* Posts by peebee

7 posts • joined 2 Oct 2010

Bugger the jetpack, where's my 21st-century Psion?


small form factors

There were a few interesting small form factor PCs in the 90s - not pocketable, but far more portable than the laptops of the time. I had a couple of the original Compaq Aeros, running full Windows 3.11, the first with a monochrome screen. The keyboard was lovely and it had great battery life. There was Psion's own Series 7 - once again beautifully engineered and only doomed by Psion's withdrawal from the market. I had an interesting HP device - can't remember what it was called, which had a half depth screen and a funny pop out mouse on a stick, and again it worked pretty well.

I wouldn't hold my breath for the return of the handheld - smartphones do most of what they did, and the bigger ones offer comparable screen estate ... Frustratingly what we seem to have lost are good foldable keyboards ... These days I have a Microsoft Wedge keyboard, which is a good piece of kit, and makes it feasible to work on tablets and phones, but it commits you to a slightly larger bag...

Microsoft buries Sinofsky Era... then jumps on the coffin lid


The future is touch (sort of)

Article seems to miss the point - Windows 8 was never going to rescue PC desktop sales. Win 7 is too mature - it's hard to imagine what features could have been added that would have made people feel they had to upgrade. Desktop sales have tanked, also because of market maturity, and to a lesser (but growing) extent because of tablets.

Sinofsky's focus was entirely on making Microsoft relevant to tablets, because he judged (quite rightly) that tablets were going to shape the future of computing. What he came up with (win 8 + RT) was dismally executed but the core thinking was unavoidable. The game is still wide open, and the balance is beginning to tilt back to Microsoft. Anyone who's tried to use iOS or Android tablets for serious work knows that they are poor substitutes for a laptop - even as a secondary device. The new wave of 8.1 tablets and hybrids are more plausible. I believe a properly windowed environment will remain important (and certainly more productive for all but the simplest linear tasks, but it all seems apparent that touch UIs on phones and tablets will increasingly condition how we expect to interact with computers.

I do agree that trying to drive people screaming into a touch UI on their existing desktops was crazy, and if Microsoft had listened to user feedback they could have avoided their worst mistakes. Then again, I think this is a clear case where you have to look beyond your existing customers, because you're trying to anticipate the future. Sinofsky apparently misjudged the balance between these two imperatives, and as others have pointed out, the emergence of three different APIs was ridiculous, but I think time is already proving that the fundamental strategy was the right one...

(I wrote something on this subject a few days ago at http://paulbrasington.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/247/)

Windows 8.1: Here at last, but is it good enough?


missing the point

Dear professional engineers - You're right that Windows 8 is mostly a pig's ear of a UI, and 8.1 doesn't fix the problem. It's a botch, but in slagging off the UI for being "marketing led" you miss the point of what Microsoft is up against. It's got nothing to do with selling touchscreens.

Microsoft's UI designers are quite right to note that the way we use touch on smartphones and tablets will influence our future expectations of ANY UI ... Quite how it will influence those expectations is not clear. Windows 8 is useful in that it shows what the wrong answer looks like. As far as I can see if you're trying to do serious work with a keyboard you'll always want to be able to move the pointer/selection device without lifting your hands from the desk but this doesn't mean that touch will have no role in the future of serious work ... because if whatever feels intuitive depends on what we do elsewhere then things like swiping gestures may be important. Credit to Microsoft for seeing this coming, though as I say, they haven't got it right.

But the real issue is around all that signing in, cloud account mullarky. Microsoft and other big software vendors are desperate to move us to a subscription model because they then have a guaranteed annual income. They will claim added value through universal access not only to files but programs and settings etc, as well as an accelerated schedule of incremental improvements. But it's smoke and mirrors. If they offered these "benefits" as standalone options I suspect few of us need them or even want them. They need to do this bundling of dubious benefits primarily because they are running out of compelling improvements. The cash cow has matured, to the point where commercially it's dying. Win7 was in most respects the best UI ever achieved on a computer. There's room for incremental improvement, and actually Win8 on the desktop side delivers quite a lot of that. But how much is it worth? That's the question Microsoft and others don't want us to ask. Ten or twenty quid perhaps (ironically the price of an OSX upgrade) but MSFT needs us to carry on paying a lot more than that to sustain its profitability.

Trouble is that the alternatives are not for the moment viable. Apple's UI on a large screen (ie more than 17 inches) is nearly as bad as Metro. I've been trying Ubuntu and Linux Mint, hoping they could meet my needs but they just don't (no decent email client/PIM, or web design client, no proper Evernote, Wunderlist, and the font handling is shite). But if Microsoft doesn't get it right next time those LInux limitations are going to start seeming increasingly unimportant.

BlackBerry CEO: iPhone past its prime


same old story

@g7rp0 - I don't think you can blame Tim Cook - I'm not sure Steve Jobs could have made a difference to the place that Apple is heading, not that it's going to be a bad place commercially. It's the place where Apple's tight control over its ecosystem makes sense - ie among people with premium budgets who want something that works well within predictable limits. I imagine Jonny Ive will make it all look fresher, but it won't stem the shift in the market towards more exciting (and cheaper) products. Yes, Apple made the tablet and smartphone mainstream, but funnily enough not through innovation - that's never been the company's strength. They did it by taking existing ideas and executing them better.

I'm not a fanbois - never liked the Apple lock in. But the smartphone market is pretty messy and hard to read at the moment, and as someone else noted, Apple can look attractively stable and for some that will be compelling. Let's give credit where it's due, but things are moving on quickly, and for better or worse Apple is not looking as fashionable as it once did ...

Microsoft Office 2013 vs. Office 365: Is either right for you?


Wretched choice

I'm a power user of Word - the 2013 version offers no real functional benefits over 2010, though I'm happily using my free upgrade - it just looks slicker, and is without any doubt the most sophisticated word processor on the market.

I've used LibreOffice a lot ... it does some things better than Word, but there's still quite a lot of catching up to do. The UI looks like a dog's dinner (though it works quite well). Compatibility with Word docs isn't perfect, particularly around headers etc, but it's workable. Unfortunately if you want to work on an Android device there's no option but to use doc or docx.

But as LO continues to improve, and Microsoft continues to make Office financially less and less attractive there will come a point (quite soon) where I'd be mad to stay with Office. It's not completely about the money - it's the hoops you have to jump through to get the damn thing on your computer, activated, reactivated if you reload the OS and so on. With the 365 offer Microsoft is pushing a vision of complete flexibility as you work between different machines - but if that's what you need it's far easier to achieve with multiple copies of LibreOffice and a free cloud service like Sugar Sync, Dropbox or Google Drive ... Microsoft is going to have to come up with a lot more added value (or much lower prices) if it really wants to get users outside the enterprise to sign up to a sub ... I understand that arguments within an enterprise might be different, though at this rate Microsoft will be killing its presence in the SMB sector too ... It's like they are losing touch with the real world ... and need to remind themselves of Clay Christansen's arguments about why incumbents lose out to disruptive technologies ...

Microsoft tries to sell home Office users on subscription pricing


It's just the wrong price

Microsoft's strategy is to make the non-subscription package seem like poor value, so they have denigrated the non sub package. Now with the home and student pack you only get one licence, tied to a single machine.

That's right - even the retail copy is not transferable. Trouble is I don't have any real use for the bells and whistles of 365 home premium - don't want Publisher, Access or Outlook, and barely want Powerpoint, and the 20gb of Skydrive is irrelevant given the free alternatives. If they were asking £40 a year it might seem just worth it ... but as it is they just seem out of touch with the market. No business ever thrived by offering customers no added value for more money: for most home users Office 2010 is simply a better deal. Meanwhile LibreOffice and Apache Office are dicking around with their antiquated UIs, but over the next 12 months perhaps that will change, and there will be a free Office suite that does more than Microsoft Office ... I've been using LO and Office for the last couple of years and while the latter is certainly far more refined, in other ways LO is functionally better, and it's hard to argue with "free". I hope Microsoft wakes up, but if it doesn't this cash cow is surely going to die.

BTW I bought Office 2010 in November so am entitled to a "free upgrade". But funnily enough the upgrade server has crashed all evening ... so that's a good argument for the cloud then...

Microsoft sends in the tanks against Motorola, Android



Microsoft's unprincipled behaviour is irritating but the real blame has to lie with the courts and the US patent office. Most of the rest of world seems to understand that allowing businesses to patent ideas rather than inventions is laughable and dangerous. I feel like making a claim for running: "a technique for accelerating the motion of the legs and modulating the position of the feet in order to move faster from one point to a further point" - and then suing Nike. The rubbish will go on until a court has the courage to stand up and say what everyone else is thinking.

I happen to think that Win7 is the best OS on the market at the moment, so I'm not a kneejerk Microsoft hater, but this has demolished any faint thought I had of buying a Win7 phone, and for my general computing I'm watching Ubuntu's development with interest.

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