy on the inside of my devices, just keep the outside clean. I also love the use of micro usb for charging. This is a fantastic idea and I really wish more manufacturers would give this a try. Overnight charging with the rest of my devices on a multi USB station would be a wonderful change from toting a proprietary brick around.

Chassis quality is distinctly different between all three units. Samsung is attempting to be sophisticated while HP is well, HPish. I have a clear preference for the Dell first, the Samsung second, and the HP third.

Screens and Audio

DSC00086 editedThis HP still comes with an IPS panel despite the rumors otherwise (this may change in the near future but to my knowledge has not yet). I would not be shocked if a TN panel started shipping but it certainly was not in the model I received last week. With that in mind, you will not be surprised to find the the HP has the best screen of the group. Colors, brightness and viewing angles are all better than any Chromebook I have used except the Pixel.

I will say that I like the design of the hinge on the Dell better than the others. The screen sits higher and that is simply more comfortable when typing. The HP sits extremely low. This allows the unit to be smaller, but is less than ideal for heavy typing ergonomics. The Samsung is a step better but not as nice as the Dell.

The HP is also dull in the audio department. The Samsung is markedly better than that, but the Dell is again the clear winner. Movie trailers were far deeper and louder. There was no buzzing in the unit even at full volume. The Samsung is still quite good but I would suggest the HP would simply not work in a moderately loud environment and is only suited for use by a couple of people. The Dell, in contrast, will fill out a small room nicely if watching a movie, listening to music, or participating in a Hangout.

Keyboard, Touchpad

I would not be surprised to find that HP and Dell used the exact same touchpad. They are not quite as nice as the Samsung CB2 11 but quite acceptable. It is very interesting to me that I can easily tell that the pad on the CB2 13 is a step above the CB2 11 which is a step above the Dell and HP.

The Dell keyboard is the clear winner here. The others are good but feel a little cheap next to the Dell. The keyboard is also less audibly “clicky” on the Dell than the Samsung, while the HP feels dull and more like it knows it will break soon.

There is not a lot of debate in my mind on the input devices. I use touchpads and island style keyboards on all of my devices. The long-term usability of a particular piece of hardware is obvious in a few minutes.


The Dell is the fastest machine. As mentioned in my previous review, the CB2 is not obviously slower unless you are using the machines side by side. The HP11 is faster in daily use than the original Samsung ARM Chromebook but is clearly slower than the other two in this comparison.

I systematically opened the same 13 memory intensive sites on the three machines. I then went back and played HD trailers on all three machines. This really stressed them and I was pleased with the separation it provided me to evaluate the units. I was also able to determine that none of them run very hot under load but the HP did get a little warmer than the others.

As a secondary machine all of these will work just fine. For a daily driver I would have to eliminate the HP, the processor is too weak for 2014. I can excuse the first gen Sammy for being a bit slow after years of production, but no excuse for a brand new device.

I am undecided as to the real risk of choosing the HP11 or even the original Samsung ARM CB. On one hand, Chrome has improved its efficiency dramatically this last year and the gains are obvious on such a device. On the other hand, Android apps are coming to CBs and it seems that many of those will tax the processors extensively, especially the games. It is possible that a year from now we will all be wishing for higher powered cpus, but we might not be. I am curious to see where this all goes.

Octane Scores

All done in guest mode on a clean boot with the same version of Chrome 35.0.1916.155

Samsung CB2 11  6620

HP 11 5955

Dell 11  11047


PICT_20140614_101711As I stated previously, the Dell has been my favorite small chromebook by a large margin. If I did not have the 13” CB2 I would very likely begin to use the 11” CB2 a lot more. It has a nice feel and an especially svelte form factor that is appealing. The Dell still has the better keyboard, better cpu, better battery life, better build quality. For now it is still the winning combination for me… long as I do not have the 13” CB2, that has become my go-to machine and the best Chromebook for the dollar.

My ultimate conclusion is the the 11’ chromebooks are, as a group, a toy to me now. They remind me of a 7” tablet. They are good to use, very functional, but never my first choice. The 13’ with a 1920×1080 screen I predict will be the sweet spot for CBs just like they are for laptops. Perfect resolution for multitasking, lightweight, slim, and less than $400, that is a sweet package.

How Does Samsungs Chromebook 2 13″ Really Work?

When a product category has matured to the point of multiple good offerings from many manufacturers, comparing devices gets more difficult but more fun. Last year I was contrasting the Pixel to the original Samsung Chromebook and the Lenovo 131e, not exactly a fair fight. Sort of like Germany playing Portugal in the World Cup or the Cardinals playing the Cubs about anytime in the 20th century.

But this year is radically different. There are very good Chromebooks from many manufacturers. The amazing thing is they all work relatively well. There are only a few bad eggs in the batch and these are easily spotted. First they will have a spinning disc instead of an SSD, immediately rule them out as illegitimate children of a company that still listens to Microsoft. These are cloud computing devices. If you don’t want to be in the cloud don’t buy one.

So enough of the obnoxious comments.

The Final Question?

PICT_20140614_100952When I got to the end of the time where I was working with the units and needing to write the review, which one would I pick up to do it with? I wrote the review sitting outside in my yard under the trees, so screen was important. Battery life was important because I would need the screen turned up and I am sometimes a little verbose. The keyboard was important because I was typing a long article. This became a very important question, and one which helped answer the Title question of this article. Skip to end if you want to know the result.

Side note: A convertible ’60s GTO and a ’40s Chevy hill climber just drove by. I love working outside.

The Processors

Let’s address the elephant in the room straight away. The Dell and the Pixel both have Intel processors. The Samsung has an ARM processor. I will summarize for you. The ARM processor is a little slower in real life. When using the units side by side the Samsung feels a millisecond slower in general use and some pages take an extra second to load. When used on its own, it does not feel slow, and I never hesitated to immediately use Tab Cloud and open my 20 tabs I start every computing session with.

To put it in perspective I will list the main applications I use daily:

  • Google Docs (spreadsheets, docs, forms)
  • Google Drive (personal and business)
  • Gmail (email)
  • Hangouts (video, audio, screenshare, and chat)
  • GApps Administration
  • Atlassian JIRA (project management)
  • BitBucket (repositories)
  • Cloud9 IDE
  • BeeBole (time tracking)
  • QuickBooks Online (accounting)
  • G+ (business and personal)
  • Pixlr photo editor
  • YouTube (video editing, managing our channel)
  • Netflix
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Klout

Another side note: a restored ’65 Chevy Impala with a hopped up engine just drove by. Did I already say I love working outside?

All of these applications work flawlessly on the ARM processor in the Chromebook 2. It is very true that this was not the case in the original Chromebook. You really needed to limit yourself to a few tabs and even then it could bog down. I think the combination of 4GB of RAM and a more powerful generation of processors make the difference.

Yes, it is possible to get the unit in a slow arduous state if you have the right combination of background processes going. You can see videos on YouTube if you want. Yes, it did happen to me once. There is a quick, easy, solution. Because it is a CB you can reboot in 10 sec and reopen all the tabs you were using, easy peasy.

A Rant on Benchmarks

I am specifically defending the ARM processor here because it works for the applications I use every day. Obviously there are many in the computing industry that live for benchmarks. As an electrical engineer with decades of experience (my first computer was an Atari 400), benchmarks are useful for comparing similar devices. A good example is smartphones based on the same chipset or incremental generations of the same chipset. Benchmarks are not good for comparing differing platforms.

PICT_20140614_101711Using the Octane benchmark to compare the Samsung Chromebook 2 with Intel Chromebooks is silly. It is like comparing the power numbers on an automobile with the power numbers of a truck. It simply does not tell you anything you cannot know on your own. An Intel processor is going to benchmark faster than an ARM processor. Real life use is what matters when you are comparing devices built in different ways but intended for a similar purpose. It is a many-faceted analysis that is more abstract and takes real work to put into a usable form.

Octane 2.0 Scores

All of these were done with all users signed out, the machine restarted and in guest mode. They are all running the same version of Chrome 35.0.1916.155.

Samsung Chromebook 2 13” 6994
Samsung Chromebook 2 11” 6600
Dell Chromebook 11 11047
Samsung Chromebook 6856
Acer C720 11177
Lenovo 131e 9722
Google Chromebook Pixel 19017
ASUS Chromebox 11199

In real world use the Dell, Pixel and Chromebox are indiscernible in terms of performance. This alone causes me to question the viability of the benchmarks, the range is 8000 points! This is more than the CB2 scored altogether. It is interesting to me that the latest builds of Chrome have equalized their daily performance. Previously I could see a difference and now I cannot, even when I am trying to discern one.

The Chromebook 2 looks pretty pitiful here but in reality it is barely a notch below the others. It is slightly faster in real use than the Lenovo. It does feel a step slow when contrasted directly to the fastest Chromebooks but it is a joy to use. It is also very obvious that the Chromebook 2 is a lot faster than the original yet the scores are almost identical.

Simply put when looking at everyday life, this benchmark, in this situation, is bogus. Yes, there are times when the data is valuable and I use it, too. But benchmarks are greatly misused and have become a marketing tool instead of a measurement tool. The Chromebook 2 Octane score is not indicative of the real user experience.

Impressive, Uniquely Chromebook

I have made this point before, Chromebooks get better with age. The Samsung Chromebook is still a viable machine (my adult daughter loves it for a daily driver) and is faster today than when it was new. My Pixel was one of the first shipped and is much faster today than it was when new. This is so different from the PC and Mac experience that most people have a hard time believing it. It is true, unlike your typical computer that will steadily get slower with age a Chromebook does not. Whatever Chromebook you buy will improve over time. This is a nice feature and not focused on enough in the media.


I use my device for most of my working day. Screen real estate is king when you multitask. Even when I am mobile I will jump between windows and chats constantly. I need to have things side by side even in a coffee shop. This is simply not possible on a 1366×768 screen. These devices are suitable for single window use only. Within the first day I knew if the processor would hold up that I would be switching from the Dell to the Sammy for mobile use.

The screen is not as good as the Pixel. I am utterly spoiled with the experience on the Pixel so colors seem a little washed out at times on the Samsung. For the price the screen is very nice and I am using it outside right now with the screen half in the shadow of a tree and partially in the sun. It is very usable at full brightness and reflections on the screen are less (better) than the Pixel.

Chassis, Keyboard, Trackpad

In the chassis department the Dell wins easily. Although the Pixel is incredibly well made, it is also really heavy. The Dell feels solid yet light to handle. The materials are well-chosen. The plastic does not feel cheap and scratchy like the Samsung and it does not feel overly industrial like the Lenovo. It just feels right. It also does not have a somewhat ridiculous fake stitched vinyl top, ugh.

The keyboards are all very usable. The Pixel is obviously the benchmark and the best. It is backlit, the use of it is so natural you actually want to type. The Dell feels a little cramped at times but is the best I have used on an 11” device. The Samsung is really good and approaches the Pixel in quality. I wish it had a backlit keyboard but you cannot have everything for $400.

The trackpad actually goes to the Samsung. The Pixel unit is really really good and the glass surface feels incredibly smooth but it can actually be too slick at times. The Samsung feels just right in all situations. The click on the Samsung is not as obnoxious as the Pixel either. Clicking around on the Pixel late at night results in nasty looks from my wife, definitely a negative…


When I went to actually write this I picked up the Chromebook 2 and I never regretted doing so for the morning I spent writing this. These factors were important while writing this in the lovely outdoors on a beautiful day:


The screen is not awesome like the Pixel but it is superior to the other CBs that I have. 1920×1080 simply matters for everyday work. I can easily see my writing full page width on half the screen and use the other half for reference. I cannot do that on the Dell. As much as I love the Dell this kills it for me.


The Pixel could likely get through this article but I simply do not like watching the battery level. It is a distraction that does affect writing. I could get an extension cord but that would be stupid. The battery in the Dell is almost as good so it would certainly have worked from that angle.


The keyboard is really quite excellent on the CB 2. It is not the same quality as the Pixel but is a slightly better than the other Chromebooks I have used. The keys are properly spaced and touch-typing is natural, very few distractions.


This is the big issue. Can an ARM processor really work for what I do? The answer is simply yes. If I have 20 tabs open it feels a step slow when directly compared keystroke for keystroke with the Intel CBs I am comparing it with. BUT, when by itself you do not notice it at all. The processor is simply not an issue for me.

Gripes regarding the Chromebook 2

PICT_20140616_160844Power supply: I really liked the approach HP took on the 11 Chromebook, using the common micro- USB charging connection. It seems that the extra charging time is worth having a more universal adapter that will work with your smartphone and Chromebook. I hate carrying a device-specific brick while traveling. The Samsung power supply is awkwardly shaped and takes twice the space the Pixel power supply does. In the photo can see how neat and small the Pixel power supply is compared to the Samsung, pretty obvious opportunity for improvement.

Materials: Samsung, if you are going to stay married to plastic, please start caring about the experience. The feel could be better, it sounds like a piece of junk when typing on a hard table. Please get your act together and steal some ideas from Dell. When I use the unit on a soft surface (my lap, ottoman) if feels much better than on a hard table. This is not really that important, I just found it interesting.

The Chromebook 2 11″ actually uses better materials. The lid is covered with a soft touch plastic more like the Dell. I find it odd that they would use lesser materials on the more expensive machine. I am guessing they are trying to control the cost of the device since the screen is more expensive.

Other: Not having a charge indicator on the outside of the device is simply silly. When I charge my Chromebooks I close the lid to keep dust out. I should not have to open the unit to see if it is charged.


If your Chromebook is going to be your only computing device, and you want to do more than casual computing, then I would get a Pixel or wait for a FHD Intel unit.

If you have a desktop, Chromebox, Mac, or a Windows laptop still in your arsenal then I would recommend the CB2 over all the others. There are rare times you might want more power but the unit is simply awesome as a mobile computing device.

I believe the Dell is probably the best solution for Education. The extra power of the Intel processor is likely going to come into play for some applications. Since most education environments are single focus I do not expect the screen resolution to be an enormous handicap. Schools seem to function quite well at the standard resolution that is readily available.

Even after my window I still find myself using the CB2 over the Pixel. It is light, handles all my work and the battery last longer than I need it to. When I go to Europe for a month later this year I will be taking the CB2. It simply works and is the best tool for the job. If it gets stolen or broken I simply replace it without shedding a tear. If that happens with the Pixel it is a different story. I had previously intended to take the Dell but I was struggling with the limited screen. With the CB2 I expect to be fully functional on my trip and not miss a beat, what else can I ask for?

The Cloud Life, Backups are for People Too

I had a real life cloud crisis moment occur this week. Fortunately some wise choices prevented disaster. The crisis was in my business but I will bridge the gap to personal very directly. This experience cemented my belief that my current cloud data strategy is correct. More importantly I stressed the system and it worked. We use Spanning Backup for business AND personal cloud backups. I could not be more pleased. Skip to the bottom if you just want the punchline.

The Background:

Last year we were working for a customer converting an internal purchasing application to a current technology stack. The old app was written in Delphi over the course of roughly 15 years by a single developer. The app was not bad but had the normal warts present in such an application that was developed in isolation by a single individual. We took the project down the field and completed roughly 80% of the work. We then transferred the project back to the internal development team last November. At that point we mothballed the project and were in a mode of supporting the internal team on the conversion.

A couple of weeks ago we were asked to pick the app back up and finish it. Our workflow allows us to do this and we had all the work defined in our systems. We simply turned the project back on in our cloud systems (Drive, JIRA, BeeBole, BitBucket) and got back to work. Painless process.

The Crisis:

Stressed BusinessmanWe work hard to ship all of our active projects on a weekly basis. This commitment keeps us moving forward rapidly and working on items that mean something to the customer. After the second week we went to ship and the customer-shared folder was missing. This folder included all the weekly deliveries from 2013, the supporting docs the customer provided to us and the snapshot of the source as of our pausing the project in November. An aggressive search proved fruitless. The loss of this data damaged our ability to efficiently work on the project. The customer had provided us a lot of valuable insight as well as some supporting code from their backend systems.

I was very concerned.

The Solution:

Having spent my career in IT I knew that going to the backups for the data was a crapshoot at best. Backups are notoriously flaky and it appeared the folder had been deleted back in November when we paused the project. It could have been me or possibly the tech lead on the project or the customer. We will never know.

In 5 minutes the folder was restored from an incremental backup from November 20, 2013. This sounds anticlimactic but I was thrilled and impressed. Backups working as advertised are rare and a very big deal. I only had to do the following:

  1. Open Spanning’s console
  2. Select the checkbox to search All Backups
  3. Search for the folder by keyword
  4. Click restore

Best restore experience I have had ever, no contest. To understand my thrill you need to realize I have been working with backups since the late 1980s as a youth.

Why is this important?

Stressed businessman governed by puppeteer handsI hear from people all the time that simply trust their pictures, emails, chats, notes, videos etc. to various cloud solutions. In a very personal sense this data is much more important than a customer project. Customers come and go but your family and your experiences are yours. Understand that Facebook, Evernote, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and any number of others have outages and failures. They are not guaranteeing that your data will be secure. I know a number of people that have simply lost their content with no warning and no explanation. Google had an especially serious problem a couple of years ago when an algorithm went haywire and completely deleted thousands of accounts and all of their history. Take back control of your content and still use the cloud.

I use Spanning for my backup needs. I cannot think of anyone that would say their content is not worth $45 per year. The link I have included gives you a $5 discount, click here. This could be you, but I doubt it. This is a reliable company that provides a reliable and robust product. I use them on my Gapps domain as well as my personal Google account. They provide something even one step better: I can download a backup of all my data at any point in time. Personally I do this once a month but it keeps my pictures of kids growing up, my work product over 20+ years and other important data in my hands. I even keep multiple copies in multiple locations.

It is possible to live a cloud life and still have your data secure. I would encourage everyone to jump on and giveSpanning or something similar a shot. When those pictures from your son’s graduation or your daughter’s birth get deleted, you will want them back. This I can promise you.


Chromebooks, Coming to the Surface

When I consider the Chromebooks I use, I constantly think of the future. The constant, steady expansion of features. The improved choices in the marketplace. The coming waves of new applications. I tend to think of what it can do, not what it can’t. I have realized this is the core problem with the mainstream tech media’s approach to the platform. How quickly we forget the history of other platforms. I constantly hear comparisons and lists of what a Chromebook cannot do.

Little Flower Sprout  Grows Through Urban Asphalt GroundWhen you look at other platforms; Windows, Mac, Linux, we find the truth. There was a time when you could not edit images or videos effectively on Windows. The platform was mocked and derided, its doom forecasted. There was a time when editing docs on a Mac was a complete disaster, it was said there would never be a place for Mac in corporate America. There was a time when Linux was unusable without heavy command line use, the UI was severely limited, it appeared there would never be widespread consumer adoption.

Well we all know that Windows dominated, Mac has a solid place in business, and Linux is now a common option (with many many good choices). So why all the naysaying? We have gone from “Chromebooks are a failed experiment”, to “Chromebooks are the new netbooks”, to “Chromebooks are only good for schools”. I would argue that everyone is still wrong. Here is why.

Computers have some basic hardware components today across platforms. They have processors, graphics engines, memory, storage, ports, screens, and keyboards. Chromebooks use the same components as most computers on the other platforms. Yes, there are some ARM (smartphone style processor) based Chromebooks, but most are now coming with standard Intel desktop/laptop processors. ARM is coming fast, but that is for another day…

I will make the same argument I have made a number of times. With a Chromebook you have a computer that will be better six months after you bought it. The platform has not hit the obsolescence cycle yet. It will, of course, but we have not arrived. The platform is on the rise and it has the potential to permanently change the landscape. Consider these four major features of a Chromebook:

  1. Agricultural ConceptSecure, well-documented as the strongest platform on the market

  2. Fast, boots in a few seconds, efficient platform

  3. Easy, if you have used the Chrome browser there is little to learn

  4. Modest cost, most Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive

The Chromebooks use the same hardware as other computers and have these features listed above. Who, in their right mind, thinks this is not going to work? If you still think they will fail I cannot help you, but I do believe you will be disappointed.

There is one other major piece of the puzzle coming into focus. This is a platform that the market is rushing towards. I am not talking about the user market, although that appears to be happening. I am talking about the developer market. Everyone in this space is rushing headlong into developing web applications. Even Microsoft has ported Office to the web. Every corner of the software industry is rushing to get onto this bandwagon. If you do not believe me please talk to any developer you know. Very little new effort is going into R&D of large monolithic apps. If you know of some, please share, I am in the industry and aware of none.

This is a very unique place to be. Google does not need to coerce developers to build apps for the platform. The marketplace is on a convergence course with Chromebooks. As these apps arrive, which they are every day now, the platform has the 4 enormous features listed above; security, speed, ease of use, cost. I am absolutely thrilled with the prospect of having a investment like I have in this Pixel, pay off so well. I have a better computer over 12 months after I purchased it. How amazing is that?

Street Road Sign BandwagonAll of this convergence is also opening up doors to a future imagined in movies and science fiction for many years. I am able to walk up to any computer I have access to, login, and have my applications and tools at my fingertips. This is available to me on any platform, centered around Chrome. Believe me, corporate IT with vision is watching the platform very carefully. We are very close to having a true flexible computing environment available for workforces all over the world. Oh, and remember those big 4 features? They matter to business as well.

I really hope more of the tech and mainstream media can pick up on the truth of the platform very soon. Chromebooks are good for consumers. They can radically cut down on the malware issues, especially when combined with the excellent spam catching ability of Gmail. The media prides itself on pointing out what is best for us, hopefully they will see the past for what it is and recognize the future. Chromebooks are still accelerating and that $200 Chromebook you bought 2 years ago as a novelty is more powerful today than it has ever been. Who would not want that kind of investment?

JIRA Training 102 – The Little Things

When I observe various JIRA installations, some common problems tend to bubble to the surface. Many cases of poor adoption or user interaction can be traced back to inadequate setup. As a JIRA Admin or champion you can send a clear message to your users by how you approach the system in the first place.

Other JIRA Articles:
JIRA Training 101 – Workflows
Using JIRA – Be a Winner not a Loser
Adapting a Microsoft Project mind to a JIRA world

Our JIRA Training Course:
JIRA Boot Camp

Screenshot-2014-03-12-at-6.38.59-PMJIRA is a platform that supports extensive customization. Some of these include:

  • UI

  • Project

  • Fields & Screens

  • Workflow Transitions and Statuses

  • Dashboards and Agile Boards

  • Security and Notification Profiles

I am not suggesting paralysis until all of these areas are customized, but I am suggesting that some thought regarding each of these areas is important. It is also very important to show continuous iterative progress toward a system that will provide maximum value to the leaders and users in your teams. Let’s look at each of these areas and touch on what value they have to your organization.


This is the easiest and most of this should be done prior to launch. Add your logo, adjust the color scheme to match your other internally created tools. Help the user recognize it as important. The flexibility here can also ruin your instance. Use colors in a non-intrusive way, mainitain contrast and readability, and most of all, be subtle. We often overdue it on the first pass of customizing the UI. Less is more, seriously.


Show the users that their project is important. Categorize your projects, some organizations have hundreds of them. Use the tools available to organize and group similar initiatives. This can have substantial value and create important conversations across multiple teams. Add a custom image for the project. The team members identify themselves with their work, help them make that connection. Clearly identify the project lead and give them the ability to modify, assign and lead their project in JIRA.

Fields & Screens

Create fields that apply across different aspects of the organization. Also be ready to use custom fields especially for fields you want to ensure are populated. A user is more likely to notice custom fields that pertain to their project over generic names. This one is a bit of a challenge because without restraint and planning, custom fields can create a mess over a number of projects.

Also be sure and organize your screens. Avoid the mistake of piling all your fields on every edit screen and transition screen in your instance. Work with your users and design the screens to be effective. Doing this can drive user interaction and productivity.

Transitions and Statuses

As with Fields and Screens, above, work with your users, name statuses and transitions well. Build workflows that lead to increased productivity. One additional way you can help your team is by paying attention to the display of transitions on the issue screen. Avoid making users dive through the menu to find the transition they typically need. Put the “happy path” right there in the main toolbar for their ready access. Get regular feedback from your users.

Dashboards and Agile Boards

After a project has been running for a while there is a mountain of data available. Dashboards, Wallboards and Agile Boards can be very useful to leaders and team members alike. They can be used to communicate real time progress, identify problems, and monitor workloads. They can also be a point of pride. A team gets a lot of satisfaction from releasing an Agile Board, and this can improve productivity and engagement. These tools can become hubs around which your teams operate, take the time to implement them and make them work for the team.

Security and Notification Profiles

These are often overlooked but can provide a level of privacy with transparency that can enhance the work environment. Often JIRA is implemented in a very flat way where most information is accessible to all the members of the team. In many cases, this can be problematic. By applying some specific limitations to what coworkers can see about each other, you can help users focus on the work at hand and thereby increase productivity. You can also assist managers by giving them the option to have some control regarding information flow. A variant of this approach is to limit individual access to some information while making it available in a centrally published wallboard.

Managing notifications is also important. If not managed, JIRA notifications can flood email boxes and become a drain on energy and attention. Work with your managers to establish who should get which of the dozens of possible notifications. In some organizations you may need to turn email notifications off completely.


Show your users that JIRA is important to you in addition to the organization. Take the time to understand the little things that can make a big difference to your users. I want to reiterate that there is no need to hit all of these before you launch. Hit them one at a time over successive weeks. Continue to improve the system until you get through all of these areas. Users will notice that you are making an effort to improve the system. This will improve their view of you and JIRA. Once you are running smoothly, regularly get feedback and make adjustments to keep the system relevant to how your teams change. Also keep an eye out for team leads and managers creating spreadsheets to track items that could be handled in JIRA. This kind of fracturing can become a serious problem. When you run across such a spreadsheet, work with the individual, it is rare that you cannot meet the need within JIRA.

JIRA Training 101 – Workflows

Atlassian’s JIRA is a powerful tool to manage your team and your projects. Having a tool and bringing a tool to bear on a problem are two totally different things. I teach a JIRA Boot Camp class that is three days long and focuses on skills, like workflow configuration, needed to be successful implementing JIRA.

What is a workflow?

Atlassian’s Definition

“A JIRA workflow is the set of statuses and transitions that an issue goes through during its lifecycle.”

I think of it more for universal use:

“A JIRA workflow represents the actual value being produced by your team.”

Taking it back to this level helps us to visualize what a workflow needs to be. This is a process explored extensively in many systems over centuries. Process management and workflow diagrams have been around for a long time, I have some very old drafting templates that would prove my point. In fact you can buy them on ebay and they make for great technical nostalgia pieces in an office.

bigstock-Mathematical-Drafting-Concept-17933525Click here to see the listings on ebay

In essence any work process can be represented in a JIRA workflow. I use it personally to track our marketing and sales efforts at Oasis Digital. It took me an afternoon to build a good tracking workflow and we now use it exclusively to track our opportunities. Atlassian even describes how to use it to track blog post creation as an example. The trick is to recognize WHAT should be a workflow and what should not.

How should I view workflows?

I believe you should have a workflow for anything that could make or break your team. A workflow will allow you to monitor, visualize, measure and redirect a process. Your time should be spent monitoring, measuring (often through visualization), and redirecting your team regarding any critical issue. A workflow in JIRA will help you do just that. Viewing workflows in this way allows you to not just apply them to the problem of software development, but the success of your organization.

Issues of secondary importance are usually not worth building into a workflow. Without the momentum of constant attention, systems that monitor secondary functions fail at a very high rate. It is usually not a good idea to invest a lot of time in things that do not add a lot of value.

Making an effective workflow



To make an effective workflow we need to step back from a process and identify how many “states” or “statuses” a piece of work goes through. It usually takes a few iterations to get this down, most organizations have this kind of knowledge in a manager’s head and not on paper. Once you have a feel for the statuses then you look at the actions that get it there.

In the sales example a project will go from a prospect status to a proposed status with the submission of a proposal. This is referred to as a transition. When drawing out your workflow there are lots of arrows connecting statuses. Every one of these arrows is a transition. Some transitions move an item forward in the workflow and others move it back.

When you have a complex workflow, I think it is good to use the visual tool in JIRA to make “stages” for the item. To continue the sales analogy, all of the presales statuses are grouped together and the item can jump to the next stage when it is proposed. There is then a final stage where the item lands and is either sold, lost or delayed. This can be seen in the diagram below.

An Ever-Changing Core


Sales-Workflow-DiagramMost organizations that use JIRA use it in at least a partially agile way. The concept of iterating to ever improve needs to apply to your JIRA workflows as well. It will take some time to accommodate all the fringe cases within your workflow. The system is designed to allow you to make rapid changes to the workflow, use it! Do not sit on needed changes for more than a day, discipline yourself to jump in and improve. Every day that a needed change is not made hurts the adoption of your workflow, there is a critical need to be responsive.

Also try not to over-regulate your team in the beginning. Work slowly towards things like required fields being entered in a transition. Only disallow backtracking in a workflow if absolutely necessary. Making it easy for your team to interact with the system will allow you to use it to its fullest potential

What about Workflow Add-Ons?

There are a large number of enhancements available in the Atlassian Marketplace. These add-ons can be very powerful and a great fit for many teams. I would encourage pushing the stock tools as far as you can before installing any of these. As a general rule in any system, master the base tool before installing third party products. In the first rounds of improvement it is not unusual to radically change your approach. It is best to evaluate enhancements in the context of your educated approach, not an initial attempt.


JIRA workflows are feature-rich and capable of great complexity. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated. By following some of the lessons noted here you can tackle even the most complex workflow and start to take what can be opaque process and make them transparent and manageable. JIRA is a powerful tool and workflows are its heart, bring their power to bear in your team.

Atlassian’s JIRA is a powerful tool to manage your team and your projects. Having a tool and bringing a tool to bear on a problem are two totally different things. I teach a JIRA Boot Camp class that is three days long and focuses on the skills needed to be successful implementing JIRA.

If you want to learn more please visit:

Beware of Prototyping

There are many threats to a successful software development project. While prototyping seems on the surface to be a 100% wholesome and good thing, it does need to be used wisely and be properly qualified, or it can become one of those threats. Like other aspects of project development, prototyping needs to be done well and with purpose.

Prototype vs. Mockup (wireframe)
This article refers a lot to prototypes. In our model we differentiate very specifically between mockups and prototypes. We will often sketch up a screen on a whiteboard or in a tool like Balsamiq. These are useful for getting buyin for a layout or a specific concept. This is a step or many in the development of the prototype. These sketches become archived in the project history within design docs and JIRA issues.

We view the prototype as a specific deliverable. It is where the vision for a project comes together. Where we communicate the following things to our clients.

We understand your problem
We know how to solve your problem
We are really good at this
Imagine your team using this tool

On the surface this may seem at odds with the article itself. The key is to establish realistic and accurate answers for the client to the obvious questions we are answering in our communication. The executive team will enter a presentation with at least a subset of the following questions:

Do they really understand my problem?
Can they solve the problem?
Did we pick the right team?
How will this work?

Mockups and wireframes will not answer these questions. This is why we deliver a working prototype that uses dummy data to emulate what the app will deliver. We gain incredible feedback and make the project “sticky” when we successfully do this.

Many times a non-technical customer will see a prototype and mistakenly assume a certain level of completeness. After all, here is a piece of software approximating a subset of what they want. It works, right? bigstock-Mobile-Web-Design-And-Developm-52160128Surely it can’t take much longer to complete since they are this far? There are many ways to combat this, but often this assessment is not even conscious. Our minds assess and categorize all day long. Later in the project a misunderstood prototype can damage your relationship with the customer.

Most organizations struggle to be responsive enough to even deliver a prototype. Such an organization needs to strive to achieve this. It is a valuable skill to have in your toolbox, one that can help you win large, complex projects. A prototype allows you to demonstrate your depth of understanding of the problem, showcase your creativity, and validate your mastery of your tools. It is also an opportunity to introduce a new and hard to explain concept that might really turn a good project into a great one. These are all tremendously important reasons to build prototypes.

I have talked in the past about the tension that occurs in a project right before it is first delivered. The stakeholder cannot see into the opaque world that we are working in, and has to believe us when we tell him there has been progress. You can use issue trackers, fancy charts and graphs, even code reviews, but the truth remains: the customer is trusting you. That dark period, right before the customer has something tangible to test and evaluate, really exposes any weaknesses in your process, including poor prototyping.

In a typical application there are some core business processes and rules that drive the business needs. These are implemented, executed, and supported in a server-side application. This application might parse requests, route work, accept/calculate data, generate complex results based on inputs, or prioritize based on business rules. These efforts are typically where most of the work occurs, coding all of these processes is time-consuming and detailed work.

The user interface is often partially or wholly generated by a framework or ide and takes much less time. BUT, the user experience is what the typical executive or user at your customer will care about the most. It is also the most graphical/visual component of the system where users will interact with vital business processes. By default, this is typically where we prototype. This is the correct place to prototype but we have to be careful. We have to communicate to the customer the mountain of work required to turn a prototype into production code.

Just like a customer only hears the dollar amount when you give an estimate no matter how you qualify it, customers rarely comprehend the shell you are demonstrating to them in your prototype demo. Because, “How much longer can it possibly take if I can already see x, y, and z on the screen?” I have learned to display a complete project progression graph along with a prototype. You can see an example of one below. This does not solve the problem, I know I will still be asked later. But I will be able to refer back to a visual description that shows just how little of the project is done to generate the prototype. It is very important to not just have said the words, provide a visual that is stamped in their memory along with the fancy eye candy you are showing them in the prototype.


You cannot avoid tension from a well done prototype. Remember, a successful prototype will  excite your customer, it will demonstrate for them the direction you will take in solving their business problem: how you will fulfill the promise you made by accepting the project. Just do not be naive and think there is no risk with a prototype because there certainly is. In fact I have watched it derail multiple projects over my career.

Another thing you learn about prototypes as you gain experience is to temper what is included. It is often tempting for the younger tech designer to want to show their full arsenal and impress the client. A prototype needs to be a very intentional and calculated deliverable just like any other. Filter what you show them by understanding your goal. Make a prototype purposeful, this can mitigate an unexpected consequence later. One example is when you find out the CEO was focused on a specific secondary graphical element that got nixed early on in the project. You do not want to be explaining why his favorite thing is gone because it was included in a poorly thought out prototype.

The message is to not let your guard down. A prototype, like any other aspect of your work needs to be done with a high level of precision. Prepare your prototype like you would any other feature, with intentional goals and outcomes. A defined set of criteria can make your life much more pleasant later.