Articles from Technology

Check All To-Do Items on Foursquare

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:44 AM :: 2277 Views :: Technology, Other :: Digg it!
Foursquare + jQuery

As fun as Foursquare is, it agravates me to no end at how short-sighted their interaction designers are (if they even have any). Admittedly, I have this problem with almost every piece of technology I use, but don't have the time to fix them all -- if only *rolling eyes, shaking head* What I do have the time for is finding a quick hack to something that was annoying me -- namely, checking all the to-do items on a Foursquare account page.

Go to any Foursquare account page, like the Bing account page, and you'll be presented with a list of usually 50 or 100 to-do items that often lead to a badge. Say what you will about Foursquare, I enjoy the game. I have gone thru several of these pages clicking each one after the other a few times now and finally got fed up. Within a minute, I was able to use IE8's built-in dev tools to come up with a quick solution.

If you're not familiar with the IE8 dev tools, simply open IE8 and press F12. The dev tools may open in a new window, but I prefer them docked at the bottom of my main window, since I'm usually on a laptop. The extra window is ideal for dual monitor setups, tho.

IE8 Dev Tools

The HTML tab comes up first, which is where I started -- actually, that's not true, the first thing I did was jump over to the Script tab and type $ into the Script Console. This let me verify that Foursquare uses jQuery. Armed with jQuery, I knew I could accomplish what I needed fairly quickly. I selected the element selector arrow (first item on the toolbar on any of the tabs) and then clicked on one of the "Add as a To Do" elements within the page. This switched over to the HTML tab to show me a div with a checkbox. Most importantly, the div has a class of tip_todo_unchecked and the checkbox had an onclick handler. This is all I needed, thanks to jQuery. I moved back to the Script Console and used the following jQuery code to select all unchecked items and click them. Note that I had to "click" them to run the onclick handler. Simply checking them wouldn't have triggered the onclick event.

$('.tip_todo_unchecked :unchecked').click()

If you're not familiar with jQuery, the question mark ($) is an alias to the jQuery() function. Typically, you pass in a selector that is used to traverse and select HTML elements. In this case, we're grabbing all elements unchecked checkboxes (input elements with a type of checkbox) that are within elements with a CSS class of tip_todo_unchecked. While not exactly the same as CSS selectors, jQuery selectors were obviously heavily inspired by CSS selectors and aim to "embrace and extend" what CSS offers in this arena. The click() function simply calls the onclick event for each of the elements that were retrieved. It's that simple.

Note that you'll have to wait a few seconds while the page dynamically registers all of those clicks for you. I just jump down to the bottom of the page and wait for the last few to process.

Arguably, I should've put this into a GreaseMonkey for IE script, but my faith in IE add-ins has dwindled, so I don't use that anymore. Firefox users can do the same thing with FireBug and/or GreaseMonkey. Heck, there may already be a GM script for this. I don't know because I'm not a fan of Firefox -- not that I think IE8 is the best browser in the world. Obviously, the same capability is in Chrome, as well. The bottom line is that jQuery allows this simple hack.


How the Top Tech Companies Made it There

By Michael Flanakin @ 4:54 PM :: 2141 Views :: Technology, Microsoft, User Experience :: Digg it!
Apple/Google/Microsoft

If you were to ask someone on the street who the top technology company is, you'll likely get one of three answers: Apple, Google, or Microsoft. Whether you agree that these are the best technology companies or not, you have to admit these three own the broad mindshare. While I listed them alphabetically, I'd bet you'd hear them in that specific order. It all comes back to mindshare. IBM and Oracle are definitely top technology companies in the enterprise, but without a consumer focus, both are sacrificing this all-too-valuable metric. You can see how important this metric is by looking back at how technology was driven in the past. 15 years ago, technology was driven by enterprise needs. Over time, however, technology has become less expensive and more accessible, which has flipped that trend. Now, most technology trends are driven by the consumer market. But what did these three do to get that mindshare?

Ask anyone with an Apple product what they like the most or what their first impression was and they'll comment on how beautiful the device or interface is and how easy it is to use. Apple's core competence is exactly this: visual design and, to some degree, user experience.

Taking the same look at Google, first impressions are typically on simple interfaces and speedy responses. Alone, this doesn't tell us much, but if you take a deeper look, you see that Google is driven by algorithms. After all, search and advertising can only succeed with solid algorithms. This is Google's core competence: engineering.

To put it simply, Apple and Google represent the art and science of technology. As such, those are the crowds they attract. Apple attracts artists and creative professionals and Google attracts engineers and hard-core geeks. This is the key to both companies' success -- a targeted audience.

Having a targeted audience allows these companies to build precise, unambiguous experiences aimed at a specific type of user (or persona). You might say that neither Apple nor Google can do this because their products are used by a wide range of users. That's very true, but just because you target a specific persona, that doesn't mean your user base will never grow beyond that. In fact, it's just the opposite. By targeting a specific persona, you're able to focus your efforts and not only meet, but exceed that persona's expectations because you truly understand what their needs and goals are. With this, you're affording yourself the primary key to product success: passionate users.

Take a look back at the iPhone's debut. Were people not passionate about its sexy interface? Of course they were. And that passion was a virus that spread like a pyramid scheme. Google had the same effect, albeit much slower.

When Google first launched their search engine in the late 1990's, there weren't too many people using it. Yahoo was the most popular search engine at the time, with it's gaudy interface, attempting to be everything to everyone. Perhaps the biggest interaction mistake Yahoo made was attempting to follow the mythical 3-click rule, where users "must" be able to get to any feature within 3 clicks, or they will stop trying. I don't want to get into it here, but this is completely wrong. The way Google succeeded was by getting all the crap out of the way. By focusing on finding what you want, Google attracted geeks -- and a lot of them. Geeks told other geeks who told their family and friends and before you know it, less than 5 years later, Google was the #1 game in town -- all because they drove passion in a small subset of possible users. Of course, passion alone isn't going to earn you a multi-billion dollar business, but passion in the hearts and minds of the right audience can. Passion can also be dangerous.

If you're reading this, you're probably well aware of the stigma of Windows Vista. It's the worst operating system in the world, right? Not so, but the passionate few who did have bad experiences sure did let everyone know. As with the passion of the iPhone and Google search users, Vista haters shouted it out, loud and proud. But I'm not here to defend Windows Vista; I want to show you the value and impact of passion. Speaking of which, if Apple is #1 in the hearts and minds of artists and Google fills that spot for engineers, where does Microsoft fit in?

We can all agree that Microsoft isn't known for its superb aesthetics or engineering prowess, but it is good at both. And, when it comes to these three companies, Microsoft is arguably second in both areas, despite the fact that neither artists nor engineers will accept or admit it. Don't get me wrong, there have been some major blunders on boht fronts, but this is exactly my point. By not excelling in the art or science of technology, Microsoft is taking a back seat to both Apple and Google. When it comes to end-to-end user experience, Apple has the most mindshare, as I mentioned before; but I'd argue that Microsoft is second in this game. Yes, Google does have some wins in this space, but Google is nowhere near as dedicated to or capable of delivering the end-to-end user experience Microsoft is -- just look at Bing and Windows Phone. Admittedly, Microsoft has only started showing its ability in this space over the past few years. On the other side, Google drives mindshare for technology engineering; but once again, Microsoft comes in second. I can cite examples of why Apple sucks at engineering and Google can't quite cut it with end-to-end user experience, but I want to focus on the culmination of all this.

Microsoft has a tendency to attract people who want both beauty and brains; people who understand that beauty alone will get you nowhere and brains alone will leave you as exactly that -- alone. Together, beauty and brains will reach an even broader audience. This is the 80% Microsoft is known for targeting (for better or worse), which is exacly why Microsoft is as popular as it is. Everyone like to look at pretty pictures or solve problems .6825 seconds faster than the next  guy, but the vast majority of the populations doesn't care -- as long as they can figure it out and their problem gets solved, they're happy. Let's face it, the best interface is no interface. If human beings could achieve their goals without interacting with your product, they would. Your product is a necessary evil.

Microsoft hasn't been successful by purely being a runner-up, tho. Microsoft has their own niche: developers. I know of absolutely no company that has ever had the ability to drive passion in developers as much as Microsoft has. Sure, iPhone development has seen a great boon, but that was forced (on Apple) and it wasn't because Apple had a great development platform; it was because users were flocking to the product. Microsoft has continued to deliver compelling platforms for developers to take advantage of year after year. This is only heightenedby the fact that Microsoft's partner ecosystem is fiscally 10 times the size of Microsoft itself. Said another way, partners make $10 for every $1 Microsoft earns. Given Microsoft's gross earnings, that's a huge market. I'd say that's definitely something to be passionate about.

While having 80% of the market sounds outstanding, this group is quite fickle and has no allegiences. They aren't opting out of the artistic and scientific approaches; they just don't care. So what drives them? Each of us has something inside that motivates us. If you want to be successful, you need to start with a core demographic, the primary persona you want to target. Remember that, by meeting everyone's needs, you meet no one's needs. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's been proven time and time again. If you target a specific type of user, you're giving your primary users an opportunity to get passionate. There's no mathematical formula to cultivate passion -- if there was, Google would've figured it out by now -- but it all starts with targeted experiences. If you want to win in your market, drive passion.

To bring this back to those top 3 companies, Apple and Google are both fairly stuck in their ways. Both companies have art and science built into their DNA. I don't expect to see either company change. Microosft, on the other hand, has an immense amount to learn and I think they're on their way to correcting those. I can't say I expect Microsoft to surpass Apple in artistry or Google in engineering anytime soon; but I do expect Microsoft to give both companies a run for their money. We've already seen Apple reacting to Windows Phone 7 and Google reacting to Bing. As slow as the company is, Microsoft is a huge innovator. We've seen it in the past and I suspect the next 12 months will be full of opportunities for history to repeat itself as Kinect, Windows Phone 7, and IE9 come to fruition. Okay, there's some wishful thinking in that last one, but each of these platforms has developers chomping at the bit, eagerly awaiting their release. And, with each of these combining best-of-breed user experiences  with solid, top-notch engineering, Microsoft is giving us something to be passionate about -- on all three screens (phone, computer, and TV), no less.

For the developers out there, how about your products? How are you driving passion in your users? For everyone else, what makes you passionate?


Boot to VHD: Create VHD from GUI

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:05 PM :: 2175 Views :: Technology, Tools/Utilities :: Digg it!

Windows 7

I've mentioned how to create a new VHD from the command line, now let me mention how you can create a new VHD from the Windows GUI.

  1. Open Computer Management (Start > Run… > compmgmt.msc)
  2. In the left pane, select Storage > Disk Management
  3. Right-click Disk Management, click Create VHD
  4. Specify VHD settings and click OK
    • Location -- the path where you want to save the VHD
    • Size -- specify a size smaller than what's available on your system
    • Format -- choose dynamic sizing to slowly grow to the full disk size (what I'd recommend) or fixed, if you want to just allot the space outright and avoid potential out-of-space problems
  5. In the main, center pane, right-click the label on the left for the new, unknown/unallocated disk, click Initialize Disk
  6. Click OK
  7. In the main, center pane, right-click the main disk space visualization, click New Simple Volume...
  8. Click Next
  9. Click Next
  10. Click Next
  11. Specify a volume label, click Next
  12. Click Finish
  13. Put Win7 or Server 2008 R2 DVD or bootable USB drive in
  14. Restart your computer
    NOTE: You'll need to be sure you can boot using the necessary device in BIOS settings (obviously)
  15. Press any key to boot from CD or DVD
  16. When the Install Windows screen is shown, press Shift+F10
  17. Type d:, press Enter
  18. Type diskpart, press Enter
  19. Type select vdisk file="d:\machines\win2008r2.vhd", press Enter
    NOTE: Windows re-assigns your primary drive when running thru the installer. In all of my tests, C: was re-assigned to D:.
  20. Type attach vdisk, press Enter
  21. Type exit, press Enter
  22. Type exit, press Enter
  23. Click Next
  24. Click Install Now
  25. Select desired OS (server only), click Next
  26. Check I accept the license terms, click Next
  27. Click Custom (advanced)
  28. Select Disk 1 Partition 1: <label>, where <label> is the volume label you applied in step 11
  29. Click Next and continue to install the operating system as you normally would 

After rebooting, Windows Boot Manager will give you an option to boot into either the host or guest OS instances.


Flash and Silverlight Jobs

By Michael Flanakin @ 10:31 PM :: 2068 Views :: .NET, Development, Technology :: Digg it!

Silverlight has been Microsoft's golden child since v2 was released last year. The impact within the community has been astounding. Some demand the use of Silverlight without actually recognizing when and where the technology makes sense and others scoff at Silverlight either in favor of Flash or as a technology as "useless" as Flash. I roll my eyes every time I hear any of these three opinions... and they happen a lot. Flash went thru the hype cycle years ago and now it's Silverlight's turn. What I find amusing is that the hype seems to be much more powerful with Silverlight than it ever was with Flash. All we can do is fight the good fight.

Not every rich experience needs to be Silverlight. JavaScript frameworks are making life as a web developer easier and easier, so I'd recommend that always be the default choice. Unfortunately, most developers still find the pain of JavaScript development too great. While I'm a big fan of JavaScript, it is far from a perfect language and is severely lacking when it comes to development and debugging tools. Flash and Silverlight both simplify things with better tools and a single-platform vision that tremendously improves cross-browser development, but Flash is still lacking the one thing that makes Silverlight a no-brainer: XAML, backed by real programming languages.

XAML is immensely powerful and will continue to grow as more and more WPF features make it into Silverlight. XAML takes a new way of thinking, but it's well worth it for the simplicity and ease of development you get. But, more important than XAML is the fact that you have any .NET language you want and, with the inclusion of the Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR), there's virtually no reason not to use Silverlight. The one and only benefit Flash has is more mature tools. This is very important, but it is only a matter of time. Microsoft has both the will and the ability to overcome the current Flash tooling. The days of Flash are severely numbered. A look at the job market only confirms this. I just wish I had some of the same numbers from when Flash was initially released to compare the difference.

I truly believe that, if you're a web developer using any language, you need to take the time to understand how Silverlight can benefit you. Yes, HTML5 is coming, but the power and flexibility of environments like Silverlight will quickly surpass anything the W3C will ever be able to come out with a specification for. Heck, in less than 2 years, we've seen 3 releases of Silverlight and a beta version for the fourth, with speculations that Silverlight 4 is likely to release at Mix 2010, making it 4 full releases in 2.5 years. I'd like to see any one W3C spec ratified and fully released in all major browsers in such a timeframe. Such a feat is completely unheard of. Nevertheless, don't let me blab on about it. The numbers speak for themselves...

Flash vs Silverlight Jobs


Boot to VHD: Create VHD from Command Line

By Michael Flanakin @ 6:40 PM :: 7201 Views :: Technology, Tools/Utilities :: Digg it!

Windows 7

Virtual PC is great. Well, it's ok -- it does the job. There's a better way, tho, and that better way is to just get rid of the host OS... or, ask the OS to politely let you get by for a while. That's exactly what Windows 7 does by enabling you to boot into a VHD.

Scott Hanselman Syndicated feed blogged about booting from a VHD in more detail, but I wanted to break it down into discrete steps. For simplicity, I'm going to start from scratch, creating a VHD from the command line.

  1. Put Win7 or Server 2008 R2 DVD or bootable USB drive in
  2. Restart your computer
    NOTE: You'll need to be sure you can boot using the necessary device in BIOS settings (obviously)
  3. Press any key to boot from CD or DVD
  4. When the Install Windows screen is shown, press Shift+F10
  5. Type d:, press Enter
  6. Type md machines, press Enter
  7. Type diskpart, press Enter
  8. Type create vdisk file="c:\machines\win2008r2.vhd" type=expandable maximum=50000, press Enter
    NOTE: Be sure to set a maximum your machine can support; Windows will temporarily expand the VHD to that size when you boot into it
  9. Type select vdisk file="c:\machines\win2008r2.vhd", press Enter
  10. Type attach vdisk, press Enter
  11. Type exit, press Enter
  12. Type exit, press Enter
  13. Click Next
  14. Click Install Now
  15. Select desired OS (server only), click Next
  16. Check I accept the license terms, click Next
  17. Click Custom (advanced)
  18. Select Disk 1 Unallocated Space (...GB)
  19. Click Drive options (advanced)
  20. Click New, then Apply
  21. Click Format, then OK
    NOTE: If you see a "Windows cannot be installed to this disk..." error, ignore it.
  22. Click Next and continue to install the operating system as you normally would

After the installation completes, Windows Boot Manager will give you an option to boot into either the host or guest OS instances. Gotta love it!


Gartner Predicts the Future of the Mobile Market

By Michael Flanakin @ 5:28 PM :: 1606 Views :: Technology, Predictions :: Digg it!

Gartner recently released a smart phone market forecast, which looks at prior and predicted market share fluctuations from 2007 to 2013. I found some very interesting, but quite explainable predictions. I recommend taking a look at it yourself, but here are a few teasers.

The overall market has grown ~1.5x in 2 years and is expected to grow ~3.6x over the next 4 years. The ratio of consumer-to-business phones wavers, but remains about 3:1 throughout the assessed time frame.

Android
Gartner predicts Android quadrupling its market over the next 4 years, ending up #2 in the market. This is likely due to the open nature of the platform. While I agree with a large growth, 4x isn't quite what I'd expect. Seeing this, you're likely to suspect other big changes, too. I think you'll be surprised with Gartner's numbers, tho.

Blackberry
Blackberry is estimated to steadily decline over the coming years, ultimately dropping 6% from their current standing. From #3 in 2007 to #2 in 2008 thru 2010 to #4 in 2013. A thought-provoking rise and decline, but it shows how Blackberry isn't quite the innovator they'd like to be.

iPhone
For what most believe is the golden child of the mobile market, Gartner doesn't have much faith in the iPhone platform. iPhone tripled its market share from 2007 to 2008, then grew 50% in 2009. Most would think this would continue to shoot up over the coming years, but Gartner begs to differ. Gartner predicts only minor growth year over year thru 2013. They foresee a 10% growth by next year, virtually no growth the next, and a very trivial 1% growth in 2013. From here on out, the iPhone is expected to remain a #3 player thru 2013. Apple brought an interesting player to the market a few years back, but Gartner seems to believe that's where their innovation stops. I was very surprised to see the dwindling growth.

Symbian
Given the fact that we know Symbian is #1 today and we've already covered the #2, #3, and #4 players, you might expect to see Symbian in the #1 spot. Well... you'd be right. Gartner sees Symbian maintaining their place, but I speculate this isn't -- nor has it been -- due to superior innovation in the market. It's only a matter of time before other players take over. I suspect (not Gartner) they'll drop to #2 by 2016 as other players drive advancements.

WebOS
The road has been long and rocky for Palm, as we all know. WebOS seems like a last ditch effort to maintain a place in the mobile market. Gartner predicts they'll double their market share in 2010, but that's about the only success they'll see, as they slowly lose market share.

Windows Mobile
Gartner shows Windows Mobile steadily dropping from 2007 to 2010. That's no surprise, given all we've heard. With a mid-2010 release of Windows Mobile 7 -- Microsoft's response to the iPhone -- it's no surprise we won't see a spike until 2011, when Windows Mobile jumps up 15%. Gartner doesn't have faith that this will be good enough, tho, as they foresee market share dropping a little more than half a percent below their current share. While Microsoft isn't talking about Windows Mobile 8, they'll have to deliver it in relatively short order, if they want to show the market they mean business. I have faith this will happen by 2013. In fact, I'm hopeful that we'll see some major enhancements and mergers between Zune and Windows Mobile in the same time frame. My gut tells me we'll see this by 2012. It won't be until then that people truly see what Microsoft is capable of.

Others
Linux, Maemo, and others are also included in the study. I'm not familiar with any serious Linux competitors other than Android, but they've lost 50% of their market share in the last 2 years and are presumed to continue to drop, eventually giving Palm some competition for the least amount of share by "major" competitors... if you consider Linux a major competitor. I have to say I was surprised by Maemo, which I don't think I've heard much about. It's a Linux-based tablet OS Nokia developed and subsequently brought -- or, at least, is bringing -- to the smart phone market. I liken this to the opposite of Google's Android-to-Chrome OS move. With a 2009 initial showing, Gartner surprisingly predicts Maemo shooting up to 6.5% by 2013. Very interesting; unlike other players, who drop from 1.1% in 2007 to less than .1% by 2013.

 

If you ask me, Microsoft should seriously consider buying RIM. Right now, they're #2 and #4, but Microsoft stands to gain a tremendous amount from the corporate presence Blackbery currently holds. With what's expected to come in Windows Mobile 7, this would also give Blackberry users a very nice glimmer of hope around what I speculate will be a very nice mobile OS. Now isn't the time, of course. Given Gartner's insights, I'd say 2011 would be the best time to drive such an acquisition, hopefully showing value for Blackberry users in the Windows Mobile 8 time frame.

Short of a Microsoft/RIM acquisition, somebody needs to buy Palm for Palm's sake. Given my newly-acquired knowledge of Maemo, I have to say Nokia should seriously consider it. I was initially thinking RIM should give it a thought, but I don't see them having much to gain. Maemo and WebOS both have a lot in common. A merger could go a long way... not that Nokia needs Palm. The Palm-ers could definitely use some Nokia love, tho.

 

The last thing I should mention is that most of this is speculation on my part. Gartner provided the numbers -- aside from my Symbian 2016 and Windows Mobile 2012/13 comments. I wholly recommend you look at Gartner's numbers and other mobile studies they have to fully understand what they're thinking and why they made these forecasts.


Boot from USB to Install Windows 7

By Michael Flanakin @ 9:34 PM :: 1299 Views :: Technology :: Digg it!

One of the things I really like about Windows 7 is it can be installed from a USB drive -- perhaps thanks to the rise in netbooks. This isn't anything terribly new to the world of computers, but it's always nice when you have a new feature to play with -- and, let's face it, Windows 7 is all about simplicity. When I first heard about installing from a bootable USB drive, I hoped it was going to be as simple as copying the files over. It wasn't. All-in-all, the process wasn't too bad, tho.

  1. Attach the USB drive
  2. If you have anything on the drive you want to keep, copy it off
  3. Click Start, type and select the Device Manager option
  4. Expand Disk Drives
  5. Right-click your USB drive, click Properties > Policies
  6. Check Optimize for performance and click OK
  7. Close Device Manager
  8. Open Windows Explorer (Win+E)
  9. Select Computer, right-click the USB drive, select Format...
    NOTE: Remember the total size of the USB drive and what drive letter it is assigned
  10. Select the NTFS file system, uncheck all format options, and click Start
    NOTE: This process will take a while, so we're going to multi-task
  11. While the USB drive is being formatted, copy the Windows 7 DVD contents to the c:\win7 directory
    NOTE: If you only have an ISO file, use 7-zip to extract contents to the target directory
  12. Click Start, type powershell, right-click the Windows PowerShell option, and select Run as administrator
    • Fine, fine... if you're not on the band wagon, run Command Prompt as administrator
  13. When the USB drive is done formatting, type diskpart, and press Enter
  14. Type list disk and press Enter
    • This will return results like the following. In this case, I have a 16 GB drive as disk 1.

      DISKPART> list disk
        Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
        --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
        Disk 0    Online           74 GB      0 B
        Disk 1    Online           14 GB      0 B
       
  15. Type select disk <d>, where <d> is the disk number from the previous step, and press Enter
  16. Type list partition, press Enter
    • This will return results like the following. In this case, I have a 16 GB drive as disk 1.

      DISKPART> list partition
        Partition ###  Status         Size     Offset
        -------------  -------------  -------  -------
        Partition 1    Primary          14 GB    20 KB
       
  17. Type select partition <p>, where <p> is the partition number from the previous step (most likely 1), and press Enter
  18. Type active, to make this partition active an press Enter
  19. Type exit and press Enter
  20. When the Windows 7 disk contents are done copying, type cd c:\win7\boot and press Enter
  21. Type .\bootsect /nt60 <e:>, where <e:> is the drive letter your USB drive is assigned to (i.e. e:), and press Enter
  22. Lastly, copy the contents of the c:\win7 directory to the root of your USB drive

Wow... 23 steps seems like a lot more than I originally realized, but it's just about going thru the motions. You'll be waiting for the USB drive to be formatted and files to be copied for the majority of the time. Once you're done, reboot and plug in your USB drive to kick off the installation. Remember to check your BIOS boot settings. If your machine isn't configured to even try to boot from USB, you won't get very far.


A Plea for IE

By Michael Flanakin @ 10:28 PM :: 1861 Views :: Technology, Microsoft, Predictions, Tools/Utilities, User Experience :: Digg it!

Internet Explorer

Microsoft is out to prove a point with Windows 7. I can see the message clearly: "See, we can deliver on time; and earlier than most expected. And to top it all off, we did so without drastically changing the OS. That 'polished' OS you're looking at... yeah, it's Vista; 'Vista-point-1' to be exact. Sure, we tweaked it; but that's just to prove another point: Microsoft software isn't about bloat." I could probably go on for a while, but the signs are all there. Sinofsky has done a great job taking the Windows team under his wing. I've been very happy with some of the decisions they've made. As a matter of fact, I'm hoping to see some of the same changes on other fronts. Enter Internet Explorer.

IE8 is a big flop in my book. Don't get me wrong, it's my default browser and I love the enhancements; but it's just hiding the real, underlying problem: the foundation. I apologize for the analogy, but you can only mold a pile of crap so many ways before it just starts falling apart. Arguably, the same can be said about Windows, but Windows 7 has really given it a refresh. It's hard to explain how much better Windows 7 feels. I have to say I'd liken it to the first day I got Windows Vista, to be honest; but the key differentiator there is that I had quality hardware that was up to the challenge and no legacy software or devices to be concerned with. I'm not the "normal" user, of course, and I feel bad for those who had bad experiences. It's not because the software is bad, it's because your circumstances around which you experienced it were wrong. Not that Microsoft isn't to blame, tho; but I'm getting way off topic. It's time for a major change with IE.

I remember seeing some early concepts around IE8. At first glance, I was confused at a few of the ideas -- I'm thinking of one in particular -- but after I paused to really mull it over, it hit me. The power users would have at their fingertips would be astounding. There's a common root to the booming growth of Google and Firefox. This is exactly what Microsoft would've seen with this feature. Guess what: that feature never saw the light of day. As a matter of fact, I don't even know that it made it past that slide deck. Admittedly, the idea was rough, but it had some real potential. What's funny is that I just read something about the same concept being applied to another browser. *sigh*

Before IE8 beta 1 hit the streets, I saw another slide deck about what would be included in IE8 and 9. At first, I was excited, but it didn't take long for that to wear off. I actually began to question some of the decisions. There was (once again) one feature loved, but then I started to wonder if it even made sense. Depending on whether the team takes a left or a right out the gate will be the deciding factor for that feature... if it's still even a possibility. IE8 was pushed back so much that the IE9 time frame and feature set is completely out of the picture for what I saw. It's too bad; I was looking forward to a few quick revs. At the same time, this could be perfect timing.

Windows 7 is on the way, with rumors of April and May release candidates culminating in a June, July, August, September, October, November, or January final release date. It's pretty clear nobody has a good clue of the actual release date, but there is one constant in all the confusion: simplicity and performance are the two driving tenets in Windows 7. These two factors are huge for usability and, furthermore, perceptions. So, when I think about what to expect in IE9, I'm looking for both of these: simplicity and speed. IE8 is a dog on some machines. We've seen JavaScript benchmarks and "everyday use" benchmarks that all tell us different things, but it all comes down to our individual experiences... and perceptions. For IE to be a contendor, it needs to clean up its act. I want a sleek, sexy browser. It's not Firefox; it's not Chrome; and it sure as hell isn't Safari or Opera. I'm not saying each isn't functional, I'm just saying there's a lot to be desired.

Opera's doing it's thing, although I'm not sure why it even bothers; Apple's giving Safari on Windows a go, but not doing well; Google's got juice, but I don't think they have the right talent-mix to succeed; and Firefox is leading the pack against IE, but hasn't really made any significant innovations and is growing more by perception than anything. Microsoft (read: IE team), the browser market is yours to lose [which you're doing]; but it's also yours to dominate. Take a step back. Review the history books. There is one constant in what drives the up-and-comers of today. See that and feed into it. The world is asking for simplicity, speed, and all-around usability. IE8 isn't the answer. IE9 could be. You can do better. I know it; you know it.


Windows 7 RC Enhancements

By Michael Flanakin @ 9:57 PM :: 1031 Views :: Technology, Microsoft :: Digg it!

Windows 7

Since the debut of Windows 7, there's been a lot of talk about whether or not Microsoft would listen to feedback from the field. This sounds odd, but the question is a valid one, due to how Steve Sinofsky is running this release of Windows. The major departure from past releases is that the Windows team isn't introducing features into the build until they're "done." Sure, there may be some small issues, but nothing like what we saw in the pre-release versions of Vista or XP. This, along with only 2 pre-release versions of the OS making it out to the field -- beta and release candidate -- will make anyone question how much will really change between the beta and official release. Well, the Engineering 7 Syndicated feed blog lets us know about 36 things we'll see in the release candidate based on feedback from the beta. This is very refreshing, even if a number of them are qute trivial.

  1. Task Switcher (Alt+Tab) now with Aero peek -- excellent enhancement to really bring focus to the app you're thinking about switching to
  2. Win+# will open or launch, not just launch -- I'm very excited about this one; I'll finally have a Win+1 shortcut to open my most important window: PowerShell
  3. Apps wanting your attention will be more obvious
  4. Dragging a file onto an app on the taskbar will now open the file in the app
  5. 25-40% more icons will fit on the taskbar before scrolling
  6. Clearer mapping of what app thumbnails are related to in the taskbar
  7. Newly installed programs will show up at the bottom of the start menu
  8. Increased the number of items in the taskbar app's context menu (aka jump list)
  9. More flexibility when pinning items to an app's jump list
  10. Separation of desktop icons and gadgets
  11. Aero peek now touch-enabled
  12. Multi-touch capabilities added to the virtual keyboard to make it more realistic
  13. Summon the context menu with a 2 fingers -- this isn't quite as simple as it could be, but there are some reasons why a 2-finger tap isn't viable
  14. Touch enhancements to select and drag/drop content
  15. Simplified networking options in system tray and return of the connected-but-no-internet indicator
  16. User Account Control (UAC) tweaks
  17. Auto-lock a machine without applying a screensaver
  18. Return of the high performance power option from the system tray
  19. Clearer communication about preview vs. saved theme changes
  20. Reliability enhancements to Windows Media Player for internet radio
  21. Digital camcorder/camera video playback improvements
  22. Cleaner "now playing" view in Windows Media Player
  23. Content that Windows Media Player cannot play won't show up in the library -- this might be confusing to some, but it sounds like a good option; I'd probably opt for a dimmed color and icon depicting its unplayable status
  24. Changed Windows Media Player to resume playback of content after returning from sleep
  25. Introduction of Windows Media Player sync relationships dialog will be reverted -- classic case of why betas are important
  26. Easier, quicker access to advanced playback settings in Windows Media Player
  27. Windows Media Player's jump list now includes content launced from outside of WMP
  28. Worked with hardware vendors to make it easier to get more devices to support Device Stage -- if you don't know what Device Stage is (I didn't), watch this
  29. Improved headphone experience
  30. Increased audio reliability
  31. Improved Windows Explorer header to enhance new "libraries" capability
  32. Drag and drop enhancements when dealing with libraries
  33. Win+E was opening libraries, but will return to open My Computer, as it does today -- I'm glad to see this because I haven't found a use for libraries, yet
  34. Added FAT32 support for libraries
  35. Arrangement view enhancements for libraries
  36. Performance enhancements abound

There are really only 4 of these that I'm looking forward to, but it's still a surprisingly large list. I'm looking forward to the RC. Rumor has it we'll see a public release in April. Part of me expects it to be sooner, but I have no idea.


Lessons Learned from the Great Zune Massacre

By Michael Flanakin @ 10:11 AM :: 1585 Views :: Technology, Microsoft :: Digg it!

Zune

I was thinking about the Dec 31, 2008 debacle Zune went thru, where the devices didn't work for a 24 hr period. If you didn't hear about it, the problem was due to a device driver, which wasn't controlled by Microsoft. This is exactly the problem Microsoft has to deal with: crappy hardware vendors. I remember the sad, sad day I found out the Zune was built using Toshiba hardware. I have hoped so much that this would change, but it hasn't, yet... yet. I say that, not knowing of things to come, but hoping that Microsoft will realize the err in its ways. Microsoft should take tighter control over hardware by using quality hardware vendors. Hell, the Zune issue is nothing compared to the red ring of death issues the Xbox faces. I don't know anything about the Xbox hardware, tho, so I can't say much about that. Heck, Microsoft can't either, considering they haven't fixed the problem yet, as far as I know. I'd like to see Microsoft either form a division focused on delivering great hardware -- like phones, Zunes, Xboxes, desktops, and laptops -- or pony up and buy a company. There has been a lot of speculation to that effect with the purchase of Danger in early 2008, but Microsoft has claimed the "Zune Phone" won't happen. That doesn't stop the rumors from piling up, tho. All I can say is that, if my vote was worth anything, I'd be voting for Lenovo. I've purchased 2 and am about to get another. I've even thought about replacing my desktop with a Lenovo. What's even better, tho, is the idea of having a Lenovo phone. As much as I like my HTC Touch Pro (AT&T Fuze) -- minus the crap AT&T does to it, that is -- my love affair with Lenovo laptops really has me lusting after their new phone. If only it'd make it to the US... along with the HTC Touch HD, which I still want. All this really boils down to one question, in my mind: Will Microsoft reconsider a higher level of control after dealing with one problem after another from hardware vendors? I kind of doubt it, but I'll keep hope alive.