February 12, 2009

Windows 7 Impressions

I'll admit it. I still run Windows on a few machines--mostly because I have software that needs it (like flight planning or my scanner tools). And it's good on a notebook where drivers are tricky in Ubuntu at times.

But I've also been using Windows XP Professional on all my Windows boxes (one desktop, one laptop, and one HTPC) for a long time now. However, as of a couple days ago I'm running the Windows 7 Beta on my Thinkpad T61. And you know what?

I completely agree with the reviews I've seen. It's good. I basically never touched Vista (since it was teh suck) but Windows 7 is snappy, easier to use, and the transition from XP isn't that hard at all. Plus it has drivers for everything.

This definitely doesn't feel like a beta at all. In fact, it reminds me of the Windows NT 4.0 beta days. I ran the beta as my desktop operating system for quite some time and loved it.

For a long time I believed that nothing produced by Microsoft would displace Windows XP Professional, but I'm really starting to think they've got a starting chance. And if it's even a bit faster and leaner when the full release comes, that's all the better.

I just hope there's an in-place upgrade option for those of us using the beta. And I hope they're smart about the pricing--especially if they really want to get folks off of XP.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:01 AM

April 21, 2008

Maybe Microsoft is Right...

It's funny how infrequently you hear anyone (at least around here) say that, but it was my first reaction to this post which can best be summarized with a few excerpts:

Q: What do you get when you cross a browser application with the ability to go offline?
A: A client application without any the goodness that the platform (be it Windows or OS X) has to offer.
Really? Do people really want this?


Perhaps there’s been so much blah blah blah about web 2.0, social networks, etc., or that folks have just gotten so lazy that they’ve forgotten how to write client applications. It’s sad really.

You can come at this from many points of view, really. Maybe the web is best thought of as the focus and the desktop is merely there for when the web is not. Or maybe the desktop is the focus and the web is there as an add-on (current browser technology certainly points this way). Or maybe the two should be on equal footing, as much as possible. Or...

But it occurs to me that when you consider the question in terms like I excerpted above, it make Microsoft's strategy look a little less like they need to catch up with Google.

Not entirely, but enough to remind you that there are some smart people there too...

Posted by jzawodn at 12:45 PM

October 04, 2007

Bashing Microsoft

While bashing Microsoft has always been common in the circles I run in, I've tried to do less of that in recent years. I know more people working there and have a lot of respect for them. I now understand that a lot of their problems are the result of systemic problems and sheer inertia.

But still, sometimes you see things that ought to be pointed out.

Henry Blodget's Microsoft's MSN: Still Sucking Wind After All These Years is rather eye-opening.

Did you know that MSN is currently losing about $1 billion a year (run-rate)?  That's right, $1 billion.  On about $2.2 billion of advertising revenue.  (See this page for details).  Unless Microsoft's disappearing access business is losing a lot of money--which we doubt--all of the division's losses are attributable to the advertising and media business.  That means that MSN is losing nearly $0.50 for every $1.00 of advertising it sells.

Not good when compared with rivals, it seems.

And then there's the employee retention problem.

Translation: We only grew headcount 12%, but we have to pay so much to retain and recruit people that our overall headcount expenses increased more than twice as fast.

He concludes by saying:

Don't forget that, in round one of the Microsoft's-going-to-rule-the-Internet wars, Microsoft accelerated dial-up subscription revenue and expenses in an attempt to catch AOL. That effort failed, as did several that followed. In the past 12 years, in fact, Microsoft's online story has had any number or re-orgs, restarts, and revampings, but the reality has never changed.

Makes you wonder when Microsoft will find their way on-line... if ever.

And then there's former Yahoo Bill Reardon's Microsoft Search post, which is a most excellent rant. He's got a talent for taking the obvious and making your realize how fucked up something is.

Reacting to the fact that Microsoft's Search finally has stemming:

They didn’t have these things before?!
Understanding “driving” vs. “drive”? That’s a pretty basic problem called stemming. How basic? Put it this way, there’s been open source code out there to this before there was a Microsoft Search. Fuck, even the Wikipedia page has existed since 2007. All they had to do was go there. I know Microsoft is big about “eating their own dogfood”, but damn, use Google just this once to find it.

He paints a pretty sad picture, and reading the Microsoft presss about their technology, it's hard not to agree with him.

Read the whole thing. It's worth it. Bill really cracks me up.

Don't even get me started on their "you can look but not touch" .NET source code release.

Hint: It's not like Open Source. Not at all.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:20 AM

July 23, 2007

Google Docs vs. the Hassle of Microsoft Office and Friends

Last week I lost a ton of productivity because the hard disk on my laptop failed. There's a long story behind this.

The short version is that I knew it was failing for a few weeks and, yes, I had backups. The IT folks got me a new notebook (an HP nc6400 which isn't bad, really) and I've spent quite a bit of time getting my stuff running again.

But I had backups, right? Yes. But let's be honest. The vast majority of Windows applications make it quite difficult to migrate from machine 1 to machine 2 and preserve all your settings, customizations, and preferences. Notable exceptions to this are Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird , both of which were designed to be cross-platform from the beginning. With them I simply need to copy my profile from the latest backup over to my new machine after I've installed the latest version. It's almost trivial.

Compare that with something like Microsoft Office, where I always find myself having to fuck around in the settings to disable all the "helpful" auto-formatting defaults and other nonsense.

When I wrote How To Add Good Expires Headers to Images in Apache 1.3 earlier, I loaded up my trusty and recently installed AbiWord only to find it hanging for some mysterious reason. I let it sit for a while and eventually killed it off after waiting about 15 minutes. In the meantime I loaded up the bloatware known as Microsoft Word to compose that little blog post.

For whatever reason, Word had a different problem. When I clicked the font list (I hate the default font), it hung. The UI became completely unresponsive. Having less patience, I killed it after a couple minutes of waiting.

Neither of those problems are likely to be easy for me to debug (do they write out a timestamped log file that I can read?).

It was at that point that I basically said "screw these freshly installed desktop applications on this brand new notebook... I'll just use Google Docs to compose the damned blog post." You can understand my state of mind, already having invested far too much time in what should be an appliance that does what I need.

And you know what?

It worked quite nicely. I'd used Google Spreadsheets before, but this was my first real use of Google Docs. No auto-formatting crap to turn of. No annoying load time. No disk swapping as the software pulled in a ton of libraries. Heck, my browser was already open anyway. And I was writing with the intent of publishing to everyone, so who cares about security?

It was at that point that a shift took place in my thinking. I'm simply not going to bother with the hassle, trouble, expense, and complexity of desktop applications when an online substitute will do the job anymore. Life's too short already.

I have to say, this on-line office stuff is starting to seem very, very real. I wonder what Microsoft will do about people like me...

Posted by jzawodn at 04:01 PM

May 04, 2007

Microsoft and Yahoo (again)... I couldn't tell you if I knew.

In theory I'm taking the day off. But I'd just like to point out that a few months ago I posted What if Microsoft Bought Yahoo? and got some interesting comments (most via private email).


That's relevant because of renewed speculation that Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo for something like $50 billion dollars. Personally, that seems a bit low to me, but I'm far from unbiased in this matter.

And speaking of things that I'm biased about, here's a report that Flickr will replace Yahoo! Photos. I'm glad to hear that the decision is finally made and we're talking about it in public. The Flickr team has been busting their asses in the last few months to build out more infrastructure. They just keep rocking.

With that, I'm off for the day. At least in theory.

Call me if BillG writes that big check.

[Thanks to TechCrunch for the logo. :-)]

Posted by jzawodn at 07:35 AM

May 03, 2007

Thinking About The Strategy Behind Microsoft Silverlight

Having spent the early part of this week at Microsoft's MIX07 Conference and being there for the launch of Silverlight, I've been mulling over what's really going on. There's been a lot of discussion on-line so far, but I think most of it is missing the point.

However, before I get into it, I'll respond to a few comments I've seen so far.

John Battelle, trying to grok this, is asking Does This Change The Web? No, John. At least not right away and not in the ways you might think. Microsoft still hasn't figured out that the web is too large for even it to move. It certainly may change thousands of corporate intranets around the world, though.

Simon Willison, reacting to Mark Pilgrim's Silly Season, says "The fawning over Silverlight and Apollo is incredibly short sighted." and he's right but I'm not sure if it is for the right reasons.

Speaking of Mark Pilgrim, Silly Season is an instant Pilgrim classic (assuming you're a fan of his style--I am). His arguments are mainly focused on freedom (or lack there of) and the proprietary nature of Adobe and Microsoft's offerings. He makes good points in a way that only Mark can.

Nik Cubrilovic, over on TechCruch, recently wrote Silverlight: The Web Just Got Richer which is an excellent and more complete overview that most of what I've seen. In fact, he notes a few things that others almost completely glossed over or failed to see the significance of.

The Big Deal

With that out of the way, you're probably wondering what the big deal about Silverlight really is. Nik hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

The biggest part of the announcement today is that Silverlight will now include a mini-CLR (Common Language Runtime) from .NET. What this means is that a subset of the full .NET platform that runs on desktops can be accessed from within the browser. As with the usual .NET runtime, with Silverlight you can code in a number of supported programming languages. At this time the languages supported are C#, Javascript (ECMA 3.0), VB, Python and Ruby.


Silverlight isn’t just animations in applets, far from it - it is a very serious development environment that takes desktop performance and flexibility and puts it on the web.

Bingo. Many folks who watched the demos, most of which were about streaming video and multimedia, probably walked away thinking that Silverlight is little more than Flash 2.0. After all, that streaming, music, and animation is pretty sexy stuff.

But the reality is that Microsoft has their sights set much, much higher. They've been calling themselves a "platform company" for many years now--and with good reason. Until the web came along, they controlled "the platform" (Windows) that virtually all new applications were deployed on. When the Web came along they didn't take it too seriously at first. But then they did. Very seriously.

What happened? They created Internet Explorer and gave it away for free. That essentially put Netscape out of business and kept Microsoft as the dominant platform provider (for end users... Linux on the server is a whole different story).

Here we are several years later and things are different. Microsoft is forced to adapt in a world where the browser the platform and Macintosh computers are becoming increasingly popular among those who build web-based applications outside the corporate firewalls.

Microsoft, being a platform company and a very smart strategist, had to think long and hard about how to use its strengths in this new environment. How could they capitalize on the popularity of apps delivered in the browser, dynamic scripting languages, and streaming media?

They've decided to change the game--or at least bet that the game is changing. When they deliver a browser-based version of Microsoft Office, you can bet your ass that it'll be built to run in the .NET CLR that Silverlight offers. It'll work in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and maybe even Opera. On both Macs and Windows boxes.

And probably on mobile devices using Silverlight Mobile (on all those smart phones running Windows Mobile).

The browser is the new desktop and Microsoft is hoping that the CLR and Silverlight in general will be the new Win32 API and/or virtual machine. And they're doing it in a way that only Microsoft can: by delivering full documentation, debugging tools, very large partners, and a world-wide network of trained evangelists and support staff. Say what you will about the company, but they know how to roll out software to developers. They've been doing it for a very long time.

That's really what this is about. It's not about competing with Flash. Microsoft is thinking much bigger than people seem to be giving them credit for.

Now don't be fooled into thinking I believe that Silverlight will take over the web. I think it's success as even a Flash killer is highly uncertain at this point. But it's certain to be a big hit inside companies that have major investments in .NET technologies. That's an awful lot of companies and an awful lot of code. But how much we'll see Silverlight being used in "consumer" services is a whole different question.

Either way, this will have some pretty interesting ripple effects.

What do you think?

Posted by jzawodn at 04:26 PM

September 11, 2006

Microsoft Live Search Test Drive

After reading that Live Search is Live I decided to go kick the tires a bit. This is by no means a thorough test--it's more of a drive by. :-)

I performed a few common and not so common queries on each of the search vertical which have tabs: web, images, news, local, and QnA. My impressions so far are:

  • Web: Wow. It's fast and relevant. In my queries it compares very, very well with Google and Yahoo. The design feels, for lack a better term, "friendly." Spam isn't hard to find, but it also doesn't bubble it's way up in places I might have expected. Microsoft has come a loooong way on this.
  • Images: The results are spotty and the index feels small. There's lots of room for improvement here.
  • News: It's fast but less comprehensive than the competition.
  • Local: Slow to load but the maps are easy to read. The rendering reminds me a lot of Streets & Trips, which I've always liked.
  • QnA: The user interface if far less green (and busy) than Yahoo! Answers, but it's also pulling form a smaller pool of answers. The quality and relevance seem decent in my limited poking around, however.

Have you tried it yet? What did you think?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:40 PM

June 18, 2006

Thoughts on Microsoft's Future

The recent Microsoft news (Scoble leaving, Gates taking a reduced role, Ray Ozzie stepping up) combined with the last 10 years worth of evolution in networking and of the web really got me wondering about Microsoft's role in the future.

Specifically, I have three problems in mind. Solving any one of them will make someone very, very rich and improve computing for the rest of us. Solving all of them will show the world who the top technology company is for the 21st century.

Web/Desktop Bridge

The way I see it, desktop applications are not going away. Web applications are not going away. But web applications are changing user expectations about how desktop applications should behave, be distributed, and be priced.

But there are very few desktop applications that work "natively" with the web. Applications are, for the most part, either desktop-centric or web-centric. I've seen few (if any) that were designed with both in mind.

Nobody has made it easy to bridge that gap. There's little infrastructure or guidance in place today. Live Clipboard could be the beginning of that.

Device Bridge and Synchronization

We have desktops, laptops, palmtops, game consoles, PVRs, and "set tops" with Internet connections and useful data to share. But they're all islands of different sorts. The devices often aren't aware of each other. And even when they are, interoperability is a craps shoot.

We need a way for devices of all shapes and sizes to be able to speak and share/sync data in a meaningful fashion. And given that no one company (so far) dominates on all of these platforms, a real solution is likely to be comprised of open file formats and protocols.

A New OS

We need a new operating system. And I don't mean the "Internet Operating system" that Tim O'Reilly often speaks of. I mean that someone needs to re-think what "personal computer operating system" should mean in an age when the vast majority of computers will be on the Internet most of the time.

We all need it but most of us don't know that yet.

After all that thinking has been done, someone needs to build it and support it.

All Signs Point to Microsoft

I honestly can't think of more than one company that has the assets necessary to do all three.

I can think of a lot of companies that could solve one of those problems--maybe two. But when you look at all three of them, only Microsoft seems to have what it takes.

The $60 billion question is whether or not they can pull it off. In my mind, all three of those are vital to the future of Microsoft.

What do you think?

Posted by jzawodn at 05:47 PM