Category Archives: microsoft

Twelve reasons to respect Windows7 or not

Im-a-pc

Let us not underestimate the monumental importance of a Microsoft Windows release.

We doyen of the internet are so often inclined to scoff, so blissfully ensconced we sometimes are in this perfect brushed metal and candy-coated RDF of a certain cult-ish maker of glowing fruit-themed technology. Macs are the opiate of the geekerati. The rest of the world overwhelming runs Windows. But, with great marketshare comes great responsibility. When 90% of the world’s PCs run Windows, if Microsoft stumbles, if Microsoft stalls or fails to innovate, the whole world’s IT infrastructure is held back.

With Vista, Microsoft stalled and stumbled. Win7 is Microsoft’s mea culpa. I myself have been playing with it long enough now to form some impressions. The following are 12 points from my own personal experience with 7. Your mileage may vary.

  1. The startmenu commandline / searchable program list is a killer feature. Once familiar with it, you will find it painful to switch back to Windows XP. Also salvaged from Vista, volume levels by application is a nice feature even OSX can’t match.
  2. The new icons-only-with-no-labels task bar makes for a horrible mess of trying to get anything done across multiple windows. By default, Win7 hides the names of all your open windows. For a long time this infuriated me and it’s a good thing I didn’t write this post earlier. If there’s one most significant reason I finally warmed up to Win7, it is because I belatedly learned that it’s actually fairly easy to turn this feature off. [There’s a PROTIP in here somewhere]
  3. Microsoft will tell you that Win7 is flush with drivers and runs with a bazzion devices. This is a lie. Upgraders be warned, a lot of OEMs or makers of any number of little integrated hardware features have not bothered to support, or make it easy to upgrade (they’d be happy for you to buy a brand new Win7-loaded machine instead). Case in point: The Win7 demo thinkpad leant to me by microsoft themselves had the following non-functional devices: fingerprint reader, touchpad scrolling, lcd brightness and webcam. I have a otherwise perfectly good laser printer that HP assures me will never support win7. The driver situation getting better since the launch though. For one, my Rogers rocket sticks now supports 7 which had been a showstopper for upgrading my primary notebook computer.
  4. Win7 is the first OS to natively, properly support SSDs. Also, SSDs are awesome.
  5. Win7 has DX11 may well be good for gaming (for various reasons, DX10 was kinfof a bust). I see signals that PC gaming is enjoying a cyclical resurgence as the PC upgrade cycle continues unabated while the current gen of consoles are hitting midlife.
  6. Win7 gets rid of Vista’s infuriating wifi connection tool, which means many fewer clicks to connect to a wifi network.
  7. Win7 has mobile-broadband drivers and connectivity built right in. So long as they don’t conflict with your device’s own drivers, this is great.
  8. MS clearly put a lot of work into the rich, heavy media-center feature stuffed into Win7. Which, as far as I can tell, was entirely pointless. A basic file browser, and double click to open w/ VLC player being a far smoother, faster, and more reliable way to launch any media file in our household.
  9. Are you old enough to remember when the brand new Windows 95 was actually considered cool? Bad news: Win7 will not make you cool. But you knew that already. What’s worse, most every recent marketing attempt (not to mention gnaw-your-own-eys-out-cringeworthness Win7 Launch-party videos) digs poor Windows users further in the hole. You’re just going to have to deal with that.
  10. Vista felt like it was designed by committee of sadistic IT managers, intent on driving down support costs by actively impeding users from doing anything useful with their machines whenever possible. Win7 isn’t perfect, but it does manage to stay out of your way a lot more often. Now that I think about it, working right and, staying the hell out of my way as much as possible, is pretty much all I ask for in an OS.
  11. WinXP is old now, long past it’s best-by date. Meanwhile Win7 is tangibly less annoying than Vista. For my money, Win7 is the only Microsoft OS worth running. You just may have to buy a new printer.
  12. I have this theory we are approaching an age of operating system irrelevance. Who cares what the platform is that runs locally, so long as it connects efficiently you to the cloud. In that regard, Win7 has good networking,works well with next-gen hardware, and therefore gets you quick enough into Firefox. Which is really all that matters right?

Would you Bing that?

Earlier this week Microsoft Canada invited myself and a few other locals out to take a look at Bing. Here’s what you should know about Bing.

Bing is Microsoft’s new search engine. Bing is a re-brand of Microsoft’s old “live” search engine. The one no one ever really used. Bing is effectively front-end revamp, re-brand and relaunch of Microsoft search.

Another thing to know. Bing in Canada isn’t the same thing as Bing in the US. The US one has a lot more “stuff” to it. You may or may not actually like the cleaner Canadian version. Click to make these pictures bigger:

Bing USA vs. Bing Canada
BingUSA_vs_BingCanada

I’ve been trying out for a several days. The best you can say for it is that it’s okay. It’s a fine search engine. This may not sound like high praise, but a) it’s far better than you can say for the last few search engines who’ve tried to take on the GOOG b) coming from microsoft, who are only finally starting to rediscover the internet in recent years.

And Microsoft really is trying to take on the google, or so they say. Actually how they say it is that users are unsatisfied with “search” and that they use the back button too much and that “search” takes them too long to find a perfect pair of shoes for example. But they say they are not trying to take on Google per say. As though taking of “search” is somehow a different than taking on the company that has 97% market share of search.

How do you get better than Google? Well this is tough, google being, let’s be honest, much of the time, almost brilliantly indistinguishable from magic. Then there is Google Inc.’s habit of generally simply awesome web applications all over the internet and then giving them to us users for free. Don’t you feel kinda bad not using google for search?

To do better, Bing’s strategy is mostly about trying to aggregate a lot of corner cases. Bing’s search results provides categories that are context sensitive to what you are searching for. Search for “Toronto” and you’ll get a lot of results categorized by city-ish and touristy-ish related subjects, search for “Australian Cattle Dog” and you’ll get dog pictures and categories like adoption and pets and rescues. Not bad.

Is Bing a serviceable replacement for googling? I would dare say that most of the time it is. Is there any reason you should switch? Well let’s not get crazy. Bing is by no means clearly better than google, it may be fine, but it’s not clearly ten times better. Ten times better is probably what it would take for most consumers to consciously and confidently make that decision.

And that’s what’s really so funny about Bing being better than google, is how much Bing looks like google. Though it’s front page is rather distinctive, Bing’s results, how to put this politely, “leverage a lot of familiar affordances” from google:

I Can’t Believe it’s not Google!
Bing_vs_google_results

You know I bet if bet if you shipped a lot of OEM computers that just happened to have Bing set as the default search engine, that it might take a lot of ordinary users a while before they even noticed that they weren’t on google…

LINK: Bing

UPDATE/PROTIP: the image searching on Bing is actually pretty awesome. They give you a nice side bar frame to browse across images on multiple sites, much less back-buttony than google. Example. Click on a picture in these results to see what I mean.

New Microsoft browser not terrible

Modern web development

Microsoft gave us tech bloggers a sneak peak at their new IE8 web browser the other day.

On the whole I like it. In several areas, IE8 catches up in features to other modern browsers. In other areas, it introduce a few new tricks other browsers could learn from.

IE8 does still retain the bizarre menu button placement introduced by IE7, as well as the generally Vista-ish (read tacky) look and feel of the chrome. This is probably enough to keep me personally from using it. What can you do. The important thing, the really important thing, however, is that a lot of other people start using it.

As far as functionality IE8 is one big step forward for Microsoft. And IE8 should be a good thing for the web. Some people will complain that the browser does introduce a number of new proprietary/non-standard features but you don’t have to use them. On the contrary, IE8 looks to be much more compatible where it counts as far as CSS and fundamental webstandards compatibility.

Modern versions of firefox, safari, opera are really great browsers and have been for years. If you’ve got one of these you are doing just fine. Nonetheless, stubbornly millions of people and far too many IT departments are still stuck way back on IE6. The F&*#&ckers. This is a problem. Maybe a problem only Microsoft can fix.

So it’s great news than, for the first time in many years, MS will have a browser worth using. How they plan to convert all those old IE6 & 7 users I don’t know (the process hasn’t gone so well for Vista you know). But if it can be done, if IE8, Firefox, and Safari can become the new baseline for the desktop web, than we could really get back to building some wonderful things. And web designers everywhere would just have to find something else to spend their time swearing about.

You can play with IE8 beta2 yourself if you like.

graphic: Modern Web development [circa 2006], Alan “IE users must die” Foreman

Microsoft, failing to own the main internet, may try to buy a new one

From Scoble today: Why Microsoft will buy Facebook and keep it closed

That Microsoft will buy Yahoo’s search and then buy Facebook for $15 to $20 billion. Add that to all the news that Microsoft is buying Yahoo’s search and that gets very interesting…

[Facebook] can’t be seen if you don’t have a Facebook account. It’s NOT open to the public Web. Google’s spiders CAN NOT REACH IT…

Google is locked out of the Web that soon will be owned by Microsoft. We will never get an open Web back if these two deals happen.

This has created HUGE value for Microsoft and has handed Steve Ballmer an Internet strategy which brings Microsoft from last place to first in less than a week.

Boom!

Now Microsoft/Yahoo search will have access to HUGE SWATHS of Internet info that Google will NOT have access to.

Data and social graph portability is dead on arrival.Microsoft just bought itself a search strategy that sure looks like a winner to me.”

This is a monster of an idea. Out of desperation you could see MSFT going for it. They have far more cash than is healthy for any company to be sitting on. They’ve failed pretty spectacularly at owning the consumer internet like they own(ed) the deskgtop. When it comes to consumer-facing services, in recent years Google and just about any other startup (facebook included) have walked circles around microsoft, seemingly with a fraction of the effort.

So much so that sending 15-20B to buy a big chunck of the future social web is actually cheaper or more efficient than Microfts efforts to build anything equivalent themselves. But there’s a few ways this strategy could go wrong. Mostly related to putting a lot of eggs in one basket.

facebook has to continue to stay relevant in the social web. Something else could come along.

facebook has to grow up and offer an environment catered to a broader demographic, especially in the US.

MSFT has to not sit on facebook for 5 years with no enhancements while they work on the fabulously overwrought vista of facebooks…. Can you hold your breath for Windows Live BookFacePoint 2013 Ultra Edition?