29 July 2005

Microsoft-bashing week continues

I really don't intend to be bashing MS with such regular abandon - and it's just my first week. But another day and another few stories caught my interest.

First up: MS introduced "Genuine Advantage" this week - a way of ensuring that only valid copies of the OS receive updates. Within 24 hours apparently its been hacked and the simplicity is incredible.

Second: Which planet is Steve Ballmer on? Today I read that they are planning a "Premium" version of Office for which they will be able to charge yet more money (see earlier story this week over the worldwide cost of MS's monopoly). They don't know what features will be in it yet - just that they'll find a way to charge even more. It's already a MAJOR component of the price we pay for a new computer. And, it's already feature fat for 99% of users. At a time when OpenOffice and other's are homing in on this turf, this seems like the wrong direction to be heading.

Third: A lot of fuss about a Register article on IE7 in Vista Beta 1 not working with Yahoo and Google toolbars, which appears to be limited to only some people. It's certainly got the MS-defenders frothing, even if it is a bit of El Reg mischief. However, what I find funny is that the MS of old would CERTAINLY have done this. It is only now they wouldn't dare as they know the courts would come down on them heavily (well, at least ask them nicely after 3 years to make a parallel version of IE7 called something like IE7XT that costs the same, does less, and give people the choice to ignore it).

The combination of Ballmer and Allchin (see earlier this week) arrogance and the THREAT of monopoly suits are what is eventually going to remove MS as the ├╝ber-dominant supplier. They are still at the top of the slippery slope, but they're on it.

Pre-Edinburgh Comedy

I had the pleasure of seeing 5 different comedians over the last few nights at the Riverside theatre in Hammersmith. These are "practice" sessions for their Edinburgh gigs. Both Russell Howard and Colin & Fergus put on a good show, and I think we'll hear more of Russell. Chris Addison was also on - following his Perrier-short-listed gig last year - with his musings on science (and lots of other topics along the way) in a show called Atomicity. Highly recommended.

But my real favourite was undoubtedly Richard Herring. If you are a devout Catholic, a fan of Rudyard Kipling, deeply care for monkeys, and have a yoghurt dependency, you may wish to avoid this show. But I found it truly laugh-out-loud. For me, that's unusual! I mention Richard's site also because he's been one a long-time embracer of the internet. His "warming up" section is in fact a blog which he has updated daily for, I think, several years (and is available RSS)

If you're not easily offended, then catch him at Edinburgh!

28 July 2005

And another Microsoft story...

I saw this yesterday.
It's a paper by an Australian company (vested interests not specified), about the cost to the world of Microsoft's monopoly (quick estimate = $10billion/year)

It makes some interesting reading. Personally I suspect it could be more than that. In the UK, the government has a very cos(tl)y relationship with MS for instance.

The authorities are often too scared/feeble/incompetent to do anything about it. I also wonder whether their competitors mind hugely? Does Apple win or lose by MS charging what it does for MS Office for instance?

Windows Vista - Journos do your job!

Note: this is not a review or critique of Windows Vista, rather a critique of the current reporting of it!

So, Windows Vista Beta 1 is now available, and I've already read some articles that stun me with their inaneness.

Let's deal with this one first at the normally reliable CNet:
Interview with Jim Allchin

We did change the file directory space. I consider that to be a step up. It was more than getting rid of the word "My." (In Vista, the folder that was once "My Documents" will become simply "Documents," while "My Photos" will become "Photos," and so forth.) We are trying to simplify it and make it easier.


So, I'm glad to see it's MORE than getting rid of the word "My"! But how much more? Is this the sort of change that is worthy of discussion? It's hardly original is it (er, Mac OS X from 2001!).

And the only other thing I could note of interest:
We've done some calculations of power savings that we expect. I saw a number that showed basically when 100 million machines are running Vista, the power savings around the world, it is unbelievable.

So I'm not going to quote those now, but we have made those calculations. It actually gets people pumped here, because we feel like, well, we could actually help society in a different way there, which is burning less energy.


So, finally they're going to implement a decent sleep? That was available on Mac's in what version? OS7? or even earlier? I can see the headlines now about Microsoft saving the world. But really this could and should have been done a long time ago. And PC's are already notoriously energy inefficient, though can't blame MS for that entirely.

What's also interesting is that this feature isn't even in Beta 1.

Admittedly, Allchin indicates that this release is for "bitheads" only. Fair enough, but then they seem to be trying to milk it for all it's worth. One last comment on this article before moving on to another. In relation to a question about the timing of the name:

Allchin: No. No, the work was done on a name six months, maybe nine months, ago, and for once we were able to keep a secret. And so I actually consider this to be just great marketing in the sense that we typically pick the names way too late.


"Great Marketing". Give me a break!

So, following on from this let's see what the weasel Microsoft-sponsored press have come up with. Here's one from eWeek:
http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1841052,00.asp
Now, again this article is sort of pre-faced with the admission that the reviewer is not really a bithead and so this release isn't really intended for him yet. So why exactly is he writing about it? And what does he have to say? I can't answer the first, but let's look at the second:

Windows Vista is the best-looking OS Microsoft has ever produced and is competitive with, and in some ways better, than Apple's recently-introduced Mac OS X 10.4, aka Tiger.

Microsoft's UI designers have figured out how to streamline the familiar Windows user interface without losing what it means to be Windows. Vista will not be confused with Tiger, but each now sports a very nice user interface. This was a very pleasant surprise, since I didn't really have any UI expectations.


This is the key essence of his story buried about half way through - and of course picked up by the other press and run with.

Yet there are no concrete examples I can see where he has demonstrated how this is better than OS X Tiger or what deficiencies of XP it remedies. On the contrary:

I mention this because, if you're a B2, using this first beta release is a really frustrating experience. Windows Vista shows tremendous promise, but at this stage in its development it's not ready to be used in any significant way.

That's as it should be, of course, and I'd warn IT managers against making any judgments based on Beta 1, which is slow, lacks features, and allowed me to crash badly enough that I needed to wipe my hard drive and start over from scratch. For this reason, Windows Vista B1 sometimes seems more tease than operating system.


Fair enough, it's a Beta, and Beta 1 even. I've never tested a beta of an OS, so I can't say what you might expect. But he's reporting a great UI, when on the other hand it sounds like he could barely get it to work!

Then there's this about the "essence" of Vista and what it promises:
Confident. Microsoft promises security and privacy, improved performance, easier deployment and servicing, and greater reliability. Users are supposed to have greater confidence in Windows Vista than previous operating systems.
Clear. Vista, and I think this is where the name comes from, promises improved visualization of information, better information management, a browse/search/subscribe model for the Web, and better support for photos, music, and other media.
Connected. Vista is supposed to make it easier for systems, people, devices and places to connect to one another.


But then read the rest of the article:
1. Confident - well it certainly doesn't do that at this stage. He's had BSOD's and worse. Again, we can reserve judgement in all fairness because it's a beta. But neither can we tick this one off yet.
2. Clear. Well, perhaps. But we aren't given any evidence of this. And as the search facilities don't appear to work yet -"Instead, what I have on my Vista desktop right now is a confusing mess. It's frustrating to be playing with a new feature as important as meta data searching and persistent search folders and not have them working as I'd like. I expect it to be fixed in Beta 2." Judgement again reserved.
3. Connected. "I haven't had time to do much with the "connected" features, perhaps because I didn't find Vista a happy client on my Small Business Server network." So, judgement reserved again.

So what we're left with is an article that tells us absolutely nothing, but draws attention to the product, and tells us it's better than Tiger in many ways. Job achieved (by MS Marketing)? Is this another example of Allchin's "Great marketing"

This stuff is not worthy of anybody's time!

25 July 2005

Nokia 6680 first thoughts

A serious post now.

I've had my Nokia 6680 3G phone for about 5 days now, and been playing with lots of different features - as you can see from the earlier part of this blog (ie photoblogging, email etc). So, here are my first thoughts. Contradictions, comments, suggestions are welcome!

Setup
I'm using this phone on a monthly Orange UK talk plan. Many of the features I'm trialling on a free basis for however long they're provided. This especially applies to data. I have discovered (and partly knew this already) that the Orange phone is "customised" theoretically to make access to Orange services easier. But this also serves to restrict what can be done to it, or to make it harder. I'm not too familiar with the limitations yet, but one of them revolves around the standby menu which can't be easily customised. At least Orange is better than 3 for instance in that with this phone you CAN access the internet, not 3's heavily restricted walled garden version!

I have paired the phone via Bluetooth with both my mac mini for media centre use, and with my powerbook for syncing. I have installed Salling Clicker (remote control app) on the phone and on the mac's. I bought a USB BT adapter for my Powerbook - supposedly class 1, but with an apparent range of about 5 feet! The mac mini has BT installed, and the phone seems to be able to reach about 15-20m away through one wall. I have not tried a headset yet. I have also installed Apple's iSync agent.

Things that impress
The phone is a reasonable size - certainly one of the most usable small 3G phones I've seen, and only a little bigger/heavier than previous 2G Nokia "business" phones (eg 6310i). So, I'm happy with it's size!

The call quality seems excellent - just like all good Nokia's I've owned. That's important and often overlooked. I can't say much about signal quality yet, but it seems to get a signal in the same places my 6310i did - and that was a good phone. It's been on 3G in the London area consistently. Out rural, I've had it in the same place and it's switched between 2G and 3G, though mainly on 2G.

I am quite amazed at the amount of things that can be done with this phone in theory. Lots of software available for all sorts of things. This is a phone that should be able to last for some time.

I have been impressed (mostly) with the synchronisation from my Mac for addresses and calendar items. It seems easy and fast. A couple of problems I think I've observed - if I've set a default phone number for a contact (eg use mobile) when there are 3 phone numbers for that person, I think it is dropping that default on every sync. Also, I've heard problems with recurring dates (eg birthdays) not syncing. Haven't really checked this yet. Generally the software does a good job of resolving duplicates etc. The speed also makes it something I will do regularly. The calendar feature on the Nokia is now good enough to use as well, so I can see myself adding events on that only.

The Salling Clicker application is also amazing in terms of what it can do. I've also written a very simple script (to show/hide the dvd controller on screen) and managed to get this working without a huge amount of hassle. I'm not sure I could do more complex things though. But this application is very useful for me the way I use my macs as media centres. I would also use it when giving a presentation as well - controlling Powerpoint or Keynote. I have had problems with making reconnections with this. I think that is my Maplin BT adapter, or something to do with the computer going to sleep. So, I've sometimes had to reboot the phone or unplug/replug the BT adapter. Not seen this yet with the mac mini though.

The camera seems quite capable as well. However, one fundamental problem I've observed is that it does not easily allow you to control the file size AFTER you've taken the shot. Why is this important? Well, I'd like to take the photos at high res, but for blogging purposes, or sending them over the internet, just send smaller more compact versions. Some blogging software will reject the large files, forcing you to take low res photos only. I'm now trying Flickr, and sending higher res photos. But this is expensive on bandwidth and not suitable for when this is no longer free! There are plenty of apps on the phone (and one from Nokia's site) for viewing images and doing stuff. But I haven't found one (except expensive software) for down-converting to say 640x480 or using higher compression on the jpg to create a copy. I also think Nokia could have done a better job with the camera integration - more like the SE K750i where you hold it more like a normal camera and the screen display rotates accordingly.

I put a few mp3/aac files on the phone from my iTunes library. I've made 2 of these ringtones, though I would rather not have to have the whole file on there just for that. It works well, and the music player sounds good with these files too - even over the speaker. Why Nokia can't allow you to use regular headphones though seems an oversight!

I also tried using the phone as a 3G modem for both the mac mini (which would never need it as it is connected to Broadband) and my powerbook. It worked first time, and I was generally impressed with the speed of surfing - esp on the mini. The connection in both cases was via BT

Things I don't so much like (or haven't understood yet)

The phone has shut itself off on several occasions - presumably a crash of some sorts. This shouldn't happen with a phone. This was in normal use - not running the extra apps I've added, which in any case are not many. This caused me to miss an important call. I've also had to reboot to get BT functionality working again, though this may be just the BT adapter on my powerbook, which I probably shouldn't have bought.

I've mentioned the lack of image editors with respect to file size. It also seems that many other apps are sort of beta apps or severely limited, or just toys. Orange ships 2 music apps which are useless in reality unless you want to buy music from apple.

On a related topic, it seems hard to find the right app sometimes. There are folders that contain different apps, and many of those apps overlap. It's not always obvious where you go to do something in particular. For instance there are folders called "Imaging", "Apps". "Tools", "Connect". Which one do you open to view photos? Depends what you want to do. And there's also the Gallery app at the top level. Because of the orange customisation, it also gives me 2 different ui's - one when on Orange standby, and one when I go to the Nokia app. I figured out how to change the two keys that I call "menu" keys. I used these a lot on all previous nokia phones to search contacts and to cancel. But they were set to "Camera" and "Home". Home means connect to the internet, which of course starts to rack up charges. I would have preferred it to be set to do something equivalent to taking you back to the main screen. And camera is a waste, because you can just open the slider to activate this! But changinge the stuff on the left side of the Orange standby screen cannot be done - you're stuck with what Orange would like you to do for the phone as far as I know.

There are some other interface things that are not intuitive. Having sent an MP3 file onto the phone (which arrives like an SMS message). I couldn't find an easy way to put it onto the MMC card rather than on the phone memory. You really have to search around for this, whereas it could have been made much easier. When you first access the message, it plays the mp3. There is no option to save it somewhere else - it is still with the message. So, go into messages and view it. Again, no easy way to move it. In fact it turns out if you STOP the playing of the sound file, THEN bring up the options, you can save somewhere else, but only if you stop (not pause) the track.

Incidentally, there are 2 user guides - an Orange guide and a Nokia guide. They overlap of course, and also contradict!

Other comments

Battery Life: I wasn't expecting this to be brilliant, and it's not. It will need charging every 2 days, even with not a huge amount of activity. My 6310i is still doing about 7-10 days after 2.5 years (not much call usage). The battery is surprisingly tiny. Couldn't they give a bigger battery with just a small increase to size/weight?

Screen: The screen is good, but has already scratched from being in my pocket. Not good, though primarily visible when the screen is dimmed.

USB: The included USB cable is no use to mac users. You can not charge with it , and you cannot mount the phone on the desktop to move things around that way (you can do both with SE K750i).

Live TV: Orange provides several channels of live tv eg Sky News, sent using 3G to the phone. Sure it is watchable for key news events, but what an incredible waste of bandwidth. To me, this is a brain-damaged approach to sending video to a phone.

Conclusion
I won't be sending this back! It's basically a good phone with many useful features. In my case the upgrade was free, though I hadn't upgraded for some time. So, it was a simple decision really. I seriously considered the K750i, which would have been an excellent direct replacement for my old phone. But the Nokia is really a phone that can do a lot more. Will I use some of these features, and will I even carry on with some I've just tried out (like data)? I don't know yet. In some ways, the phone doesn't quite seem ready for prime time, and in other ways they have not carried the simplicity of old Nokia UI forward well. Will the average user even begin to grasp the features available, and be encouraged to use them?

I'll be adding updates on this topic over the next few weeks as I discover new things about the phone. Thanks to this blog for helping me realise some of the things I could do!

24 July 2005

Tennis at Rosie and Jamie's



Saturday morning's tennis interrupted when sheep failed to heed sheepdog. All local personnel required!

22 July 2005

Cottage of Content


CottageofContent
Originally uploaded by Hobflickr.

One of our favourite bike rides - ride 7 from Around Gloucester Hereford Cycle Tours. Arrived just in time for opening and a quick shandy.
Sue's new £15 shades kept the large number of insects at bay.

21 July 2005

jane & john



John Kirkman (from Tibco days, now at Pixar), and his wife Jane came around for a glass of wine on our terrace before moving on to the Painted Heron restaurant. They were then off to see the finish of the Tour de France in Paris.

lunch with honami


Putney bridge today with honami of http://www.pod.eu.com


My first post to Blogger directly from a Nokia 6680

Introduction to my Blog

I've decided to start a blog and see how it goes. It's more for me to play with than anything else - esp with my new mobile to post to. I'm also interested to hear from friends and others about your thoughts to make this more interesting. What do you want to see more of, or less of?