Jonathan Takiff: Microsoft and Apple teach product how-tos

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (right) and Gov. Corbett (left) led a press tour of the Microsoft Technology Center in Malvern.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (right) and Gov. Corbett (left) led a press tour of the Microsoft Technology Center in Malvern.
Posted: March 16, 2011

THE GIZMO: Mastering computer skills, Microsoft- and Apple-style.

HIGH-TECH SHOW-'N'-TELL: Let's face it. We love technology and all the pleasures (theoretically) it can bring. But our eyes glaze over reading complex manuals about a new piece of hardware or software.

So we walk around with computers, phones and cameras that have 100 cool features, but most of the time we only figure out how to use a few, and not always in the most efficient way.

Ah, but what if we could turn to a relative expert who's willing to walk and talk us through the operations, which makes our product satisfaction go up, like, 100 percent?

That seems to be part of the thinking behind business-education-oriented Microsoft Technology Centers, now found in 10 U.S. cities. The newest branch opened last week in Malvern.


tell also is key to the continuing education at Apple's 300 stores worldwide, including a just-launched, business-focused Joint Venture program that got buried last week by all the iPad 2 hoopla.

GOOD CORPORATE CITIZENS: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Gov. Corbett jointly led a press tour of the Malvern MTC last week. I told the two they should take their show (ripe with give-and-take) on the road.

Focus was on the fun stuff that Microsoft innovations can offer businesses. Such as the "world's largest" flat-panel touch screen (108 inches) running Windows 7 and other cool products in the "Envisioning" showroom. Here, a trio of Microsoft employees went through a skit using PCs (including a Windows 7 Tablet) and a Microsoft Outlook-based videoconferencing program called Lync to connect face to face from far-flung office and airport locations.

This was some of the golly-gee stuff CEOs and chief technology officers might take in at an MTC two-hour or full-day presentation to sell them on how Microsoft software and gizmos could meet their business objectives. (And strictly for fun, they can also mess with an Xbox 360 Kinect game rig and Windows mobile phones.)

After a tentative sale is made comes the grunt work - multi-week "proof of concept" workshops held on-site in conference rooms fitted with the latest and greatest of networked terminals and developer stations. That's where a company's IT team and Microsoft experts collectively massage the software to match a company's specific needs. And potential buyers could still walk away, penalty-free, if it doesn't.

TEACHERS FOR THE APPLE: While some tech companies offer "concierge" services - phone or online product counseling - nobody does after-sale support better, longer or more personally than Apple.

Buy their $99 "One To One" membership along with a new Mac computer and you get setup services (transferring contents from an old Mac or PC), plus a year's worth of personalized, in-store training sessions by appointment with the "Geniuses" in residence.

These one-on-one tutorials can last up to two hours each to help you master everything, including word processing, video making, website design and recording/editing podcasts (part of the GarageBand music program).

If you're available on weekday afternoons or on Saturdays and OK working in groups up to 20, you can partake in free workshops on mastering Apple acquisitions (or persuading you to buy more).

Topics on tap this week at the Center City (Walnut Street) store include "MacOS X Tips and Tricks," a MobileMe ("cloud" storage) workshop, "iPhone 4 for Business," "iMovie and iDVD Hands-on Workshop" and "Video Marketing on a Mac."

Apple's just-launched Joint Venture program is geared to businesses and taught by a dedicated team to help customers optimize Mac, iPhone and iPad work applications and keep the gear working. Equipment setup and early-morning (mostly) training sessions, phone support (a first) from Apple Geniuses and loaner computers are included. All this will cost you, though.

Joint Venture service starts at $499 a year when buying a new Mac and supports up to five systems.

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