Results tagged “Microsoft” from kwc blog

Micro-hoo

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With Microsoft putting Yahoo on its dinner plate, I may have a very different reason for getting my photos off of Flickr. I viewed Yahoo's acquisition of Flickr as an overall plus; a Microsoft acquisition would be a bit of a poison pill. The same goes for del.icio.us, though my heart is less tied to that service.

My mind goes back to the acquisition of Hotmail, which turned a leading free e-mail provider into a stagnant cesspool of spam and craptacular-ness. Microsoft forced Hotmail onto MS infrastructure for political reasons. Attempting the same with Yahoo's gives me visions of datacenters engulfed in flames.

The most interesting take I've seen in How Microsoft Could Go Hostile. it brings to light the timing of the takeover bid and how Microsoft could circumvent Yahoo's anti-acquisition poison pill.

Other iPhone thoughts

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Today's Penny Arcade made me laugh before I even clicked to view the comic: "The Microsoft Zune: 2006-2006." What Jobs orchestrated yesterday was an assassination. He named names -- Microsoft, RIM, Palm, Nokia -- put up screenshots of their products, mocked them, and pulled the trigger. It was merciless. He waited until all the manufacturers had their chance to make their CES announcements and then he announced his own product that won't come out for six months. He killed the with vapor, with words. My opinion was that the Microsoft Zune was perhaps a generation behind the iPod in refinement: with one more iteration you could imagine the Zune being on par. The 3G iPod launch on Windows was hardly stellar. Microsoft was finally understanding the need to integrate the hardware and software experience. So we must take a little bit of pity on the Zune, still learning to stand up, while Jobs stood over it with a shotgun held to its head. Perhaps it was the merciful thing to do.

When I saw the first iPod announcement, I was among those that went WTF? It wasn't the first hard drive mp3 to market and I imagined others would be able to meet the form factor quite easily. I underestimated the importance of software. Yesterday, though, even d's mom in Tennessee had heard about the iPhone. It was the front page of CNN. Billions of dollars in market cap shifted hands.

Mac vs. PC

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In the latest installment of Apple's Get a Mac ad series, Mac and PC put their differences aside (mostly). I was IM'ing with one of my co-workers earlier this week and, when the subject of my new Mac came up, I told him that I didn't really care anymore about OS X or XP; both seemed about the same for me. For every plus or minus for one, I could come up with an equivalent for the other, and it's hard to come up with problems that are fundamental or a condition of popularity. It's even harder now that the two use the same hardware. I drew up a short list of comparisons in the extended entry.

This isn't meant in attack/defense of either PCs or Macs. It's simply the realization that, for me, my ability to get stuff done is no longer impacted by what OS is installed on a machine. I recognize that for many, many people (e.g people who buy PCs from HP loaded with crapware, update: people who need Unix environments), this statement is not true, but I've spent the last two weeks working on both OSes interchangeably. Quite frequently, I've written a bit of code on one, checked it in, and then immediately picked up where I left off on the other. I've done the same with blog posts, e-mail, videos, and feeds.

Perhaps this is a recognition of the preeminence of Web apps, or perhaps it means that the two have copied each other enough that the differences become harder to notice. Regardless, it's nice not to care anymore.

Book: Microserfs

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I read this book because I figured it was one of those must reads. Software engineering simply isn't one of those professions used in popular media, with a few exceptions like Office Space that come close, so given the opportunity to read a book that is not only about software engineers but also about the culture, the zeitgeist of the early .com boom as well as Microsoft, I knew I had to.

I've worked at Xerox PARC and a startup, and I've lived in the Bay Area for many years; I've never been to Seattle nor worked for Microsoft. Does it make me biased then that I liked the early Microsoft/Seattle portions of the book but started losing interest as soon as the book moved to the .com environment of the Peninsula? I would say so, except I've talked to someone else who read the book that is more familiar with Microsoft/Seattle, and she too had the same opinion.

In Seattle the book feels like it's accurately capturing and spinning the culture, from group homes of Microsoft employees to the Cult of Bill, which probably isn't all that different from the Cult of Steve. Once the book moved to the Peninsula, I no longer felt in touch with the story: the characters seemed less and less believable, the Peninsula culture seemed slightly off, and the story just never really went anywhere. I had minor geographical quibbles such as how they seemed to go far out of their way to drive past Xerox PARC or find Starbucks that I can't, but more important was the startup-of-friends experience didn't resemble my startup-of-friends experience -- when we had a startup, and everything was on the line, we ate, slept, and drank the startup, had trouble speaking of anything else because your life entirely was sucked into the effort, and I even dreamed in code; in Microserfs, the startup seems almost incidental to the relationships in the book and it only really there to move the characters around. From what I've seen of other startups, the experience sways more in my direction. I could be wrong, and the book does take place it a time slightly earlier than mine, but I had a strong feeling throughout the book that the Microsoft portion of the book was a closer revelation of software engineering culture, and besides Fry's, Apple, and mystique of PARC, very little else of it felt captured to me. This is one engineer's opinion of course: Philip Greenspun, MIT professor and ousted founder of the ArsDigita startup, left a glowing review of the Microserfs cultural mirror.

I've reviewed mostly the cultural/zeitgeist elements of the book rather than the story, but that's largely because I felt that there really wasn't any story; the book was meant to be about capturing a cultural tableaux. Then again, if it's merely a book about zeitgeist, you could also argue then that reading a 400 page compilation of Wired's Wired/Tired/Expired would make a wonderful read. Thus, I'm conflicted. If it was about story, I'd be terribly disappointed and have to give this book one star. Instead, I give it maybe a three-out-of-five with the caveat that you should end it whenever you like.

Testing out Windows Live Writer

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Despite the terrible "Windows Live" branding, I'm giving the new Windows Live Writer beta a test shot with my blog. So far, it's very slickly done.

Although I've learned a lot of personal workflow habits to try and streamline the process of blogging, any blog entry involving an image takes me far too much time. I have to download the image I want to the computer I'm posting from. Then I have to upload it to my Web server, then I have to copy in the HTML for the image to where I want it in the post. Then I usually have to go back and re-edit the entry because the image isn't aligned or sized how I want it.

I immediately had to try Writer out When I saw that it allows you to easily insert, align, and resize photos from your computer and automatically upload them using the newMediaObject API (supported by MovableType). I used it to place the little Window Live icon above and then had a happy suprise when I inserted a photo you see to the right: Writer automatically rotated the image into portrait layout. That's a subtle touch, but an important one.

There are other subtle touches that give me confidence that this is a good product:

  • The image manipulation controls get the job done well: there are image sizing presets you can click on for quick resizing, or you can manually drag the image to the size you want; you can easily select photopaper or drop shadow borders; you can easily align and rotate an image; and there are basic image effects you can apply, like sepia tone, sharpening, and brightness;
  • Writer still managed to figure out the CSS styles from MovableType 2.x template and use them in the compose window.
  • Writer breezed through the setup process with my blog. It seems simple enough to use the RSD data embedded in MovableType blogs, but after trying out Performancing and ecto, I can say Microsoft did a better job.
  • You can hit F12 to switch to HTML entry mode, which reveals that Writer is using relatively clean HTML markup.
  • If you cut and paste text with HTML links it it (e.g. from a Web browser), those links are preserved.
  • You can easily apply the 'tag' or 'nofollow' attributes to a link.

There are a probably couple of bugs, which is expected for a beta. The category selector can't handle a large number of categories, so I can't put this entry in the 'Web stuff' category, text focus doesn't return to the composition window like it should after you click on an action in the right pane like 'Insert link,'   tags are used unnecessarily, and Writer confusing refers to previous published entries as 'drafts' if you go back and edit them.

Right now I rate Writer as a 'good' blogging client rather than 'great' blogging client, though I don't think it's far from that higher rating. If it came out in 2005, it would have probably knocked my socks off, but a 2006 blogging client needs to do more than just type text and insert photos from your computer -- it needs to be able to tie in all your media into one blogging platform. It should be integrated with your photo blog (e.g. Flickr), video blog (e.g. Youtube, Google Video) and your links (e.g. del.icio.us), and it needs to be able to easily insert product thumbnails from Amazon; in other words, it needs to be more like Vox and Flock. I like Writer enough, though, that I think I'm going to use it for my next few entries.

Today's Apple humor

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In anticipation of Apple's Feb 28th announcement, I bring you Fair and Balanced humor coverage (one dig at Apple, one dig at Microsoft):

special leak from Engadget's What Would Jobs Do 3: apple parody

Microsoft redesigns iPod packaging (click for video)

Windows Vista/OS X mashup

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Crooked Timber has a funny mashup of the audio from Bill Gates' CES speech with OS X video. To be fair, you could have just as easily substituted in screenshots of Google Desktop, Konfabulator for Windows, etc... and it would still be kinda funny, but you would miss all the stock Apple/Microsoft vitriol in the comments.

(via metamerist)

Beyond Menus and Toolbars in Microsoft Office
Jensen Harris, MS Office UE Team
http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/
BayCHI

Office 12 is an upgrade I wouldn't mind paying for, that is, assuming that work didn't let us get free copies. Those are big words for me, considering my "I Hate Microsoft" series of blog entries. I can imagine making documents faster with Office 12, or at least I can imagine making better looking documents in the same amount of time. Excel, which has been less functional for me than the spreadsheet program I used on my Apple IIe, looks like it will be come a useful tool for data analysis.

I felt that Harris made a convincing case as to why they are doing the UI revamp, that it's more than a marketing trick. The conventional wisdom out there is "Everything I need was in office [95, 97, 2000]." (For me it was Word 95). They collected a ton of data (including over a billion Office sessions) that told a different story. On a list of the top ten most requested features for Office: four of them were already in Office. Their conclusion was that "Office is good enough in that people have made peace with it." Another observation from the data was that the average user spends more time with Office (2.6 hrs/day) than they do with their spouse (2.4 hrs/day). When you take 400 million users * 2.6 hrs/day, it seems worth improving that experience. Harris rhetorically asked, "Have we reached the pinnacle of software that people use to get their job done everyday?"

It was also clear from the evolution of the Office design that a revamp was in order. The number of toolbars and taskpanes was getting out of control: they were create user interfaces to manage their user interface. There simply wasn't a good menu+toolbar paradigm for managing programs with 1500+ commands.

My notes are in the extended. I transcribed a lot of the new Office 12 elements, but text doesn't do a very good job of describing user interface. Overall, it's a more visually oriented interface: large gallery icons show what a command does and hovering over the icon gives you a preview of the result, e.g. if you hover over a font, your select is shown with that font. The UI is also much more contextualized. What you think of being on your right-click menu is now the focus of your toolbar menu. One of the most important design constraints introduced is that the UI is confined to a fix region of the screen and doesn't do any of the silly auto-hiding or auto-rearranging of Office past.

If you're really curious about the Office 12 UI I recommend visiting Harris' blog. You will find out that yes, they fixed the stupid start presentation button in Powerpoint. Also, new fonts!. Death to Times New Roman!

Summary tidbits: * "Is it worth taking this pixel away from the user?" * You must remove to simplify * Is there a classic mode? No. * They were trying to figure out what some of the commands in Excel did. Found out some options in Excel weren't hooked up into any code: "They didn't do anything!" * On Office 2000's 'auto' features: "The computer looks at the things you use the most and moves them around all the time." * On Office 2002 task panes: "New features aren't being invented, but I bet they will if we create a whole new rectangle"

Results-Oriented UI

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I didn't realize that the style of interaction in the upcoming Office 12 had a name: "results-oriented user interface." I learned it's name and more from Jakob Nielsen's alertbox column on What You Get is What You See (WYGIWYS). According to Nielsen, Word 2003 has over 1,500 commands. A results-oriented interface says screw these basic commands that you can't locate anyway -- you tell me what you want and I'll put together the variety of commands necessary to do that. The Office 12 screenshots are my first exposure to this approach and I've liked what I've seen so far, but full judgement comes when I can actually play with it.

Quick thoughts

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No time, no time, some rapid fire rants and praise:

The good

Zimbra: I just check out their demo of their Web-based e-mail/calendar suite and it has some great stuff that makes me think, "why haven't more companies done that?" If there's an address in an e-mail you can mouse over and it pulls up a Google Map and if you mouse over a date reference ('tomorrow', 'Aug 20') it shows your schedule for that day. It's all about saving that extra step. The rest of the UI is pretty fancy and desktop-like, but I'm no longer sure why desktop-like is a plus.

Microsoft Max: A Microsoft product that I actually had fun with, though I have no idea why I would use it on a regular basis and the UI is confusing in all its modalities. I can't think of any other Microsoft product that I thought of as fun -- most just cause me to break DVDs (others agree). The feature I most enjoyed was the mantle, which arranges your photos in 3D space. (Examples: my nephew, Pinnacles, Red Bull). It looks great and it also lets you view more photos in less space. You can rearrange the clusters that it creates, but the ones it chose seemed intereresting. Side note: are the clusters in the mantle view randomly assigned? Some of their clusters are great, some make little sense, but overall it's a nice new spin on things.

iPod nano: strap one of those to the back of my cellphone and another to the back of my PSP. Slide another into my Elph case and ... oh, now I'm getting greedy.

Lost: is there anyone in the 18-35 demographic not watching this show? Everyone at the wedding was either watching the new episodes or catching up with the DVDs.

The maybe good

PSP + TV: The head of Sony says that soon you'll be able to watch video using the wireless capabilities of the PSP and sync with your DVR. Sounds pretty cool but I won't jump for joy unless I hear "TiVo."

The almost good

Google Desktop ate my CPU: I had to uninstall because the new Google Desktop decided that 99% of my CPU was quite nice to utilize, even when instructed to pause indexing. Rather unfortunate as there were some aspects of the sidebar I liked, even if it was ugly. You can tell that it's paying attention to what you're doing and trying to help and with a couple iterations I could imagine it becoming a great product, but not quite yet.

The probably ugly

Google Reader: davextreme pulled me aside during the wedding reception to let me know that Google had released a feed reader, news that I have been waiting to hear for a long time. Less than 24 hours is not enough to evaluate a feed reader properly -- for now I'll say that it's slick, but who wants to read through your feeds one entry at a time. BoingBoing alone has 20-40 entries a day -- even with keyboard shortcuts that means I have to hit 'j' 20-40 times to read just one site, at which point I want to rent a helper monkey to break up the monotony.

The ugly

iTunes 5.0 (Windows): can't seem to play a song without skipping and the 'streamlined' UI makes me wish for ole' big and bulky.

Flickr + Yahoo: the extra year of service plus two free giveaway accounts were nice presents, but Flickr still goes out for massages all the time and I don't want my Flickr ID linked to my Yahoo! ID.

TiVo: what the hell are they up to? I love my three TiVos, but their current directions have been entirely pro-broadcasters and anti-consumer. It's a very capable platform that they try to do less and less with every day. Why can't I play shows on my PSP? Why can't I share episodes with friends? Why is TiVo Desktop so buggy? Why why why?

Breaking news on DVDs

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bp has sent me a bit of good news. One of our side projects while we both worked at PARC was researching stress deformations and fractures of DVD substrates. We demonstrated that DVDs with Microsoft logos had a higher incidence of fracturing than other DVDs, though we were unable to conclude a causal relationship. It appears that Gizmodo has used our initial findings to build towards this important announcement: Gizmodo Announces Support for Some Form of Higher Definition DVD. We wish them the best of luck in their research.

Stuff from Microsoft that actually seems cool

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I hadn't been the least bit interested in anything Microsoft was doing for quite some time. After seeing some of the laughably bad screenshots for the next version of Microsoft Window, which were mostly bad (and ugly) attempts to copy OS X, I was convinced that they had no clue what they were doing (especially the horribly bad transparencies).

I'm still not sold on the next Windows, but two applications they previewed today seem like they might be interesting. First, there's Microsoft Max, which is a photosharing tool notable for the fact that it has some rather nice looking 3D layouts. I haven't tried it out, though, so it's hard to say whether or not it will be an impressive offering.

What did sell me on some future Microsoft tech is the Office 12 revamp. Office 12 is a major, major overhaul. The focus of this release seems more on improving the usability of features, rather than bogging it down with more useless features. Instead of the cluttered menu bar of the past, they have reorganized everything in tabs that change a toolbar at the top. For example, there is an 'insert' tab that you can click on that fills you top toolbar with things like "table" and "header" and "chart." The coolest bit I think is that when you hover over an option, you get an instant preview of it in the page. If you hover over a font choice, for example, your entire page appears in that font. If you hover over a 3x3 table, you see a 3x3 table in your page. I can see this as being a big timesaver.

word-inserttab.png

The Office 12 UI redesign also demonstrates a better, though not perfect, understanding of Fitt's Law (basically, the smaller something is and the further away it is the harder it is to select with a mouse). The new toolbar has much larger selection buttons and there are new "floaty" menus that appear above selected text in Word. These floaty menus contain the most common commands like bold and underline. An interesting behavior they added is that the menu fades away if you move your mouse away from it.

Screenshots taken from here. Words and still photos don't really convey the differences though, so if you have the time you can check out the Office 12 video (skip past the first 10 minutes or so).

I Hate Microsoft IV

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Update: you may wish to go to this Microsoft support article (thanks Frances) if the comments below don't help you with this issue. Back when I wrote this post the support article did not exist and this post is mostly here to detail my frustrations with how poorly Microsoft dealt with this issue.

I just installed Service Pack 2. Impressively there is no smoke emanating from my laptop, but we shall see. It appears that they have upgraded some useful services, such as Bluetooth and 802.11 management, though I have no Bluetooth device to take advantage of the former, and for the latter I get this wonderful message:

Windows cannot configure this wireless connection. If you have enabled another program to manage this wireless connection, use that software. If you want Windows to configure this connection, start the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) service. For information about starting the WZC service, see article 871122 in the Microsoft Knowledge Base on the microsoft.com Web site. (emphasis mine)

Am I the only one that finds this message completely broken?

I felt like testing exactly how broken this message is, so here's my attempt to look this article up: * There's no link to article in the error message, so I open up a browser to microsoft.com * I try typing 871122 into the search box at the top of microsoft.com -- no results. Seeing as Google is smart enough to be able to detect FedEx tracking numbers, numerical equations, street addresses, and so on, you would think Microsoft would be able to tell that I was typing in one of their knowledge base article numbers on their own search page. * I click on the "Search the Knowledge Base" link on the microsoft.com front page * I type 871122 into the search box that's labeled "Search the Knowledge Base." I get back "We Currently Have No Documents That Match Your Search." Apparently not even the Knowledge Base search engine can recognize its own article numbers. * I notice a link further down the page that says "Knowledge Base Article ID Number Search" * Again, I typed in 871122. This time it tells me "The Knowledge Base (KB) Article You Requested Is Currently Not Available"

Oh Microsoft, how I hate thee.

I Hate Microsoft III

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I've really meant to post these more often after I posted kwc blog: I Hate Microsoft I and II, but it's hard to post something everytime I'm confronted with more material. I found this one so stupid it deserves a post:

This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.

Any of you with Windows will have probably already seen this, but I just wanted to highlight the relevant portion. Apparently, removing a swatiska from a font (the reason for the update), requires a reboot. I guess you need the cleansing reboot to remove all the remnants Nazi symbols from your system. Actually, the symbol exists in the font set because it represents "good luck" in Hinduism/Buddhism, so really the reboot must be because all the luck that's holding Windows from falling apart disappears.

Photo albums with GPS

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The World-Wide Media eXchange: WWMX group at Microsoft has released a demo application that lets you create a photo album that interweaves photos, GPS coordinates, and text so that you can view your photos geographically as well as chronologically. Not too useful of an app for today's cameras, but could be a portent of things to come when GPS becomes an inexpensive add-on. Something like this would have been really cool for my Europe backpacking trip.

Example travel log:
Melbourne xmas 2003 (only works on IE due to invalid Windows-only paths)
(via The Scobleizer -- Geek Aggregator)

Office 2003, now with e-mail notification

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The tech news is much abuzz with the release of Office 2003, and ArsTechnica pointed me to the new feature comparison chart between 2k3 and previous versions. According to this chart it would appear that previous versions of Office were an empty box, as they appear to have no features whatsoever. The part of the chart I found really amusing, though, are the features exclusive to 2k3:
- E-mail notification: Pop-up announcements inform you immediately of new e-mail messages -- no matter what program you are in
- Arrange by conversation: Arrange your Inbox by conversation (or thread) to see all messages on a particular topic
- Quick Flags: Flag messages by priority or time sensitivity, and then find them in whatever folder they reside
- PowerPoint enhanced multimedia support: PowerPoint 2003 supports additional video formats and full-screen video playback.
- Outlook 2003 local caching: Local caching downloads all necessary information to your computer as it comes in

There were more that were amusing, but they weren't exclusive to Office 2003, including file password locking that now actually encrypts the file, and being able to stay connected to the Exchange server when you roam.
Office 2003 Editions: Compare Them to Previous Versions

One down, one to go

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RIP: WindowsUpdate.com. How much longer until someone makes a worm variant that attacks windowsupdate.microsoft.com?

This CD DVD is broken

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ms.cd-1.jpg

...just like the Microsoft software that's stamped on it

Update: Bryan points out that this is a DVD, not a CD.

I Hate Microsoft I and II

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I: This bug cost me half an entire afternoon: 318003 - BUG: Visual Studio .NET Setup Fails on AddShareAndPermissions Custom Action. Apparently, you have to setup a fake wwwroot in order to install Visual Studio, a programming environment. Whaaa? I'm sure in 2004 it will complain that my Windows Media Player isn't up-to-date when I try to install C#.

II: The other half of my afternoon was wasted by bad dependency verification in the Visual Studio .NET installer. After I did a Windows Update on the .NET framework (which came with the installer), it finally started working (5 reboots and 2 hours later). I'm not even sure the two were related.

(I) update: My problems with (I) are not over. Among the suggestions I now have to try: (i) copy the entire DVD to my hard drive and try the installation, (ii) create yet another folder on my computer with appropriate permissions and (iii) update my DVD-ROM firmware and disable DMA.

(I) update 2: Finally, I have it installed. Apparently you need to copy all of the files off the DVD into a directory named "mssucks."