Windows 10 Release Imminent

Tomorrow is the big day! The roll out of Microsoft’s newest flagship OS begins. Free for users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1; it really is a no-brainer update. If you hated Windows 8 and stayed on Windows 7, it is time that you got the benefits of that OS as well as the new one…it is faster, boots quicker, the transparency has been removed, and it has a cleaner UI. If you are currently on 8 or 8.1, you get your start menu back!

For everyone, there is the personal assistant Cortana, a new web browser, improved multi-tasking, and updated Windows Snap and multi-monitor support. Windows 10 may be the achievement of Microsoft’s decade plus plan to have one Windows run everywhere.

There are plenty of good reviews out there (hint: use google), so I won’t do one here. The OS is solid with great backward support and is a must upgrade for anyone….and the price is right.


Windows 8 a Desktop User’s Experience

While we are still two months away from general availability, Windows 8 was released to MSDN and Technet subscribers yesterday.

Much has been written about the juxtaposition of the new Modern UI (the user interface formerly known as Metro) and the legacy desktop.  One is for touch and the other for traditional PCs.  Since I have a traditional PC, I do what I can to avoid the Modern UI; thankfully it is a fairly easy accomplishment.

First though, Windows 8 is polished in the same way that Windows 7 was.  You may disagree with the design philosophy, but there is no arguing with the implementation. It is stable and fast and there is no need to wait for a service pack to make the transition.

But should you upgrade?  On a traditional PC I don’t see enough prominent changes to justify the expense and time involved in upgrading from Windows 7.  XP era computers will not be fast enough to run it and if you have held off upgrading your Vista box to 7, then wait a little longer and get 8.

First, what’s missing or replaced in Windows 8?  To name a couple of obvious examples; the start button, the start menu, aero glass, gadgets, Media Center, and DVD playback.  The start button and menu have been replaced with hot corners and the start screen, these operate the same as their predecessors did in earlier versions of Windows.  If 5 minutes doesn’t familiarize you with these changes, then you may want to get checked for early onset Alzheimers.  If the test is negative, there are lots of OSs available with a traditional desktop.   Aero and gadgets will not be missed while missing Media Center and DVD Playback is a boneheaded move to save a few dollars.  To my knowledge the price of adding these multimedia features back has not been announced and the upgrade is not yet available.

Since I don’t have a touch enabled device, following is what’s new for traditional desktop users.  The log-in screen has been altered substantially, I don’t know if it is better or worse than previous versions, but it is different.  While multi-monitor support is improved (hello multi monitor taskbar) I still find the need to use Display Fusion to manage my monitors.  File Explorer has been incrementally improved, the ribbon is masterful in its implementation (I had my doubts).  The ribbon can be hidden, its features are not needed 99.75% of the time, it both saves screen real estate and aids in feature discoverability.  The task manager has seen vast improvements in both usability and responsiveness.  MS account integration has been added to make syncing settings between PCs easy, iso (and other image files) files can now be mounted without the help of third party utilities (about time).  The recovery options have been revamped but I haven’t had the need to use them yet.  Also, Hyper-V virtualization is baked in but I haven’t played with that yet either.

I’ve installed Stardock’s Start8  which transforms the start screen into a smaller version of itself which overlays the desktop, it also allows you to boot to the desktop.  This free (so far) utility is necessary fare for those without touch enabled devices.

The new theme is so much better than any that has come before it.  Gone are the bloated transparencies, the pseudo-3D effects and gradients.  This leaves a polished and unobtrusive layer of chrome.  While it is entirely subjective, I like the new flat squared look.  The taskbar and selected window bar can be set to change with the background, a nice touch.  There are still a couple of areas that could use some clean-up, I would like to see the transparency removed from the taskbar and the goofy glow removed from hovering over taskbar items (at least they don’t jump;-)  Some settings windows have been updated to the Modern look, a nice improvement over the Windows 95/98 look they have had for 15 years.

I have not had any problems with hardware or software that ran on Windows 7, I think it is safe to assume that this stuff will just work.  Hardware wise, I am really wanting one of MSs upcoming surface mice (or is it mouses?)

In conclusion, I think Windows 8 is a solid incremental update to Windows 7.  I think that this is one where the supposed technorati will hate it while most users will like it.

More interesting is wondering what Windows 9 will be like.  Will it flesh out Modern UI to make it a desktop replacement or will both UIs be maintained in duo?

Towards Defining the Post-PC World

PC; before it became politically correct it stood for Personal Computer.  At first it only applied to IBM compatible systems, but anon it became synonymous with a class of computing devices regardless of provenance.  Historically, PC refers to a general purpose computing device designed to be used by one person at a time.  But more broadly it has also come to refer to a multi-user device that runs arbitrary code.

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other computing appliances; there has been debate about whether or not these devices are in fact PCs.  In some ways these devices are much more personal than traditional PCs.  Generally designed for a single user, these devices sometimes forgo the ability to run arbitrary code.  So, are they PCs?

I would argue that they are in fact PCs, but PCs of a special type.  I propose adding “Appliance Computer” (AC) and “ultra-Personal Computer” (uPC) to the lexicon of computing definitions.

An Appliance Computer can be defined as a PC meant for a specific purpose or without the ability to run arbitrary code.  ACs would include devices designed to only run a web browser (ie ChromeOS) and devices designed to only run a manufacturer’s defined code set.

An ultra-Personal Computer would be a device which meets the standards of a PC, yet whose size, purpose, and/or usage scenarios make it predominantly a single user device.  By this definition, AT&T Android devices (which lack the ability to run arbitrary code) would be ACs, whereas Verizon Android devices (which retains the ability to run arbitrary code) would be uPCs.

Windows RT (the upcoming ARM version of Windows) lacks the ability to run arbitrary code and, at best, can only be considered an appliance.  The same applies to Apple’s iDevices.  However; root, jailbreak, or otherwise hack these devices to run arbitrary code and they  become uPCs.

These ideas are simply formed and may not hold up under rigorous (or even cursory) debate.  Just getting out some things that have been percolating in my brain recently.

RIP: WIMP (1984-2012)

Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer (WIMP) is a GUI paradigm popularized by Apple in 1984.  Of course Apple didn’t invent WIMP, that was Xerox PARC in 1973.  But Apple did steal borrow the idea and popularize it.  Microsoft gave WIMP its lasting look with the introduction of Windows 95, and until recently, not much changed.  Computing converged, and the WIMP paradigm reined supreme.

With the rise of mobile, full screen became the norm and the concept of windows retreated onto the desktop.  But the seeds for the demise of WIMP were sowed a decade ago.  In 2002 MS released Win XP Media Center Edition, the media center application eschewed the WIMP paradigm in favor of  a clean text based interface.  This new interface was fleshed out further with the first refresh of the Zune media player in late 2007.  The Zune desktop client also went sans menus and focused on a text driven interface.  With the release of  Windows Phone 7 in 2010, sporting a fully Metro-ized interface, the writing was on the wall, WIMP’s days were numbered.

Now, with the soon to be released Windows 8, WIMP’s dominance is challenged and Metro has achieved parity.  Metro is a Microsoft specific UI paradigm based in classic Swiss graphic design, favoring clean typography while removing as much UI chrome as possible.

In Microsoft’s Metro, Windows have been replaced with full screen apps and a (somewhat limited) tiling interface.  Icons have been replaced with text based tiles, providing more information more quickly that was achievable with an icon based system.  Menus have been slowly done away with and a ribbon interface is taking their place.  The pointer is still prominent in mouse driven desktops but is done away with in touch based systems (as well as gesture based systems like MS Surface and MS Kinnect).

Hence the title, RIP:WIMP.  This is not to say that we won’t be using the legacy WIMP UI for quite some time.  Windows 8 gives Metro parity with WIMP.  Windows 9 will move us more fully into the Metro paradigm and it is an open question if WIMP will be anywhere in site when Windows 10 rolls around.

So while WIMP was popularized, but not first implemented in 1984, its replacement is implemented, but not yet popularized, in 2012.

And WIMP is popular, it has been the dominant paradigm for 18 years (an eternity in tech time).  There will be heavy resistance to its replacement in the coming years.  Trial and error will have to occur before its replacement is accepted and completely implemented.  This new UI paradigm is still being fleshed out, it still lacks a catchy acronym/name, and the pieces are not all in place yet.  But they will be.  In the meantime we will have bastardized Frankenstein kludges like Windows 8.

Inertia is strong, but human/computer interaction will progress, and WIMP will be a casualty of that progress.  The writing is on the tile.

Edit: Here is a MS page on Metro that illustrates a lot of what I said above.  Watch the videos, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth ten thousand.

Music Management on Windows

Before I begin, let me reiterate what it says off to the right there: “Not intended to be objective, anything posted here is my opinion and is subject to change without notice.”  I bring that up because this post only reflects my personal usage, your mileage may vary.

Music management on Windows has long been a sore spot of mine.  There are loads of available “jukebox” style music managers/players available.  However, I have found, that for my personal usage, they all have problems.  Not being satisfied with my music management tools I dutifully install each new release in the hope that this will be the one that provides management nirvana.  Up until now, Media Monkey has proven to be the most apt, but it has bugs and quirks that still bother me.

So with the release of iTunes 10, I downloaded and installed it.  When you download and install iTunes you also get (without asking) Apple Updater, Quicktime, Bonjour, iPod driver, iPhone driver, MobileMe,  and Apple Application Support.  You also get 4 persistent processes.  So iTunes has a heavy disadvantage to overcome before you even import your music files.  The problem with iTunes for music management is that it does not allow you to manage your files.  As odd as it sounds, there is no way to re-sync your iTunes database with your music directory if you make changes.  Like most things Apple, it is either Job’s way or the highway.  After turning off the store “features” in iTunes, getting rid of the unusable (s.l.o.w) cover flow, and disabling all the distractions (genius, dj, radio, movies, apps, podcasts, etc…), it was basically useful as a mp3 player.  But for management of a large music collection, it still falls far short of being useful.  After uninstall, you have to go uninstall 5 applications that Apple left splattered on your system.  This pretty much makes iTunes malware in my book.

Windows Media Player has its own issues.  WMP 12 is the best ever version of media player, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.  With Windows 7 libraries it is cool to have adaptive real time loading of music.  But in practice, this leads to balky behavior on WMPs part.  Too often when I want to navigate to something, I am stopped while WMP looks for changes or loads information.  A responsive interface is a basic requirement of a usable application, WMP drops that ball too often.  I still use it as a default music/video player, I just don’t use it to manage my collection or listen to my library.

I saw that Songbird was up to version 1.8, so I decided to give it another shot.  So I downloaded, installed, and loaded up my music.  Holy cow, it is terrible, how did this get released?  The interface literally takes 10 seconds to change views.  Click…wait…wait some more…interface changes.  And it does not matter what you are doing, everything is slow.  The only consolation, unlike last time, Songbird did not destroy my mp3 tags.  Being a masochist at heart, I will likely try it again in a future release (I like the idea of Songbird, it just sucks in practice.)

After my experience with Songbird, I decided to forgo experimenting with doubleTwist this time around.  Not more than a month or two ago (when they released their Android app) I gave doubleTwist a try.  To me it seemed like an alpha release, and I will give it time to mature before trying again.  Like Songbird, I like the idea of doubleTwist.

I also didn’t give the Zune player a try this time around…I don’t have the urge to “get social” with my music listening.  Actually I do get social, but it is with, not Microsoft.

I’ve seen that Foobar 2000 gets a lot of geek cred, so I checked it out for the first time.  My finding is that it is geekier than I am.  Customizable and fast are two of its best features, but it takes too much diddling to make it usable and its tag management is basic at best.

Which brings me to my biggest surprise, Winamp.  Yes that Winamp, the one I used as my first music player before I had files to manage.  I think I first used Winamp 2, then graduated to Winamp 3 before switching to something more full featured (Musicmatch Jukebox).  To my surprise, Winamp is quite good as a music manager.  It does not lag and is the most responsive player amongst any that I have tried.  It ships with a couple of decent themes and many more are available, tagging is full featured and robust, it syncs with the library, and it is easily customizable.

With all of this in mind, I’ve decided to give Winamp a longer term trial.  It may take up to a month to know if Winamp will replace Media Monkey as my music management and player software.  It claims to sync with the iPod so I will see how that works at some point…that may be the deciding point.  It seems more stable and snappy than Media Monkey, even if it has far fewer features.

After my trial, I will write up a comparison between Winamp and Media Monkey, currently the best media player/managers available, on any platform (the last statement is only true because Amarok botched its re-write so badly.)  And for the Apple defenders, iTunes on Mac will not make the running until it learns to respect and make use of the changes that are made in other applications and the file manager.

Edit: After posting this I noted that KDE for Windows had added Amarok back to its installer, however I was unable to get it to install…I think there is a bug in the 4.4.0 installer.

KDE on Windows

I’ve been hearing about this project for quite some time…but I hadn’t heard how it was progressing in quite some time. Last I heard they had Amarok running but it did not actually play music.
Today I had some time to waste, and I stumbled across the KDE for Win website, so I gave it a try.  I put it on my laptop as I expected it to bork my system…and I would much rather rebuild my laptop than my desktop.  I downloaded the KDE installer and that gave me the option of installing a bunch of  packages.  I chose Amarok, Digikam, Games, and some others.  To my surprise it downloaded and installed them, much more surprising was that the applications ran!!  I played some games, they were good.  I opened and configured Amarok but I only had a few albums on my laptop so I could not test the library management features.  Same for Digikam, no picture collection to play with.  I decided that if I could get the KDE stuff to uninstall I would go ahead and install it on my desktop…I found that if you run the installer it unintsalls fine.

So I put Amarok and Digikam (with Kipi plugins!) on my main desktop.  I have about 5000 pictures and more than 20000 songs, so I really appreciate good management tools.  And both of these are best of class.

I was amazed by how well they run.  They are close to “being there”.  I loaded up my libraries and actually have them both running.  There are still missing features but I don’t know if they have yet to be implemented in KDE 4 or if they are waiting to be ported to Windows.

I bring this subject up because if you are a fan of KDE and its apps, you should really check this project out…it has come a long way…

I believe KDE has large goals for Windows…even hoping to replace the Windows shell some day…

I wish them well and thank them for the work they have put into making this possible…a job well done.

Edit: (in response to a personal email) No, neither Amarok or Digikam are ready for prime time.  There is something called kio slave that keeps crashing.    Both apps load the library but are slow and somewhat unstable, not all features are implemented.  Amarok is closer to primetime than Digikam.

Moving Back to Windows

So I used Linux as my main desktop for a year (more like a year and a half), gave up on Windows for a while.  Now, I give up on Linux.  Why after a year would one give up you might ask…

1)Firefox–Flash–I do not know who is to blame, but I am sick and tired of having to fiddle with Flash everytime I click on a Youtube video.  Firefox on Linux sucks, nothing more to be said.  Except that there are no other usable options.  I am tired of re-installing Flash every day.

2) Sound drivers–Sure sound works out of the box, but no amount of fiddling will give me good sound.  Sound drivers work half assed, just got tired of it.

3) Lack of access to internet content.  Could not watch the Olympics on the net, could not watch the DNC on the net.  Can not use any of the video rentals on the net.  Sure this is the proprietary formats fault–but in the end who cares whose fault it is, I just want access to content.

4) The linux community holier than thou attitude.  Not the developers, but the users.  They spend their time thinking they are superior…puh-leez…get over yourselves.  If I wanted to deal with chumps like you, I would get a Mac.  If I ever have to deal with some child talking about Windoze Lusers, or Microshaft or any of the other childish crap you have to deal with on the Linux forums it will be to soon.

I do not dislike Windows, I dislike Microsoft.  Windows (even Vista) is great.  I will try Linux again…maybe next year…

Browsing the Web on Windows

I gotta say Wow! to Firefox 3.  I installed the most recent beta on my Windows box and it is really nice.  I don’t use that computer every day but in my short tests it is a truly superior browser.

I installed IE 8 beta, Opera 9.5 beta, Firefox 3 beta, and Safari 3.1 beta.  Thought I would get a taste of what the future of browsing on Windows is.  I find (and this is subjective, your milage may vary) that IE and Firefox offer the superiour experience over Opera and Safari.  I tested them all in Vista both in Aero mode and in classic mode.

Opera has done nothing to change the UI from previous versions which makes it seem out dated.  The navigation bar between the tabs bar and the  main window is a major distraction.  Opera’s UI is definitely more at home in classic mode.  I did not try out the new features.  Opera is still the far and away most feature complete out of the box web browser.

Safari looks the same in both windows modes and is basically the Leopard look.  It is out of place and fugly in both modes.  It is too dark when it has focus, Apple should have gone with the lighter non focus color.  Except for the much discussed sub par font rendering and the entire UI, Safari is a fine browser.  The main blocks to my getting used to Safari is its lack of opening with the previous tabs open feature and the lack of adherence to the keyboard shortcuts used by the other browsers.

IE takes the 7 edition UI and tweaks it in minor ways.  I think the UI of 7.0 is the beginning of the new UI for web browsers in general.  I don’t run IE, I hate malware and I just don’t get it in Firefox.  I run no aditional security software on Vista (or on XP sp2 and beyond.)  It has been years since I have had viri or malware.  IE is the best looking browser using Aero but its looks fade in classic mode.

Firefox remains my top pick.  It is solid and much more integrated with the OS in both Aero and classic modes.  The visual changes are all a step in the right direction, I give the mozilla monsters credit for advancing this browser to the next level.   I would like to see Thunderbird get this kind of love.  I am currently not running version 3 on my main desktop, too worried of borking my system with conflicts in the repos.  But I think I will get lots of use of running Prism as an extension–this feature will clearly be well worth the price of admission.

All four of these browsers show that the web is not standing still and neither is our way of using it.

Edit:  One thing is clear from this quick look, Apple will not gain significant market share by including Safari as an update to Quicktime.  I personally installed it as an update to iTunes, but I can’t imagine that I will ever use it.  Remember that when S Jobs released Safari for Windows he stated that his goal was to kill off Opera and Firefox and to take a small sliver of IE’s share…he was up front about the objectives, now the method has become clear too.

Boy Does Parallels Suck

A while ago I heard that Parallels was added to the Ubuntu repos.  Cool I thought.  so I went to Parallels website and purchased two licenses–one for my Linux box and one for my Win box.  So far so good…$93 seemed like a good price.

Parallels uses the Element5 webstore…that should have been a hint….I had problems with them years ago via some Scansoft software.

So I installed Parallels into my Mint box, it installed correctly…it ran correctly…I attempted to install an OS into vm–half way through install my entire computer locked…and stayed locked…hard reboot.  Try again, same result.  Try another OS, same result.  WTF?

I went to Element5 and requested a refund.  The next day, no response, back to Element5 and request a second time.  No response.

I install Parallels into Windows.  Half way through install of PCBSD the app crashes, whoops gone.  No error, no message, gone. Attempt to install openSuSE with the same result.

Still no response from Element5–so I go to Parallels and request a refund.  Wait 3 days, no reply.  WTF?

I turn them into the BBB, get a response.  My credit card has been credited, along with a terse note not to use the software.  WTF?  The software does not work, how the hell would I use it?  Is this a joke?

I go back to VMWare workstation…works like a charm.

Do yourself a favor, spend the extra for a proven product…Parallels really does suck.

How to win friends and influence users–a rant

Note:  This is a modified version of a post I made on the Linux Mint forums.

Most of those with ties to GNU/Linux want to see usage expand. Many are the reasons that folks make the switch, and rarely is it easy–folks must give up the familiar and take a step into the unknown to make the switch. This is never comfortable and boards such as this one exist to give these new (or potential) users a hand.

Choosing an OS is not just about choosing an OS–there is an entirely different ecosystem that is built around each OS and the entire ecosystem may have to be changed. Hardware peripherals may or may not work with the new ecosystem, familiar applications may have to be replaced with unfamiliar ones, procedures for getting stuff done may have to be replaced with new ones, in general switching OS’s is rarely as easy as inserting a CD and rebooting.

Many in the Windows world have outdated views of Linux–how often do we hear “it is too hard”, or “Linux is only for geeks”, or other such views that may have been true 5 years ago but are not true now. (Many in the GNU/Linux world promote these outdated stereotypes in an attempt to maintain their own [self-perceived] elite status–but that is another rant…)

Windows users have major investments in their computing ecosystem, monetary, temporal, emotional, etc… Rarely can you get them to give up this investment and embark on a new journey by running them down. Using terms like Windoze, Microshaft, M$, etc…is not the way to win converts. This sort of attitude only makes the Windows user more entrenched in their world, these attacks may not be meant as personal, the user of such terminology may not even be aware that they are attacks, but they do nothing to win over users and may even do harm.

Earlier I mentioned that many Windows users have outdated views of Linux, in the same way, many Linux users have outdated views of Windows. You can see this when they use terms like MICROS~1 (how long has it been since Windows used Dos naming conventions?) and talk of BSOD’s as if they are still common. The average Windows user is probably no less intelligent than the average Linux user, running down these users with outdated stereotypes that the user knows to be untrue is not doing anything to help win them over.

Some may say that they do not want to win over new users, they fear that if the masses adopt Linux it will become just like Windows or they fear that they may lose their (self-perceived) elite status. As for me, I want new users. When I switched to Linux I had to give up the Amazon MP3 store, Amazon movie rentals, and Movielink rentals. I would like access to these things, but I know it won’t happen until Linux reaches some critical mass. I don’t know what that critical mass is…if I had to make a guess, I would put it at 10% or better.

So I titled this rant, “How to win friends and influence users”, so I should give my take on how to make that happen. Respect. Nothing more, nothing less. People can be enabled to make different choices without running them down. Search any Linux forum for terms like “windoze” or “Microsoft Sucks” and you will see what I mean.  I have no way of knowing what motivates people to such behavior, but as a recent convert myself, I can guarantee you that this only serves to entrench Windows users with a bunker mentality. If you really want to win friends and influence users, try a little respect.

Addendum: I am also guilty of this lack of respect, whether referring to Apple Fanboy or FOSS Zealot…I will try to do better this year…