You forgot that you belong to me

A year of being punched in the face (metaphorically) by the Windows journalist intelligencia for using Windows Phone 10 longer than I should finally took its toll on me. When my almost two year old 950XL started having problems and behaving bizarrely, I thought, “now’s the time” to move on. Microsoft had given up, why shouldn’t I?

I had owned various iPhones long ago, but I wanted more control. All the ‘Windows people’ had moved to Android.

“You can make it just like a Windows/Microsoft device!” they shouted. “It’s so customizable!”, they squeed. “Gadzooks! So many apps!” they proclaimed. These are people I read, generally trust and respect. Plus every one of them were busy bashing Windows Phone and calling anyone who dared stay on that platform hopeless wishful thinkers. It was fun sport making fun of anyone who even hoped for a Surface Phone, “folks, it ain’t gonna happen! (even though we were huge proponents of it previously).”

So I did it. I went all in. Samsung Galaxy S8+, the S3 Watch, even the VR Headset. I installed ALL the Microsoft apps, changed the assistant to Cortana, changed the launcher, I was SET!

Or so I thought. Things that were once simple on my Windows Phone were now a chore. I had access to every app possible, but found I really didn’t use anything that useful (except Starbuck’s, I love that app). Here’s a comparison of what the old versus new is like:

Then: Wake up with WP alarm, push dismiss button
Now: Wale up with Android alarm, but have to now slide to stop. If I accidentally unlock, the alarm continues with no obvious way to silence.

Then: type my PIN to unlock. Stays locked when not in use.
Now: fumble to get my finger just right on the fingerprint sensor. Pulling phone out of my pocket some how turns it on, but locked. Phone turns on in pocket. Phone does not turn on when I actually want it to. Lock screen is noisy array of notifications cheerfully telling me what apps it updated. I. Don’t. Care. But never actually tells me I have an appointment in 10 minutes.

Then: Notifications are big ‘toasts’ for things like calendar, reminders, Cortana, etc. They actually tell me to leave to make an appointment. They remind me (in large, noticeable ways) of things when alarms or geolocations are set off. Cortana pops up when I’m near the store to remind me of things, large clear toasts pop up to show relevant alerts. Somehow it produced the right alerts in the right way for me.
Now: Notifications appear in a scrolling list on the lock screen, important things muddled in between garbage alerts of unimportance and total crap (and advertisements by the annoying and ever present Samsung Pay that I can use it HERE! at Target should my car drive too close to a shopping center).
Once in a great while, a ‘real’ Cortana notification will pop up in a large box with a Complete or Snooze, but this only serves to remind me of how it should work and never is consistent. I just makes me sad.

Then: I get a text message in the car. My playing podcast pauses, then Cortana asks (over the car’s audio system) if I’d like to read it or ignore. After reading, she let’s me reply or finish. All via voice. I never even look at the device as it’s in my bag. Safe. Sane. I even have a Cortana button that let’s me initiate contact over the audio system.
Now: I get a mystery tone. My watch buzzes. Nothing big, just one of the bazillion Samsung Pay ads. Then I hear the unmistakable weird new message sound. I see a tiny scrap of it on my phone. It’s from my boss, but I can’t see it because I’m driving. I can’t tell anything to read it to me. I panic and pull over, get out my phone, open to messages and read/reply to it. No voice read, no reply hands free, all manual.

Then: Calendar alarms work.
Now: Silence.

Then: I push the camera button and take an incredibly beautiful photo (and I suck at photography). Photos are in OneDrive almost instantly.
Now: I finally figure out that double tapping power will act as a camera button and I get a mediocre photo. I have OneDrive set up to auto backup to cloud. But I have to open Photos and go into the ‘uploads’ section for it to actually start uploading.

Then: Used Huerto to control my home lighting. I have a lot of Philips Hue lights I’ve accumulated over the years and this third party app is fantastic. I have scenes, individual light control, disco effects, auto/motion sensing, timers, geolocation. All in a clean easy to use interface.
Now: The nightmare that is the first party Philips app. It’s terrible. Awful. They should be ashamed of themselves. Luckily I have Windows tablets in the house I can use instead of the phone.

I could go on and on. And the phone itself is beautiful, a wonder of engineering. But Android is nothing but frustration. And this may be entirely me set in my ways and expecting things to work conveniently for my workflow. I know that there are Android people that will now point me to a giant list of apps that probably solve each and every one of these things, some special tweak or setting, or the best one: ‘just move everything into Google’. But that’s not how I work. That’s not where my stuff is. And I don’t want to be more grist for the Google Ad mill. And after using this for four months I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  1. I no longer care what the Windows pundits say about what’s useful. They can use what’s good for them. They can dump all over Windows Phone all they want but I don’t give a crap.
  2. Android is a mess.
  3. Google services aren’t that great.
  4. The Starbuck’s app rocks.
  5. The Galaxy S8+ is a beautiful piece of hardware but utterly unusable for me (a very expensive mistake).
  6. My app needs are actually modest. Email, messaging, phone, corporate apps, podcasts, music, digital assistant, banking, Twitter, to-do’s, payment, photo/camera, and home automation. I have all of these.

So I packed up and went to the AT&T store, talked with a very nice person who helped me add a second line to my account and I stuck the new SIM in the Galaxy and returned my main SIM to its rightful place in my 950XL.

I have two phones now, one that’s useful (a properly reset 950XL) and one that’s basically a 6″ Android tablet that can run apps with LTE. Or actually one app–Starbuck’s. I don’t know what I will do when my 950XL finally gives up the ghost, maybe there will be some futuristic Andromeda device. Or maybe not. I live in the Microsoft ecosystem, and I found leaving it on the phone to be a huge problem–a thousand little paper cuts all during the day that really impacted my ability to get things done. And at the end of the day, that’s what my phone is, a tool to get things done…not use the latest fad app. Except Startbuck’s. That one stays.

So next time…

SATISFIED (Never). Yeah I have 3 Invokes.

Wow, I dropped the ball

So what’d I miss?

I absolutely dropped the ball in posting. It had been my wish to post regularly and write on a number of topics in the tech field. Life’s been busy, but sometimes a nice long form article is just what one needs to clear the mind and get thoughts out even if only for my own needs. A lot has changed in two years, and sometimes reading tweets almost drove me to post again but then I just said, meh, and dropped it.

So time to start again! More to come…first up, my (mis)adventure with Android, or “How I stopped complaining and learned to love the crapplets, but then wised up.”

And so this is Windows…The Good is Great, but the Bad is Ugly.

Windows 10 Hero Image

Windows 10 Is Here

I’ve held off on writing anything about my Windows 10 experience for a few weeks in order to truly test the software in daily use. I’ve read and digested about all the information out there on this, and I’ve installed it a bunch. I’ve even started up the Insider program again for new builds because so far, things are going swimmingly. So my environment looks like:

Work PC (big powerful desktop) – Windows 10 Pro domain joined
Surface Pro – Windows 10 Pro/Insider
Surface 3 – Windows 10/RTM
Dell Venue 8 Test Tablet – Windows 10/Insider
Home Guest PC (desktop) – Windows 10/Insider
Toshiba Encore Write 2 – Windows 10/RTM (yes, I upgraded even this one!)
Main Home PC (remote work, gaming, video) – Windows 8.1 Pro – Not moving

As you can see, I’ve gone all in on Windows 10 save for one machine, my main home PC. This box can’t be upgraded because I’m dependent on it being my bedroom television. It has a Ceton 6 tuner cable card setup with Windows Media Center and I use it constantly. Even when working or playing, I can have a TV window up (yeah, I like TV, so sue me!). Until I find something, anything that approaches what WMC does I just can’t move. This sucks. Maybe one of these days I’ll try Media Portal, it seems to be the closest to meeting the functionality of TV, DVR I need even though it is a nightmare of complexity.

Note to Media Portal People: If you want a HUGE increase in your user base, create a Media Portal ‘WMC Edition for Windows 10’ that installs your latest software, drivers and plugins in one easy program that replicates the functions of WMC. TV, DVR, maybe Video Library, a nice interface/skin, support for remote, and tuner drivers. Right now, it’s a build it yourself Rube Goldberg engine of insanity to even begin getting started. Seriously, it’s ‘Cones of Dunshire’ complicated. Yes, you can customize it out the wazoo–but you’d make a killing with a drop in replacement for WMC, and by that I mean CHARGE for it, wazoos be damned! I would be willing to pay. If you could make it migrate over the DVR record schedule even better. It’s open source, someone wrap this thing in a simple setup already!

Sorry, I got off track. But there’s a need out there for WMC since it’s the only thing holding a lot of people back on Windows 10.

There has also been a lot of hoopla (yes, today I’m using old-timey words) around privacy and security. Poppycock and balderdash I say! For two reasons. One, Windows 10 is a lot more secure architecturally and gives you control through privacy settings more than any other OS in common use. Two, it’s a freakin’ cloud connected OS–yes, data has to go to the cloud to use cloud features. Duh. This has been going on for years as the industry moves to cloud hosted services.

Most of the rest of the complaints I’ve seen are either completely made up for click bait headlines (you know who you are!); the tin foil hat, security paranoids who will only use Linux or old copies of OS’s that are ‘truly tested’ (although they can’t actually do anything on those machines); or the rantings of the anti-Microsoft, rain on everything parade of hipsters who just can’t admit Windows 10 is nice.

Basically Windows 10 is a good, solid upgrade to Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and on new PC’s. I’ve come to accept the nerfed edge UI’s of no-charms and no app swipe on tablets, and the hard to reach start button. If I stay mostly in apps, it’s not a huge deal, and hopefully they’ll work on those experiences. I still firmly believe there’s no reason Tablet Mode couldn’t switch to the Flip Apps edge UI and put a couple of Charms buttons back in the Action Center, but baby steps I guess.

One thing generally improved are the apps, specifically information density. Universal apps seem to be made for more productivity rather than the sparse nature of old style Metro apps. The overuse of the hamburger menu runs rampant, but I think even that will fall away after everyone realizes what a terrible UI construct it is. It doesn’t work, and there are good reads like this on why if you’re interested.

Generally though, I’m impressed with the stability and functionality of the released code with a few minor quibbles.

The Good.

Stability and compatibility – This is a no brainer. It works with everything except Windows Media Center I’ve thrown at it. Even our particularly picky line of business apps seem to work well. All the Win32 apps we’ve tried seem to function as well or better than under previous versions. This is key to business and enterprise.

Start Menu – Even though I prefer the full screen menu and live tiles, the Start Menu makes it much easier to train our people coming from Windows 7 and even Windows 8. Plus it’s nicer now with live tiles, so that’s a plus. I’ve noticed people settling down comfortably in Windows 10 far and away faster than Windows 8.x. Total win here. It’s really night and day training wise.

Faster – Machines of all hardware levels ‘feel’ snappier. Not sure how to quantify, but they do. Even on older hardware, and especially if you use the ‘keep nothing’ option as a semi clean install. Edge is a faster browser too–on the pages in actually works on, it is super slick and fast. It’s more a pre-beta kind of build quality wise, but what’s there is really impressive. Once it’s actually finished it will be the one to beat.

More Apps – It seems like there are more, better, useful apps with more coming. The Universal App platform (finally a name!) may help close the gap since Windows 10 seems popular. And with the latest numbers, Windows 10 is already past all Linux installs and about to pass OSX on the desktop. So in one month of release it’s already blowing the doors off. It looks like there are more and more apps being targeted for the universal platform. The store redesign is nice too, it finally doesn’t have that dollar store cheesy look of the old one (note to Microsoft Store people–don’t put goofy cartoon games as the ‘hero image’, it makes everything look cheap). The new panorama of real, quality apps at the top is nice, and it seems a little easier to find apps. Microsoft helped this a lot with the universal versions of Word, PowerPoint, Sway and Excel (not so fast OneNote–we’ll get to you!). They’ve shown you can do more information dense productivity applications.

Cortana – I’m a huge fan of this on the phone, having it now on the desktop and roaming with me wherever I am is fantastic. More of this everywhere please! The more intelligent and proactive Cortana becomes, the more I like her. Cortana on the desktop is great–the fact that I can sync reminders and access my notebook from any device really empowers some new things. I’d like to see Cortana integrate more into the system, with Office 365, with more customizations and feeds, but it’s already a part of my daily tools.

Desktop/Snap – so this was never big for me before, I really liked Windows 8.x snap (I know, I’m weird) but the new snap works great in Windows 10. I like the four corners type snapping, docking windows on the side, arranging better, they’ve really upped the game here. It’s easy and works well with both old and new apps.

The Bad (but when she was bad she was horrid).

Apps – So we have a bright new future in universal apps and it’s looking good. But some of the current universal apps are just awful. OneNote, my critical tool on my Surface is a disaster, the old ‘metro’ version was light years better. Palm rejection doesn’t work, they just recently added line thickness, navigation between sections and pages is a joke (or just completely unavailable when in portrait mode), and the damn keyboard pops up constantly. It’s a mess, an unforgivable craphole. It’s unusable (especially as a lefty, trying to write on a note while it jumps around between pages is impossible). And no, I don’t want to use the desktop one with a pen, it’s too ‘noisy’ in the interface. I may sound like a lunatic here because that’s how important I find OneNote, and they’ve just wrecked the experience.

Mail – Microsoft finally had a pretty good email client in Windows 8.x. They worked years on it, we had controls, sweep, newsletters, account indicators, all kinds of goodies that worked pretty well. All that’s gone, as they started over AGAIN. Constant popups to ‘Fix this account’, mail not showing up, no indicators of new mail on multiple accounts, no way out of conversation view, crashing, Exchange issues with policies constantly asking to be reapplied–it’s bad. But hey, now we can swipe to archive! Yay? Oh, but not if you’re on an account that doesn’t support it. Calendar is pretty much borked the same way I guess because deep down it’s all one thing. Mail is one of those no brainer apps you have to do well out of the gate. These app experiences add up for users as frustrations, which could taint the whole Windows 10 experience.

Business features are just missing. There’s a lot of new stuff in Win10 for businesses, but a lot of the tools are either not there at all, not done, not documented or broken. Office 365/MDM/Intune/Azure Active Director has problems. Windows Update for Business is still not here. Deployment tools not really well documented yet. Group policy settings for Windows 10 are still not very well documented or controllable. We’re not even quite sure WSUS is managing Windows 10 updates (it looks like it is, but all the Win10 machines show as Vista). No business store, that’s still all Microsoft account based. In fact, there’s still too much Microsoft Account everywhere for business PC’s–everything in those accounts should be able to be stored in Active Directory or Azure AD. There’s a lot that’s just not finished here.

The Ugly.

Windows 10 has a lot of great features, but there are a few that are just either bone-headed oversights or just bad implementations. In this case ‘the Ugly’ is not as bad as bad, it’s cosmetic or annoying. It’s ugly as in ‘that’s an ugly UX element’.

Touch UI just not that good anymore. Windows 8.1 had some great UI features for touch that turned off desktop users. But for people using it for touch, the UI worked well. Of course Microsoft threw this all away and started over. Ugh.

I’m working through these issues, but one big thing is touch targets are too small–the taskbar especially. Hitting those micro-icons is almost impossible on an 8″ tablet, and not all that great on a 10″. Sometimes touching, and touching and touching an icon or tile just doesn’t do anything. I know I touched it because the start tile may ‘pulse’ like a touch, but it takes 4 or 5 times to make it go.

The jump around to find stuff problem–so in portrait mode on the start screen I have tiles, and a Windows logo, and a hamburger menu, and a ‘slider’. I don’t know how many times I hit the All Apps hamburger instead of the slider hamburger, but it’s way too many. The symbols are too similar. And one is in the upper left, far away from my fingers, and one is tightly packed in with the power button. That whole side sliding menu needs a good once over in design. It’s a mish mash.

And finally, the tiny column issue. On a tablet, in portrait mode, the start screen is a tall column of wasted space. Seriously, make them bigger or add more, but it just looks silly. I know they’re trying to accommodate that jumbled madness of a start menu, but there must be a more elegant way to show it.

Desktop UI needs a bit of work. The sharp lines of Windows applications makes everything look cool and modern, until you try to resize a window. I don’t know how much time I’ve wasted trying to get the little double arrow to resize a window. You don’t have to make the visible borders bigger, but for the love of design, make the borders light up the double arrow on more than just a single pixel width!

Hamburgers. Okay, you tried, now follow the rest of the industry and get rid of these. Terrible (and lazy) design that doesn’t help you discover anything.

Edge–well, besides general fixes, a couple of standouts. First, you must sync favorites. You must. It’s 2015. You need to sync via MSA, Azure AD, and domain accounts. In a corporate setting it must sync via roaming profiles or active directory. It just has to. This is basic stuff. Sure, add extensions, tidy it up, give us organize favorites, and other fun stuff. But if you want corporate users, you better have those favorites right where the user expects them when they sit down.

And then there’s the single, most mind numbingly bizarre problem in Edge. To put in a URL on a new tab you have to click one to ‘light up’ the hidden address bar, then click again to actually type in it. Why why why why why? If I click there I mean to go somewhere. If I didn’t mean to go somewhere, dropping a cursor with the focus in the box harms no one. Little fit and finish items matter a lot.

OneDrive. Placeholders were really useful, you’ve got to figure out a way of bringing something like this back, it’s a pain losing that functionality.

And then the final thing (at least that I can think of right now). The 10 PC device limit. We went from 5 devices (hilariously too few) to 81 (similarly funny large amount) and then down to 10. Too few. Microsoft, if you want us ‘all in’ on your ecosystem you need to fix this. That list up top of 7 PC’s doesn’t count my phone, my two test phones, my Xbox and then anything else I might have (like extra machines at work, notebooks, etc.). It’s too few.

So, those are the complaints. Should you upgrade? Unless you’re using Windows Media Center, the answer is yes, you should. It works and works well, and I have to figure that the majority of these annoyances (and that’s what they are, petty annoyances) will be fixed. And since it’s Windows as a Service, that can happen faster than ever before. And there’s a host of new goodness in there I haven’t even had a chance to try like DirectX 12 gaming or Xbox integration. There’s a lot to like here, and for people coming from Windows 7 you almost have to upgrade–this modern OS is seriously better. For Windows 8.x users here’s how I always judge if I do like an OS. When I go back to Windows 8.1 it feels ‘old’ now. Even with my quibbles, I find little things that begin to bug me not being there. And that means I’ve switched. At least on almost every PC, and I don’t regret it one bit.

Windows 10 and the Apps

I’ve been seeing a great deal of back and forth on the app gap, ‘Windows is dead’, and development for Windows 10. For most of the negative minded, Microsoft’s latest strategy is to admit defeat and become the back end for services. ‘That is what they’re doing’ and ‘Windows mobile is a failure, period’ is the common theme from these people.

For the Windows optimists, there is a lot of ‘this is what they needed to do all along’ and ‘Windows 10 is so fantastic it will solve everything’. I think the truth lies somewhere in between these as Microsoft refocuses to what it knows it can do in the face of the current market, hunker down and wait for the next big thing, and get all their ducks in a row for when the big thing hits. I think Windows Mobile becomes just another part of a much larger whole. Microsoft is good at platforms, and this may be finally their best strategy: Universal Apps. I tend to get more optimistic where the discussion is in the platform, especially when everyone else is gloomy.

‘Universal apps are pointless without mobile!’ they cry…’why would anyone do Universal apps for the desktop???’ Good points if you don’t actually look beyond the phone. Universal apps make a lot of sense, both on the desktop, mobile, web, console, IoT, etc. It’s more than the phone, it’s every endpoint a user might touch. For one, it’s a more modern development environment with better security, portability, and the big one everyone seems to ignore: The Store. Right now, if I want a little utility, I have to go to the web and hunt. I have to avoid the malware traps (even once safe sites like CNET’s are now adware infested hell holes). I have to trust the site, I have to scan the files to death. If it’s a paid app, I either need to trust them with my credit card or use PayPal (which has it’s own issues these days). It’s a nightmare.

Contrast this to the Windows Store. The biggest problems you face are the apps might not be there, or there’s some junk to sift through. But I’m generally never in danger–either through malware or credit card fraud. It’s safe. It’s a marketplace to peddle vetted software. For Windows desktop this could be a watershed play. Windows 10 Universal apps also get more API’s and services so they can be more sophisticated. Additionally Universal apps get things like settings portability between devices, license management, and a steady update mechanism. THAT is why Universal apps are useful on the desktop. For example, when I load up a new PC (and I seem to do this a lot these days during the Windows 10 insider program) I log in, then click my Tweetium or Nextgen Reader client and everything is there. No setup. None. I’m immediately productive. Programs like this simplify real things for me. And some Windows apps are so good they’re fine on the desktop–Nextgen Reader is always up on every device I own, either full screen or docked on Windows 8.x or in a window on Windows 10. The fact that my unread items or place marker in Twitter is synced to all devices and phones is a convenience I can no longer live without. This is the true promise of Universal apps.

And Windows 10 brings something I’ve only been able to scratch the surface on (mostly because all the pieces are not all finished yet). Cortana and syncing between devices. Reminders I set on my PC pop up on the phone when I get home or to the store, things I need to know move with me across devices. The possibilities here are tremendous. Apps integrated into this platform (say if mail alerts from just my inner circle could be announced on the device I’m on during quite hours) could possible make this a real differentiator. Continuum might make it so that I drop my phone on an NFC/wireless charging pad and it immediately lights up a monitor/keyboard to use as a computer. These kinds of futuristic scenarios are all built in to the products right now. I want them, and I suspect that if they do it right and actually communicate it to the world, a lot of other people will want them too. This makes for a really lucrative market for developers–on a platform that is potentially huge (desktop Windows users) with little penetration.

I suspect Microsoft may have had their Take Out the Trash Day last week in order to clear the decks for new strategy and the upcoming massive product cycle. Get the bad news completely out of the way for a few days before launch and prepare for the blitz. And actually, all the gloomy talk subsided pretty quickly when they pushed out a new build…then the WPC 2015 keynotes, and now RTM. Universal versions of Office day of Windows 10 release, the Mac 2016 Office release, Groove Music, new builds, GigJam (okay that one’s just weird) etc. are all hitting post bad news week to change the narrative. They are getting better at throwing us bright shiny objects right when everything looks depressing. They still are crap at communicating, but at least they’re learning.

The real test may be the first couple of month’s of Windows 10 release–do we see a lot of real Universal apps, things returning that left the environment, a surge in development? Or do we see the little bump and then nothing? If they’re smart, they have a lot of good news waiting–they’ll meter it out over the launch months, keep it building, and not drop another bombshell like last week. Oh, and a couple of cool surprises wouldn’t hurt either.

The Strategy of Retreat?

I’m confused. Honestly. I have been using Microsoft products for almost 30 years, since the earliest days of Windows/286 and the DOS version of Word and Microsoft Mail, and I’m confused. I’ve grown up with MS products most of my professional life, and have gotten quite good at navigating the intricacies and nuances of their software from server products right down into my phone and I don’t quite know what to think.

Microsoft appears, desperately not to want to become the modern era’s IBM, and thank the maker for that. But after this week I’m confused. The signals that Microsoft seems to send out is they are retreating from consumer and end user and it’s all about ‘the cloud’ and ‘mobile first’. Yeah, okay, great. But here’s the thing, the cloud is boring and mobile first is consumer driven. The cloud is IBM…it’s really just another way to say Internet or Hosted or Mainframe. It’s deadly dull. Sure it provides the services and backend for all the cool gizmos and apps people use everyday, but it is the interface to services that drives our modern world. Instagram? Facebook? Snapchat? Really, just big databases and comm services with clever indices and slick consumer front ends. The UX or user experience is what the consumer interacts with, and what becomes the product for people. Microsoft seems intent to get out of that business. Either that or they’re comically bad at communicating their intent. I really don’t know.

Wednesday’s proclamation that they’re massively downsizing and writing off Windows Phone is one huge lurch in the strategy that comes exactly at the wrong time for this. All during the Windows 8 timeframe they’ve been shaping the message of Universal Apps and running everything all the way down to a phone. Now, on the eve of the launch of this platform they scale back. On the eve of the launch. What. The. F$%#.

I love Windows phone, but I am a realist–it has a tiny marketshare. But it did provide a showcase for their vision and Windows 10 promised to perhaps move the needle a bit with things like Continuum. It might even make a cool business platform. Or for some of us that just don’t like grids of icons, an alternative to the dominant players. Why on earth would they pick NOW to announce a drastic reduction in the platform? Before they even get to test the strategy? Are we seeing Satya Nadella’s revolution purge every idea from the last regime just to get it out?

Some of the new strategy makes great sense, reduce the number of products, get a damn flagship in the market, focus on business users, stop catering to the lowest of the low smartphone market, but again, we see them throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Change for change sake. Maybe they could have put the write off of Nokia out into 2016 to let the fledgling Windows 10 OS at least try to succeed. Instead all the headlines were ‘Windows Phone is Dead’. Microsoft seems genetically incapable of controlling their message and communicating a vision.

Witness today’s announcements of Microsoft abandoning Travel, Food & Drink and Health, all their MSN extras. Not necessarily heavily used apps, but really nicely done, showing developers that Windows is a decent platform to develop on. Microsoft has dumbed down the tablet UX on Windows 10 (see, well, just about all my other posts). They’ve been waffling on services. But a new release of SQL Server? They’re all over that. Microsoft seems to pay lip service to the front end, do a little work, then bail. So, as both a back end consumer of their ‘cloud’ products, and (at least for now) a user of their consumer products, I offer a few things I think they could do to shore up the ‘mobile first’ part of that company line they love saying.

  • Make some big moves in acquisition. If you really want to be in the consumer space, you need an ecosystem. Not the weak tea we have now. Xbox Groove Music is great. Buy Spotify or Rdio and integrate in. Buy a video service. Fill out the media offerings. In every conversation lately about streaming music services, Microsoft is not even mentioned when people list out the services. Groove is really good, make it better. Push it everywhere. Same for video, go big or go home. And don’t go home, you need this to build the ecosystem. You need music, video, books, magazines, games to be in the game. If you can’t build it, buy it. Then for the love of all that’s holy don’t quit after a year. Without the ecosystem you are not a player in mobile and you’ll never be anything meaningful to a consumer. Oh, and I think you can make money there too.
  • Build or buy a small set top box and do what you were going to do in the living room. It looks like Microsoft was going to have Xbox deep into media services, then of course, chickened out and now it’s all about games! Fine. You need a living room play that’s not $400.
  • Build your own Amazon Echo but for Cortana. Set Cortana free in her own device, tie it into services. I love my Echo, but it doesn’t connect to all my services, accounts, email, reminders. I want a Cortana device detecting when I get home, reminding me of things, playing music, controlling all those Internet of Things you guys keep talking about. You have mic array and sensors from Kinect, speakers from Nokia, wireless tech and services–build it!
  • Speaking of Cortana, ramp that up big time. Integrate it everywhere. I sometimes feel Microsoft is too sensitive on the privacy front. Yes, it’s critically important, but talk to Google people on why they love Google Now. It’s creepy but they love it. We’ll love it too.
  • Keep buying up those cool apps. One great way to get on to every platform and win is to just buy the cool stuff. If Microsoft can’t do it anymore, acquire it. They’ve been on a roll lately and should definitely keep going.
  • Build more apps, not less. Those Food, Health, Travel, etc. type apps are almost best in class in the Windows store. You need to build more, not less of these. Unless and until there are stellar selections of apps in the Windows store, Microsoft must play lead developer.
  • Band is cool, it’s almost a smartwatch. Make one of those too. This market’s still nascent, and amazingly, Apple’s entry is kind of landing with a thud. Pounce on it. Do that Internet of Things thing.
  • HoloLens. yes please, more of this everywhere. Don’t listen to the whiners of field of vision, improve and iterate!
  • Promote the hell out of Continuum for Windows Phone. There is an insane amount of desire built up to simply carry a pocket device, drop it down on a pad and have your whole environment unfold around you on large screens. It seems like the pieces are finally there, now tell everyone about it.

And finally, everyone at Microsoft needs to go to YouTube and watch those Microsoft Visions of the Future videos again. Look at those displays, interfaces, services, seamless integration and devices. Notice there’s not a desktop or Start Menu to be had in any of them. Get back a sense of wonder and vision and make things cool. You’ll win consumers every time.

In Star Trek, no one ever goes and visits the Enterprise’s server room and wonders at the amazing future of the cloud. It’s all about how you connect to the user, and the Android app for Word isn’t going to wow ’em in the modern mobile world.

So here we are…

While not having published anything in a little while, I have been seriously testing Windows 10 in all it’s various forms over the past six weeks or so. As anyone reading this blog knows, I’m on the fence about Windows 10 because of the various compromises in what I think were useful features in Windows 8.x, but pretty enthusiastic about it on the desktop.

It’s pretty much the eve of RTM, any day now Microsoft will sign off on the first shipping version of Windows 10, if that actually means anything in the ‘Windows as a Service’ world. The current build is 10166 for insiders. Has anything improved for the tablet user? A little, but not really enough.

The good news is that as the builds get closer to RTM, the stability has gone way up, so much so that I moved my work desktop to it a few builds back. I also have it on a home ‘guest pc’ desktop that’s an older unit, a touch based notebook, and on a Dell Venue Pro 8 which I use for tablet testing of the UI. The two desktop machines are now running perfectly. Seriously, no lie. Issues from the past seem to be gone, it’s fast (even on the old PC). Driver issues are gone, all our weird line of business apps work, even login to a domain is working faster now. I even slapped on a cheap fingerprint reader on my work PC to test Windows Hello! (that still seems like a Seinfeld joke to me). Smooth as silk. I love it on the desktop.

Let me say that again, I love it on the desktop. Got a desktop? Do the upgrade. Unless you have Media Center, then well, I feel you. I have one PC that won’t make the leap because it’s just too valuable as a TV. But everyone else? Do it!

The not so good news is that on a tablet, Microsoft seems to have conceded the market. It’s a tablet in form only. There is a taskbar that takes up space, clutters the interface, and has icons to small for anyone but my four year old niece can use. There’s the ‘what I consider broken’ task switcher, that makes it impossible to flip through applications like Windows 8.x. There is the Action/Notification thing that replaces Charms but provides no Windows button or has icons you can access with thumbs, and just accumulates status of new mail (I have yet to see a notification that wouldn’t have been better receiving another way). There are the new ‘universal’ apps that basically look like Android. And that’s the thing, Windows tablet mode is basically Android. I can’t hold the device on the sides and use it like before. Everything requires two hands, icons are small (too thin to see in some cases), washed out with too much white titlebar, and no attention to detail.

Is it a disaster?

No, it’s meh. Like Android. It’s dishwater dull. It’s not designed anymore, it’s whatever your app slaps on the interface and run. There’s no edge UI of any consequence (that used to be useful, now it’s just clunky). Everything tablet has been deprecated in favor of the desktop. That’s Microsoft basically throwing in the towel and giving up to the iPad (which, low and behold now has flip switching and snap multitasking like Windows used to).

Desktop great. Tablet meh.

Desktop great. Tablet meh.

Apple and Android are picking over the dead carcass of good ideas Microsoft had and incorporating them into their platform while Microsoft is busy adding a freaking taskbar to a tablet.

But is it good enough? Yeah, it’s okay. A solid 5 out of ten. Woot. And since all the new apps that will now flood onto the platform because it has a taskbar and start menu (yes I’m being facetious) well, I have to have something that will run them. So my strategy is to give it a go on one Surface Pro and see if I can stand it. The Dell might be too small and tainting my opinion. I’ll see if I can adjust, or at least not trash it all and buy an iPad. If that works I might use it on my brand new Surface 3 or even my beloved Toshiba Encore 2 Write. But only maybe. Now it depends on apps more than anything.

On Windows 8.x it was the experience of the OS, the fluidity, the ease of use, and cool factor that made me love the devices (and put up with the distinct lack of applications). It made me willing to embrace third party apps, pin websites, and do without some basic things other platforms had. It made me get my XBOX Music pass (which I love and never would have had before). It made me buy an Xbox One. It reaffirmed my love for Windows Phone. I was ‘all in’. Now all bets are off–they’ve taken away all the things I liked and made Windows a me-too tablet/desktop thing that’s middling at best (but again, simply GREAT on a desktop). Now it IS the apps that will make a difference, those will have to carry the value of Windows devices where Windows used to. Now I have a critical eye. Now there are no excuses.

Microsoft has turned this total fan into a much more on the fence guy. But that’s another post coming soon :-).

Windows 10 is Not a Tablet OS, and I don’t think it’s going to be…

So with the new build of Windows 10 now humming along nicely on a few machines, it looks like Windows 10 is indeed heading for a late July-ish ‘RTM’ the rumors have all been pointing to (well, the rumors and the AMD CEO all but saying it outright). And I do have to say, Windows 10 is a significant achievement in the advancement of Windows as a platform. The desktop experience is getting really nice for those that couldn’t or wouldn’t make the jump to Windows 8; performance even in the beta is really good; Edge is shaping up to be a great browser; and tons of other nice features like Cortana, Hello, etc.

It’s just not a tablet OS. At all. Enable ‘Tablet Mode’ and drop into a confusing mish mash of inconsistent behavior, no standard controls and limited navigation.

And now, sadly, I feel it’s far too late to fix, change or rescue. The tablet experience is a mess, and I don’t hold much hope at this point.

  • Charms – yes, yes, everyone hated Charms. But you know what? They made getting to context sensitive settings, share and the Start Screen simple. Now we have an almost useless notification center with dumbed down controls and no in place settings. Here’s the choice–see the avalanche of useless notifications I missed (which I could see on live tiles or by *gasp* opening the program. The notifications are no where near as helpful as having actual controls on the swipe edge. Now you have to hunt around for settings, share, etc. completely at the whim of the app developer. And even Microsoft is not putting any of this in consistent places. It was always ‘swipe-share-program’ and done. Now good luck even finding it. I think the removal of the Charms started a domino effect of problems on where to stash all of this functionality. I think the design goal for Windows 10 was: “see! we killed the Charms bar! now will you love us?”, but they didn’t actually think it through.
  • Task switch and snap – You’d think with all the begging on the insider forums they’d at least make it an option to flip through programs from the left edge swipe, but no. You get a desktop focused ‘pick a window’. Dumb. Also, snap in tablet mode? After using this for days and thinking it just didn’t exist, I accidentally pulled a program down and it made room (with the ugly ‘pick a program’ interface) for the other snap item. This was completely accidental. How is this more discoverable that swiping in from left? Swiping down from top is that much better? No. Just no. Snap and task switch are so fundamentally broken and poorly implemented it will keep me from upgrading on my tablets. Windows 10 looks like a great way to ruin a Surface.
  • Color and contrast, or rather the lack thereof. Everything is this awful, washed out white that Microsoft seemed to start loving in Office 2013. The ultimate expression of this is the new Edge browser (which besides the UX is great and the right idea). There’s no visual cue for title bar or address bar, its just a big white mess with almost invisible lines and hints. The icons are the new anorexic ‘waif like’ arrows and x’s and there doesn’t appear to be any reason for this. Plus on the tablet, the controls are all at the top. Great. Unreachable. And the interface is always on display rather than tucking away like in the metro app. Between the toolbar, the address bar, the favorites and command area, there’s a tiny swath of space for content on an 8″ tablet. After playing with Edge for a while, going back to the metro version of IE on Windows 8.1 was a joy–it’s designed for the tablet. Everything within reach and pretty decent speed. The difference in performance with Edge is no where near worth the level of frustration with the interface.
  • Start Screen – Actually I’ll give on this one, for what it is, the Start Screen is finally not too bad in the current build. I still prefer the old ‘all apps’ screen to the hard to navigate vertical list under the dreaded hamburger menu, but it’s not too bad, looks much better and workable. If this was the only thing, I’d be looking forward to Windows 10 and this would be a minor ‘just get used to it’ thing.
  • General – The whole experience is distracting and ‘busy’ like a desktop (where its actually okay and welcome). On a tablet, you need the content–controls should be out of the way. What Microsoft seems to have done is rather than slide things off screen gracefully, they just made everything thin and white in the interface and hopes you don’t notice it too much. It’s kind of poor design, something that really surprises me this time.
  • Taskbar – Well if you’re going to force the taskbar onto the screen even for tablet mode, you should at least have the decency to try it on an 8″ screen and realize the buttons are all too small. A taskbar should not be on a tablet, but I guess we have to solve the problem of no charms and no way back to start.
  • Windows Phone – Just can’t even. It’s terrible, but at least they’re taking more time on it. The wrecked UI of Windows 10 tablet mode probably has a lot to do with just how bad and unusable Windows 10 Mobile is at this point.

So where does that leave everything? Windows 10 in business, on desktops and game PC’s (the traditional PC market) should go to Windows 10 and go quick. It’s great, fast, even stable-ish at this point. This is what I envision Microsoft would have done as Windows 7.5. It’s the best evolution of the desktop we could want, with a nice new programming model, store, new apps and support for modern PC’s and notebooks. I think even business customers will appreciate it and not have too much trouble with the learning curve. But it is not an OS for a tablet. Not even close. That stuff is gone.

This may be the very first version of Windows I don’t upgrade to on all my devices. I already have to stay on 8.1 for my bedroom PC as it acts as the TV/DVR for that room, and they’ve ditched even allowing Media Center to run on 10. I have a lot of tablets (6 currently) and just one is testing Windows 10. I know I’m a strange case–but I leave tablets all over the place, just picking up the nearest one and get right to work or play–everything is cloud hosted and synced, so it really doesn’t matter except for size and if I need a pen (SP2 or Toshiba). And I think for the tablets, I’m going to forgo Windows 10, at least until the apps I want make it impossible to avoid. The UX is so poor on that form factor that it really ruins the experience.

I’ll leave you with this experiment to do. Pick up an iPad. Play with it, see if you understand the UX. Now pick up an Android tablet (a modern, decent one like a Samsung). Same thing, play with it. Now pick up a tablet mode Windows 10 device. It’s just not a good experience (Windows 8.x was leaps and bounds better here). Touch targets are too small, contrast/color is washed out, interface is cluttered, desktop shows up sometimes, nothing seems ‘designed’. Now pick up a Windows 8.1 device. While you might have to learn a couple of edge gestures, the thing is smooth, clear, uses the available screen real estate well, and just ‘feels’ like a tablet OS–that’s what initially people didn’t like about it. It was too tablet-y.

Now with Windows 10 they’ve apparently righted that wrong and given everyone the Windows 7.5 they deserved and wanted.

In Defense of the ‘Modern’ App

Metro. Modern. Universal. Windows Store. Windows App. Whatever.

There have been many names for the new programming model/application type that debuted on Windows 8. These were designed to truly be more modern representations of applications. Simpler design, clean, sandboxed, all the things that people say they want. They were also designed to conform to the Metro Style–a look derived from the classic Metro designs used in subways and international airports. The design is heavily type dependent, and symbols are clear simple, and non skeuomorphic (do not try to imitate real world objects, but be ‘truly digital’). And primarily focused on touch as the main UI interaction. It is an elegant and dare I say, modern way of interacting with a computer.

And you know what? Microsoft basically did just that. They delivered a clean model for new style applications. These were not designed to replace heavy, hardcore applications, but rather serve as the operating system’s app platform. Small, single focused programs like on mobile devices. And that’s exactly what they did. They did not replace desktop applications (although if you listen to some people whine and complain it’s as if they can’t run their desktop applications) except on the ARM based Surface devices.

The complaints

A lot of people then complained these were too simple, too basic, for what they need. Yes, these were not built to replace Photoshop, they were built to be tablet and mobile apps. Single purpose, quick, clear, easy enough to use without a two inch manual or 100MB PDF guide. These are mobile apps. The real problem appeared when developers ignored this model in record numbers, especially the mobile app vendors. I’m not entirely sure why, I tend to think this stems from Silicon Valley’s startup culture that loathes everything Microsoft and if Apple didn’t make it there’s no point in doing it. But a few developers did, and as time went by, it was actually possible to put together a suite of apps on Windows that really provides a nice experience.

But really, it’s nicer than people give it credit for.

Personally, I find the Metro design language extremely easy and pleasant to use, the concepts are modern rather than tired old retreads of the same computer app design. I always felt the ‘grid of icons’ interface looks like Windows 3.1. Modern apps are clean and clear.  I found after a brief learning curve that a Windows 8.x tablet experience could be a real productivity machine for typical tablet use, and cooler that the grid of static icons you’re confronted with on other devices. Swiping through running apps, quick access to the system menu, share contracts, and everything getting out of the way for content. This became my way of doing things, and some Metro apps I like so much I can’t be without them even on various desktop systems. [Note–it remains to be seen if Windows 10 ruins the cool experience on Windows Tablets].

So as an IT management professional my tablet needs may be a little different than the average consumer, but I don’t think too far off the mark since I use these for both work and recreation. One thing of note, I’m not really a ‘casual gamer’, if I play a game, I like a big, cool, immersive experience of a true PC or Xbox game. Once in a while I like a crossword puzzle or Words with Friends, but the whole tablet game thing leaves me cold. But if these kinds of casual games are your thing, you need an iPad so go get one.

So here is what I would call a Metro tablet suite of apps to do almost everything natively in modern apps. No desktop required. And yes, several of these are paid apps, when they’re worth it you really should pony up the couple of bucks for valuable software. Developers deserve compensation for their work, and a lot of these guys have built some amazing stuff.


The central part of my reading experience for news, information, technology stories is a Feedly RSS news feed plugged into what I consider the crown jewel of modern applications: Nextgen Reader. I’ve used newsfeeds to keep up with internet sites and stories, articles and information forever, and this tool is absolutely indispensable. I go through literally hundreds of articles per day to keep up with the world and the tech industry and without this tool I would be lost. It syncs read, allows me to break out in groups, is fast, clear and makes good use of the share contracts so if I find a long form article I can push it out to Reading List for later or OneNote to save. And speaking of that, Reading List is a fantastic add on to Windows for that kind of thing. Pumping articles into it allows for you to bookmark things for later reading. Only drawback is it doesn’t store for offline reading, but I am rarely offline. This combo can’t be beat. I also fire up Flipboard occasionally for a pretty version of the news, but it’s really not any better than just getting the news in the Nextgen Reader, just nicer looking.


The compliment to reading is note taking, and OneNote is the best thing out there for it. Syncing across all my PC’s and phones, my notes are always right there, and using my favorite Toshiba Encore 2 Write I can take my notes the way I am most comfortable, with a pen like a notebook. Being able to fire off a meeting notes page from inside Outlook on the desktop (which moves all the meeting details, rooms, attendees, notes) into a new page in my Meetings tab, then grabbing my Toshiba and going to the meeting, I have a ready made system for collecting that info easily that syncs back to the desktop.

Mail and Calendar

I use the built in apps for Mail and Calendar and use these pretty heavily for both work and personal accounts. Even with Outlook available (which I live in at work), these on the tablet are preferable since they’re quick and easy. Full Outlook is always available as a fallback, but I’m not sure I’ve ever even set it up on my various tablets except for the Surface Pro.

Social Media

Okay, let me get this out of the way. I HATE Facebook. There I said it–even though there’s a pretty good Facebook app, I don’t like the service. Not to say it isn’t a great service, it’s just not something I like doing, going over and through people’s pictures and posts is like a never ending collection of every person you knows family newsletters. The signal to noise ratio is just too high for me to deal with–and it requires my participation, which frankly I don’t care to do. I think I’ve touched my Facebook account maybe twice in the last year. But in this, I am the anomaly–legions of family, friends and coworkers love Facebook, so more power to them. I just have never been able to do it.

Twitter however is one I like–it’s a steady stream of comments, news, information, snark, events and up to the microsecond chatter I really like. Separating things into lists to view the world like channels it really works for me, and I even find myself posting sometimes. For Twitter, nothing beats Tweetium, it’s a powerful client light years ahead of Twitter’s own client, and let’s me tailor the experience to fit my needs. It’s an amazing piece of software–one again, I can’t live without.


I use the modern version of IE for browsing, it is quick, works well and is touch friendly. The controls are all close to the fingers and swiping back and forth on pages is how it should work on a tablet. It does suffer from IE weirdness on some sites, but for most everything it’s just fine. At this point in the web a browser is a browser is a browser. That’s the way it should be, this one’s just better at touch. IE, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, all just fine on the desktop.


I use a bunch of apps for entertainment, all of which work well like their counterparts on other platforms. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Comedy Central, Xbox Music, Roku, Songza, all perform their job with minimal fuss. Here is where my world does fall out a bit–missing are Time Warner Cable’s app and HBO Go, both of which I really wish had their apps. I used to use and love the NBC news app, which was one of the first, best modern apps around, but has since fallen by the wayside (see Hall of Shame below). For news I now use the CBS news app, which even has a live channel devoted to 24/7 internet delivered news. Nice! For more esoteric fare, the NPR One app is great–and is more long form content listening. And then some games…none of which I really play much, but nice to have: Words with Friends, Bejeweled, NYT Crosswords, Solitaire, Microsoft Mahjongg, and some Poker app. There are also a couple of weird programs that are just fun, Text-O-Matic (put text on graphics) and Memely (create meme pics). I wish Microsoft would port the Windows Phone Podcast app to the Windows platform, it’s good enough and would suit my needs just fine.

Food and Dining

I do love to cook, so I use a bunch of these apps now on an older tablet that’s been repurposed as the ‘kitchen computer’. It displays a slideshow most of the time, and the first screen is a shared OneNote list connected to every device which allows me to add to the notes. It’s kind of a ‘refrigerator list’ I can update from anywhere. For apps I use the Microsoft Food and Drinks app, Great British Chefs, Epicurus, All Recipes, Everyday Foods, Cocktail Flow, Urban Spoon, Foursquare and Open Table.

Miscellaneous Tools

I use the very nice Remote Desktop app to connect in and manage servers, and I do this a lot. Where it falls down is that it accurately displays the server’s desktop, which I hate on tablets. I never go to the desktop on the tablet, so having to use it for the server is tedious. I recently started getting into the home automation craze, so Insteon has been a big piece of that. I use Lync and Skype in their full modern form, and they’ve gone through a lot of iterations to make them really quite nice now on the tablet. I use an app called Autodesk Pixlr for quick photo edits, Grapholite, which is like Visio for Tablets, Qool, an incredibly neat brainstormer, and Microsoft Reader, which lets me actually annotate PDF’s with a pen. And of course, LastPass for password management. All good, all recommended.

The Hall of Shame

These are programs that once had great promise on the platform, but have either been abandoned or neglected because the vendor is failing to keep it up. This is the weakness on the Windows platform, and my hope is that someday (maybe Windows 10) they will return to updating.

NBC News: Once my favorite app, you could stream just about every news show a little after it was run on TV in nice segments. The content has since dried up as they’re tried to move everyone to their website, which is definitely not very touch friendly.

Audible: This is a craplet in every sense of the word. Almost non-functional in every way. Except hope is alive since their revised Windows Phone applications is actually fantastic. Maybe move it over as a universal app! I love Audible but this program is just unacceptable.

Kindle: Craplet. It’s unusable. And inexcusable. Amazon should have a first class reader on Windows. It would make me buy more content from them, and that’s their real game. In fact, I don’t understand why Amazon doesn’t have a full Windows suite of apps on Windows (including Music and Video)–they’re driving content consumption, it’s silly not to be on the platform. Dumb. I find myself buying video from the Windows store now and using Xbox music. I downloaded all my Amazon content and moved it into the OneDrive Music folder. Won’t be buying music from Amazon anymore.

Bank of America: I used this heavily, even on the desktop rather than their byzantine web application. They’ve pulled it due to lack of use. I would think a company the size of BofA could handle having a Windows app.

Time Warner App: Completely selfish of me, but I want the same thing as the other platforms here, they even have an Xbox app, why no Windows app? Maybe they’re waiting for the deal with Comcast (or what I consider the most evil deal of the century). Just gives me another reason to loathe the cable industry. Keep me loyal guys, cord cutting is looking better and better!

Apple products: Well, they don’t really make anything for anyone, so I can’t really fault them. I think if they could, they would even pull the desktop iTunes from Windows to keep their whole world Apple only. I never really bought into their ecosystem, so it’s not a big deal (Xbox music pass is way better for how I discover, listen to, then inevitably tire of, music). Apple is Apple, and they make more money than, well, anyone. So something’s working for them.

And then there’s Google. The loudest complaints about Windows 8.x usually come from heavy Google users that they can’t get to any services (how’s that Google+ working out for ya?). I’m no longer very much of a Google user–I don’t generally trust them anymore and have moved off of most of their services. If I do use them, I don’t log in and don’t stay long. There’s just something about their business practices, tracking and advertising models that make me uncomfortable. And it’s actually quite easy to get along without them since they keep discontinuing services and making what I do use harder and harder. I do have a couple of old gmail addresses, but accessing them with the Mail app or forwarding them is trivial. The one big hole for me is YouTube–and the reason we don’t have a nice app is Google. Microsoft even made one for them and they made them pull it. Google acts like a petulant teenager when it comes to Windows, it would help their own users to work on the platform. But solutions like MyTube, and others fill the gap just fine. Sometimes third party apps are quite nice. And it’s not like all of their services don’t work in the browser anyway. But for me, I just don’t use them anymore. The one thing I’m always a little jealous of is how good Google Now seems to be, hopefully Cortana is taking notes on that.

So there it is, my tablet computing world of apps. It’s by no means complete, but when I pick up any number of tablets, all synced across devices with the same layout and apps, I can be immediately productive. I choose the form factor for the task rather than remember which tablet has what. They all have my working environment and pick up where I left off. The one thing hopefully Microsoft will be working towards is to make this all better, more seamless and more inviting. I am nervously hoping they don’t fall backwards.

You can get along fine without the desktop. You just have to try.

Found any good ones I’ve missed?

Microsoft Giving Up on Tablets? Why Do Edge UI Gestures Fire Off Desktop Actions?

Okay, maybe that title is a little hyperbolic. I mean, Microsoft has been promoting the living daylights out of tablets. Creating zero dollar licenses for OEM’s, pouring tons of money into apps and developers, rewriting their app model, even building their own computers. Microsoft seems to see Windows 10 as a viable platform for Microsoft services on tablets. But I don’t believe them.

Windows 8.x was not well received because apparently the interface was not ‘discoverable’. You know, like how 3 and 4 finger gestures on trackpads and iPads as so discoverable. Like single vs. double clicking is discoverable. Like how right clicking is discoverable (yes I’m being sarcastic). Interfaces are learned, not discovered. Some features are more obvious than others, some you actually need to learn. Even to this day, with the almighty taskbar, I see users double click the icons to launch programs there and wonder why they get two copies.

“Why do we single click on the taskbar, but double click to launch on the desktop and file manager?”

Because we learned to do it. Or in some cases never did. Why is it different? Is that ‘discoverable’?

The price we’re paying to the desktop in Windows 10 is too high

Windows 8.x really through a wrench into people’s daily use of Windows because of the sheer volume of changes. Slowly but surely, once we were up to Windows 8.1 Update, things were a lot better. Don’t like the Start screen or metro applications? Turn it off. Work in the desktop. You basically encounter the new environment only occasionally. And I’m sorry about the Start Menu, but if you were still using that instead of pinning programs to your taskbar, well, maybe it was time to join the modern era, but whatever.

Windows 10, aiming to right the wrongs of its predecessor, puts back all the desktop goodness and really does a great job of appeasing the critics–it will never get them all, since Microsoft is not Apple. But in their zeal, they’ve completely destroyed the Windows tablet experience. An 8″ tablet should not be a little desktop. And that’s what it is now. Things that were all designed around where your hands are and fingers reach (that were studied in great detail by Microsoft for Windows 8) are thrown out.

There is no touch-UI to speak of anymore.

Sure you can touch it, but it’s not designed around it in any way. Touch targets are either nonexistent, hard to reach, or impossibly tiny (seriously, the taskbar on an 8″ tablet and you want me to hit the show more icons button?). Even the Start Menu, the entire left hand side of icons is really hard to hit in addition to just being ugly.

The edge-UI is ruined. What used to enable quickly flipping through applications now is a virtual desktop manager. No one handed use for switching, no quick access to the Windows button or settings or networks or sharing. This was all right at your thumbs and simple. Now you hunt around the app for this. And the Start button is now firmly placed in the ugly, ever present, ‘too tiny to work with’ taskbar–and to reach it requires a weird painful thumb bend.

And that sums up what’s wrong here–Windows 10 doesn’t need to do this. Every touch action turns out to be a weird painful bend. There’s even a special mode for touch that basically just makes things full screen, but everything is still desktop focused. Why not really have a touch friendly mode. In current builds, touch gestures like edge swipes that are only ever activated via touch launch desktop features. Swipe in from the side, things should be on the side and reachable. But they’re not. They pop up full apps in the middle of the screen. The notification center could have a button or two maybe for Windows and Share. The Start Menu could have just the tiles rather than the impossible small list of icons. The taskbar could be hidden–that god-awful, ugly, taskbar does not belong in a touch UI.

Is this really supposed to compete with Android and iPad?

If you look at Android tablets or iPads their touch UI is a touch UI. If Microsoft intends to compete here, it can’t have this patchwork desktop crammed into a tablet. It was really onto something with it’s touch interface in Win 8 if you took any time at all to learn it. Just like every other OS. Microsoft could very well have ‘evolved’ both. Continuum should really switch modes and support the tablet with a real touch UI. Holding a Windows 10 tablet and trying to use it is an exercise in frustration.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows 10 is fantastic on desktops and traditional notebooks, in almost every way. But when Windows continuums its way into tablet mode, it needs to really act like it. My experience with it on both an 8″ and 10″ device in tablet mode has been awful, they are now useless as tablets. What were once elegant devices are now kludgy desktops with no keyboards. On my main PC however it’s been great–solving a lot of outstanding wants (plus is fast as hell and has shown to be compatible even with our very vertical company software). But in it’s present form Windows 10 will never grace the screen of my (perfect) Encore Write 2. It would be a painful step backwards in productivity and elegance.

There is room enough for both here. And maybe there will be improvement–but now that it’s slated for a summer release, time is ticking down to fix these things. And to a lot of the people that say this is just how it is, I’m wondering when was the last time you really used a Windows 8.x tablet to it’s full potential. You’re getting your way with desktop in Windows 10, let us have the good experience with tablet mode. If Windows 10 in tablet mode is Microsoft idea of a competitive product with the likes of the iPad they’ve already given up. And just wait until Apple ‘invents’ the edge UI on something like an iPad Pro–and we can all remember when ours used to be cool too.

But did I still order the Windows Ninja Cat riding a fire breathing unicorn? You bet the hell I did. High hopes remain!

Crapware: Lenovo and others are either willfully misleading or grossly negligent

In the New York Times article and interview with Lenovo’s CTO, the reporter Nicole Perlroth does a good job of grilling the well prepped official for information of just how could they let something this bad happen. It drives me so crazy that the computer industry can’t get it’s act together to fight this very real and very dangerous problem. Writhing like an oily eel,  the Lenovo CTO attempts to placate the angry mob outside the castle walls with basically ‘we didn’t know how bad it was’ and ‘but it wasn’t really us, we were just trying to improve the consumer experience’.

I call Shenanigans. Pants on Fire.

First off, all these OEM’s know exactly what they’re doing when they put these programs on a new PC. It’s not customer experience improvement (really? you think putting software that shows me more ads on the PC is in ANY WAY helpful?). They’re doing it for cash. Sweet, sweet cash. And from reports, actually not even very much cash. Some things they bundle on as part of the package (like Office trial) can be selling points to differentiate their brand–but those are few and far between. Most is crapware–buggy, poorly built, badly designed, rarely checked, outdated software nobody wants.

The interview is uncomfortable but satisfying in the same way watching a crooked politician explain an incident with a hooker caught on film by paparazzi. But I have no sympathy for these guys. They’ve ruined the PC experience for almost 20 years with this stuff, it’s just that now we have even creepier bottom feeder companies like SuperFish out there willing to break the security of the internet for money. And all these companies are ramping up and salivating over how they can do this to Android (don’t think they haven’t already started).

I think we’ve reached peak crapware. It’s time to put an end to this. Pressure has to be applied industry wide against these practices, shame has to be leveled at them, and each and every flaw has to be exposed to wear these idiot OEM’s down until they JUST. STOP. DOING. IT.

And we need to reward companies that do stop. We need to be willing to pony up a little more money for clean systems that we can at least feel secure about. We need to reward companies like Dell and Vizio that try to do this on their own with business, or only buying Signature versions of a machine you want. They need to get the message.

The message is a simple one: Do not preinstall any software on a new PC apart from drivers that may be required for your hardware (and REALLY be sure about those). If you want to make offers, put a code in the box that the user can go install. Or maybe even a cheap USB stick with the add-on’s. It needs to be clean, secure, fast–and if it is, you get the credit! Win. Win.

OEMs, you are on notice. Don’t make fun of Lenovo (I’m looking at you HP) when your machines are jammed to capacity with this crap. Do you know every line of code in that game downloader, DVD picture maker, or ‘shopping assistant’? No? THEN DON’T PUT IT ON. In fact, save us all the headache and don’t put any of it on.

Get out in front of this before someone drops a house on you, ask Lenovo how long it’s going to take them to rebound and build back trust. Do it now. If not for your customers, for your craven sense of self preservation.

Toshiba Encore Write 2 – Great Tablet, or the Greatest Tablet?

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

I’ve been using the TEW2 (Toshiba Encore Write 2) for about a month now, I bought it the day it was announced at CES from the Microsoft Online store. I have kind of a fixation on pen/tablet PC’s that goes back to the Newton. I like to doodle, draw, take handwritten notes and sketch diagrams–I guess I just tend to think visually and that helps me. So I’ve had just about every kind of tablet PC with a stylus/pen there is. Some examples:

  • Apple Newton
  • Palm Pilot (several iterations)
  • Compaq iPAQ (several)
  • Compaq Concerto
  • Clio (CE based flip around thing)
  • Acer T100 (I think that was the model, Tablet PC/XP) Used this way passed it’s time.

Then a long, sorry drought descended as the world decided we didn’t need tablets or pens. I used paper. There was that momentary flash of desire when the Courier rumors abound, but that got killed. Then again the Surface Mini rumors. Killed again. Samsung Note series? Meh. I don’t really like Android and the ‘feel’ was just wrong on the tablets and phones. My iPad with a capacitive stylus? Terrible. Great fun consumption device, not suited for any kind of work.

My ideal was always a digital pad of paper–connected to everything I do, cataloging my thoughts as I had them. A true companion device. I decided the practical size was really around 8″, with a ‘real’ pen, good weight, solid, active digitizer. Strangely this was the goal of the very first device I tried, the Newton. It was indeed ahead of it’s time. I used a Surface Pro 1 & 2 with the pen, trying to make this the device of my long term dreams. Both are great PCs, but they are not the digital companion device I wanted. They’re fantastic tablets but just too big. Same with Surface Pro 3–although I may break down and get one of those soon. But it’s big, for big things and big apps. I wanted a ‘grab and go’ machine that ties into all my data and devices without the need for a whole PC.

I think I found it now. The TEW2 is just about perfect for my hardware needs in this space. It’s light (enough), good heavy feel pen, active digitizer, nice screen, fast (enough), nicely spec’d with 64GB storage, and all around great 8″ Windows tablet. And that pen! Oh the pen! It’s really good. It makes OneNote truly a useful tool, syncs my data and notes to the cloud and various other machines, and serves as my digital pad of paper. It’s a fantastic device and worth every penny of the $349 (a bit high for a Windows tablet, but totally worth it). This device is my main driver when away from my desk. I take notes in meetings, use it ask a sketchpad, doodle at my desk, even use it to take notes on phone calls sitting with right in front of my main desktop. It’s great and if you’re a pen fan, go get one RIGHT NOW!

So what needs to be done to make this even more useful? Software. Apps. Again. Windows has excellent pen support in minor ways for pen, but this needs a lot of development. Software and apps need to be written for the pen user to make it a true digital assistant. Someone should go back and look at those Courier concept videos for ideas. Here’s what I’d love in the short term for apps:

  • A ‘Smart’ sketchpad–When the Tablet PC era was in full swing, Corel made something called ‘Grafigo’, a smart sketch pad that did shape correction and easy controls for illustration. I’d love smart shape correction inside OneNote.
  • Pen support in email–yes, I know that Outlook supports the pen (kind of) as do all the desktop apps. I’m done with those on the tablet. I want real, universal/Metro style apps now. I want to easily dash off a handwritten note in email.
  • Sketch/whiteboard projection app. I want a digital whiteboard that I can throw around the room, up on the wall, share, etc. I think some kind of integration with the coming Surface Hub would be awesome (more thoughts on Surface Hub to come).
  • Courier–someone on the Microsoft OneNote team should go back and look at the Courier concept videos for ideas on more useful functions to bring in. The clipping, dragging, note features in this were really useful.

So the Toshiba Encore Write 2 is about the best I’ve tried so far in my long quest for the perfect digital paper. It’s a great device that I think represents a new breed of devices with pens. Hopefully with the success of the Surface Pro 3 we’ll start seeing more pen-optimized apps that do more. And for those that have never really ‘got’ the pen experience, I would say give it another try–the OneNote/Pen combo is pretty powerful.

[Post Note: 2/25/15: The version tested here is the Microsoft Store Signature Edition version. As our industry is at Peak Crapware this is recommended.

HoloLens Doesn’t Have to be Vertical at Launch

The Microsoft HoloLens--a game changer?

The Microsoft HoloLens–a game changer?

Last month we saw the technical preview and unveiling of Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology. Basically an amazing piece of augmented reality technology that will reportedly be coming with the Windows 10 wave of products. It inserts computer generated content directly into the field of view with the HoloLens headset. A lot has been written on the experience and potential of the technology, and most are dropping it into the ‘vertical’ category of apps like Real Estate, CAD or gaming. I agree, HoloLens has the potential to be a game changer in these kinds of applications.

But that doesn’t need to be the only story. Recently we started getting requests at work for dual monitors. Being the cheapskate I am, we rolled it out first slowly to the people that would really use the extra space. But then I started thinking, having the extra space spread out allows people to get more work done and interact over a lot more applications at once rather than switching windows. HoloLens is kind of the ultimate expression of multi-monitor for Windows.

I can see a case to be made for a pure, Windows 10 based HoloLens without the vertical industry requirement. Just Windows expanded into you living room or work space. Imagine putting on the headset and logging in and having your start screen experience placed all over the room. Click on Netflix and a movie theater window opens at just the right distance in space. Media consumption becomes an immersive experience. Movies, music, even web browsing are all spread out around your environment. Cortana can float through the room and walk with you like a real assistant. Rather than at an uncomfortable desk, you can arrange your living room as a work/play space.

A working environment might have collections of Windows floating around your main app, diagrams on the desk, 3d models floating in air, Office applications to the side. Taken further, Windows no longer need to be confined to their old standard shapes and sizes. Alerts and notifications could be ‘pinned’ on farther surfaces showing big alerts at a distance while intimate work could be up close. The room and all it’s surfaces become the workspace. Walking around ‘inside’ your work becomes normal, walking up to a ‘white board’ can be on any wall, video calls can be in the desk or hover over the phone. Icons floating in space or live tiles (or cubes! let’s go 3d!) could be strategically placed. I would love a virtual envelope icon to pop up through my desk and sit there like an object for notifications. Along those lines, notifications take on an all new potential as virtual objects that appear when attention is needed. Add cool animation and 3d and you’re living in the future.

Most pundits currently talk about the potential for specialized use case scenarios for HoloLens, and this may turn out to be the case at first. But if you look at HoloLens as basically multiple monitors unleashed from hardware, it begins to take on something much more–and immediately useful. Microsoft would need only make some manner of positioning applications ready for the launch to ‘pin’ your environment, then leverage universal apps to populate your workspace. Make the price reasonable and you could start using it tomorrow.

Just a thought…

It’s Time to Like Dell Again

I’ve always kind of had a soft spot in my heart for Dell. I went to the University of Texas at Austin at the same time Michael Dell was building PC’s in his dorm room. We used the ‘PC’s Limited’ PC’s at work where we needed ‘turbo’ machines–the souped up 286’s with an actual button on it called Turbo Mode that helped us chew threw text indexers and dBase reports (God I’m old). They were the 80’s version of what today would be called an enthusiast’s PC. They were successful and like all good tech companies went public. They slowed down, got safe, and started turning in their quarterly homework assignments to the financial world. Wall Street has a great way of destroying innovators in favor of marginal increases in growth over time.

This tiny box is a Core i5 Haswell with 8GB RAM and SSD. Full desktop replacement!

This tiny box is a Core i5 Haswell with 8GB RAM and SSD. Full desktop replacement!

Dell became the Volvo of the PC industry. Boxy, safe, mid to high pricing, reliable, but dull. They went public, became a huge PC vendor, ranking at the tops of the corporate charts. Still great, but always boring. Their servers were rock solid. Their technology sound and always on the short list for corporate purchases. But decidedly dull. Soulless. They were the epitome of the corporate beige box. Even their flirting with the gaming world with things like Alienware somehow sucked the life out of these designs.

And then something wonderful happened. Dell bought it’s soul back from Wall Street. They went private. It took control away from the quarter to quarter financial drones and got back in the tech business.

By going private and basically being accountable to no one but themselves and their customers, a strange thing happened. They became accountable to themselves and their customers. Their designs improved. Their service improved–I’ve had a couple of times recently to work with them and am constantly impressed. They put out innovative, new, tiny OptiPlex boxes with i5’s in them (it’s always fun telling someone, “no really, the whole computer is in there!”). They’ve made the successful Venue tablet lines (even that Android thing looks interesting and I don’t like Android). And the current darling of the tech world, the impressive XPS 13. It’s actually a cutting edge piece of beautiful technology. I’ve even noticed lately that Dell machines come with minimal, and actually useful preinstalled software (unlike Lenovo). Dell is reclaiming it’s role as a leader, innovator, and competitor.

All they had to do is get rid of the bloodsuckers from Wall Street. It makes you wonder what other companies could do if freed from the destructive force of the financial overlords. But right now, Dell is something to watch.

The Superfish Problem Proves Microsoft Should Take Control

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the crapware OEM’s put on new Windows PC (mostly thanks to Paul Thurrott’s excellent take on the matter). If you haven’t heard, Lenovo has been caught with it’s hand in the virtual cookie jar. It had been pre-loading a bit of adware called Superfish that has a particularly nasty mechanism that loads a security certificate of it’s own to ‘verify’ SSL sites. It wedges itself into the trust chain on Lenovo PC’s allowing the software to see information between the client and server PC. There’s even a picture out there with someone connected to Bank of America and the certificate is ‘Verified by Superfish, Inc. For users that don’t know any better (or don’t know the difference between a real trusted root provider and a malware vendor) this is frightfully dangerous.

I hate dealing with certificates as a system administrator, they are painful, confusing, and generally cause me headaches the likes of which are legend.

And they are absolutely, positively, critical to the safe functioning of the internet. Almost everything involving trust and security is built around certificates.

Lenovo is currently undergoing its public shaming, so just to pile on a bit more: SHAME ON YOU LENOVO! BAD! BAD MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION! BAD! NO! NO! NOW GO SIT IN THE CORNER AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE! There. All better.

The truth is, this is an opportunity for Microsoft to wrench control of the Windows experience back from the OEM’s. For the past 20 years, OEM’s have poisoned the Windows experience. Almost everyone knows the joys of a freshly formatted Windows install, free of crapware and ‘utilities’ put on by the OEM’s is a superior experience. For far too long, Microsoft has allowed the OEM’s to push their crappy programs, adware and marginal utilities out to an unsuspecting public. Now a true, real life exploit caused by this behavior has been exposed and it’s time for Microsoft to put an end to it.

One excellent solution is the way Dell does it (since going private, Dell is hitting it on all cylinders). Put one program on the PC that’s a downloader for the optional crap that a user can choose to install, or ignore, and leave the machine in a pristine state. Dell still insists on McAffee (what does Intel have on the OEM’s, nude photos?) but other than that they’re blissfully clean. Microsoft is now charging zero dollars for many copies of Windows for machines under a certain size, and much lower costs for others. As a requirement for this, the agreement should be a formal rebuke of this adware practice. Force the OEM’s to adhere to the Signature experience.

What’s surprising is, this is good for everyone except the crapware vendors. Users win with a clean fast PC. Microsoft wins because Windows is suddenly more stable, safe and fast. OEM’s win since their machines run better and their users will have fewer support problems (plus the goodwill thing). It’s just the crapware vendors that lose. And I don’t think there are many people out there that will shed a tear for them.

Microsoft–you want people to love Windows again? Here’s a big fix you can do to make it happen.

Oh yeah, and fix Tablet Mode in Windows 10, it sucks in these early builds :-).

Windows 10 on Tablets Musings

So now that my venting is properly done on Windows 10 running in ‘tablet mode’, I was thinking now’s the time to be more constructive. Windows 10 on desktops is great–perfectly (or at least nearly) meshed with those needs, what should it look like when you pop off the tablet from the keyboard? Surprisingly, not all that much. So here are some ideas/suggestions for the undocked range free tablet mode:

  1. Get rid of the taskbar in tablet mode. It’s ugly in full screen mode, too small to be useful, and a constant reminder of the desktop, which has no place in the modern UX. So have that just turn off when in TM (tablet mode). We’ll get to the other functions other, more tablet-y ways.
  2. Make Action Center more action. We need to add back some of the features from the Charms bar/settings slide out menus. Maybe a toggle at the bottom to switch the space from Notifications (less useful) to Controls (more useful). Eliminate the things that were questionable in charms (Devices, Search) and leave a way to Share, Go To Start, and in-context Settings. Let that slide out menu be a kind of control panel/notify combo.
  3. Revamp Task Switch for swiping through apps. Just lift the swipe to switch right out of Windows 8.1 and put it back in. Multiple desktops and the Task Switch ‘picker’ view is great and useful for desktops, hopeless kludgy in TM. Anything to do with the desktop(s) should be minimized/removed in TM. Flipping quickly through apps is something so much better than any other tablet OS Microsoft should not abandon it. Keep the innovations that work in touch!
  4. Figure out Snap mode. This I got nothin’. It’s hard to snap modern UI apps in Win 8.1, but almost impossibly cryptic and non-discoverable in Windows 10. Better minds than mine can probably figure this out. But Snap Mode of modern apps is really useful to have. Don’t just hide it.
  5. Swiping from Top/Bottom can bring in the app specific controls. But just the system level ones (close, share, search. I can give on this one. App bars, which I actually liked because it made for a clean interface, was hard to discover and use–even to this day, sometimes I forget the controls are there.
  6. And finally, Make the Start Screen a beautiful showcase of the OS. Not the cluttered mess it is in this build. Really just display it like it was in Windows 8.1, swipe up for all apps, pinning, multi-select, transparent background, etc. Or better yet, make it even cooler, add animations, more live tile functionality, more size/color options. Make the Start Screen a truly interactive dashboard–a showcase of cool. Right now it’s ugly and ‘noisy’ in Windows 10. Truly switch into a tablet look and feel, get rid of the micro icons and most used (that’s for the desktop, lose it).

Mostly that’s it. Much of the other things are good or at least good enough. But tablet mode needs to really shine when it’s on, and show just how good the Windows experience can be, even for new users. Tablets have to have a cool factor. Otherwise it’s Tablet PC days all over again. Who knows, some of these things may already be in the works for later builds–but Microsoft needs to have a real competitor in the tablet space on all sizes, not just under 7 inches. It’s not a giant, impossible list of things to do either–to truly weave these two environments together should be the goal.