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 :-).

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.

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.