Tag Archives: microsoft

mobile computing’s past, revisited

Mobile PCs grabbed my attention around the turn of the millennium. As I matured, so too did computer technology, and I loved the idea of taking the power and flexibility of Windows with me on the go. It began with a palm-sized PC (never a Palm Pilot!), the Uniden UniPRO PC-100. This was followed by a series of Windows Pocket PCs, with color screens, faster processors, and enhanced multimedia capabilities.

But while these devices seem limited by today’s standards, they really were quite powerful. With a voice recorder, touch screen with handwriting recognition, speaker, removable memory card slot, PC synchronization, and the ability to add third-party applications, they truly were handheld computers. And there were also the so-called “handheld PCs,” which ran on Windows CE and had integrated physical keyboards. I never did dabble in these, mainly due to the steep, $1000 price tag. I could only afford to upgrade to a new Pocket PC by selling my old devices.

A few months ago, I binged when I found that people were selling these once-prohibitively-expensive gadgets on eBay for a small percentage of their original worth. As any reasonable person would, I set out to rebuild my collection by purchasing devices that met one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Either I originally owned the model and it held nostalgic value, or it was a slightly-upgraded version of the model I did own
  2. It was unique in features, appearance, or power among its class of devices
  3. It was very, very inexpensive

ppc_collection

Let’s look at some representatives from a bygone era:

Continue reading

decreasing usability for the sake of aesthetics, or why things suck now

giant_links

I was checking out some information on Microsoft’s website when I came across a page that looked like it was straight out of a rainbow book designed for farsighted children. Perhaps this kind of page would fly on a tablet, but it makes little sense on a 20″+ desktop monitor at a high resolution. This got me thinking about Windows 8′s gigantic tile start menu again, and I’ve really come to lament the simplification of design that is inherent in catering to the lowest common denominator: in this case, smartphones/tablets.

And, man, am I going to miss the keyboard. I can only see two technologies supplanting the keyboard as the ultimate way to quickly and accurately convey large amounts of textual information: highly accurate speech recognition and direct cerebral translation (I made that last term up, I think, but you know what I mean – computers reading your thoughts and printing them out). While a keyboard may be a little “clicky-clacky,” it’s miles above having to state aloud everything you want to see written, which can make for some pretty awkward flights or office spaces. We’re not at the stage where the second option is a viable one, but only when we do get there will I reconsider my trusty keyboard.

sausage fingers, from it's always sunny, fxOf course, I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t want to give up my T9 phone buttons for all-touchscreen, but it hasn’t been too bad, and the recognition of systems like Swype have made text input relatively painless, if still a notch below the keyboard. But there are many cases where just putting a stinking physical button there would actually be more convenient and practical. My old Pocket PCs had scroll wheels on the sides which made going up and down on pages, as well as making selections, extremely easy, even with one hand – and all without having to put your greasy sausage fingers all over the screen.

So basically, everything I hate about trending technological design stems from the industry trying to stoop to Apple’s ultra-modern, minimalist design, which is obviously more geared toward content consumption rather than creation. But then that’s just the way the winds are blowing

i’m still with it!

“I used to be with it! Then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!” – Abe Simpson

http://www.kitguru.net/software/operating-systems/brian-smith/ui-guru-jakob-nielsen-says-windows-8-is-misguided-product/I truly have become an old fogy.

I never thought I’d become that guy who clings to old technology claiming it as superior to what’s new; I’ve often embraced the evolution of technology in general. But as I write this on my Windows XP-powered subnotebook computer, I’m thinking about the new trend that’s developing.

I hate Windows 8. I was one of the early adopters of Windows Vista, and I enjoyed it. Then I hopped on Windows 7 and found it even better. But my time spent with the Windows 8 preview and now, to a lesser extent, the released version of Windows 8 has been unnecessarily frustrating. Yes, it’s probably faster, and there have been some thoughtful under-the-hood changes, but the only overt changes I see are those designed with tablets in mind that translate into a more vexing experience for traditional PC users (or anyone without a touchscreen). We’ve got charms popping up and no clear pattern of navigation and it takes way too long to find out where to just shut down the PC. Where’s the control panel? Where’s the universal search? Oh it’s all there somewhere, but you’ve got to dig for it. Windows 7 was, and is, a much more pleasing experience for me.

And now I’m thinking of other manifestations of this pattern. I had a hard-drive based MP3 player (from Archos) before the iPod was in full-swing, and I had Pocket PCs with color screens when everyone was still using monochrome Palm Pilots.  But now I listen to most of my music from a 32 GB microSD card on my DROID 3, despite the increasing prevalence of cloud player options; there’s just a reassurance I get from having everything stored locally, not subject to the whims (or ownership) of any other entity/service that might go down or be inaccessible when the zombie apocalypse finally occurs. And I’m sure you noticed that DROID 3 reference; I haven’t been upgrading phones on a bimonthly basis since I’m locked into a Verizon contract, and that means I’ve missed out on great Android OS revisions and apps. Granted, that’s a separate issue – I’d upgrade if it were reasonable to do so, so that doesn’t really fall into the fogy category. But I am clinging to a device with physical buttons as long as I can, because I enjoy gaming and don’t trust on-screen keyboards and joysticks. So there’s a fogy knock, one might say.

So why am I still using this Fujitsu ultraportable laptop when there are so many viable new ultrabooks and tablets and convertibles? Well, because I paid good money for this and it still runs. Now there’s the Surface Pro and the Razer Edge gaming tablet on the horizon, and some well-made Lenovo devices that deserve attention, but I’m still running a Pentium M and 1 GB of RAM. I could blame the economy, but it’s still fogy-ish.

There’s a slew of other tech trends I’ve eschewed too: I still hate Facebook, and Twitter (and #hashtagging), and Instagram, and Battlefield 3, and the annual Call of Duty iterations, and electronic music, and online leagues/playing cards in FIFA, and the trend toward using real names online instead of anonymous handles (Covert, anyone?). Taken as a whole, it’s hard to deny my fogy-status, but perhaps it’s just something I’ll have to come to terms with. Why should I compromise my astute taste just to stay abreast of the latest trends? Not all change is for the best, anyway – remember when “Made in USA” indicated a quality product?

Neither do I, but I’m told there was a time that was true.

windows phone 7 announced

If you haven’t heard about Windows Phone 7 Series yet, you should check it out. It’s a marked departure from previous Windows variants, which have changed very little from Palm PC to Pocket PC to Windows Mobile. It uses a brand-new interface akin to the latest Windows Media Center and Zune designs, some of which can be seen in the new dashboard of the Xbox 360. It foregos the standard desktop or application list design in favor of a series of interactive tiles which are dynamically animated as updates occur. Transitions are smooth as the user touches and slides into new panels of information.

The result of this latest incarnation is an elegant device that is targeted squarely at the average consumer. One has to wonder if this desire to make an operating system that is more accessible to the layman will alienate the base that built up around Windows Mobile – namely, business and power users looking for a mobile computer with a great deal of flexibility and connectivity options. Microsoft had said in the past that Windows Mobile 6.5 would persist after the arrival of Windows Phone 7, which seems to make some sense now. While the new Windows Phone experience looks promising, it doesn’t appear to be the best option for business users, at least at first glance.

A large part of the new phone is Zune, Xbox Live, and social networking (i.e. Facebook) integration. The media player looks essentially identical to the Zune HD, and the games will allow achievement points toward an Xbox Live gamertag. But as fun as all that sounds, large questions remain. There has been very little mention of third-party program development, and no Windows Mobile applications for older versions will work with the new system. There also doesn’t seem to be “multitasking” in a true sense, which could be a pretty pivotal step backward for a mobile Windows OS. And the ease of basic functions like copying and pasting is also undetermined. But there will undoubtedly be more revealed about these issues in the coming months.

One has to applaud Microsoft’s complete and utter overhaul of the system; they’re certainly taking some risks here, rather than just trying to do one better than the competition. But there’s still a long time to go until the Holiday 2010 release of Windows Phone 7 Series, and it will be a hard fight for Microsoft to retake the ground they’ve lost to the iPhone OS and newcomer Android. Fortunately, it seems that Microsoft has finally done what they needed to do all along: integrate all of their core properties to make a killer device. Xbox, Zune, Bing, Office…and Internet Explorer? That’s a recipe for success.

a take on the droid

motorola droid
By now, everyone has read a glowing review (or two) of the Motorola Droid, an Android 2.0 phone for Verizon, so I won’t bore you with the details. But from the perspective of someone who has used Windows Mobile (or Windows Phone) in its every incarnation, the Android OS is so relieving. It actually feels modern where even Windows Mobile 6.5, the latest version, remained ancient. The pull-down notification panel works better, the desktop with movable widgets allows for more useful customization, and downloading from the Android Market is actually a pleasant experience. Here’s the deal…
Continue reading

searching justice

bing_cghm_09

You can all feel free to make Bing your default search provider now, if you so desire. The egregious error has been corrected.

This is just a follow-up to a previous discussion of Bing‘s main shortcoming: its inability to make cghm.org the number one result in a search for “cghm.” Well, Microsoft must have read the site because cghm.org is now the number one search result (fitting for a top-level domain). And just in time to celebrate, no less.

While on the topic of our site for a final time, I temporarily regained access to the forum (don’t bother – I closed it again) and sifted through all the crap that was piled in there…thousands of posts, actually, which was more impressive now than I realized at the time. And I found this gem, the thought of which brings a tear to my harvest-loving eye:

harvest_mooniac_first

zune 4.0 software

zune_4_5Those without a Zune HD (like me) on its launch day aren’t completely out of luck.

The new Zune desktop software for music organization and playback is incredibly slick. The software has come so far since its initial Windows Media Player roots that it could conceivably be used by someone who did not even own a Zune device. My only real remaining gripe is that it still uses the largely useless “heart or no heart” rating system instead of a more conventional five star system.

The new “Smart DJ” system seems relatively…smart, picking artists that sound alike to make a custom radio station. It will only truly function like Pandora for music discovery if you have a Zune Pass, but it doesn’t have any ads and it can be set to only play music from your own library. I’ve been impressed with its selections so far, although it sometimes seems to rely too heavily on the artist you used to create the station.

now playingThere are lots of little touches that really just need to be seen to be appreciated. There’s a new mini-player mode which is excellently done; it can minimize to the taskbar, then pop up on mouseover, or remain separate and always on top. There’s also a refined “Now Playing” screen that displays album art in the background. Visually – and, arguably, functionally – it’s head and shoulders above iTunes.

I just wish those apps (a calculator and a weather app!) in the Zune Marketplace could be used on my brown Zune 30. :(

p5rn7vb