Posts tagged ‘OS’

Things They Don't Tell iPhone Owners

Well, I just switched from my old iPhone 4 to a Droid Turbo**, a Motorola phone that runs Android rather than iOS.

Here is what they never tell you -- Apple has devised a very clever way to make leaving the iOS world really, really painful.  Specifically, when you send a text message on an iPhone, unless you fiddled with the default settings, it gets sent through iMessage and the Apple servers.  If it is going to another iPhone, it can actually bypass the carrier text messaging system altogether, a nice perk back when texts were not unlimited but useful today mainly for international travel.

But here is the rub -- when you switch you phone line away from an iPhone to an Android device, the Apple servers refuse to recognize this.  They will think you still have an iPhone and will still try to send you messages via the iMessage servers.  What this means in practice is that you can send messages from the new phone to other iPhones, but their texts back to you will not reach you.  They just sort of disappear into the ether, and will try forever to be delivered to your now non-existent iPhone.

This is as good a guide as I can find for the problem, and better than what any Apple employee will tell you.  There are two solutions for this.  Apparently, you can go to every one of your friends and tell them to delete every text they ever sent you and delete you from their phone books and apparently new texts they send you will then skip the iMessage system and get to your phone.  The only problem is that I can't replicate this.  I spent hours with my family's iPhones today removing every text message from my number and every reference to me in their phone books.  But no dice.  Their texts still do not reach me.  Sigh.

The second solution is to call Apple and ask to have your number removed from the iMessage servers.  This was not possible even a few months ago, but there is a large class action lawsuit against Apple on this topic so they seem to at least have trained their customer service staff on this issue, finally.  I called and they readily removed me from the server, but with this caveat -- it wouldn't take effect for 30 days.  I told the rep that this was patently absurd, and she agreed.  But 30 days it will be.  So no matter what I do, every single person in my contact list who has ever texted me from an iPhone is going to think they are texting me but in fact have their texts fly off into the ether.  For 30 days.

This is clearly absurd, and folks thinking of switching to Apple should understand just how hard it is to reverse that decision.

PS-  I have always been amazed at all the goodwill Apple gets for being somehow friendlier and more open to creative individuals than Microsoft.  To me, Apple's philosophy is to host a closed totalitarian world, while Microsoft and Google (admittedly full of foibles and their own issues) have far more open platforms.  Linux guys will laugh at that, but compared to Apple, Microsoft is free love in the park.

 

** reasons why:  I live in the Google world of Google Drive and Apps, so the OS choice is a natural.  I have never figured out iCloud.  I don't care about design elegance, which is good because this phone is as elegant as a brick.  It has a stupid large battery (it may be a tad heavy but it is way lighter than with all you guys that have mophie battery cases on your iphones).  It has fast-charging as well as wireless charging, a good screen, a decent camera, and a fast processor.  It also has a light touch on OS add-ons so it is close to stock android without all the overhead of custom skins and it will be among the first phones to get Android updates (solving the #1 problem of Android over iOS, which is the proliferation of versions across handsets and carriers that slows upgrades).  The only thing it is missing is a memory expansion card port, though you can get it in 64GB which always has been plenty for me.  The only question left is why carriers have to design their phones, these $600 devices that can't be dropped, with super-slick back covers.  The new HTC One M8 is like holding a bar of wet soap.  They all do this, except the Moto X which has a bamboo back that is awesome to hold.

My Oft-Repeated Advice -- Hold off on iOS8

There is nothing in the new Apple OS update that is particularly pressing, and even if there were, don't update on the first day.  Wait.  I gave this advice to my family for iOS7 and saved everyone a world of grief.  One would think that Apple would have a way easier time with releases than, say, Android or Windows.  Apple OS runs only on Apple devices, whereas Google and Microsoft have to deal with all sorts of hardware compatibility issues.  Nevertheless, Apple has had many issues with its round-number OS releases such that there is no reason to rush.  I suggest you wait 2 weeks, then Google "iOS8 issues" and "iOS problems" and see what you find.  If nothing scares you, then update.

Here is the problem with Apple - whether it be OSX or iOS or even iTunes - it is almost impossible to roll back.  I hated Windows Vista and Windows 8 (Windows is sort of like original-series Star Trek movies where every other release sucks more than average) but I was able to roll back in both cases.  Short of rooting your iPhone, I am not sure iOS rollbacks are even possible.

Windows 8 Even Worse Than I Thought

Up to this point, after some initial bad impressions trying Windows 8 briefly, I have avoided it like the plague.  However, my son needed a new laptop and the only ones that really met our requirements only came in Windows 8 flavors, so we bought one.

What an awful mess.  The system boots up into a tiled mess that looks like some cheesy website covered in moving gifs and viagra ads.  To make matters worse, nothing on this tablet-based interface is organized at all logically.  The interface is like the room of an ADD child that dropped all of his toys and books in random spots.  I am sure these tiles have some sort of navigation paradigm, but it is completely different from any used in past windows versions.  I could not, for example, figure out how to easily exit the store except to alt-tab out (there is no exit or quit option and right-click context menus which are one of the great advantages of windows over mac don't seem to work a lot of the time).  Again, I am sure there is some way to do it, but I have no idea what it is and no desire to learn new navigation commands.  Perhaps Microsoft intends that one use a gamepad instead of a mouse -- I would not be surprised at this point.

Unlike older versions of windows, windows update did not run automatically at first bootup.  I knew from past experience there were likely dozens of security patches I needed to install right away.  I hunted for quite a while just to find the windows control panel (so I could run windows update).  It was buried in a sub-menu of a toolbar on the right side of the screen that only pops up if you find a tiny (unmarked) spot in the corner of the screen with your mouse.   It amazes me that anyone thought replacing the start button with an unmarked spot on the screen was a good idea.

Of course, the control panel is called something entirely different now, but I did eventually find windows update and there were, as expected, over 70 security patches that needed to be installed.  But for some reason they would not download immediately, but kept giving me a message that they would be downloaded at some future indeterminate date.  I finally found a way to force them to download.

My next step was to get rid of the stupid application tile interface and get the computer to boot directly to desktop and get the old start button back.  This requires a free upgrade to windows 8.1, but there is no obvious way to do this, even through windows update.  I finally had to search the internet to find the link.  This sent me into the windows 8 app store.  What a total mess that is!  If anything, it is more poorly organized than the Apple app store.  Like the Apple store, it seems aimed at people who want to browse applications virtually at random rather than find something specific.  Incredibly, there is no search function.  Yes, I know, I have to be wrong about that, but I scrolled all over that damn storefront and cannot find a search box.

So I cannot actually find the Windows 8.1 upgrade.  The web site tells me that I should be presented with a prominent option to download it in the store, but I am not.  It is nowhere to be found.  I found an FAQ somewhere that suggested that I would not be offered the 8.1 upgrade if my 8.0 installation is missing certain patches, so I am going back to windows update to see if there is something I am still missing.

I was wrong about windows 8 -- I once wrote it was bad but perhaps not as bad as Vista or ME.  But it is.  This is the worst thing I have ever seen come out of Microsoft.  It is inexplicable that this company with such a strong market share in the business world could saddle its flagship OS with an interface more appropriate to an XBOX.

In the past, I have said that I would not want a desktop with a tablet interface.  But at the end of the day, I would not want a tablet with this interface.  Perhaps with hours of work, I will make this computer usable.  Who would have ever thought I would have longed for the day when I had to spend an hour with a new computer removing bloatware.  Now I have to spend a day trying to emulate the windows 7 experience on windows 8.

People have developed many hypotheses for the lingering recession.  Some say it was too small a stimulus.  Some blame the sequester.  I blame the Windows 8 launch, which I think has a lot to do with suppressing PC sales and thus much of the electronics and retailing sector.

iOS7 Problems

The day of the launch of iOS7, I warned my whole family in an email not to upgrade until it had some time to prove itself.  This is why.  Apparently it is a mess, at least for some users. 

The sort of funny part is that they defend themselves by saying "at least it is not as bad as Microsoft OS launch."  We certainly have latched onto a new form of accountability in the Obama age:  "Don't criticize me because I am not as bad as the other guy."

By the way, as someone who is had been royally pissed off at Microsoft many times in the past, Microsoft has to accommodate thousands of hardware configurations and a much more loosely controlled development community.  There are fewer excuses for Apple, which develops for a single hardware platform that it totally controls.

Also, there is one other difference -- when I am unhappy with a Microsoft OS, as I was with Vista, I can simply roll back to the previous version (in that case XP).   Apple does not give users any way to roll back their iPhone OS.

Still Holding Off on iOS7

There was some back and forth at Glenn Reynolds site about delaying iOS 7 upgrades.  The day before the iOS 7 rollout I emailed all my family and told them not to install it until some time had passed and Apple had a chance to do revisions.  This is my general policy with all major OS upgrades (and many program upgrades) but all the more so with Apple software because they never allow download of older versions of things like iOS or iTunes and thus make it impossible to roll back problematic releases.    Now that we see issues about battery life and slow performance with iOS 7 on certain iPhone versions, I am glad we are waiting.  Feature-wise this is a very incremental release (masked to some extent by a totally new visual look) so I can certainly wait.

(The other software that is very much in this category is Quickbooks.  Their history of buggy software is terrible, and because upgrades tend to modify the database in ways that cannot be rolled back, it is another example of software where one needs to be very, very careful before upgrading.  Let others be the bleeding edge).

What Microsoft Windows Has in Common with [Original Cast] Star Trek Movies

Skip every other release.

Here are the original cast Star Trek Movies:

VI:  OK, kind of

V: Bad

IV:  Goofy but enjoyable

III:  Truly terrible

II:  Awesome, to the point that the two Chris Pine et al reboot movies have drawn more heavily on the Wrath of Khan than the original show

I:  Flat, boring

 

Here are the recent Windows releases:

Windows 8:  Sucks

Windows 7:  Excellent

Windows Vista (6?):  God awful

Windows XP :  Very Good

Windows ME:  God awful

Windows 98/2000:  OK

Do you see the pattern?  Windows 7 redeemed the awful Vista in the same way XP redeemed the awful ME.  I can only hope the to-be-released-in-October Windows 8.1 fixes some of the awful mistakes in Windows 8, not the least was the grafting of a butt-ugly touchscreen tablet interface to a PC OS most of us use with mouse and keyboard.  Until then our company is still only buying Windows 7  computers.  Some of my employees buy their own computers -- I provide all the company's tech support and have told them they are on their own if they buy Windows 8 and then can't find the control panel.

Duh: By Abandoning the PC, Microsoft Windows 8 Fails to Save the PC

From today's WSJ

The personal computer is in crisis, and getting little help from Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 software once seen as a possible savior.

Research firm IDC issued an alarming report Wednesday for PC makers such as Dell Inc.  and Hewlett-Packard Co.,  saying world-wide shipments of laptops and desktops fell 14% in the first quarter from a year earlier. That is the sharpest drop since IDC began tracking this data in 1994 and marks the fourth straight quarter of declines.

Gartner Inc., a rival research firm, estimated global shipments sank 11.2%, which it called the worst drop since the first quarter of 2001. Gartner blamed the rise of tablets and smartphones, which are sapping demand for personal computers.

Windows 8 was never, ever going to save the PC, because Windows 8 represents an abandonment of the traditional PC.  It is essentially a touchscreen tablet OS forced onto the desktop.  Like Windows Vista, it is an absolutely awful OS that our company has banned any employee from using on a company machine.  Fortunately, we can still buy a few Dell computers with Windows 7, and when that is no longer possible, I will go back to building our company machines and putting Windows 7 on myself, the same thing I did to survive the Vista nightmare  (hanging on to XP until Windows 7 came out).

Later in the article, the author recognizes that Windows 8 is killing the PC rather than saving it

But there is little sign that buyers are responding. In a surprisingly harsh assessment, IDC said Windows 8 hasn't only failed to spur more PC demand but has actually exacerbated the slowdown—confusing consumers with features that don't excel in a tablet mode and compromise the traditional PC experience.

Mr. Chou said not only has Windows 8 failed to attract consumers, but businesses are keeping their distance as well. Chief information officers at several companies echoed his opinion Wednesday.

Ricoh Americas Corp., which replaces about a third of its 17,000 PCs every three years and upgrades to the most current operating system available, said this year it is sticking with Windows 7, released in 2009. Tracey Rothenberger, the company's chief operating officer, said the benefits of switching to the new software aren't worth the effort of training employees to use it.

I am sympathetic to Microsoft's goals, if not their tactics.  Certainly market share in OS is shifting to handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and Microsoft has largely missed this market.  To stay relevant, they need to gain share in these markets -- and trying to gain a foothold by somehow leveraging their market share in desktops makes sense.  It would be great to have an OS for tablets that allowed more access to the file system and customization options, as a competitor to Apple's walled garden, though Google is way ahead in that particular niche.

But the imposition of tablet aesthetics, user interface, and apps framework on desktop PC's is just frustrating as hell for those of us who still like using a mouse and prefer our traditional desktop interface.  The training issue for employees is not a trivial one -- when Microsoft completely abandoned the menu structure and user interface of their Office products several years ago, we decided not to upgrade any of our PC's and, when necessary, to use the OpenOffice alternative, as much because it retains the old Office interface as for its being free.

I still use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint 2002 on this computer, because I have never really been happy with the new Office interface.  I use no other software even remotely that old.  I routinely upgrade everything I have.  I dutifully upgrade Quickbooks and Norton Security and a dozen other programs every year.  So to go a decade without upgrading shows how little I think of Microsoft's upgrade strategies.

Got My Raspberry Pi Up and Running

I say that as if it was hard.  Actually, it was pretty dang easy to get the OS (a Linux variant) loaded on the memory card.  Seems to work fine -- you can see I have Coyote Blog up in the browser.  I am playing with it because I am looking for something to control signaling and other systems on a model railroad.  I am more likely to use some kind of Arduino setup, but I wanted to play around with Python on Raspberry Pi as well.

Here is the card.  The top wire is a micro-USB 5v power connector.  Clockwise from that is a 32GB SD card (for memory), a bunch of empty programmable pins for I/O on the upper right of the board, the composite video connector and audio headphone out, two USB ports with my wireless keyboard connector, the network cable, and on the left the HDMI cable for video out  (don't know yet if it has audio out over HDMI).  As in the Arduino community, there are already daughter boards for the pin-outs with breadboards, motor controllers, and other gizmos.

I'm Not Dead Yet

This is an interesting perspective on why Blackberry / RIM may not be dead yet.  After a weekend trying to futz with iPhone access to Gmail and a failed iPhone OS upgrade, I am sympathetic to the enterprise argument that modern iOS and Android smart phones may be lacking in the security and stability that corporations want.  There is still an enterprise market out there -- after all, IBM completely left most of the sexy and high-profile consumer markets but still does about  hundred billion in sales each year at a respectable 15% profit margin.

Request

This is a crass request but could two of you hit the facebook like button on the right side of my home page so I can get a better URL (it takes 25). Thanks.

Blogging from the road with my ipad2, which is perhaps the greatest piece of gear ever, especially now with my portable Bluetooth keyboard. And I don't really even like apple OS that much, but this is one awesome device. As a better kindle replacement alone it Is worth the price.

I Hate to Enjoy This, But...

Apparently Google is under attack from many directions for anti-trust violations, the main complaint seeming to be that Google tilts its search results to favor its own divisions   (e.g. Google Places at the top of travel searches).    The Reason article as well as the Politico piece illustrate just how much competitors with political pull, rather than consumers, are the true beneficiaries of anti-trust policy.

I really have nothing but disdain for this use of government power, but I can't help but laugh at the plight of Google, whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.  In fact, ironically, the core of this suit was about Microsoft going too far in integrating the OS with browser.  In many ways, Microsoft was probably prescient (for once, they tend to be a follower) in looking towards an OS built around browser.  In fact, by preventing Microsoft from such integration, the suit cleared the way for an integrated browser based OS to be introduced by.... Google with Chrome OS.  And there sure is a lot of browser / OS integration in my Google android-based phone.  I also don't remember my Android phone offering me a range of browser and search choices, requirements their CEO had the government impose on Microsoft.

More recently, Google has led the charge in Washington to regulate broadband suppliers in the name of "net neutrality."  This classic bit of tilting the playing field in the name of creating a level playing field was theoretically aimed at stopping broadband companies from tilting their bandwidth for or against different web sites.  Thus critics of Google who are concerned with the tilting of their search results for or against companies are demanding "search neutrality."  This is a horrible bit of government interventionism, but the irony is delicious.

Google's efforts in net neutrality really are a head scratcher for me.  What did they really get from that, and was it really worth opening the Pandora's box of government Internet regulation?  And didn't anyone there not see the obvious application of the same logic to themselves?  If you establish the principle that Cox Cable has to be a common carrier, it seems like a small step to say that Google Search must be as well.  And maybe Amazon.com next must be a common carrier of retail goods.    This is bad, bad stuff and Google and its CEO has brought it all on themselves.

Yes, the Site is Slow

I have a horrible, awful, embarrassing confession.   All my sites, including this blog, are run off of super-cheap shared hosting accounts at Godaddy (yes, the guys with the juvenile commercials).  For years I think they did a decent job and my sites were not that busy, so it was no problem.  But as with most large, cheap hosting companies, they seem to be cramming more and more domains on each shared server.  Someone on this server is chewing up a lot of CPU cycles and it's time to move on.

I have switched to a virtual private server account at a new hosting company, as a sort of stepping stone potentially to a dedicated server  (my business and I have over 30 web sites so it probably can be justified).  The VPS account is cheaper and lets me start learning some new things about managing hosting (e.g. I have access to the root for the first time) but still shields me from some of the server management (e.g. OS updates).  And it's cheaper than a dedicated server, so we will see how it goes.

At some point, not quite yet, the site will have some down time when I do the migration.   Not sure yet when that will be -- the wordpress database for this site is over 50mb which exceeds the import file size allowed in my data base tools (phpmyadmin for mysql).  I have read there is another way to do it, I just have to do some research and tests first.  I probably will have to learn to work the data base from the command line.

Much Needed Competition for Windows

Just what Windows needs - a bit of competition.    I don't consider the Apple real competition, because it requires proprietary hardware to run.  And Linux is way too geeky and not packaged well for the average NOOB, though some netbooks have done surprisingly well with it.  Today, however, Google announced a browser-based OS built on top of Linux and entirely open source.  Might not be my cup of Darjeeling, as I am skeptical of a browser dominated OS for anything larger than a phone, but it sure may keep Windows honest.

Google had a low-key event today to preview Chrome OS, its new operating system based on Linux and the Chrome browser. Things are still pretty early -- it's not even in beta yet, let alone on shipping products -- but that's the first official screen shot right there, and the big features are all roughed out. The entire system is web-based and runs in the Chrome browser -- right down to USB drive contents, which show up in a browser tab, and the notepad, which actually creates a Google Docs document. Web apps are launched from a persistent apps panel, which includes Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu, among others, and background apps like Google Talk can be minimized to "panels" that dock to the bottom of the screen. Local storage is just used to speed up the system -- everything actually lives in the cloud, so all it takes to swap or borrow machines is a login, and you're good to go. Google also said it's "very committed" to Flash, and that it's looking to hardware accelerate whatever code it can -- although Google didn't have a solid answer to give when asked about Silverlight. Overall, Google was upfront in saying that Chrome OS is focused on very clear use cases for people who primarily use the web, and that it's not trying to do everything: "If you're a lawyer, editing contracts back and forth, this will not be the right machine for you."

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 here.  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.

Long Time in Coming

Just about everything in the PC architecture has been upgraded -- much better microprocessors, more elaborate OS's, more memory, a much higher bandwidth bus architecture, etc.  However, one bit of 1980's era design still sits at the heart of the computer - the BIOS.  Sure, manufacturers have agreed to some extensions (particularly plug and play) and motherboard makers add in extensions of their own (e.g. for overclocking) but the basic BIOS architecture and functionality, which sits underneath the OS and gets things started when you flip the "on" switch, is basically unchanged. 

A few years ago, Intel proposed a replacement, but ironically only Apple has picked up on the BIOS replacement called EFI.  Now, it appears, at least one leading motherboard manufacturer for PC's is putting a toe in the water:

The specification allows for a considerable change in what can be implemented
at this very low level.

EFI is a specification that defines a software interface between an operating
system and platform firmware. EFI is intended as a significantly improved
replacement of the old legacy BIOS firmware interface used by modern PCs....

Graphical menus, standard mouse point-and-click operations,
pre-operating-system application support such as web browsers, mail applications
and media players, will all feature heavily within EFI.

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.

More Anti-Consumer Regulation

We seem to be getting these stories in batches lately (others here and here) but leave it to the EU to trump even San Francisco in anti-consumer stupidity:

Microsoft lost its appeal of a European antitrust order Monday
that obliges the technology giant to share communications code with
rivals, sell a copy of Windows without Media Player and pay a $613
million fine - the largest ever by EU regulators.

The EU
Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft on both parts of the
case, saying the European Commission was correct in concluding that
Microsoft was guilty of monopoly abuse in trying to use its power over
desktop computers to muscle into server software.

It also said regulators had clearly demonstrated that selling media software with Windows had damaged rivals.

"The
court observes that it is beyond dispute that in consequence of the
tying consumers are unable to acquire the Windows operating system
without simultaneously acquiring Windows Media Player," it said.

"In
that regard, the court considers that neither the fact that Microsoft
does not charge a separate price for Windows Media Player nor the fact
that consumers are not obliged to use that Media Player is irrelevant."

Yes, you are reading it correctly.  Microsoft is being penalized for giving the consumer too much value by bundling in additional features and programs for free into its OS.  And just to make sure that you understand that this has nothing to do with the consumer, but is purely a complaint of large competitors that can't keep up, they make it clear that they want the bundling stopped even if it does not change the price of the OS one penny (pfennig or whatever the Euro equivalent is).  They want the product stripped down and are deliberately trying to reduce its value to customers.

Gwynnie at Maggie's Farm has a funny comment, saying, "Microsoft is guilty of succeeding while American."

More Vista Suckage

The laptop I bought my kids 6 months ago is rapidly becoming the worst purchase I have ever made.  Not because the laptop is bad, but because of a momentary lack of diligence I bought one with Vista installed.  It has been a never-ending disaster trying to get this computer to work.  A while back, I put XP on a partition and my kids spend most of their time on XP since, well, it works.  Vista does not.  It is the Paris Hilton of OS's -- looks pretty but does not work.

In particular, the networking is an enormous step backwards from XP.  The wireless networking was a real pain to get set up in the first place, in contrast to XP and my wife's Mac which both worked and connected from the moment the power switch turned on. 

Now, we are getting two new errors.  First, at random times, the computer will stop being able to connect to the internet.  It will have a good wireless signal, and see other computers on the network fine, and the other computers on the network will see the internet, but Vista does not.  Just rebooted the computer into the XP partition, and XP sees the Internet fine -- its just Vista that is broken.

Second, and perhaps even more inexcusable, I have to reinstall the printer driver in Vista at nearly every log on.  There is a bug in Vista such that laptops that move off the network and come back will find that the network printers are now marked "offline" and there is nothing one can do to bring them online short of reinstalling the drivers.  Really.  I thought I was doing something wrong, but searching the web this is a known problem.  None of the suggested workarounds are working for me.

Vista is rapidly becoming the New Coke of operating systems.  I have had every version of windows on my computer at one time or another, including Windows 1.0 and the egregious Windows ME, and I can say with confidence Vista is the worst of them all by far.  More: corporate demand for upgrading to XP from Vista;  DRM hell in Vista;  how I set up dual-booting on a Vista machine; and what happened to the File menu?

Looks like the XP partition is soon going to be the only partition.  But recognize how serious this step is:  Laptops, unlike desktops, have more model-specific device drivers.  For example, instead of one Nvidia graphics driver for all cards, you tend to need the driver for your specific card in your specific computer model.   The computer I have has never and will never publish XP drivers.  I have found drivers that work for XP for most things, but not for sound.  So I will be giving up a substantial piece of functionality -- sound-- in exchange for never having to swear at Vista again.

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. 

Anti-Trust is Not About Consumers, Yet Again

I have written numerous times about how most anti-trust actions are initiated for the benefit not of consumers but of industry competitors.  The incredible claim that Microsoft's giving away free applications with its OS somehow hurts consumers is just the most famous such example. 

Now we face the specter of anti-trust review of the XM-Sirius satellite radio deal.  All you need to know is that the National Association of Broadcasters, who represent the terrestrial competitors of satellite radio, are lobbying hard for the deal to be rejected.  Nearly every line of the statement is hilarious, but this one caught me:

When
the FCC authorized satellite radio, it specifically found that
the public
would be served best by two competitive nationwide systems. Now,

with  their stock prices at rock bottom and their business model in
disarray
because of profligate spending practices, they seek a government

bail-out to avoid competing in the marketplace.

First, I am sure that the NAB is deeply, deeply concerned about satellite radio serving the public well -- NOT.  Customers gained by satellite radio are customers lost by the NAB**.  In fact, if they really believed the merger would hurt the consumer experience with satellite radio, their statement would instead be "we are thrilled by this merger because it means that customers will be served poorly in the future by the new company and that means customers will defect back to us."

Second, I love the term "government bailout."  What they mean by government bailout is the prospect that the government might not block this merger.  Which, given the white-hot merger activity between NAB members over the past 5 years, means that most NAB members have received the same "bailout."

(HT: Hit and Run)

** In the TV market, terrestrial broadcasters, particularly their local affiliates, got the government to cover their butts by passing a "Must Carry" law, which basically requires that cable companies have to include all the local broadcasters in their feed.  In practice, this and similar laws have forced satellite providers to give you your network feed only through your local affiliate.  This means that instead of DirecTV being able to just give me the NBC national feed, they have to give me the NBC Phoenix affiliate.  As a result, DirecTV has whole satellites that carry forty, fifty, sixty or more identical feeds.  What a screaming waste, and it only gets worse with HDTV.  Anyway, in radio, there is no similar law, so satellite growth is more of a zero-sum loss for terrestrial competitors.  I think the NAB is just huffy they did not get their own must-carry subsidy law passed.

Computer-Building Lament

At the risk of being way to geeky here, I would like to ask the computer world if they could find some way for me to have a RAID disk drive array on my custom built PC's without having to also buy and install a floppy disk drive that I only use once.  For those who don't know, a RAID is an array of multiple, usually identical, hard drives that can be combined together for redundancy.  For example, two 250GB hard drives can be combined in a RAID such that they appear to be one 250GB drive to the system, but all data is mirrored on both drives, so if one fails, you still have everything, even without making backups.  I usually build RAIDs into my computers, either for redundancy or, if that is not needed, at least to combine multiple drives into one drive letter.  You can even build a raid where all files are split between the two drives, which is a reliability problem but makes for wicked fast drive access (kind of like splitting calculations between two CPUs)

Unfortunately, on most motherboards, the only way to install the RAID drivers if I want to install Windows onto the RAID is to load them with an old 3-1/2 inch floppy.  Which means I usually install a floppy drive on every build -- OK, its only $20 or so, but it still seems like a waste.   On my own computers, I just have one redundant floppy I pass around, but when I build for others, I don't want to leave them hanging if they have to reinstall the OS. 

I would think that this should be doable via a USB key, but I have never tried it.  Anyone out there know a better way?

</geekiness>  OK, I will now return to economics and business.

But They Never Really Learn

Lawrence Lessig in Wired, via Reason's Hit and Run:

I was one of those reluctant regulators. As the evidence
of Microsoft's practices became clear, I remember well thinking, "Of
course the government needs to do something." And I remember very well
the universal impatience with the notion that the market would solve
the problem. How could it, when any other company was likely to behave
just as Microsoft did?

We pro-regulators were making an
assumption that history has shown to be completely false: That
something as complex as an OS has to be built by a commercial entity.
Only crazies imagined that volunteers outside the control of a
corporation could successfully create a system over which no one had
exclusive command. We knew those crazies. They worked on something
called Linux.

I wanted to believe that Linux would prevail. But
I'm a lawyer, and lawyers aren't programmed to see how profitable
innovation might happen without commercial control. I didn't like the
idea of regulation; I just didn't see any alternative. The suits would
always beat the rebels. Isn't that why they were so rich?

But they never really learn, do they, and Lessig is at it again with net neutrality.  Both cases have in common that the issues have very little to do with consumers, and more to do with protecting other entrenched interests.  (Sun and Netscape in the Microsoft case, Google and Yahoo in the case of AT&T and net neutrality).

In Case You Thought Anti-Trust Was About Consumers

I could spend all day discussing the follies of anti-trust law.  But one of the memes that still seems to hang on is that anti-trust was designed as a form of consumer protection, with the government protecting consumers from the monopoly power of consolidated enterprises.

I am not enough of a business historian to comment on whether anti-trust has ever been used for consumer protection, but it is clear that it is not any more.  That has been one very expensive lesson we can all learn from the Microsoft anti-trust cases, both in the US and Europe. 

If you remember the US cases, Sun, Netscape, Oracle and other Microsoft competitors, having failed to best Microsoft in the marketplace, went running to the FTC to get them to sit on Microsoft for them.  And they were successful, with a series of high-profile settlements.  Nowhere was there even a hint that these cases were about the consumer -- in fact, the settlement demanded was to remove functionality and free add-on components from the Windows OS, making it less attractive to consumers.

We can see this again in the recent decision by an EU court, which seems very happy to use anti-trust law to step on an American competitor in favor of local companies (my emphasis added).

Microsoft was fined $357 million, on top of the record $613 million
fine it paid in the original order. It also faces new penalties of
$3.82 million a day beginning July 31....

The commission has said that it is concerned about Vista's Internet
search capabilities and method of managing digital rights. Regulators
also are worried about the implications for competitors of a new
technology for saving documents that is similar to the Portable
Document Format developed by Adobe Systems Inc.

Microsoft's chief crime is not doing enough to help competitors compete against them:

The fines announced Wednesday come after the EU told Microsoft to
supply "complete and accurate technical specifications" to developers,
so they could make software for servers that help computers running
Windows, printers and other devices on a network talk to each other. It
accused Microsoft of using its monopoly position with Windows to elbow
into the server software market.

Kroes said Microsoft's earlier efforts had not come even close to a readable manual developers could use.

Again, settlements are taking the form of defeaturing the product consumers get:

Smith said Microsoft had suggested various ways it could offer Vista in
Europe, to address concerns about XPS. One option is to ship Vista
without it, while another is to include ways for PC makers or others to
either remove certain XPS utilities or make them invisible.

And, by the way, this certainly gives one a lot of confidence in the due process the courts in Europe are going to give you as an American:

"In some ways, these fines are only partially about complying with the
... prior case, and half about sending a message to Microsoft that the
European Commission is not going away,"

You get that?  It sounds like a mafioso beating someone up because they didn't show him enough respect.

By the way, I am frustrated with Microsoft and their pricing as well.  Rather than run to the government, though, I have employed this and this and this.

Microsoft Browser Mistake?

About ten years ago, I remember Microsoft started to get pounded by observers for "missing out" on the Internet.  One of their responses was the development of Internet Explorer, which, thanks to a good design and the fact it was bundled with the OS, quickly beat out Netscape and other incumbents.

Recently, PC-Pundit John Dvorak has argued that Microsoft's foray into Explorer has been its biggest blunder.  I'm not usually a Dvorak fan (I find him to be too much of a technocrat, tending to favor top-down standard setting over messy bottom-up innovation) but I thought his take was pretty interesting:

I think it can now be safely said, in hindsight, that Microsoft's entry
into the browser business and its subsequent linking of the browser
into the Windows operating system looks to be the worst decision"”and
perhaps the biggest, most costly gaffe"”the company ever made. I call it
the Great Microsoft Blunder....

If the problem is not weird legal cases against the company, then
it's the incredible losses in productivity at the company from the
never-ending battle against spyware, viruses, and other security
problems. All the work that has to go into keeping the browser afloat
is time that could have been better spent on making Vista work as first
advertised.

All of Microsoft's Internet-era public-relations and legal problems
(in some way or another) stem from Internet Explorer. If you were to
put together a comprehensive profit-and-loss statement for IE, there
would be a zero in the profits column and billions in the losses
column"”billions.

Yeah, I know, the Internet was supposed to be the next platform for applications taking over from the PC.  This has always been a slow phenomena to emerge (I LIKE having my applications on my own PC and available even if Cox cable is having another hiccup) and its not at all clear you need a browser to play well anyway.  While Microsoft has screwed around with Explorer and dot-net, Google has become the gold standard of web-based applications, and they don't have a browser at all.

By the way, if you are waiting for the new version of Explorer, just get Firefox instead.  It is everything Microsoft is trying to make Explorer and it is there already.  And you don't even have to think in Russian to use it.  (OK, did anyone get my movie reference there or am I a total loser?)

Hat tip to the Mises Blog.