Posts tagged ‘MS’

I love Windows 7 and am Exhausted with Microsoft's Efforts to Make Me Switch

We all have learned to live with the constant Windows 10 upgrade boxes, but the Microsoft upgrade campaign is becoming more insidious.  Last week I got a message on my home (windows 7) computer that I as going to be upgraded in 3-4 days.  For a while, I thought I had accidentally given them permission, but it turns out that MS is now upgrading computers to Windows 10 without permission.   Only if you note the text of this email and explicitly stop it can you prevent the "upgrade" from occurring.   From PC World:

Reports of unwanted Windows 10 upgrades have been circulating for the past few days on Reddit and Twitter, after the last Patch Tuesday. These users say they never approved or initiated the upgrade, and were dragged away from their Windows 7 (or perhaps Windows 8) installs anyway.

This is all part of Microsoft’s plan, of course. Last October, the company announced that it would reclassify Windows 10 as a “Recommended” update from older versions starting in early 2016, at which point many more users would get the upgrade without explicit permission. That reclassification began on February 1, and auto-upgrades have been rolling out ever since. If complaints are reaching a higher volume now, perhaps it’s because the rollout is getting more aggressive.

Here’s what the Recommended update looks like, according to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley: First, users will receive a notification saying their PCs are scheduled to receive Windows 10 in the next three or four days. Users can click a small link to cancel or postpone the update, but simply closing the window will cause the notification to appear again one hour before the scheduled update time. If users don’t cancel or postpone within that timeframe, the update will begin automatically.

New Open Office Release

I have for quite a while been a big supporter of OpenOffice 2.0 as an alternative to MS Office.  It is free, and it tends to be quite compatible with MS Office file formats.  In fact, I use the Open Office spreadsheet to open and fix Excel spreadsheets that Excel corrupts and cannot open.

I have not yet read the release notes, so I don't know what has been updated, but version 3.0 was released the other day.

Some Thoughts on Peer Review

Some thoughts on the obsession with peer review as the gold standard guarantee of climate science goodness, from Climate Skeptic:

One of the weird aspects of climate science is the over-emphasis on peer
review as the ne plus ultra guarantor of believable results.  This is absurd. 
At best, peer review is a screen for whether a study is worthy of occupying
limited publication space, not for whether it is correct.  Peer review, again at
best, focuses on whether a study has some minimum level of rigor and coherence
and whether it offers up findings that are new or somehow advance the ball on an
important topic. 

In "big
boy sciences
" like physics, study findings are not considered vetted simply
because they are peer-reviewed.  They are vetted only after numerous other
scientists have been able to replicate the results, or have at least failed to
tear the original results down.  Often, this vetting process is undertaken by
people who may even be openly hostile to the original study group.  For some
reason, climate scientists cry foul when this occurs in their profession, but
mathematicians and physicists accept it, because they know that findings need to
be able to survive the scrutiny of enemies, not just of friends.  To this end,
an important part of peer review is to make sure the publication of the study
includes all the detail on methodology and data that others might need to
replicate the results  (which is something climate reviewers are particularly bad at).

In fact, there are good arguments to be made that strong peer review may even
be counter-productive to scientific advancement.  The reason is that peer
review, by the nature of human beings and the incentives they tend to have, is
often inherently conservative.  Studies that produce results the community
expects often receive only cursory scrutiny doled out by insiders chummy with
the authors.  Studies that show wildly unexpected results sometimes have trouble
getting published at all.

 As I read this, it strikes me that one way to describe
climate is that it acts like a social science, like sociology or gender studies,
rather than like a physical science.  I will ahve to think about this -- it
would be an interesting hypothesis to expand on in more depth.  Some quick
parallels of why I think it is more like a social science:

  • Bad statistical methodology  (a hallmark, unfortunately, of much of social
    science)
  • Emphasis on peer review over replication
  • Reliance on computer models rather than observation
  • Belief there is a "right" answer for society with subsequent bias to study
    results towards that answer  (example,
    and another
    example
    )

You're in the desert, you see a tortoise lying on its back, struggling, and you're not helping -- why is that?

We have all filled out online forms where one has to copy sometimes (purposely) hard to read letters from an image to confirm that one is not a robot (CAPTCHA).  Microsoft offers an alternative called Asirra, which stands for "Animal Species Image Recognition for Restricting Access."  I thought this might be a joke at first, but apparently it is real and MS provides access to it and sample code to use it for free.  You can get it here, and, perhaps more importantly, you can test to see if you are human.

Post title from here.

Save XP!

InfoWorld is hosting a petition to Microsoft to save XP and continue to sell it past the middle of this year.  You can sign their petition .  I signed the petition, but the real petition for MS may be the numbers coming in for XP sales, which are still strong.  On this Amazon bestsellers page, as of 2/1/08, places #1,2,3,5 where XP and only #4 was Vista. IT News builds on my Amazon analysis:

Gates, in
Las Vegas Sunday, boasted that Microsoft has sold more than 100 million
copies of Windows Vista since the OS launched last January.

While
the number at first sounds impressive, it in fact indicates that the
company's once dominant grip on the OS market is loosening. Based on
Gates' statement, Windows Vista was aboard just 39% of the PC's that
shipped in 2007.

And Vista, in terms of units shipped, only
marginally outperformed first year sales of Windows XP according to
Gates' numbers -- despite the fact that the PC market has almost
doubled in size since XP launched in the post 9-11 gloom of late 2001.

Speaking
five years ago at CES 2003, Gates said that Windows XP in its first
full year on the market sold more than 89 million copies, according to a Microsoft record of the event....

A survey published by InformationWeek last year revealed that 30% of corporate desktop managers have no plans to upgrade their company's PC's to Vista -- ever.

As de facto IT manager for my company, you can include me in that 30%.  My other posts on Vista here.

Update:  Face-saving suggestion for Microsoft:  Rename XP as Vista Lite or some such.  Then they can keep it and claim 100% acceptance of Vista.

Vista Update: Still Floundering

Frequent readers will know that I have reversed all the new Vista machines in our household back to XP and I have banned Vista from any computers purchased in the company (Dell is quite happy to sell XP rather than Vista).  Here is a how-to on how to downgrade to XP.

Now, PC World has voted Vista as the technology failure of the year  (I would also vote the box as the packaging failure of the decade, and the new user interface in MS Office as the hose-your-installed-base gaffe of the year).

I thought this was an interesting fact, from PC World several months ago:

Certainly sales of Vista aren't blowing away XP in stores. Chris
Swenson, director of software industry analysis for the NPD Group, says
that, from January through July of this year, XP sales accounted for a
healthy 42.3 percent of online and brick-and-mortar retail OS sales. By
contrast, from January through July of 2002, after XP's launch in
October the year prior, Windows 98 accounted for just 23.1 percent of
retail sales.

I made a similar observation using Amazon sales rankings of XP vs. Vista here. Finally, just for the heck of it, I checked the OS's of users coming to Coyote Blog.  In the past, our users have demonstrated themselves to be ahead of the technology curve (Firefox eclipsed Explorer as the #1 Coyote Blog brower long ago).  As you can see, Vista barely has 4% share, in a near tie with Windows 2000 and Windows NT and barely edging Linux:
Servers2

HT:  What's Up With That

There Goes the Killer App. for Vista

We are rapidly coming up on the first anniversary of Vista, and it has been a very rocky year for Microsoft.  New releases of an OS are always difficult, but many users have really turned up their nose on Vista.  My experience has been much the same as everyone else's:  Applications run slower in Vista (I know because I had a system set up to dual boot and A/B tested a number of applications).  Networking, particularly wireless networking, is much less stable than in XP.  Good drivers STILL don't exist for many legacy hardware devices, including may graphics cards.  I ran into any number of quirks.  The most irritating for me was that a laptop communicating with a printer via wireless network would lose connection with the printer every time the laptop was shut down in a way that could only be rectified (as confirmed by MS customer support) by reinstalling the print driver every time I wanted to use it.

Most computer NOOBs probably never noticed, not having anything to compare Vista with and only using their computers for a narrow range of functionality (ie email and internet browsing).  However, many of us who are more comfortable with computers and who rely on our computers as an important tool have either avoided buying Vista computers (Dell, for example, still sells a lot of XP computers) and/or have taken the time to roll back their Vista to a dual boot system or even XP only  (which I explain here).  Which may explain why standalone XP packages are better sellers on Amazon than Vista.

For gamers, most of whom tend to be power users, Vista has been nothing but a negative, slowing games down and requiring use of buggy graphics card drivers (Microsoft crows that they get fewer customer service calls on Vista than XP, which may be, but I can gaurantee, from browsing gaming boards, that gaming companies get swamped with Vista calls from gamers who can't get the game to run on Vista). 

Looming over all of this, though, has been one word:  Crysis.  Gamers have been lusting after this game for over a year, with its promise of knock-out graphics and game-play.  To this end, Microsoft did something clever.  It updated its DirectX graphics engine in Vista to revision 10, and included in it all kinds of new capabilities that would really make a game look fantastic.  MS decided, either for technical or marketing issues, not to ever release these features on XP.  If you wanted DirectX 10 games, you had to upgrade to Vista.  Over the last year, graphics card makers have been releasing hardware to support DirectX 10.  Crysis was set to be the first game that would really take advantage of DirectX 10, and many hardcore gamers upraded to Vista solely on the promise of running Crysis maxed out with the new DirectX 10 features.

Well, Crysis was released a few weeks ago.  You may think I am building up to say it sucked, but just the opposite is true.  It is absolutely fantastic.  Easily the most visually stunning thing I have ever seen running on my PC.  First-person shooter games are not really my favorite, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the game.  (here is a trailer, but unlike most trailers, the game really looks like this in gameplay, maybe better due to limited resolution on YouTube.)  Click below for larger screenshots:
264396_full_2

266410_full_3

But here is the interesting part.  I keep my system state of the art.  I have close to the fastest Intel multi-core processor currently made running with two of the newest Nvidia graphics cards (8800GT's) running ganged together in SLI mode (don't worry if you don't know what all that means, just take my word for it that it is about as fast as you can get with stock components and air cooling). Crysis, like most graphics games, can have its settings changed from "low", meaning there is less graphics detail but the game runs faster, through "med" to "high" and "very high".   Only in the latter modes do the new features of DirectX10 really come into play.  So I ran the calibration procedure the game provides and it told me that I needed to set the game to "medium!"  That's not an error - apparently everyone else in my position who have a large monitor with high resolutions had about this experience.  I can set the game to higher modes, but things really slow down.  By the way, it still looks unbelievably awesome on Medium.

The designers of Crysis actually did something kind of cool.   They designed with Moore's law in mind, and designed the highest game modes for computers that don't exist today, but likely will in a few years.  So the game (and more importantly the engine, since they will likely sell the engine as a platform for other game makers to build their games atop) has some built-in obsolescence-proofing.

But lets return to Vista and Crysis being billed as a killer app.  As it turns out, none of the directX10 features are really usable, because no one can turn the graphics engine up high enough with their current hardware.  Worse, in a game where users are trying to eek out any tweek they can to improve frame rates and graphics speed, Crysis runs demonstrably slower on Vista than XP.  Finally, those who have run the game in its higher modes withe DirectX 10 features (presumably at the cost of low frame rates) have found the actual visual differences in the DirectX 10 graphics to be subtle.  The game boards are a total hoot, as folks who upgraded to Vista solely for Crysis are wailing that their experience on Vista is actually worse than on XP.

Maybe I R Not So Stoopid After All

A while back, I bought a copy of MS Office for my kid's computer.  The embarrassing part was, though, that I could not get the box open.  No how, no way.  I was just sure there was a simple obvious way to do so, but I never found it.  I finally got a hacksaw and cut open the hard plastic case. 

Now it seems I may not be the only one.  (via TJIC)

It's a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic
stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an
utter F in the school of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things.
To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has
some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out
to be wrong.

This is the same box that Vista comes in. Nick White over at Microsoft seems proud
of the novel design, but from the comments on the web it seems I'm not
the only one who couldn't figure out how to open it. It seems like even
rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box
that many people can't figure out how to open without a Google search
is an unusually pathetic failure of design. As the line goes from Billy Madison: "I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

And while we are banging on the box, I am reminded how my daughter called me over last night to help her print out of Word on her Vista computer running the new Office (My many problems with Vista here).  I yelled at her first across the room just to go to File-Print.  I mean, Microsoft has worked hard to make sure that in every program known to man that runs under Windows, you print by mousing to file-print or else type alt-f-p. 

"Where is 'file' dad?" 

"In the upper left corner"

"No it's not"

"yes it is"

"No it's not"

And sure enough, upon inspection, after years of developing a standard and training users, MS has abandoned the standard.  There is indeed no file menu drop down.  Only, it turns out, a circle in the upper left with the Windows logo that has the old file commands.  ERRRRRR.   Only from installing my wife's Mac this last weekend do I realize that for some reason MS is emulating the little Apple-shaped logo in the Mac OS where they put file commands.   

What a total slap in the face to your user base  (and don't even get me started on rearranging the control panel and start menus with every succeeding OS).  It's like MacDonald's randomly switching around the numbers for their value meals every few weeks. 

Vista Still Sucks, But I Actually Found A Mac I Kindof Liked

Now, I won't argue that Vista will someday not suck - after all, give an infinite number of monkeys $30 billion a year in cash flow and they'll code Shakespeare.  Or whatever.  But I have to agree with this post by Glenn Reynolds that Vista is still not ready for prime time.  Now, I wrote this same conclusion over a half year ago, but incredibly, no updates of any seriousness have been issued.  It is still the mess it was then, and Moore's Law has yet to catch up to make the average machine run it acceptably  (particularly with laptops).   When I set up the dual boot back to XP on my kid's laptop, I did not make the XP partition large enough because my kids absolutely refuse to install anything on the Vista partition, which they use only because that is where MS Office is installed. 

Am I a lone wolf on this issue?  Oh my God, am I a Vista denier! Well, check out this announcement from Microsoft reported by ZDNet on June 28:

Microsoft is simplifying the processes via which its PC-maker
partners will be able to provide "downgrade" rights from Windows Vista
to Windows XP for their customers.

Microsoft will implement the first of the policy changes for its
Gold Certified (top-tier) OEM partners within the next couple of weeks.
The company will streamline downgrade-rights policies and procedures
for the broader channel somewhat later, said John Ball, general manager
of Microsoft's U.S. Systems Group....

Microsoft is working on ways to allow the rest of the channel to
take advantage of these simplified downgrade procedures, but is still
in the midst of hashing out the details, Ball said. He didn't have a
timetable for when Microsoft will make its more liberal
downgrade-rights policies available to the rest of its PC partners.

I am not sure this is the sign of a healthy product line when your top customers are demanding easier ability to go back to the old version.

As a side note, I have never, ever liked Macs.  First, I never wanted to be one of "the rest of us" and I enjoy tweaking and upgrading too much to be a fan of Macs.  Also, I thought their historic resistance to some obvious improvements, like the two-button mouse, was just stupid.  All that being said, I will admit that I really like the new iMac I bought my wife.  It is perfect for her, and it is gorgeous.  The keyboard is not great for speed-typing but it looks really cool and my wife is fine with that.  The iMac did a great job with the tough stuff - it immediately recognized the PC's on my network and was able to trade files with them (something our Vista laptop still balks at from time to time) and it set up a network printer on the first try.  And, for perhaps the first time ever on a Mac, I didn't feel like the things was wallowing in first gear when compared to my desktop PC.

Kudos to Open Office

My company is a big supporter of Open Office, the free MS Office clone that works great (and was developed by Sun as a jab at their least favorite competitor).  Generally I promote it because it works fine and costs $0.  We are putting it on all our new computers instead of Microsoft.

Today I have a new reason to promote it.  I had a very large and complex .xlw file that Excel refused to open - it gave me messages that it was locked and read only and eventually opened it as a total mess, giving me a message that the file was impossible to repair.  Obviously, the last time Excel had worked on and saved the file, it had corrupted it somehow.  All the formatting was gone, data was missing, etc.  So, on a whim, I dug up a copy of the Open Office spreadsheet (which can open and write MS formats), and what do you know, it opened the file right up.  Everything in its place.  I save-as'd to an Excel file, and now Microsoft can open its own file again, but only after Open Office fixed it.  LOL.

New Google Products

Apparently Google is about to announce a new online spreadsheet product.  My first reaction was - that's stupid, who would want to have their spreadsheet app. online -- its slower and probably less secure.  Online applications strike me as a step back to the bad old days of mainframe-terminal applications.

But then I thought about my 30 managers who send me excel spreadsheets each week with their revenue data, and it occurred to me that this might be exactly what we need.  Its a constant headache keeping everyone on the right version and managing all these submissions.  Also, it would be nice if we can eliminate buying 40 copies of MS Office.  Currently we are implementing OpenOffice 2.0 to eliminate the MS Office expense, but a real online collaborative spreadsheet solution at Google type pricing (e.g. zero) might be cool.

I don't see it up on their site yet, but they have a lot of cool stuff in Beta I had never played with before.  Check out Google Labs here.

MS Office in some Trouble

Apparently, this is one of the top new features MS is touting to get people to pay hundreds of dollars a screen for MS Office upgrades:

The new version of Microsoft Corp.'s Office
software will let users save documents in the popular PDF format, as
part of efforts to broaden the appeal of the new Office product and get
people to upgrade.

 Office 12, which is due out by the end of
2006, faces some of its stiffest competition from existing users who do
not see the need to upgrade from previous versions. Microsoft is
aggressively touting new functions, such as the PDF support, to try to
spur upgrades and appeal to people who might otherwise not buy Office
at all. The Office suite retails for between $149 and $499, depending
on which edition a user chooses.

Oooo, that's really going to do the trick.  Kind of like urging you to trade-in your car because the new one has more cupholders.  Of course, Open Office is free, is working great for us, and already has a built-in export to pdf.

Trying to Leave MS Office

I mentioned in a post previously that I didn't like what Powerpoint was doing to presentations.  In fact, I have actually abandoned Powerpoint entirely even
for the few slides I do use in favor of the presentation package from the
free Open Office applications suite.
This package, which has really come into its own with the version 2
beta, opens and writes MS Office applications and is a pretty good
substitute, sometimes better, occasionally worse, for MS Office. 

I am
stress testing the whole package this winter, plus Thunderbird for email and of course Firefox
on which I am already sold for browsing, as a way to begin migrating
our company to having no MS Office at all.  I am tired of paying
hundreds of dollars per seat for applications that overwhelm and
confuse my employees.  Because of our need to interchange files with a
number of other entities, we need to be able to work with .xlw and .doc
files, so this makes for a nice solution for us.  My experience has
been very very good so far - let me know in the comments if you have
experience with these products.

Update: Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.  I continue to have very good luck in my stress testing.  Thuderbird is great, except that the spam filter sends to many good mails to spam - I would like the control to dial it back a notch.  OO Writer is good, with only some small formatting changes on tables from MS word.  I actually find its formatting and outlining tools better than MS word, and like the built in export to pdf.  The excel clone is working fine, and I can hardly tell the difference between the presentation package and powerpoint.  I have not played with the equation editor yet, but my daughter likes the draw package.  I had trouble with the database, but I find it is always hard to migrate to a new DB.  I never was able to switch from access to filemaker, and everyone tells me that filemaker is easier but I just got used to doing things in access.

One of my worries about migrating this to my employees is that many of my managers are computer noobs, and tend to go out and buy excel and word books from Barnes and Noble when they get the computer on the first day.  There are no such reasources for Open Office, and it is different enough from MS Office that the books don't really apply well.