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 Most is crapware–buggy, poorly built, badly designed, rarely checked, outdated software nobody wants.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.

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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.

Credit Where It’s Due – Azure AD Connect

When we first moved to Office 365 one of the most dreaded things to do was connect our Active Directory to ‘the cloud’. We want to eventually move to hybrid Exchange on-prem and cloud, but that’s a little ways down the road. What we wanted seemed simple, get our users info up in the cloud so they could log in to the Office 365 portal, install their software (on up to 5 PC’s!), get to OneDrive, SharePoint, etc. To do this required DirSync, a weird little tool that seemed to be leftover from ForeFront identity manager. Long story short, it took a (very) talented Microsoft engineer hours to figure out how and why this wasn’t working and fix it, set up the tool for every three hours to sync, and voila! Our email addresses and passwords were now syncing to the cloud. It was a little shaky, but it worked. Until it didn’t.

About two weeks ago it stopped. Nothing showed as to why it wasn’t syncing, from all appearances it was. But no information was changing in the cloud. As more and more people’s passwords expired on the cycle, they had a live password to the network, and their old (last) password to Office 365. I dreaded having to go through this again with some poor MS Engineer, it wasn’t fun the first time. Then I saw it:

Azure Active Directory Connect (Preview)

The replacement for DirSync and other federated functions was in preview, and so loathe to try to untangle the failing DirSync, I thought I would give this a try. On a nice clean machine I ran the setup. A wizard walked through a few simple steps and in a few moments it was syncing up to the cloud. I know it’s still preview, but YIKES this was night and day for setting up the connection. This was slick, effective, easy and is working non-stop now for 5 days. Totally painless.

So far, I think Microsoft may be the farthest along in real cloud/on-prem integration technologies. They know what real people in the real world have to use and deal with, and produce tools like this to save tons of time for us. Definitely a must review for anyone doing Office 365 or other projects requiring AD in the cloud.

Hats off to you guys! This is the way to do it.

Oh, The Things I Use.

After pretty much complaining non-stop about the new tablet experience of Windows 10 (it is truly awful on touch) I decided before going any further I would list a ‘What I Use’ in emulations of the greats of our industry. Plus it could be helpful for reference. I will change this and revise periodically as things change. I tend to use a lot of gadgets and PC’s to calm the inner geek voices in my head. This will be primarily my personal tech stash, I may do a ‘What We Use’ for work technologies since I run a medium size business IT infrastructure department.

PC’s/Tablets

I have a number of PC’s I use around the house. I lump PCs and tablets together, since basically I use them all for similar things–production or consumption of information and entertainment.

Main PC – This is a home built Sandy Bridge mini tower. 16GB Memory, Core-i5, 4 TB storage, 256GB SSD. The ‘workhorse’ PC I use the most. It also has a TV tuner I use with Windows Media Center in it (oh WMC, how I love you so). The current challenge is to upgrade this to the Ceton 6 tuner PCI cable card setup and get all the premium channels I get out in the living room. That’s it’s own whole story. I use this PC for work at home, personal computing, games, TV, you name it. I keep feeling like it may be time for a new build, but it runs everything I throw at it since I put in a new video card. Maybe next year…

Guest/Office PC – I have a PC in the little nook where the phone comes in next to the living room, it’s basically my last tower config with just a dual core, an SSD (can’t live without those) and 4GB RAM. It runs Windows 10 beautifully and fast and is great for visitors and family, Skype Calls, pizza ordering, Xbox music.

Surface/RT – I use an original Surface/RT for couch surfing, reading, Xbox SmartGlass, Twitter, etc. Basically it’s the walking around device.

Dell Venue Pro 8 – Until recently my main work/home tablet. The stylus quit working and I got a newer device, so I now use this as my test Windows 10 Tablet. It is a sad and sorry experience so far.

Toshiba Encore Write 2 – I just got this tablet last month, and it has turned out to be the best experience I’ve had with any tablet. It has a fantastic stylus perfect for OneNote, it’s fast and a joy to use. I use this mostly for work, I can do diagrams, notes, read, review documents, markup documents, read newfeeds, etc. It is my go-to must have device. And it’s nice and light, 8″ and 64GB storage. This is a must buy. It’s basically what I always wanted the Surface Mini to be.

Surface Pro 2 – I have an i5 Surface Pro 2 I use as my laptop when needed. I’ve found I don’t need a laptop all that much as I don’t travel often and have desktops or tablets when I need ‘on the go’ computing. But when I do, I really love the SP2, it’s fast and has a purple keyboard. Purple, enough said.

Phones

Lumia 1520 – I love the Windows Phone platform. There I said it. I truly believe that it’s more functional (for me) than any of the others, and I have tried them all. I started with the Samsung Focus, then Nokia 900, 920, 925, and 1520. Plus a 520 that was just too cheap to pass up I use for a remote control and music player. The 1520 is big, really big. But I love the screen and it’s a powerhouse phone. I guess I must not be much of an app person since I don’t really see the app gap here. But I don’t care about social media or putting crappy filters on the beautiful pictures my Lumia takes, so maybe I don’t see it. It seems like everything I need is there or has an app I need.

Applications – Windows 8.x

Office 365 Home and Office 365 Business Premium – I can’t say enough about how critical these are for me on a daily basis, mostly for work. When they brought out unlimited OneDrive storage and 5 installs per license (plus sharing of the Home license) this is a no brainer for $99/year. Google Docs, iWork, others simply do not hold a candle to the Office Suite. There is no comparison. Anyone telling you they get along just fine in these doesn’t do anything complex. And that’s great for them. But if you need serious tools these are those. It’s the difference between MS Paint and Photoshop. And our business relies on Lync, Exchange, Excel, Word and others for core functions.

OneNote – The Metro version of OneNote with a tablet PC is a killer note taking computer. I leave it running on my tablet, can walk into a meeting and be taking handwritten notes in seconds. I like it better than the desktop app. And this is something I find about a lot of Metro apps, the reduced ‘noise’ of the interface is much better when on a tablet. It’s clean. On the desktop I like the noise because that’s where all the power controls are. But on a tablet I want to focus on my data, or notes, or content without all the chrome.

IE/LastPass – I use both the desktop and Metro versions (yes, I will still call it Metro because you immediately know what I mean when I use that!). And with it is the indispensable LastPass password manager–a must have. Get the paid version, it’s cheap and these guys do it right.

Windows Mail – I love the Mail/Calendar/People client in Windows. It’s gotten so much better over time, and on tablets it’s a fully capable client for all my email accounts. For business email I use Outlook–it’s kind of complex these days, but for power managing email, tasks, calendar, contacts in an Exchange environment it’s pretty much the standard.

Nextgen Reader – Probably the most critical app I use, I pull in all my feedly news feeds in to this client for reading everything going on in the world. It let’s me keep up with hundreds of sites all integrated into a clean, touch friendly UI. Plus it syncs read stories across devices (Windows and Phone). I use it on the desktop and on tablets.

Tweetium – This is the best Twitter client out there, period. And it’s constantly being updated and improved.

Pushbullet – I use the desktop version for Windows and the PushPin client on the phone (these guys are great, and they ‘endorse’ multiple 3rd party phone apps since they don’t have a native client–that’s the way to do it).

I use a lot of the Microsoft services, OneDrive, SharePoint, OneNote, Outlook.com, Office 365, Azure (for active directory stuff for work), Music, Xbox Live, Video (rental only). Plus Amazon for shopping, Prime, Pantry and Kindle. I have various Outlook, Google email accounts I use. I also have a couple of Roku devices for the TV’s. I hate Facebook and rarely ever open it, I just don’t post like that or care to. Twitter I like because it’s news-ier, but social media is just not my thing for the most part. All the photo sharing apps leave me completely cold.

I use a lot of remote desktop and server management tools as well, they are a subject for another article.

Others: Insteon (home automation), Reading List (long form saved articles), Reader (PDF reader with pen markup!), Idea Sketch, Grapholite, Qool Autodesk Sketchbook (all good diagramming, sketching apps), News, Weather, Finance (MSN apps), Xbox music (with music pass, manages all my music and subscriptions), Netflix, Hulu, Comedy Central, Songza Kindle (entertainment apps). Various others, I like several cooking, shopping apps, and a varying little selection of games. For ‘big games’ those I get through Steam and vary, but since I suck at most of them I won’t detail them here. Sadly, I heavily use the Bank Of America app on both desktop and phone that is being discontinued, I find it short sighted of them.

Xbox One – The living room hosts the Xbox One, which I primarily use for it’s media capabilities (although I do try and fail at games often enough). There is nothing quite so cool as walking into the room, saying “Xbox turn on”, “Watch ABC” “Goto Netflix” or other commands. THAT is living in the future! Someday I will get better at the games…

That’s currently the high level view of stuff I use on a daily basis, it’s a mix of form factors–but because Windows syncs my apps and settings across devices, I find myself starting in one place and picking up where I left off in another. As more developers adopt this kind of behavior the devices will tend to fall into the background. I love the term ‘ambient computing’, meaning all the tech is wherever you want it, in the background, waiting for you rather than tied to devices and logins. It’s the Star Trek computer everyone wants and I like that all the big companies are trying to build it.

Windows 10. One Step Forward, Six Steps Back.

This certainly wasn’t what I was going to do for my first post, but over the weekend, I spent a good chunk of time trying to get Windows 10 working on my Dell Venue Pro 8 for testing. I have a ton of hardware in all shapes and sizes, but I wanted to try Windows 10 on a ‘real’ tablet, and try to use it like I would any tablet. My current favorite, the Toshiba Encore Write 2 is still safely on Windows 8.1.x, but since my Dell was no longer being used heavily, I figured it was the perfect test. I’ve installed Windows 10 (all builds, but currently at 9926) on several machines, a generic Dell laptop, a home PC tower that serves as the guest/office PC, several VM’s, all work pretty well–as desktops. It’s been fast and pretty simple, with the normal glitches one expects from a build this early in Windows. In fact, Windows 10 on the desktop is clean, fast and pleasant to use.

For some background (that someday will show up in a What Do I Use article) I am technically ‘all in’ on Windows and Microsoft services. I’ve been so for pretty much all of my computing life both at home and work. I have dabbled with Apple and Android, and even own a few devices on those ecosystems, but I ‘live’ in Windows. I absolutely embraced the Metro environment and have a number of tablets I use–as actual tablets–routinely. I use Mail, Tweetium, NexGen Reader, Reading List, Xbox Music, Smartglass, etc. A number of news apps, a few games, and some others like Grapholite for network diagrams, Qool for brainstorming and Insteon home automation software.

For me, the ‘app gap’ is something I haven’t experienced. I use a ton of Metro applications every single day, on tablets and desktop. I like them. They function well. There are a lot to choose from. They’re cool. Except of course Office, which recently has shipped in testing, so that’s not too far away. Starting apps, flipping through open ones, tucking things away on my reading list, reading and reviewing tons of internet articles, pushpinning links to my Lumia 1520, tweeting a bit, listening to music, all can be handled with ease and quicker than I could on any competing platform. Life was good.

As someone as all in on Windows I, like many, always look forward to what’s to come. I couldn’t wait to have Cortana on the desktop, streamline functionality, use Universal apps. And Windows 10 has been pretty damn good so far. On the desktop.

It’s a mess on tablets. A horrible, steaming pile of confusion on tablets. Really. It’s awful.

This has to be fixed before release or Microsoft needs to give up on the whole tablet concept. Just quit if this is by design. I mean it, I really like Microsoft products, but if this is their idea of a touch friendly OS, Android and iOS have already won.

The Installation

Over the past few days, I had committed to moving my now underutilized Dell Venue Pro 8 (32GB) to Windows 10. Bugs and all I wanted a good tablet test machine. After trying for hours to clean enough off the tablet to get the 5GB space required (this tablet was before the ‘Windows with Bing” compressed OS option) I was there. Ran the web setup, then Windows update, then failed. And failed again, and again. What I kept running into was a space problem–no matter how much I tried, no luck. So I decided to run setup from a USB drive set up from the ISO. After quite a bit of fiddling, I found that it required even more free space! 8GB to run. Ugh.

I reset the VP8. If you’ve ever done a Windows 8.x reset, you know it’s a wonderful tool that completely wipes and resets you back to the factory fresh image of Windows. I figured clean out of the box Windows would be my best chance for enough free space. After the reset, 12GB free! Then came the daunting realization that you can’t do an upgrade with out all the updates. All of them. Tons. A mountain of updates. This took the better part of a day, carefully babysitting the restart and touchy stalls/time outs that sometimes happen with GB’s of updates. But I was determined.

After finishing the Procession of the Updates I ran the disk cleanup/updates cleanup to purge the disk once more, winding up with about 9.5GB free. Re-running the Windows 10 setup from the web fails again. No reason, just fails with a little pop up saying it failed. So my last ditch hope, I plug in my ISO into the USB adapter and run. SUCCESS! For the first time in days I feel like something worked. It even was going to keep my settings, apps, favorites, etc.

None of those headaches were due to Windows 10–in fact just about any upgrade or install of the OS would have had similar issues due to the size constraints of these tiny storage devices (but these are more and more common, the update routines need to be aware of that). Once there was enough space and the correct media, it sailed through like a champ.

Giddy with anticipation and clicking on my login, I am unceremoniously dumped onto the desktop. Something I had not seen or used on this tiny tablet except in the most dire of circumstances (okay, to copy files to the SD card, but whatever, I never used the thing). I automatically swipe in from right to get to start, oops, no, no start there. But then I touch ‘TABLET MODE” in the action center…because maybe they just activate the desktop by default in these builds.

My sad, sad, unchanging start screen

My sad, sad, unchanging start screen

I touch the start menu in the lower left, a slightly awkward touch point actually. I am presented with a blank green ‘start’ screen, empty save for the Cortana Search box and an ugly list of apps with tiny icons on the left. Tiny. Hard to touch. On the Start Screen. No live tiles, no default apps.

So I begin to pin the tiles for things I’d like from the All Apps micro-list. Tiny touch targets. Tiny icons. Tiny. Little. Impossible. Icons. This is a huge step backward from Windows 8. The start screen, or basically the inflated, ugly start menu, shows no signs of life, no updates, live tiles are decidedly dead. Maybe this comes later, after it settles a bit and they light up again with data.

And the taskbar is ever present. Reminding you this is really a desktop machine. Everywhere screams desktop. From the extra clutter on Start, to the task bars, to the too-tiny-to-touch-icons littering the interface. Everything is desktop centric. Gone is the easy to flip through open programs of the left swipe, replaced with the desktop focused Task Switch that cannot be used one handed. Gone are charms, which apparently everyone hated except me, to easily share to my reading list or email or twitter. Settings might as well now be called Control Panel II rather than the elegantly reachable right hand settings panes. And how in the world to snap applications when in tablet mode? Still haven’t figured that one out.

So far as I see, every single, solitary useful touch function has been expunged from Windows 10 and replaced with a desktop focused one. It’s as if Microsoft is saying “We’re so sorry! We don’t know what we were thinking! Please forgive us and we’ll never do anything like touch again”. They threw the baby out with the bathwater. And then just to be sure, went and got another baby, filled up another tub and threw those away too.

In a race to capitulate to the desktop, they killed or maimed every touch feature that made Windows 8 something useful–if you actually learned how to use it, and didn’t just whine about it. It worked as a touch based UX quite well. I never quite understood the common complaint of it being ‘jarring’. You know what isn’t jarring? Click the desktop and staying there. Pinning your apps to the taskbar.

On touch with the right apps (yes, you have to hunt them down, and of course, there needed to be more in every category) Windows 8.x could be elegant it it’s own way. Universal Apps could help ease this. Actually what we need is a hybrid of the improvements to desktop when in ‘desktop’ mode and smooth easy to use touch features in tablet mode. Just like before, Microsoft is over compensating with too much mouse and keyboard and dropping too much from touch. People were finally starting to at least tolerate Windows 8.1x, and Windows 10 could have crafted features to enhance the experience rather than changing it all yet again. It’s heavy handed and simplistic in undoing anything good about the touch functions in the OS.

Maybe I’m being too critical–it still has a way to go before launch, and maybe there are some good revisions out there coming for touch. I’ll be patient. It could happen. I will test each build like it’s Christmas morning hoping they have something up their sleeve. Right now, there are so many interface compromises that it’s actually difficult to use the tablet mode at all. It’s not muscle memory or complaining just because of change, it’s actually bad design. I can’t reach things, I can’t get to Start, I can’t hit the severely tiny touch points, and everything leads you back to the desktop. Maybe this is how people felt about Windows 8…I never did, because I thought for once Microsoft made something look cool.

So there the Dell will sit until next build, I can’t use it like I thought I would be able to, it just doesn’t work anymore. It runs the Windows 10 code beautifully. And that’s the problem.