Share it

Friday, January 30, 2015

Windows 10 - Are You Impressed?

On January 21, Microsoft held an event to introduce in detail what they are doing with Windows 10.  Now, when I first saw the intro of Windows 10, I have to admit that I was not impressed.  Now you may think for some strange reason that I am an Apple Fanboy, and I hate Microsoft.  Far be it!  I just hate Microsoft products, and I love Apple products.  Microsoft, indeed, has done much to make Apple what it is, including (and not limited to) making the first productivity software for the Mac, bailing them out from bankruptcy and investing in Steve Jobs when the company was going solvent, and lots more.

However, I have to say that what I have seen now on Windows 10 has me thinking about my old maxim "I will never buy another Windows PC again."  Yes, you heard it right - I'm rethinking that a bit, and here's why.  I'm going to run down what I've gleaned from the various Windows 10 presentations, and give you my reactions:
  • Unified Operating System across devices
    • One Windows 10, across phone, tablet, and PC.  What am I thinking?  Bloatware.  Microsoft bloatware.  Jangled user experiences.  But how have these recent presentations changed that?
    • First, in seeing the implementation across devices, it is pretty good.  Not great, not drop-everything-and-go-out-and-buy-all-Windows great.  But pretty good.  Microsoft is really trying.  I stopped by the Microsoft store a couple weeks ago, and I really tried for about 20 minutes to use the Surface Pro.  It was NOT intuitive, and I finally gave up trying to figure out some things.  Me, a long-time tech expert.  But that's Windows 8.1, and so maybe 10 is a bit better for mobile platform, but not much.
    • Universal apps is not a new idea, nor is it groundbreaking.  If they can pull off device-based separate user experiences for the same apps, well, that would be very cool and groundbreaking.  But then again, that makes the code bloated, and I definitely do NOT trust Microsoft to pull it off - well.
  • Single App Store
    • Like I trust Microsoft to handle privacy and security?  Yah, right. Do they take Apple Pay?
  • Synched Life
    • What I saw from January 21, 2015 - calendars in sync, e-mail in sync, photos - and more, these are Beta, pre-release...and yes, those features and more have been out on Mac and i-Devices for years.  Come on!
    • Wirelessly stream and print and such from a mobile device.  Hmm, have I seen that before?
    • Finally, they are catching up to where Apple was 5 years ago.  With some thought to it, for sure - I give them an A for effort.
  • Project Spartan - a "new" web browsing experience
    • Microsoft claims that this is totally new, but let's examine what they have done.
    • Pared down, simplified UI - just like Chrome and Firefox and Safari.  For years.  That's new - to Microsoft...
    • 3 new features:
      • Note-taking - so now you can annotate (draw and mark up) the web directly, graphically and textually.  Interesting, I don't really know how useful that will be.  It may be very cool, it may be a very small niche.
        • Clipping and saving to One Note - finally Microsoft has caught up with Evernote.
      • "Focus on the action of reading" - They added a reading mode to reformat web pages to be more readable.  And added a reading list into the core experience.  Hmm, just like Apple did in Safari what, 5 or 6 years ago?  Groundbreaking...
        • Built-in support for PDF files.  Wow...(no sarcasm here!)
      • Personal Assistant - building Cortana into Spartan, via the search field.  Hmm, just like Apple did with Safari what, over a year ago?  Groundbreaking...
        • What is cool is the use case he used as an example, because Cortana is tied into his schedule, and the things he is tracking - it knows he is tracking his wife's flight - as he searches for things on the web pertaining to schedule, it could let him know whether or not she can make it based on her flight arrival time and drive time.  Frankly, I don't know how much intelligence this takes to figure out the connections to what you are doing and your life, whether or not it will throw up loosely-connected or uselessly-connected info (noise), or filter that and actually give you useful information.  Based on what Microsoft has done guessing how you want to format things in Word, I think it's a non-winner.
    • Don't get me wrong, the new browser is decent, but it's no more decent than other browsers have been for years.  And indeed, when you take the entire Mac / iOS ecosystem, it still lacks.
  • Gaming
    • Interesting that Gaming is a focus for Microsoft, and Apple also introduced a new development kit for developing mobile gaming.  Obviously a lucrative market.
    • My Games, and a Friends list.  Hmm, sounds like Game Center introduced in Apple iOS...Except, you can voice- and text-chat across all platforms.  Now that's useful!
    • Activity Feed - this is cool, you get updates from games you play, kind of like a Facebook feed.
    • Integrated into Windows, a Record feature to record what you are doing, ad-hoc, and share.  That is great!
    • Just like Apple's introduction of Metal, DirectX 12 gives developers more control and lower-level access to the hardware.  And compared to DirectX 11, the same functions cut power consumption in half.
    • Streaming of XBox One games to PC's and Tablets - now that is cool.  Definitely doesn't make me want to buy a Surface Pro, but it does make a Windows PC more appealing.  Perhaps running on a Mac?
    • Bringing apps over to the XBox One TV screen - now it is possible to run a PC app on an XBox One.  Again, I don't know about the interface experience, but it brings up some interesting possibilities.
    • Microsoft has definitely innovated and expanded in the gaming sphere.
  • Hololens
    • Folks, now this is groundbreaking.  Again, no new ideas here - but the implementation of it is absolutely breathtaking (caveats below).
    • If you want to know what Hololens is, have you seen the Iron Man movie?  Where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has a holograph of his Iron Man suit in front of him, and he grabs things with his hands - moves them around, builds the design in 3D in front of him?  That is Hololens.  Yes, the full thing!  In reality.
    • The way it works is it is a PC that you wear on your head.  It has a visor that goes over your eyes, on which it projects "holograms" on top of what you see around you, that you can interact with.  You can do 3D design with virtual holograms, and even then print them to a 3D printer.  WAY COOL.
    • You can grab a rectangular wall hanging, say a picture, and make it into a Netflix screen in your visor.  WAY COOL.
    • You can throw a Skype call floating in midair as you walk, and a Word document floating in front of you, and so on.  It works with all Win32 apps (OK, really, haven't they given up 32-bit architecture altogether like Apple did 3 years ago????).  WAY COOL.
    • The possibilities are limitless.  Imagine walking into a store, and if you are wearing your Hololens, you can see and interact with special advertisements, info points, even products they don't have in stock but you want to know more about before you order.
    • And the coolest part of this is, the Hololens support is built into Windows 10.  So all your apps function within the Operating System, and work in the visor.  Of course, if you haven't written your app to take advantage of the 3D touch and voice interaction, it will be at a basic level - you are interacting with the old style UI using gesture paradigms, but it will still work.  You can throw up a window of your 1990's app floating in virtual space, or tacked on a table in front of you, and use it with your finger as you would have with a mouse.
    • Now, the caveats:
      • What, you want more EMF's, more WiFi and Bluetooth right around your BRAIN?  Sounds like Microsoft has invested a lot of money in the Cancer Treatment Industry...
      • Windows is still Windows, rife with lack of security (how exactly did they pass DOD security standards?  Nepotism?), the largest target of viruses and hackers.  It seems the more computers become personal, the more interactive they get in our lives, the greater the possibility and consequences for destruction.
      • Has anyone used Kinect?  Ford Sync?  The voice and visual interaction that Microsoft has put together have been sketchy.  It doesn't work very well.  "The devil's in the details," and folks, Microsoft is not a detail company given its past history.  I don't trust Microsoft in the execution of those details, and so I don't trust the experience of Hololens will live up to the marketing and hype.  I have seen the opposite with Apple - they market and hype, and the products over-deliver.  As cool and awesome as this is to think it is here, now, and we can start living the Sci Fi dream, I don't think Microsoft is the one to fulfill on that dream.
      • "Cortana is scouring the Internet, learning things about me, about the places I am going, she's getting smarter all the time."  Hmm, and Microsoft is a company known for their fierce protection of customer privacy??????????????  A company that is safe from hackers???????????  And wouldn't cave to a Federal subpoena for personal information (which, by the way, Apple has stated they don't store on their systems, but I bet you anything that Microsoft does)?   And have that tied to Bing, which is their advertising business ala Google?  No thanks, if the product really does worm its virus way into my life, I wouldn't give it to Microsoft.  Guess if I do use Windows 10, I'm using Firefox or Chrome (unless Apple comes out with the current Safari for Windows).
  • Upgrade Pricing
    • Here again, Microsoft is not a leader.  You can upgrade from Windows 7 or 8, to Windows 10 - for free!  Well, for a year.  And then I expect it will be back to business as usual.  Outrageous prices for a mediocre product.
    • They have said nothing about the Server line of Windows products, so the corresponding server version I don't know what their plans are.
  • THE BOTTOM LINE
    • Although it may not seem like it from reading this post, I am very impressed with Windows 10. For the first time in the history of Windows, Microsoft has innovated - taken the leap to the next level of evolution.  For the first time, Microsoft has not only taken steps to bring their browser on a par with the competition, but even to try to bring it ahead (although I'm skeptical it will be that useful).
    • I hope the security and stability have improved - definitely Windows 7 has been a very stable platform, but as I've said before, avoid every other release of Windows because it is unstable.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't test out 10 (aka 9), but certainly I would not advise a business customer to wholesale upgrade the corporate computers to it.  No way.
  • ANALYSIS
    • Microsoft has made a huge leap into the connected digital life, both with a strong focus on private and corporate usage.
    • Apple and Microsoft now have compelling product ecospheres, although Microsoft's is still pretty far behind in the breadth of what it addresses.  I believe that this will be a strong offering for Microsoft to build on for future business, while Apple will remain strong.  That would seem to leave Google pretty far behind, as Chrome OS has seen pretty weak adoption, and the Google Chrome / Android / Glass / Smart Watch ecosphere leaves a lot to be desired, with a very weak cohesive vision.  I think Google will see continued declining market share in the mobile world, and Microsoft will gobble up the lion share of its losses.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Breakdown of Journalism Standards in an Online World

Today news flows so fast we need computers to keep up with it. Reports, blogs, news articles and more are available as events occur or soon thereafter. But has this helped? I'm a single blogger editing my own material, and it's sad to say that my articles have better grammar and spelling than the big news organizations.

Daily, I consume a barrage of feeds - from professional and semi-professional organizations (think NPR, Mobile Nations, local news from WXYZ the ABC affiliate, and more).  And daily, I am hit by constant misspellings, word exclusions, improper word usage, and more - enough to give an English teacher a heart attack.  In fact, I don't think I've read a single article, no matter how short, in years that didn't have at least one issue.

But let's take things into perspective.  Throughout the what, 1300+ year history of the modern English language (and any language for that matter), the language was fluid not just from generation to generation, but from day to day.  As people became literate, there were many different ways to spell (and pronounce) the same word, depending on whom they were addressing in the letter.  It was only as dictionaries were invented, and then computers, when the modern concept of "proper" spelling came along.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, American "dictionaryists" became enamored (enamoured) with reworking spellings to be more consistent, and reduce nonsensical letter combinations with single letters (like tung instead of tongue).  Some caught on, some didn't.  We don't send people to gaol, we incarcerate them in jail.  We don't colour our paper, we color it.  But tung never caught on.

Of course, when computers came of age, the concept of "correct" spelling and grammar were firmly entrenched - because computers LOVE consistency.  Spelling and grammar rules can be programmed, and enforced.

So, we have English that grew up with its rules on spelling - then we have American English (after the efforts of good old Webster to simplify the spellings) who has a bastardized set of rules, let alone a mishmash of words from other languages and cultures mixed in.  For some reason that I cannot explain, my brain has grasped the language, and the nuances and expressions thereof.  But for many others, I know it is difficult to pass (let alone excel) in an English class (American or the Queen's).

And still, I had grown up with a firm sense of that consistency as "right."  The right way to write, the right way to spell.  And, I had thought that journalism as an industry was the epitome of this.  Of course, in my time, newspapers, books and magazines were the only way to get your printed readings.  Now, there are thousands of sources, and mostly digital.  The pace has picked up - and the quality has suffered tremendously.

Why is the written language so important?  As we all know, Human communication is difficult enough by default.  Typos, grammatical errors, exclusions and word rearrangements (common in todays online publications) can lead to misunderstandings, or even mangled meanings.

Now, as annoying as the "correctness" of the written language, what also bothers me about the state of journalism in the digital age, is the immediate, rawness of it all.  Even though much of the professional publications are "edited" and "vetted" before publication, truly I argue that the quality of the editing is sadly inadequate to yesteryears' standards.  I would imagine editors of times past would be quitting on principle if they saw the quality of material produced in copious quantities today.  As they used to say in the show Farscape, what a bunch of dren.

Am I the only one this bothers?  Am I going to be rolling in my grave with nobody else but Andy Rooney (think the episode with him and - booyakasha - Ali G)?

Conversations with Siri #10

Monday, December 22, 2014

WARNING: Do NOT Get MasterPass

Right now is the "Wild West" of electronic purchases.  This is a time of great turmoil, massive insecurity, and as can be expected, a lot of snake oil salesman.  My bank debit card was part of the Home Depot hack, so I have a very strong interest in purchase security and mobile technology, so when I got a flyer from my credit union that I can sign up for MasterPass (and my constant questions about when will they support Apple Pay are constantly answered "no plans"), I was optimistically hopeful.

First, I called my credit union.  I asked them, it looks like MasterPass is only usable online, and not in stores, is that correct?  True.  So, that doesn't help me at all with my concerns - what I want is a solution where they have thought out the various ways in which people steal your payment information, and prevent them.  This is NOT it.

Then, I asked them the big one: when I make a purchase, does the merchant get my payment information (card number, expiration date, security code, and name)?  Or, do they get a unique transaction ID that can only be used once, and doesn't identify me?  They didn't know.  After about half an hour, going between on hold, and checking sources, he gave me the MasterPass Fraud number, 877-219-5053.

Interestingly enough, when I called them, even they didn't know the answers to these basic questions about how it works - they had to put me on hold, and find out.  That, to me, is an indication that I don't want to do business with them.  But, they did get me the answer.

Here's what MasterPass really is:
  • This is an e-Wallet software
  • It adds layers of security protocols, but no real security, on identifying who you are before you make the purchase.  But, that is not when identity theft occurs - it always occurs after you make the purchase.
  • Then, it transmits your card info to only online retailers.  So, it makes it easier to transmit your payment information - in fact, absolutely no different from how Safari web browser does it.  But, after your payment information is entered into the retailer's system, it can be hacked, and it is copied in however many retailer systems you used.  This is totally non-secure.
  • Yes, they do have this "appearance of security" feature, where you get a text message when someone wants to make a purchase, and you have to verify it.  But, first of all, this is only happening when they make a purchase using MasterPass, and not just using the plain card info.  Second of all, SMS is an inherently insecure system, inherently hackable, and it is so easy to clone phones and have the text messages reach multiple devices simultaneously - your phone, and a clone that a criminal made.  So now, all they have to do is cross-reference your payment information with your cell phone IMEI number, and voila - they have a very simple means of circumventing the appearance of security there.
In this day and age, it is very simple to research before you sign up for any new service.  I am frankly dismayed that this non-value-add thing is made available to dupe the American public that the banks and MasterCard is doing something.  Meanwhile, Apple Pay and the Federal law in October holding merchants liable for identity theft if they don't use EMV POS systems are the only things that are moving merchants and card issuers toward security.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Solid State, Hybrid, and Conventional Hard Drive Technology

Many "semi-geeks" are familiar with the term Solid State Drive, or SSD, because the technology has become common-place.  For those of you who want to understand it more, or who love the details like me, I'd like to lay it out for you, as well as the various options we have nowadays.

The Hard Disk Drive

Starting back near the beginning, when the "Hard Disk" was invented, the hard disk drive consisted of a hard metal platter coated with magnetic particles.  (Fun fact: a Hard Disk is a kind of persistent storage - when the power is turned off, the data stored on it persists until the next power-on.)  This spun around on its axis, and an arm moved back and forth with strong earth electro-magnets.  Electrical pulses then altered the magnetic substrate on the platter's surface to store data - by using the magnetic polarity it could set one of two states ("north" or "south" polarity).  Without a current through the magnet, the magnet passing over the surface "read" the surface by magnetic induction - presence of a North vs. South-facing magnetic field in that portion translated to a "1" or "0" in computer memory, and the data was transferred into powered (also called volatile) memory, or RAM.  The computer then conducted its computations on RAM.

Computers still work exactly the same today as all those decades ago, but let's think about the limitations of a hard disk as I describe above.  First, how small can you make a magnetic particle, so that you can cram more data in a smaller space?  There is a limit.  Second, how long does that stay charged to the polarity, and how susceptible is it to changing, thus producing a difference from what was stored?  Over time, that likelihood increases, and computers use various techniques to introduce redundancy.  That takes some overhead of using some of the storage for that redundancy.  If the slightest bit of dust gets onto the platter, it ruins the ability to read/write on it, so it is sealed in a vacuum chamber.

Solid State Drives

Now, Solid State drives store differently.  They are similar to RAM, in that they use transistors to store 0/1 values, but they are non-volatile (i.e. they don't need a constant supply of electricity to hold their values).  In this respect, they are the same as your Compact Flash, SD, USB sticks, or other flash memory, but with SSD the response speed is much faster than even hard drives.  With no moving parts, they last a lot longer, are more reliable, and of course are much more expensive to manufacture.  (Think about this: the arm holding the magnet used to read/write the data doesn't exist, so it doesn't have to move into place mechanically on a SSD drive before it can read/write the data.  Data is accessed directly via electrical routing through transistors and gates.)  SSD's are interchangeable with hard drives - that is, they have the same plugs and can hook into the same cables, in the same sizes and screw mounts as conventional hard drives.

Another benefit of SSD technology, is because it is electronic instead of electromechanical, it uses a lot less electricity and generates a lot less heat.  But the cost is a lot more, around $0.50 or more per Gigabyte, as compared to $0.05 per Gigabyte.  For some, the speed (massively faster) and energy savings is worth it.

Hybrid Drives

Enter 2 new categories.  The first, is a hybrid drive.  Many manufacturers make, in a single drive enclosure, a compound of both technologies.  They have special circuitry that determines files you use most often, and puts those on the SSD portion of the drive, while files you access less often are stored on the platters.  In theory, this will give you the best of both worlds.  Bigger capacity at a more reasonable price, with better performance than a Hard Disk Drive.

For relatively small files, this is great.  Think about what happens when a hybrid drive "changes its mind" about where it wants to store a file - it has to move it.  A very large file, such as a virtual disk file for a Virtual Machine, may not get accessed for a while - say for a week when you don't use the VM.  But then when you do, the access rate alters, and the drive "decides" to move it.  Then, the whole system slows down tremendously while it waits for the drive to respond - and it can't until it's done moving the large multi-gigabyte file.  In these scenarios, Hybrid Drives are not very good.

The nice thing here, is you are getting a single piece of hardware - a physical drive, but inside it is 2 disks, one SSD, and one a set of platters with read/write head on a physical arm.

Fusion Drive

Just like a Hybrid Drive, Apple has, since OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, supported a software-hybrid drive they call a Fusion Drive.  At the OS level, you create what looks to you like a single drive, but behind the scenes it is composed of 2 physical drives (like a storage array).  I don't know how well this performs in similar circumstances where large files change usage frequencies, and thus have to be moved from one disk to another.  However, I would venture to guess it is not any better, because now the file has to move across a bus external to the physical drives.

Recommendations

If you have a computer with a Hard Drive, and don't care too much about its performance (it is just fine with you), then stick where you are at.  But, if you want it to go faster, I would suggest this order of priorities:
  1. If money is no object, get an SSD with the same size or bigger than the one you have.  Go for broke, you will NOT be disappointed.
  2. If you can squeeze by with a smaller capacity to save some money, stay with a true SSD drive.  For performance, you will NOT be disappointed.
  3. If you are buying a new computer, and have a choice between SSD and Hard Disk, go for SSD.  The savings in time and energy are tremendous - you will get significantly better boot time, things will run massively faster, and your battery will last a lot longer.
  4. If you know you can't afford a full SSD with the capacity you need, and all you deal with are small files, then a Hybrid (or Mac Fusion) drive solution may work for you.  If you deal with large files that sometimes don't get accessed, but when they do, get accessed a lot, stay away from Hybrid.  A conventional Hard Disk will be faster.
  5. If you like my article or blog and consider how much it has helped your life, you can donate to my Imerman Family Technology Fund via PayPal at jimerman@gmail.com - we will use it to upgrade our systems, and teach our kids about the technology.
Thanks for reading my blog, and thanks for any donations!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I just got an Android tablet!

SP717 Product Page
Yes, you heard right, the Apple Fanboy got a Droid.  But this is not the droid I was looking for.  It was a freebie.  Why did I accept it?  I plan on using it for app development.  Granted, this is some off-brand, and granted it is a low-end item, but brace yourself, because I am going to review it.  Here goes.

Brand

SKYTEX.  This seems to be a company that has targeted the low-end market.  However, at $75 brand new, they have to compete with the Galaxy Tab and Kindle HD which, for a few dollars more, I am certain are much better quality.

Unboxing

While this SP727 review seems to ooh and ah over the unboxing, it is absolutely apparent to me they have never unboxed an Apple product.   The packaging is a very cheap material (cheap grade of paperboard, plastic, etc.), and the design of the internal packaging is an obvious mimic of Apple's packaging - but without the nice feel, and without anything more than the most basic slip of paper for documentation.

Model and Specs

SP717, 8GB RAM, n WiFi, 1.3 GHz Dual Core Processor.  This whole "Dual Core" is all over the box, all over everything - like it is some big deal to be hyped.  Again, I ask you - what does specs have to do with anything?  Who cares if it's dual core - it is slower than snail snot.  Its sluggish performance reminds me of the old iPhone 3G.  The 800x600 screen is pathetic, like a kid's toy (think LeapPad), and the response to capacitive resistance is really sucky, because it responds to any touch, not just your skin (like the iPad).  I am amazed at the huge border around the screen - everything about it screams "I am cheap" - except the price.  By the way, the screen in real life looks nowhere near as great as the picture above on their web site.  Yes, I am comparing the bottom of the barrel to top of the line, but hey.  You are reading on!

The camera - please!  2MP back-end, and VGA front camera.  These are 15-year-old cameras (or more) in a 2014 model.  Pathetic.  They probably got the lot from the supplier for free, because it freed up their warehouse space.  And 8GB RAM is seriously pathetic - no device nowadays should have less than 16, and I applaud Apple's 16/64 jump to the next level up, I expect 16 will be eliminated soon.  True, it has a MicroSD slot, so that alleviates the pain a bit.

Hey, it does have a mini HDMI out port, so that is one nice thing.

The device is quite thick compared to competitors, and feels very cheap and not sturdy at all.  The screen bezel is a sharp corner, and swiping fingers across it, it feels like cheap plastic.  I contacted support, and asked them if they offered any protection plan - they don't.  I wouldn't either, it would drive me out of business!

This comes with Android 4.2 JellyBean (June 27, 2012).  Do you remember that?  From over 2 years ago?  How do I upgrade it?  Answer from support:  I can't.  They aren't planning on coming out with one.  So apps, security, bug fixes - forget about it.  (Remember - fractured market, lots of device manufacturers, lots of versions out there - and mostly none of them ever ever EVER get updated.)  In this day and age, that's inexcusable.

Buttons -  there is such a thing as well-designed minimalist, and this is not it.  This is minimalism taken too far - there is one button - a power button.  All the others are soft buttons on screen, which responsiveness, touch-feel, and everything else make me cringe.  This is pretty hard to use.  At first power-up, it was OK (took a long time to boot), but after sitting on standby overnight, when I re-activated the tablet, it was freakishly slow, took forever to respond to touches, and when it did, it responded to all the touches at once.  Even after reboot, it is slow.

The charger I was frankly REALLY surprised is a proprietary, non-standard very small round jack (1.5mm?), with a HUGE transformer end that plugs into the outlet.  It is not designed for the modern user, for someone who has multiple devices plugged into an outlet or outlet strip.  It does use one of the standard small USB connectors, but only for data, not for charging.  The battery life seems to be pretty poor, as I had it off overnight, and the charge went from full to 66% (this was hard to tell - I had to go into Settings, then Battery to see the percentage, instead of trying to interpret the tiny little icon on screen, which seems to show more than 66% if I look at it).

Let's get into the Apps.  It has the Google Play store, and what?!?  What!?  There is a SkyTex App Store as well.  With "thousands" of apps in it.  (Yes, that's what it says in the manual.)  Hmm.  Anyhow, I was able to download some apps from Play, and let me say - pathetic!  The way it handles app updates, it is up to you to proactively download them.  And find out about them.  I can guarantee any non-geek will not even think to do it.  But then again, look at the OS, they aren't concerned about keeping you up to date.  Or secure.

I was able to easily enough connect e-mail and calendars, but then again, I am using Google accounts.  It should.

They do have a backup service - online on the cloud.  But, there is nowhere I can go to see its status, verify that it did backup, and I have no idea how to restore.  There appears to be no companion app on a computer to download and help manage it, to allow me to back up and restore.  I mean, who would keep this thing any longer than a year or so?

I took a look at the Google Voice app, and surprise - I was sorely disappointed.  It is much easier to use and much more feature rich on iOS than Android.  The LinkedIn Pulse app crashed a lot, was not very responsive, but otherwise behaved the same as iOS.

Overall, I found Android 4.2 to be not user friendly at all.  This tablet - I personally woudn't have paid for it, but if I were so inclined to get an Android, I wouldn't pay more than $50 for it brand new, taxes included.  It isn't even worth that.

Conclusion

I accept that this is a cheap (quality) tablet, an unknown brand, and an old version of Android OS.  However, this is typical of the Android market - a myriad of hardware, a myriad of manufacturers, and forked OS from old versions.

I also accept that this is a bottom-of-the-line model.  It seems like the lowest level of components available as "manufactured new" today was chosen.

However, my overall experience has left me not wanting to use this thing, for gaming, for the Internet, indeed for anything other than what I have to use it for.  Certainly I do not recommend Skytex brand products, and the overall insecurity of the Android platform makes it hard for me to recommend it as a user.  As a developer, the fractured market makes it difficult to target your app development efforts.  Do you go for 4.2, and not take advantage of anything new in the past few years?  Or do you need the newer features, and thus eliminate portions of your target market?  Or, do you simply give up, and author it as a web application, hoping they will go to it from their browser?  Then, you have the myriad of app stores to deal with for one "platform" - and indeed, the lack of thorough debugging, testing, and community involvement tools available.  Frankly, the costs of developing for Android are much higher than iOS, and the reward much smaller.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Progress or the Appearance of Progress?

Recently, I worked with a customer to get our software to work on a Windows 8.1 workstation (for which I warned him it is not certified).  As a Windows expert for 27 years, I found Windows 8 actually quite difficult to use.  The IT expert I worked with found the same.  So, that brought to mind this topic.

With technology, there are I would argue two different reasons why an established, successful product would be changed.  In the first, what I term "Progress," innovation and redesign happens because it adds to the product in some way - it makes it more capable, easier to use, perhaps take advantage of newer capabilities.  However, the other reason would be progress for the sake of progress - nothing new is added (except look - it is shiny, and different - that's new).

As an example, let's look at operating systems.  Yes, Windows 8.0 - 8.1, Windows 10, and OS X 10.10.  For reference, I am using the vendors' own pages that provide information about what the innovations are in the new versions.

Windows 8.0 - 8.1

Why do I show 2 versions?  Because, if you look at the features, there is nothing substantially different between the two.  What is really new in 8.1, is that they fixed the stability issues that the 8.0 users complained about, and added back the Start menu that they took away and everyone found Windows harder to use. 

So, what is new in Windows 8 family?
  • The Familiar Made Better - that's arguable.  What they say, is that it runs your software (great...it better or nobody would upgrade),  it has virus security (so do all the others, and there is truly nothing new here except a bunch of confusing, annoying hurdles that in reality prevent an IT professional from doing the job they need to do quickly), oh, and they actually say you can use a mouse and keyboard - whoop de big doo doo!  That is innovative!  (sarcasm? what sarcasm?)
  • Start Screen.  This is the only feature, of all of them, that I would call innovative.  I don't think it is a good innovation, but that's merely my opinion.  Personally, I find the metro tiles of different sizes and shapes confusing to the eye - kind of like that newscast where stock ticker scrolls across the bottom, and headlines flash to the right, while the broadcast takes up center screen.  Anyhow, this, truly, is new and I applaud the innovation to try to revamp the interface.
  • Multitasking - very small innovations here come from stealing from other operating systems, namely Gnome Desktop on Linux and OS X.  Not innovative, and they don't add much more than a cosmetic access to your running applications.
  • Search Once, Go Anywhere.  A very small tweak on the Start menu search bar, now searches the Internet.  Meh.
  • Cross-Platform.  They claim that a huge benefit is to have the same Windows on desktop, tablet, and phone.  Listen, Android and Linux make this claim - and what do they end up with?  A developer writes an app - but what paradigm is it designed for?  If it is designed for one, it does not work well on the other.  An app designed for mouse and keyboard, is awkward on mobile, and vice versa.  An app designed for a phone, is shrunk and restrictive on a tablet, whilst a tablet app is crowded and unusable on a phone.
  • One Drive.  This is there anyhow, and anyone who has a computer (be it desktop, server, or mobile) can access One Drive.  How is this Windows 8?
  • Internet Explorer 11.  One area where Microsoft continues to make improvements (how could you not, it was so bad before?).  Meh.  I'm sticking with Firefox on Windows, Safari on Mac.
  • Skype.  Really?  An app, touted as an OS feature?  That rubs me wrong.
  • Windows Store.  It took years I am sure to get it set up, but that is also years behind all the other operating systems in the world - which, by sheer number of computing devices, have outstripped Windows and made it a minority.  I haven't used it, so bravo, Microsoft, for entering the 21st century.  In 2014.
  • Great Apps Come Standard.  Some were always there, while others, new to Windows, have been on other platforms for years.  I mean, like 10 or more years.  Haven't I ranted before on things I couldn't figure out to do, that were so easy on OS X?  It's about time, and still behind other platforms.
  • iPad Vs. Windows.  Very very very interesting here, that Microsoft is trying to tell you how theirs is better than iPad.  Not any other tablet, just iPad.  The very fact that they think they need to compare themselves to that, means you probably shouldn't bother.
  • Cost:  It costs $150 to upgrade to Windows 8.  Worth it?


Windows 10

While the adoption of Windows 8.x has been very slow indeed, and people may be very happy in sitting on Windows 7 and ignoring 8 - you may be surprised to find out that there is a new version coming out.  And it is not 9.  It is 10.  10?  Why 10?  According to  Microsoft, it is so different from previous Windows versions that they had to skip a number, just to show how different it was.  How is it different?  Other than retro, they now have one operating system that works on all devices - computers, tablets, and phones.  That's right - bloat the Windows footprint even more on the device you are using by adding all that junk for the other devices it doesn't need.  Great idea.  Cost to upgrade - meh.  Whatever.

OS X 10.10

In the newest Mac OS, named Yosemite, Apple has changed the look and feel.  A flattened look seems to be industry-wide (as with Windows), plus transparency in app window borders, are the types of non-progress progress I was talking about.  However, here's a feature list new in Yosemite, from which you can plainly see innovation and advancement:
  • Flattened look and feel.  OK, this is a stretch, but while not functionally better, it does give a consistency across mobile and desk/laptop that does enhance the experience across products.  I can see it, I'm not so warm on it.  I like it, don't get me wrong, just not a huge innovation.
  • Spotlight.  This is Apple's search feature, and they extended it to not only search Internet sources (not just Bing or Google, which you can, but also Wikipedia and Wolfram and others).  It also can perform useful functions - like math operations (5*325-83.55=) and others.  It's an enhancement - definitely not original, as Alfred still does more, but hey, it's a base OS improvement.
  • Powerful, built-in apps.  This is where Apple has always shined.
  • Safari.  Let's talk about a few innovations here that really are.
    • Speed and performance, like IE 11, are better than their predecessor.
    • Notifications are way awesome.  Web sites can now allow you to subscribe to push notifications on their site.  This is kind of like getting notifications on your phone, but from a web site to your computer via the web browser.  You get a pop-up when some news happens in the Notification Center, click, and it takes you to the web page.
    • Sharing - you can share between e-mail, messaging, send to your phone - right from the browser.
    • Netflix HTML 5 video, and more innovation that gets more battery life out of your old or new laptop.
  • Mail.  Cool new mail markup features, and these are awesome.
  • iCloud Drive.  Meh, yet another cloud storage, big deal - except it is integrated with mobile.
  • Messages.  The Messages app is now fully integrated with your mobile Messages apps.  On your phone and tablet, both SMS and iMessages can be sent and received from any device including computer, and they are synched almost instantly.  It rocks!
  • Handoff.  Truly innovative, this means that you can start something on one device, and pick it up and continue on another.  E-mails, documents, and more - start editing, and set it down, you get an icon on the other devices (phone, tablet, computer) to continue.
  • Cost:  It costs $0 to upgrade to 10.10.  Worth it?

     So, when you compare the costs, one thing does stand out.  Apple sells hardware.  Microsoft sells software.  Software gets you coming and going - while Apple, you buy it, you own it.  I'm so there.