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.
    • 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.
    • 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