Category Archives: Technology

Microsoft and Touch

As an attendee of Microsoft’s 2009 PDC conference I received a free Acer laptop with a touch screen that swivels around so instead of using it like a “clamshell” type laptop, you can also use it like a big thick clipboard, writing and tapping on the screen to accomplish your tasks. I appreciated this gesture from Microsoft. They are really trying very hard to shed the poor image they earned themselves over recent years. I haven’t had a Windows machine in the house for a number of years now. While I don’t need one, there are a couple of things I can think of to use it for.

The first thing I wanted to play around with was the touch functionality. Not only can you use your finger to point at things, but it also comes with a stylus. Microsoft has been a huge proponent of “digital ink” – that is, using a pen-like device to write on the screen. They’ve been pushing this for years. It’s never really taken off in the consumer market, however.

So, knowing that I’m grateful for the laptop and that I’m commenting on their touch functionality ONLY and not the laptop specifically, here’s what I think.

As far as the consumer is concerned, Microsoft’s progress on the touch interface over the last several years has been virtually zero. You’ve likely seen the commercials about Windows 7 and the new touch screen computers you can buy from the big vendors. So while there’s more hardware support these days than there was a couple of years ago, as a user I don’t find any meaningful advances from Microsoft’s last six years in this area.

I’m sure that there are lots of things Microsoft will say to try to get you to believe they’ve revolutionized touch on the laptop and desktop computer, but I’m just not seeing it when it comes to Windows usability. Sure, custom restaurant point of sale systems can (and do) benefit from the touch interface. But I’m not using those. I’m using Windows. And as for touch being a user interface for Windows, Microsoft is still a long, long way off.

Take, for example, my new laptop’s ability to swivel the screen around 180 degrees so I can hold it like a clipboard and use the stylus. Well here’s the problem with that: when I hold it, my fingers wrap around the case and touch the screen, which totally screws up what Windows thinks my input is. I’ve tried to hold the thing differently, but I don’t want to drop it. I’ve also tried putting it down on the desk, but one of the things they haven’t accounted for is the fact that most people put their hand on their desk when they write on a piece of paper. Think about it. When was the last time you wrote a note to somebody while keeping your writing hand OFF the table?

So rather than embrace writing, which is something almost everyone in the world does, what they’ve done is to force everyone to adapt the way they write in order to use digital ink. That strikes me as the complete opposite of how one would approach this. Can people re-learn how to write using Microsoft’s solution? Probably. Should they have to? No, I don’t think so. My opinion is that people should use things in a natural way. In other words, features aren’t features at all if people can’t (or don’t want to) use them.

Next, I wanted to talk about the onscreen keyboard that you can opt to use when the laptop is in “tablet” mode. For some reason that completely escapes me, they’ve implemented this as a “tap one key at a time with the stylus” feature. What were they thinking? They simply moved “hunt and peck” to the touch screen. I tried typing on it, but it failed miserably because it’s not designed to accept more than one key every second or so. In addition, there isn’t any kind of logic involved with regard to typing with your fingers. For example, if I type the letter “q”, it naturally follows (based on the English language, in my case) that “u” is a likely follow-up. Unfortunately Microsoft didn’t take these kinds of things in to account. So I could type “qiestion” (over the course of 7 seconds or so) and Windows 7 does nothing at all to make logic out of that. In Word, it might highlight that as a spelling error, but it doesn’t preemptively correct these mistakes.

The kicker is, there are already companies that do this. You don’t have to press the “BKSP” key to correct what you’ve done because if you just keep typing it will determine the work you had in mind.

“Speak and Spell” or “Tonka” level is what comes to mind when I think about Microsoft’s touch functionality. These were toys when I was a kid, for those who don’t know. 🙂

So there it is. A couple of my opinions about Microsoft’s touch work. I welcome comments, particularly those that tell me I’m wrong and if I just flip a switch everything works fine.

iPhone 3GS: I Should Pay More

I got an iPhone 3G almost a year ago and I got a two-year cell service contract with AT&T so I could get a deep discount. I’ve loved the phone, and will love it even more after I install the iPhone OS 3.0 software on it.

Apple announced the iPhone 3GS at WWDC this week and some customers are throwing petitions around and complaining on their blogs and other web sites that AT&T should cut them a break and give them the discount normally reserved for those who have satisfied their contracts. I do not agree with these people.

I think the iPhone 3GS just puts Apple even further ahead of every other smart phone on the market in the world today than they already were. Blackberry folks have (to a large extent) remained loyal, but Windows Mobile and other smart phone operating systems have, to put it bluntly, failed miserably in the face of real-life innovation and their plummeting market share proves this.

I want the video camera. I want the digital compass. I want the faster 3G and the faster processor. But I should pay more because I haven’t satisfied my contract with AT&T. Once I have, over 12 months from now, there’ll likely be yet another new model on the horizon. So I’ll save my next discount for that one instead of whining and being greedy.

This DOES NOT MEAN that I’m fond of AT&T. I feel their data pricing is criminally-high and their laziness to market with the new features is completely ridiculous.

I should point out, though, that there are plenty of people out there who are still under contract who WILL pay the full, unsubsidized prices for the new 3GS. To these people I say bravo – enjoy your new phone!

The Mojave "Experiment"

When I first saw The Mojave Experiment something struck me as odd. I couldn’t put my finger on it initially, but after pondering it for a while I realized that the whole concept is completely flawed. Rather than provide a narrative here of why this is such a misleading and botched “experiment”, I’ll simply link to a blog post that someone else wrote, which sums it up:

Oh My!

I preface this by saying that I did what most of my friends did. I followed the direct link to Apple’s web site to download what was supposedly the final version of the iPhone 2.0 firmware and I did the manual install. I did NOT do it the sanctioned way of going through iTunes. I therefore may have either a corrupted or out-dated version.

What’s up with the downloaded apps not starting up? I downloaded about 6 free apps and installed them, and for the first couple of days they worked. But for the last two days, they don’t launch. None of them. They try to, but after no more than five seconds, it gracefully returns to my home screen with no error message. Strangely, all of the standard iPhone applications work as they should.

So I write this with two things in mind.

1. If I’m on 5A347, am I on the wrong version?

2. If 5A237 is the final version of iPhone 2.0, Apple – what’s up with these apps not starting anymore?

The Art of Choice

I saw a story on Digg that was a spoof on an iPhone commercial. The guy talked about spending $600 for the first model, then having the price get lowered by $200 in  almost no time (no mention of the $100 store credit that Apple gave all those customers, by the way). Then shelling out another $199 for the new iPhone 3G with a more expensive data plan. I didn’t personally get a new phone, but I know of a couple of people that did.

A comment on that Digg post by a guy named Jim read as follows:

“I’ll re-state what many other clear-minded people here have stated before: You don’t HAVE to buy the phone. Don’t like the prices? Go find another phone/carrier.

I can’t afford a Mercedes, but you don’t see me bitching to them about it in some shitty blog. Get over it.”

I couldn’t agree with this person more. Nobody is forcing anyone to stand in lines for hours. Nobody is forcing anyone to spend another $199 plus service charges. People are CHOOSING to do so. By the hundreds of thousands.

Did I Find What I was Looking For?

Vista’s telling me that no items matched my search (when, in fact, there are actually items that match what I was searching for, but hey – whadaya gonna do).

Well if no items matched my search, why does Vista ask me if I found what I was looking for? Wouldn’t a better message be “Because Vista could not find any items matching your search, please choose from the following two options: (search within file contents and advanced, as shown below).

Search in file contents? Why the hell didn’t Vista do that when I clicked Start and then put my search string in the “Start Search” textbox on the start menu? I mean, what did Vista think I wanted to search? Just file names? How Windows 95-esque.

“Advanced” search? Why do I have to do an advanced search to find a simple file that is stored in plain ASCII text in a non-system folder?

I should add that it took Vista TWO MINUTES to complete the search where it didn’t even find what it should have found. I just got this brand new machine here at work on Friday. So the hard drive has very little spaced used on it in relation to its 150 GB size.

This is just an absolutely terrible implementation of [not] finding things on one’s computer. Rubbish. It’s like Microsoft made no progress at all on this in the past 10 years, and that’s a LONG time in the computer industry.


If I have a photo that is of higher resolution than my monitor, why is Vista too stupid to scale it down proportionally so I can see it as my desktop background without it being distorted?

Doesn’t it seem that something this trivial would have made it in to a product that took more than five years to create?

NBC's Shows on Zune

I just read the article below, stating that Zune owners will be able to purchase NBC television shows for … wait for it … $1.99 per episode. Hmm. If I recall correctly, wasn’t that the same price they were on iTunes before Jeff Zucker decided to walk away?

If Microsoft is merely breaking even or taking a loss on these shows (to give NBC more money), I have to say that going from a business model that offers you tens of millions of customers to a business model that offers you (in comparison) closer to zero than tens of millions seems like a terrible decision to me. But I’ve blogged about Jeff Zucker’s terrible instincts and business sense before.

Zune is a device that hasn’t really made much of a (if any) dent in the iPod market. So to me this “partnership” between NBC and Microsoft is like the blind leading the blind.