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Sometimes a memory just pops into your head…

When I was 6 years old (I think) I had my tonsils out. This was back in a time when you stayed in the hospital for 2 days for a tonsillectomy. At least I think that’s what happened… I don’t remember the whole thing. But two snippets of memories stand out.

One is reading One Fish Two Fish by Dr. Seuss. I loved borrowing Dr. Seuss books from the library. However on this day my parents bought me my very own copy of One Fish Two Fish. I read that book over and over again while I was in the hospital. And even today, reading that book gives me a feeling of comfort that I can’t really explain.

The second memory is of my mother sitting on the bed beside me, asking me how to create a “Flintstones village”. I loved the Flintstones and could tell you all about Fred and Wilma and Pebbles and Dino and Barney and Betty and Bam-Bam and… well you get the idea. So Mom said she was putting together an idea for a fundraiser, and wondered how to build a Flintstones village. And off we went, drawing pictures of cars and houses, thinking about how to move the big rocks that you’d need to create such a place, and what kind of animals would be needed, and what the costumes would look like. In my mind it felt like we talked for hours although it was probably more like 15 minutes. And although it was completely fanciful, it kept me occupied and my mind off of the fact that I was in a hospital.

I doubt that, 40+ years ago, my mother knew that she’d be creating a lasting memory when she sat on the bed and listened to me ramble on about the Flintstones. It was just part of being a mom. Remembering that gives me some insight into what my kids might remember, and how those little memories create the adults that they will become.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie

Last night I went to the midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  After reading the books and seeing all of the Lord of the Rings films several times (I own the trilogy in DVD and in Blu-Ray) I was expecting sweeping vista, raucous action, and a screenplay that cleaned up some of the less tidy plot points. I eagerly anticipated the high-frame-rate production and was looking forward to the IMAX 3D experience. I even waited in line for 3 hours… something I NEVER do. And the premiere of the extended trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness prepped us all for an amazing experience. Then the movie started and I was struck by three issues that pretty much ruined it for me.

1. High Frame Rate

As the film begins, I saw that 48 fps makes a difference: it makes everything seem unreal and over-processed. My brain, after 50 years of watching movies filmed at 24 frames per second with lots of motion blur, was having trouble seeing the crystal clear images as real. It took well over an hour before that “willing suspension of disbelief” kicked in and I could watch the movie without seeing every scene as CGI. HFR makes everything seem unreal because the images are too clear. I know that Peter Jackson spent a lot of money shooting this way, and the images are clearer, but it takes a long time to get used to it. And in the end I do not believe that it added to my enjoyment or to the realism of the film.

2. Gratuitous 3D

I know that the studios all see 3D as manna from heaven: A way to charge more for a film and give the audience something that is difficult to replicate at home.  But Peter Jackson did not have to pander so obviously to the 3D fans.  Every chase scene included point-of-view shots with branches whipping past your face. Every fight included About halfway through the movie I started closing one eye because the movie was more enjoyable in 2D.  If you have a choice, skip the 3D.

3. Act 1 is never the most exciting

The Hobbit is a short novel (297 pages in hardcover).  Usually that would make a single decent movie. But Peter Jackson, who clearly loves the story with all his heart, turned it into a trilogy.  So this first movie doesn’t have an arc.  It has character development, an introduced conflict, and then it ends. You are left feeling rather unfulfilled… you’re not on the edge of your seat because there was no time for rising tension. It’s a typical Act I.

So would I recommend it?

If you’re a LOTR fan, then by all means go.  Every aspect of the story is beautifully rendered, and is worth seeing.  Of course, waiting until all three are available on DVD would be a better choice because then you can watch them the way the story is intended — as one unit, not a trilogy.

If you’re looking for a fun movie to take the kids to (and you’re okay with decapitations and deaths aplenty) then this is a pretty good choice — the action will keep the kids entertained and they may not notice that there is only 1/3 of a story here. But this is PG-13 for a reason: the path the adventurers take is a violent one, and the deaths by sword and knife are messy and graphically portrayed, including at least one beheading of a key character.

Finally, if you’re not a fan but you’re looking for a good movie, I think I’d look elsewhere. You’re not going to be satisfied by this. 

Today I’m returning my Surface, although I wish I wasn’t

After living with my new Surface running Windows RT for a few weeks I wanted to joy down my impressions.  I am comparing it to my iPad (version 1) running iOS 4.  It’s definitely not the newest and shiniest iPad but it’s what I own and use. I forced myself to put my iPad away and ONLY used the Surface.  Originally this was just a comparison post.  But after really thinking about what I need, I am shipping back my Surface and pulling out my old iPad. No matter how much I want the Surface to work, it just doesn’t fit my needs yet.

Here’s what I found:

Where it’s better:

Software

  • Internet Explorer 10 — particularly the desktop version — is a better and more compatible browser than Mobile Safari
  • Word, Excel and PowerPoint work as expected.  It’s not really "touch aware" — I used the trackpad on my Touch Cover more than I used my finger while editing a document — but it has all of the features you’d expect.  If you need to edit docs on a tablet, this is a far better experience than any of the Office-compatible apps available for the iPad.
  • Windows RT is a joy to use on a touch device.  The slide gestures (from left to switch apps, from right to display charms, from bottom to display context menu, from top to close or dock app) now come quite naturally to me. It’s far more efficient than iOS.  App switching via swipe or Windows-Tab both work better than iOS. And the standardized controls make it much easier to navigate apps.  Without a doubt this is a better O/S than iOS.
  • PRINTING.  Out of the box, with no configuration, Windows RT found my network printer (an HP PhotoSmart 6390) and printed to it first time.  No driver installs, no "print apps", no configuration at all.  It just worked. I know that there are some iPad users who have been able to print by having an "Apple everything" chain (Apple wifi, Apple printer).  But in my heterogeneous world, my iPad has never been able to print reliably.  And most people I’ve talked to echo that. 

Hardware

  • The Surface is a gorgeous piece of hardware.  It’s made to be held and you will want to hold it.
  • The screen is very clear, text is crisp, and it has a brightness range that allow me to use it in bright sunlight and in complete darkness comfortably.
  • Full size USB port. Used it several times when moving docs back and forth.  Awesome feature.
  • The magnetic charging plug ensures that you won’t trip over the cord and yank the Surface off a table.  It also has a small LED on the end to tell you that t is really charging without having to turn the Surface screen on.  You can plug it in either way and it still works.  And it charges quickly – about 2 hours for a full charge.

However, all is not perfect in the land of Surface.  Where it fails:

Software

  • Apps.  There just aren’t very many of them, and many of the ones there are aren’t very good.  Hopefully this is a problem that will fix itself over time, as ISVs see Windows 8 / Windows RT as a viable platform and start developing for it.  
  • Desktop / Tiles confusion. If you’re using Office apps and Windows 8 apps, you’ll find yourself switching back and forth between the desktop and Windows 8 style.  This is annoying.  It gets worse if you’re using Internet Explorer because you could be using both versions at once.

Hardware

  • Proprietary charger.  I’d really prefer a USB charger option (even if it had to be a 2.1-amp charger like the iPad’s) as well as the super-fast wall charger.
  • The kickstand is only set to one angle, and since I’m tall (6′-2") it is too steep.  In practice that means that the screen is dimmer than it would be if I was facing it at 90 degrees, and Skype callers typically see me from chest to chin.  I have to tilt it up to see my face.  Not a big deal but annoying.  How hard would it have been to have a second angle option?
  • 16:9 widescreen display is great for landscape content, and allows for that side docking of a 2nd app.  But it’s awkward in portrait mode – too tall. So reading (Kindle app) becomes a chore.  In general this shape is better when on a desk, and worse when in your hands, when compared to a 4:3 aspect ratio like the iPad.

However, all of these disadvantages could be overlooked if not for two deal-breakers.

Deal-breaker #1: No 3G/4G.  I have a 3G iPad.  In the past I’ve had a 3G Kindle.  Having the ability to download without having to search for and then connect to a wireless access point is very freeing.  And maybe it’s just me, but I frequently find myself somewhere without public wifi. In the past week I was at four meetings with my Surface and no access to wifi.  Which means my lovely Surface loses about 2/3 of its usefulness.  With my iPad I barely even noticed.  And until I didn’t have it, I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

Deal-breaker #2: No usable Evernote.  I might forgive deal-breaker #1 and buy a Verizon mobile hotspot if it wasn’t for deal-breaker #2.  The Evernote client for Windows RT is virtually unusable on the Surface.  Not only is it slow and buggy, but it lacks even the basic features that other platforms (Windows 7, iOS, Android) have — rich text editing, saved searches, check boxes, etc.  I was hoping for a client more like the Windows 7 Evernote client.  What I got was something far worse than the first iOS client (which was pretty bad).  And it doesn’t run in the background, which means that synchronization stops as soon as you shift away from Evernote to a different app.  As I’m watching, the client which has been syncing for almost an hour is at 26%.

Since I use Evernote to organize my tasks, record project information, and generally act as my digital memory, not having a working version for the tablet that I want to carry everywhere is a deal-breaker.  And while I can’t directly fault Microsoft for the lack of a 3rd-party app, they are the ones that created this monster by moving to an app model that required new sets of skills and all new apps. 

So it’s with a heavy heart that today I am packaging up my Surface and sending it back to Microsoft.  I’m NOT going to buy an iPad 4, either; I’m going to wait in the hopes that Microsoft comes out with a 4G Surface and Evernote comes out with a decent client. 

GPS means never having to admit you’re lost

I was headed to a meeting this afternoon in a city I wasn’t familiar with.  So I checked my phone GPS (Motion-X) and got directions.  But just in case the GPS was wrong, I also checked online and got directions from Bing.  The directions agreed so off I went.

I promptly got lost and ended up in a residential development about 10 miles from where I wanted to be.  Turns out that there are two identically named streets in the same city, and both map apps that I tried found the wrong one. .  In this case the only map that found the correct building was… wait for it… Apple Maps.

So now, after apologizing to the people I was meeting with for getting there late, I also have to apologize to Apple for maligning their app.

What a day,

Windows 8: On slow enterprise adoption and productivity improvements

Here are some thoughts I’ve posted in various other forums (fora?) regarding Windows 8 adoption.

On why surveys show that enterprise Windows 8 adoption may be lower than Windows 7 (response to Only 33% Want To Shift To Windows 8 Compare To 66% While Windows 7 Release In  2009)

  • Vista was so spectacularly bad that many companies abandoned their “Skip 1″ policy and upgraded ASAP from Vista to 7.  These companies would typically be ready to upgrade to Win8, but they’ve already moved.  This is borne out in the “skip-it” survey results.  Users didn’t skip 7 because there was definite pain in staying on Vista. It cost more to support and users were unhappy.
  • Windows 7 is pretty good and has great enterprise manageability and driver support, so companies on 7 (other than companies with pending tablet rollouts) are not feeling any pressure.  There is very little there for enterprise customers to get excited about.
  • The Modern / Desktop dichotomy is going to create support burdens that no one is eager to embrace unless they have to.  Desktop and laptop users aren’t going to see enhanced productivity, and there are no Microsoft Store killer apps that would cause enterprises to want to move as a competitive advantage.

It all adds up to slow enterprise adoption.  But who cares — Windows 8 isn’t an enterprise product.  It is designed to create a grassroots desire for new Windows form factors. And once the devs learn how to create awesome Modern apps and those apps start filling up the store, the consumers will adopt Win8.  And then, like the iPhone, enterprise customers will get dragged along.  This article represents old thinking.

On the features that make Windows 8 attractive:

I’ve been using RTM bits for a couple of weeks now.  If you don’t buy into the Windows 8 interface (the “appification” of the Internet) then there’s very little here to upgrade for. Setup is a little easier, and Hyper-V works better than Virtual PC did, but Windows 7 was a great release and doesn’t feel old.

If you upgrade, it’s because you like the app model. Period. It means you buy into the iPad worldview: the browser is irrelevant and Internet interaction occurs through sandboxes apps.  As a technology enthusiast, I may not like that view, but I can’t deny it’s popularity.

If you’re a computer-savvy user or enthusiast, where’s the productivity improvement for you? It probably doesn’t exist. You’re already productive on Windows.  And, I’m sorry to say, you don’t matter. Windows 8 was designed for the people who find Windows 7 confusing. It’s for my neighbors who ask me how to set up backup, or how to share files with a friend. It’s for my wife, whose entire computing need could be filled with roughly 5 apps (none of which are IE). Those people — the people that rant about throwing their Windows PCs out the window, or that covet the Mac, can potentially be more productive on Windows 8. And they’re the ones buying tablets and phones.

With the PC market down 8% y/y, this is the market that Microsoft needs to be in.

Finally, a great article on the Windows 8 differences: Why Windows 8

Okay, maybe Windows 8 isn’t THAT bad…

I spent some time this weekend about thinking about why I’m having this visceral reaction to Windows 8. And I think it has as much to do with me as it does with the product.

Windows 8 isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. It boots faster, is more stable, and gives better feedback when something goes wrong. It eliminates processor-hogging features such as the pretty Aero interface from Windows 7. And it includes server-side features that I love, such as Storage Spaces and Hyper-V. On the desktop side it is fairly compelling.

Windows 8 is a lot easier to learn. If you’ve never used a PC, this is the operating system for you. You’ll spend a lot of time in the tiles, downloading safe apps from the Microsoft Store, reading mail, posting to Facebook, etc. You’ll love the new, stripped-down IE — no confusing toolbars, easy to share links. However you’re probably going to be totally baffled when you hit a desktop app.

And even if you have used a PC before, if you didn’t enjoy the experience then Windows 8 is a chance to start again.

Windows 8 isn’t aimed at me. This is about me. I don’t like Windows 8 because the changes make my life more difficult / less productive. I don’t need / want a pretty “Modern” interface that turns my PC into an iPad. I already have an iPad and I don’t like it because it’s not a PC. I like having multiple windows on the screen — at work I use two monitors and typically have 3-6 windows open and visible at once. The overlapping windows metaphor works for me and allows me to switch faster. So a lot of the touch-friendly features of Windows 8 just get in the way and slow me down. Yes, I am learning all new keyboard shortcuts to get faster: X for admin tasks, C for charms, to switch between apps so that I don’t have to hover my mouse in a tiny corner.But it’s all annoying an unnecessary. When I am working (as opposed to playing) on my PC, I use ZERO Modern apps. None. Everything is a desktop app. I use the tiles as an annoying replacement for the Start button – to give me a menu of desktop apps.

Modern apps aren’t aimed at me. Features, functions and shortcuts have been stripped out in order to make these apps touch-friendly and ready for small tablet displays. So on my dual 20″ monitors they just look silly. I’ve yet to find a single app that is faster or has better features than its equivalent desktop app or web site. Granted it’s early; app developers are still wrapping their heads around what is needed to code great Windows 8 apps. But with Mail and People apps from Microsoft I think the writing’s on the wall: Modern apps will be stripped down, basic, VERY easy to use, and will only allow interactions via four common “charms”: Search, Share, Devices and Settings. For someone that’s used to using plug-ins to customize my browsing experience, this seems very restrictive. On the other hand, I’ll save a lot of time maintaining my family’s computers as I won’t have to uninstall the Bing, Yahoo, Google and Ask toolbars every month.

Windows 8 isn’t “my” Windows. From Windows NT 4 through Windows 7, I was a Microsoft employee and involved in some small way in the development of every release. Now I’m looking at a release that I had nothing to do with. That feels… odd. Even though I was one out of thousands, I had a proprietary sense of ownership in every release. This one isn’t mine.

In the end, Windows 8 has a lot going for it. And as apps improve I may find myself using a few of them. And when I get that Surface (that I’ll no doubt end up with sooner or later) then I’ll be using those apps a lot, and probably really enjoying them.

But it’s not MY Windows.

I really REALLY want to like Windows 8 Apps… because I can’t get a Surface ‘til I do

I thought about buying a Microsoft Surface RT today.  In fact, I had my credit card out. I was ready to press PURCHASE. I wanted to be on the bleeding edge, getting my Surface RT 64 GB on launch day. 

But I couldn’t do it.  You see, I’m using Windows 8 now.  And I see the limitations in the “modern” (can we just keep saying Metro?) apps that are currently available. And the bottom line is, so much functionality has been stripped out that I won’t be able to work.

Just a few examples:

  1. The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 doesn’t support plug-ins. So I can’t use LastPass to manage my passwords.  And I can’t even highlight a piece of text and search for it.
  2. The Metro version of Evernote doesn’t support saved searches.  So to see what’s remaining to do on a project I have to type something like this into the search bar: “tag:\project1 todo:false” rather than a single mouse click.  And while I could get past that (I’m a fast typist), it also doesn’t seem to support checkboxes at all.  Which would leave me going to the web client to manage Evernote rather than using the Evernote client itself.
  3. The libraries seem to continually rebuild, so every time I open the Photos app it re-reads all 15,000 photos on our server.

I know that this is going to get better (I mean, it HAS to, right?) and I’m really looking forward to usable apps showing me that I can trust my fate to Modern.  And then plunk my hard-earned money down for a Surface.  Maybe next week?

Maybe I’m wrong about Modern… maybe it’s just developers don’t know how to use it?

After writing my post about Windows 8 I was playing with the Windows 8 (Modern) Evernote app. As a huge Evernote user on the desktop, iPad, iPhone, and web, I wanted to see what the Modern version looked like. I’ll admit I was excited to see this.

It’s very pretty.  But it doesn’t appear to support Saved Searches (which my whole workflow is based on, and which are supported AND SYNCED in all other versions of Evernote. I can’t see a way to enter the Author or Source URL when creating a note, although those fields show up in existing notes. Syncing takes forever and only happens while the app is in the foreground… which means you have to either not do anything else, or split your screen and leave Evernote running on the sidebar until it finishes syncing.

And it got me thinking if maybe all of my issues with Modern are just because no one (including Microsoft) know how to write a good Modern app.  Now I have to go find some devs who have worked in this to figure out if that’s true.

Windows 8 is awesome (and why I don’t like it)

As many of my Facebook friends can attest, I’ve been rather vocal about my dislike of the “Modern UI” in Windows 8 and Window Server 2012.  Some people translated this as, “Jeff thinks Windows 8 sucks”.  Wrong.  Windows 8 is awesome.  It is far more stable than Windows 7.  It starts faster, sets up easier, works better, and generally is a better O/S.

And it has the Modern UI, which many people (my wife included) are going to love. Modern makes it easy to find apps.  Apps run in their own sandbox, which keeps everything safe.  The “Charms” create a standard for doing the tasks that are common across apps, such as searching, changing settings or sharing content. The App Store makes it easy to find, purchase and install those apps.  Apps are streamlined. The whole experience is more like an iPad: “it just works”.

And everything in that previous paragraph is what I don’t like.

To be clear, I’m an edge case.  I don’t buy computers, I build them from scratch.  My daughter and I have endless discussions around the merits of particular CPUs.  As I’m writing this I have 14 apps running including a virtual machine running Windows 7 and a remote desktop session to one of my servers. The only reason I have two monitors is I don’t have room for three.  And I use utilities and add-ins to make me more productive.  For example, when I browse the web, I’m using LastPass to serve up site passwords as I need them and Evernote to capture information from those sites (including the date, time and URL). 

None of that works in Modern.  If I want to use LastPass I have to start the LastPass app, and browse from there… except then I can’t print.  If I want to clip an article I like, I have to copy, switch apps, paste, switch apps again THREE TIMES (title, URL, text) to achieve what I would do in three mouse clicks on the desktop.

I realize that these changes make it easier for the casual user.  People didn’t like add-ins because they could slow your computer down and otherwise annoy you – adware, the Google, Yahoo and Bing toolbars, etc. But used correctly they also make life easier.

Bottom line: I will use Windows 8 because I need to understand it, and because it has a lot of features I like.  I’ll stay in the desktop because it’s how I work, which means I miss a lot of the benefits (and all of the limitations) of Modern.  And I hope that Modern continues to be a choice and not a requirement.

Goodbye, Neil Armstrong.

On the afternoon of July 20th, 1969, an awkward kid sat at a card table in front of a black-and-white television. Walter Cronkite was on the TV, and a National Geographic map of the moon was spread out on a card table in front of him. Pushpins showed the primary and backup landing sites for the Eagle lander. That kid followed every minute of that landing. He checked the TV map and moved his pushpin to the exact landing position. And when Neil Armstrong announced, “This is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed” that kid jumped up in the air and yelled, “We did it!”

That landing cemented my interest in science and technology, an interest that continues to this day. So it was with sadness and nostalgia that I read about Neil Armstrong’s passing yesterday. It took thousands of men and women to get that spacecraft safely to the moon. And Neil Armstrong was the representative of all of those people, and of the hopes and dreams of that 10-year-old kid.

I’m not going to reiterate Neil’s biography. I didn’t really follow his career after his moon landing. But he was the first, and for that I thank him.

Now, 43 years later, we’re still enjoying the fruits of those labors. Integrated circuits (computer chips) and ultra-hard plastics like Lexan(tm) are just two of the spin-offs from that program. And in the 60′s, no one could have predicted that. So if you’re thinking that we can’t afford “luxuries” like a manned landing on Mars, think about two things. Think about the technologies that potentially could come out of the research. And think about the kids that could get inspired to be scientists and engineers, and create that next great industry 20 years from now.

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