27
Mar 13

The Stigma of Mac Shaming

I recall hearing a story of a co-worker at Microsoft, who was a technical assistant to an executive, who had a Mac. It wouldn’t normally be a big deal, except he worked directly for an executive. As a result, this Mac was seen in many meetings across campus – it’s distinct aluminum body and fruity ghost shining through the lid a constant reminder that this was one less PC sold (even if it ran Windows through Boot Camp or virtualization software. Throughout most of Microsoft, there was a strange culture of “eww, a Mac”. Bring a Mac or an iPod to work, feel like an outcast. This was my first exposure to Mac Shaming.

I left Microsoft in 2004, to work at Winternals in Austin (where I had the last PC I ever really loved – a Toshiba Tecra A6). In 2006, on the day Apple announced Boot Camp, I placed an order for a white Intel iMac. This was just over three months before Winternals was acquired by Microsoft (but SHH… I wasn’t supposed to know that yet). This was my first Mac. Ever.

Even though I had worked at Microsoft for over 7 years, and was still writing for Microsoft’s TechNet Magazine as a monthly Contributing Editor, I was frustrated. My main Windows PC at home was an HP Windows XP Media Center PC. Words cannot express my frustration at this PC. It “worked” as I originally received it – but almost every time it was updated, something broke. All I wanted was a computer that worked like an appliance. I was tired of pulling and pushing software and hardware to try and get it to work reliably. I saw Windows Vista on the horizon and… I saw little hope for me coming to terms with using Windows much at home. It was a perfect storm – me being extreme underwhelmed with Windows Vista, and the Mac supporting Windows so I could dual-boot Windows as I needed to in order to write. And so it began.

Writing on the Mac was fine – I used Word, and it worked well enough. Running Windows was fine (I always used VMware Fusion), and eventually I came to terms with most of the quirks of the Mac. I still try to cut and paste with the Ctrl key sometimes, but I’m getting better.

I year later, I flipped from a horrible Windows CE “smartish” phone from HTC on the day that Apple dropped the price of the original iPhone to $399. Through two startups – one a Windows security startup, the other a Web startup, I used two 15″ MacBook Pros as my primary work computer – first the old stamped MBP, then the early unibody.

For the last two years, I’ve brought an iPad with me to most of the conferences I’ve gone to – even Build 2011, Build 2012, and the SharePoint Conference in 2012. There’s a reason for that. Most PCs can’t get you on a wireless network and keep you connected all day, writing, without needing to plug in (time to plug in, or plugs to use, being a rarity at conferences). Every time I whipped out my iPad and it’s keyboard stand with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, people would look at me curiously. But quite often, as I’d look around, I’d see many journalists or analysts in the crowd also using Macs or iPads. The truth is, tons of journalists use Macs. Tons of analysts and journalists that cover Microsoft even use Macs – many as their primary device. But there still seems to be this weird ethos that you should use Windows as your primary device if you’re going to talk about Windows. If you are a journalist and you come to a Microsoft meeting or conference with a Mac, there’s all but guaranteed to be a bit of an awkward conversation if you bring it out.

I’m intimately familiar with Windows. I know it quite well. Perhaps a little too well. Windows 8 and I? We’re kind of going in different directions right now. I’m not a big fan of touch. I’m a big fan of a kick-ass desktop experience that works with me.

Last week, my ThinkPad died. This was a week after my iMac had suffered the same fate, and I had recovered it through Time Machine. Both died of a dead Seagate HDD. I believe that there is something deeper going on with the ThinkPad, as it was crashing regularly. While it was running Windows 8, I believe it was the hardware failing, not the operating system, that led to this pain. In general, I had come to terms with Windows 8. Because my ThinkPad was touch, it didn’t work great for me, but worked alright – though I really wasn’t using the “WinRT side” of Windows 8 at all, I had every app I used daily pinned to the Taskbar instead. Even with the Logitech t650, I struggled with the WinRT side of Windows 8.

So here, let me break this awkward silence. I bought another Mac, to use as my primary writing machine. A 13″ Retina MacBook Pro. Shun me. Look down upon me. Shake your head in disbelief. Welcome to Mac shaming. The machine is beautiful, and has a build quality that is really unmatched by any other OEM. A colleague has a new Lenovo Yoga, and I have to admit, it is a very interesting machine – likely one of the few that’s out there that I’d really consider – but it’s just not for me. I also need a great keyboard. The selection of Windows 8 slates with compromised keyboards in order to be tablets is long. I had contemplated getting a Mac for myself for some time. I still have a Windows 8 slate (the Samsung), and will likely end up virtualizing workloads I really need in order to evaluate things.

My first impression is that, as an iPad power user (I use iOS gestures a lot) it’s frighteningly eerie how powerful that makes one on a MBP with Mountain Lion and fullscreen apps. But I’ll talk about that later.

I went through a bit of a dilemma about whether to even post this or not, due to the backlash I expect. Post your thoughts below All I request? I invoke Wheaton’s Law at this point.


06
Mar 13

Windows desktop apps through an iPad? You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!

I ran across a piece yesterday discussing one hospital’s lack of success with iPads and BYOD. My curiosity piqued, I examined the piece looking for where the project failed. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it seemed that it fell apart not on the iPad, and not with their legacy application, but in the symphony (or more realistically the cacaphony) of the two together. I can’t be certain that the hospital’s solution is using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or Remote Desktop (RD, formerly Terminal Services) to run a legacy Windows “desktop” application remotely, but it sure sounds like it.

I’ve mentioned before how I believe that trying to bring your legacy applications – applications designed for large displays, a keyboard, and a mouse, running on Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier – are doomed to fail in the touch-centric world of Windows 8 and Windows RT. iPads are no better. In fact, they’re worse. You have no option for a mouse on an iPad, and no vendor-provided keyboard solution (versus the Surface’s two keyboard options which are, take them or leave them, keyboards – complete with trackpads). Add in the licensing and technical complexity of using VDI, and you have a recipe for disappointment.

If you don’t have the time or the funds to redesign your Windows application, but VDI or RD make sense for you, use Windows clients, Surfaces, dumb terminals with keyboards or mice – even Chromebooks were suggested by a follower on Twitter. All possibly valid options. But don’t use an iPad. Putting an iPad (or a keyboardless Surface or other Windows or Android tablet) in between your users and a legacy Windows desktop application is a sure-fire recipe for user frustration and disappointment. Either build secure, small-screen, touch-savvy native or Web applications designed for the tasks your users need to complete, ready to run on tablets and smartphone, or stick with legacy Windows applications – don’t try to duct tape the two worlds together for the primary application environment you provide to your users, if all they have are touch tablets.


19
Feb 13

Microsoft Account – Bring Your Own Identity

When you start a new job, there’s only one you. You don’t get a new identity just because you started at a new company. You have the same Social Security number, you have the same fingerprints, same birthdate, same home town. You get a collection of credentials that give you access to company resources, but you don’t really get a new “identity”.

In fact, pretty much the only time you get a completely new identity is if you enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

What does happen is, you go in to a new job, and you tell them who you are, you provide your actual identity cards/passport to them, and they established a pseudo-identity for you within the organization.

For some reason, along the way, it became normal to have your corporate identity be who you are. When we look at Active Directory (AD), and any other LDAP based directory over last decade or so, a lot of their growth is been around trying to make that the single identity that you use within the company, and have it even be federated out when you need to connect to external resources outside of the organization.
But again, when you leave that company, you take your identity with you. The email address, the AD access, the server access, the application access, the database access – it was all part of your role in the company, and ceases to be, the day you leave.

Last year when Microsoft announced Windows RT, a lot of us… well… kind of freaked out, because Windows RT didn’t include active directory membership, let alone any ability to manage the device through Group Policy (GP). After over 12 years, Microsoft was saying “no… no… no… you don’t have to use AD to manage this machine. In fact, it can’t even join AD“. It was Windows 9X all over again in terms of centralized management.

What’s most fascinating to me about Windows RT though, is that your identity, when you log on to that machine, is a Microsoft account; the thing we used to call Passport, Live ID, etc. Microsoft has made your personal Microsoft Account the central hub of everything you do now – from Windows, to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Office, and the Windows Store – because the device is a personal device, which could possibly be used with work resources. Most importantly though, this account is yours. Your employer has no control over the account. Regrettably, that includes a lack of manageability for such things as password complexity, or how you handle data that crosses from company systems over the threshold of your device and out to the unmanaged SkyDrive service – or any cloud storage service.

A blog post I ran across a few weeks ago about “BYOI” caught my attention. That’s bring your own identity, for those of you keeping score of the acronyms at home. Microsoft hasn’t stated anything of the sort, but I have to look
at what’s in Windows RT, and wonder if BYOI isn’t indeed part of a bigger trend.

In many ways BYOI reflects the whole BYOD or COPE, or whatever we want to call it… the idea that IT doesn’t own or manage devices any longer, users do. And just as you never would’ve brought a home computer into your company and have it join AD then, why would you do that today? As I alluded to almost a year and a half ago in my post where I stated that hypervisors on phones were a bad idea, it’s not about managing devices anymore. At best, it’s about managing applications – and even more about managing access to data from within applications. Lose the device? Who cares. Brick it. Lose the application? Who cares – you didn’t lose the credentials. Lost the credentials? Nuke them and provide new ones to the user. We’ve lived in this world of device dictatorship not because it was the best way to create productive users, but because Windows was created as an “anything goes, all users are admin” world, with a common filesystem shared promiscuously by any code that can run on the system. We’re moving towards a world where data, not devices, are the hub – and identity, not devices, are the key that unlock access to that data.

The BYOI post that I mentioned earlier didn’t really talk about this aspect, it was kind of a different tangent – but my point is what if it doesn’t matter what set of credentials you use to log on to a device? Technologies like exchange ActiveSync and other mobile device management technologies give IT the ability to nuke a device from orbit if they want to. It’s not that AD Is dead, it’s just that Microsoft understands that AD isn’t an active part of users’ personal machines (those they personally acquired).

An iPad or iPhone never asks for credentials to log on to the device, but of course it never really establishes your identity either (there are as many as 1 users on any iOS device – they’re sharing a single identity across the OS – for better or worse). Instead, in iOS it really becomes the applications that hold your identity and authenticate you to assets of the company (or Apple, or Netflix, etc). An even better aspect of this is the fact that these applications then usually don’t hold much application state. What they do is allow authentication and state to be managed and secured by the application instead of by the operating system (just like Windows Store applications and many well-managed IT applications do). All iOS owns is the management and security of which applications are allowed to be installed and run on the device, and the secure storage of data. It also owns destruction of the operating system and all of the data on the device if the device is lost or compromised and the pass code is entered incorrectly or the device is forcibly wiped through Exchange or other device management software.

In a somewhat fascinating turn of events, even Office 2013/Office 365 do the same. While you can store data locally, your Microsoft Account or Office 365 account can be different than your AD account, and are used to license the software to you, and provide shared storage in the cloud (yes, an Office 365 account can be tied back to AD – but the point is that Office, not Windows, is providing that authentication gateway). Identity is moving up the stack, from an OS-level service to an application-level service, where you can just as easily bring your own identity – which can, but doesn’t have to be, a single directory used across a device for everything.


08
Feb 13

Task-Oriented Computing

Over the past six years, as the iPhone, then iPad, and similar devices have caused a ripple within the technology sector, the industry and pundits have struggled to define what these devices are.

From the beginning, they were always classified as “content consumption devices”. But this was a misnomer then, and it’s definitely wrong today. Whether we’re talking about Apple’s devices, Android phones or tablets, Blackberry’s new phones, or devices running Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone, calling them content consumption devices is just plain wrong.

A while ago, I wrote about hero apps and promiscuous apps. I didn’t say it then, but I’ll clarify it now. Promiscuous apps hit first not because they are standout applications for a device to run, but rather because they’re easy!

Friends who know me well know that I’m often comparing the auto industry of the early 1900’s with today’s computing/technology fields. When you consider Henry Ford at the sunrise of the auto industry, the Quadricycle was his first attempt to build a car. This wasn’t the car he made his name with. But it’s the car that got him started. This car featured no safety equipment, no windscreen – it didn’t even have a steering wheel, instead opting for the still common (at the time) tiller to control the vehicle.

Promiscuous applications show up on new platforms for the same reason that Henry’s Quadricycle didn’t feature rollover protection and side-impact beams. It’s easy to design the basics. It’s hard to a) think beyond what you’ve seen and b) build something complex without understanding the risks/benefits necessary to build it to begin with.

As a result, we see these content portals like Netflix, Skype, Dropbox, and Amazon Kindle Reader show up first because they have a clear and well understood workflow that honestly isn’t that hard to bring to new platforms so long as the platforms deliver certain fundamentals. Also, most mobile platforms are “close enough” that with a little work, these promiscuous apps can get their quickly.

But when we look out farther in the future – in fact, when we look at Windows RT and criticize it for a lack of best-of-breed apps that exploit the platform less than 4 months after the platform first released, it’s also easy to see why those apps aren’t on Windows RT or in the Windows Store (yet), and why they take a while to arrive on any new platform to begin with.

Developing great new apps on any platform is a combination of having the skills to exploit the platform while also intimately understanding the workflow of your potential end-users. Each of these takes time, together they can be a very complicated undertaking. As we look at apps like Tweetie (Twitter for iPhone now) and Sparrow (acquired by Google), the unique ways that they stepped back and examined the workflow requirements of their users, and built clean, constrained feature sets to meet those requirements – and often innovative interface approaches to deliver them – are key things that made them successful.

The iPad being (wrongfully, I believe) categorized as a content consumption device has everything to do with those applications that first arrived on the device (the easy ones). It took time to build applications that were both exploitative of the platform and met the requirements of their users in a way that would drive both the application adoption and platform adoption. People looked at the iPad as a consumption device from the beginning because it is easy to do so. “Look, it’s a giant screen. All it’s good for is reading books and watching cat videos.” Horsefeathers. The iPad, like Windows RT, is a “clean slate”. Given built-in WiFi and optional 3G+ connectivity, tablets become a means to perform workflow tasks in ways we’d never consider with a computer before. From Point of Service tasks to business workflow, anytime a human needs to be fed information and asked to provide a decision or input to a workflow, a tablet or a phone can make a suitable vehicle for performing that task. Rather than the monolithic Line of Business (LOB) apps we’ve become used to over the first 20 years of Windows’ life, instead we’re approaching a school where – although they take time to design and implement correctly – more finite task oriented applications are coming into vogue. Using what I refer to as “task-oriented computing”, where we focus less on the business requirements of the system, and more on what users need to get done during their workday, this new class of applications can be readily integrated into existing back-office systems, but offer a much easier and more constrained user workflow, faster iteration, and easier deployment when improving it versus classic “fat client” LOB apps of yore.

The key in task-oriented computing, of course, is understanding the workflow of your users (or your potential users, if this is a new application – whether inside or outside of a business), and distilling that workflow into the correct discrete steps necessary to result in an app that flows efficiently for the end users, and runs on the devices they need it to. A key tenet here is of course, “less is more” and when given the choice of throwing in a complex or cumbersome feature or workflow – jettisoning the feature until time and understanding enable it to be executed correctly. When we look at the world of ubiquitous computing before us, the role that task-oriented computing plays is quite clear. Rather than making users take hammers to drive in screws, smaller, task-oriented applications can enable them to process workflow that may have been cumbersome before and enable workers to perform other more critical tasks instead.

When talking about computing today in relation to the auto industry, I often bring up the electric starter. After the death of a friend in 1910 due a crank starter kicking back and injuring him, Henry Leland pushed to get electric starters in place on his vehicles, and opened up motoring to a populace that may have shunned motorcars before then, do to the physical strength necessary to start them, and potential for danger if something went wrong with the crank.

When we stand back and approach computing from the perspective of “what does the software need to do in order to accommodate the user” instead of “what does the user need to do in order to accommodate the software” as we have for the last 20 years, we can begin to remove much of the complexity that computing, still in its infancy, has shoved into the face of users.


20
Dec 12

All I want for Christmas – my Windows v.Next wishlist

For almost two weeks, my main computer – a ThinkPad W510 (circa 2010) has been running Windows 8. Courtesy of the Logitech Touchpad T650 I’ve mentioned here and many times on Twitter, the experience has been – to me – much smoother than when I was trying to use Windows 8 (in a VM, admittedly) with a mouse during the previews.

Three things I want to say up front:

  1. I’m trying to be positive and fair, and give Windows 8 on a touchless system a shot.
  2. I’m writing this from the perspective of a person with a laptop (docked or other), or a desktop, without touch. Because that’s what I have and what I use most of the time – and for the next several years or more, that’s not a freakishly uncommon scenario.
  3. I’m almost not going to talk about apps at all. For a change. I have several installed, I’ll talk in a few weeks about the ones I really find myself using.

No, instead, I’ve got a wish list. It’s not quite Christmas, but I don’t think Microsoft can get me these this year. So perhaps over the next year?

In no particular order:

  1. Add back key system state to the Start screen (clock/battery/wireless). These three intrinsics are there on the desktop taskbar. They’re even there when you power on your Windows 8/RT device before the logon screen. They’re even visible on iOS (sorry – first of three times I’ll do this) with most applications, unless the application elects to hide the status bar. So why are they missing on the Start screen and while running applications? Hiding chrome is good. But you can go too far, and I think the loss of these three items exemplifies this. There are three important things to know on a computer – even a fruit-flavored one that fits in your pocket – 1) What time is it, 2) Am I connected to a network, and 3) When will this thing run out of juice. Don’t be shy about sharing that info with the users. I’m currently using Ze Clock to show a tile that displays date and time, but this is duct tape and should be in the OS – especially when I’m in an app.
  2. Add back a visual cue of some type for mouse users to indicate where to navigate to for the Start screen. If you’re using a tablet, you’ve got the Windows key front and center (literally). With my Logitech, I’ve got an easy gesture (three fingers up) to navigate to it. Yes, I know there is a button on the keyboard to open it. But users have been trained for 17 years to click a button with a mouse to launch apps – and the entire visual cue just disappeared, unless you hover over it. Proper behavior in my opinon? Show the start orb (even a sexy new one for Windows 8+) that pops the Start screen open. it’s okay that it opens the Start screen. But you’ve fundamentally disconnected the trigger that users on a desktop expect, and that novice users search for. When you find that the system supports touch, hide the orb. That, to me, is the best of all worlds.
  3. Add the Search charm functionality to the desktop through an Explorer band. Heck, you might even be able to skip item 1 if you do this. Equivalent to the old URL band in Explorer. I just wish without touch there was a single-step way to invoke the Search charm because it works really, really well.
  4. When you open the Charm bar – type ahead should automatically start searching. When you are on the Start screen, just typing begins invoking the Search charm and showing results. When you flick open the Charm bar, the same thing should happen. The Charm bar moves to the top of the Z-order, but it isn’t doing anything until you choose a charm. If the user just begins typing after they open it, I think it’s safe to assume they want to search. Can you tell I like the Search charm?
  5. Add intrinsic social sharing. On iOS (sorry – but hey, it’s only the second time I’ve invoked it, right?), it’s remarkably easy to share from iOS to Twitter, and now to Facebook – through the OS. When you want to share a URL from IE, in particular, this is remarkably hard. Even if Microsoft doesn’t want to build apps for Twitter or Facebook, I think building in first-class sharing to share links to Twitter, Facebook (and LinkedIn if you’d like, though I could care less) directly from the browser would be wonderful. Huge favor – do what Buffer does, and grab the title AND the URL automatically. I was originally going to suggest that IE needs some sort of new extensibility model that would work on Windows RT as well, but to me, this is really what I need that IE (especially immersive IE) is missing.
  6. Fix Favorites. Even when I worked at Microsoft years ago and advocated roaming favorites (1999, baby!) it seemed like Favorites were the cobbler’s child of IE. I get that in many ways the “Frequent” screen shown when you open a new tab has replaced them. But it isn’t the same. In both immersive and desktop IE, Favorites are all but dead… Tucked away in a shoebox like photos from 1978. You put all this love into the Start screen – how about something Start screen-like for Favorites in IE? There has to be something that can be done here, it’s just sort of broken and lost right now. No, pinning pages to the Start screen doesn’t count. That’s nuts. Semantic zoom or not, the human brain can only take so much load – plus, there’s no way to pin Favorites that I specifically want to launch desktop IE.
  7. Fix Internet Explorer modes. Explaining the modes in a modeless operating system is becoming challenging for me. Sorry, if you don’t like hearing that Windows 8 has modes, skip to my next wish. Windows 8 vs. Windows RT; immersive vs. desktop; immersive IE vs  desktop IE. Frankly, I don’t even get why there really are two modes of IE. You should really either detect touch and go all-in with immersive, or let the user select and have a default. I find that I use desktop mode far more in my scenario, and immersive is just frustrating to use on a system without touch. Third and final time I’ll invoke iOS here. On the iPhone, Safari hides the browser and goes completely “immersive” all the time. There are no cues to get it to open up again, but it’s there, and you learn what to tap. On the iPad, Safari always has the address bar and list of tabs visible, and has an option to show bookmarks as well. I get that chromeless browsing is the new teh sexy. But this is baby with bathwater stuff. It’s a pain to switch tabs. It’s a pain to open Favorites. It’s a pain to even open a new URL, especially without touch. This is one of the principal reasons I use desktop, not immersive, IE. Some chrome is okay. Really. Users will thank you for it.
  8. Let me pin Desktop IE to the Start screen. If you’re not going to make immersive IE less… well… immersive, let me pin an icon for Desktop IE on the Start screen. Believe it or not, that is the only remaining icon pinned on my taskbar now – because I do need it – but as far as I can find, there is no way to pin it to the Start screen. Add that and I’m all in on the Start screen. Seriously. All. In.
  9. Copy/Paste for WinRT Remote Desktop app. One of the most beautiful features ever added to RDP in Win32. Works on my Mac’s RDP client. I really wish it worked from the WinRT RDP client as well.
  10. Win32 Share charm integration. There’s an icky disconnect between Win32 apps and WinRT apps. You can’t readily share back and forth. Either the clipboard needs to be extended into and out of the Share charm, or Win32 apps (I’m looking at you, Office 2013) should get the ability to implement Share contracts in particular. Try getting a JPG file out of SkyDrive on Windows RT and pasting it into Word. It’s not pretty. As with the previous item, it’d be ideal if you could move files back and forth from WinRT to Win32 and back more readily. I get it’s V1, and this creates a security and workflow issue. But it needs to be solved, as it’s a fundamental disconnect on WinRT.
  11. Taskbar group. Especially on systems without touch that are upgraded from a previous version of Windows, create a group of items in the Start screen that is an exact mirror of the Taskbar, called “Taskbar applications” or the like. I did this myself, manually, and it really makes the transition to using the Start screen less foreboding.
  12. Startup group. I like to have Outlook start when I log on. I use it all the time. There should be a way to do this without doing that, and the somewhat cumbersome startup tools in Task Manager don’t let you add easily, nor should that be the way to do this. Perhaps add an option on the right-click menu for an app to Add it/Remove it, respectively, from the user’s Startup? Right-click, “Run this program when I log on” or “Don’t run this program when I log on”.
  13. Make (re)naming a Start screen group easier. If I right-click above a group of tiles in the Start screen, semantic zoom out, and pop up the dialog for (re)name. This easily isn’t easily discovered as it exists today.
  14. Sync my apps/Start screen. Easy, right? Not so much, and I get that. But this is huge. Once you use Office 2013 with SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro, you realize how awesome deep sync integration is. But this is a bit of a weird hole in Windows 8/RT. All of the advertising for Windows Phone 8 in particular talks about how you can make it yours… so as a user, you spend all this time tweaking your Start screen on Windows 8. Then you get a Windows RT device to test with. And you have to manually sync your apps (the Windows Store could do better here) and then recompose your Start screen. Get a replacement device? Do it again. I have ideas on how this could work that would be elegant – but I really think this has to happen.
  15. Don’t hide shutdown. One of the devs I worked with at Microsoft used to have this book on his bookshelf at the office. Much like that topic, it’s something most of us would rather not talk about, but the truth is, shutdown happens. Everything else under the main Settings charm is indeed a setting. But power isn’t a setting. It’s a state. Moreover, it’s not that different from the logged out or locked states that are already present under the user’s tile on the Start screen. Whether on a machine with touch or not, there should be a more discoverable way to reboot the device. It’s a fact of life that once a month you need to reboot a Windows PC, minimum (usually a bit more). It shouldn’t be this hard to do.
  16. Finish off the Control Panel. It’s a weird parallel universe – this setting is over there, this one is over here. Running Windows Update from here doesn’t always work, but from over there, it does. Ideally, the Control Panel should be nuked from orbit, except as it must be kept around for legacy/third-party CPLs that can’t run in the new world.

So there it is. Nothing too harsh, but I’m still primarily a desktop guy at this point. We’ll see what wishes I come up with as I spend more time in immersive land.


10
Dec 12

100 Days – On Twitter and the virality of exclusive information.

Early Aug. 2012 – Short of information about how the Windows Store, the forthcoming home for Windows Store (nee Metro) applications was doing, I began exploring the store, trying to assess how many applications were actually there. I had heard rumblings of 400 or so applications. As I said late in Sept. 2012, my intentions were never malicious. I pondered whether there was any way to query the store programmatically. Here’s how it went down.

Aug. 15, 2012 – I had discussed an idea with a friend on how to query the Windows Store, and tried it. My initial results, after fiddling with my idea for a bit, resulted in a count of 534 applications available worldwide.

Aug. 28, 2012 – I registered winappupdate.com and created the Twitter account @WinAppUpdate, but let them sit dormant for a while.

I was still only polling the store on occasion. On Sept. 5, 2012, I saw the store pass 1,000 applications worldwide – on Sept. 10, 2011 I began polling it every day, and we posted a State of the Store article at Directions that sought to more broadly discuss the composition of the store, not just the count.

Sept. 16, 2012 – I posted the first blog post on WinAppUpdate.com, announcing that there were 1,749 applications worldwide, and linked to it from Twitter. I added myself and a few other people, but effectively I had no followers. As someone with a psychology and sociology background, the virality with which the statistics spread and followers of the Twitter account for @WinAppUpdate grew, I found it fascinating, and I was glad that people found the information and the numbers interesting and helpful.

Over the next two weeks, as Mary Jo Foley, Alex Wilhelm, and Charlie Kindel, among others, mentioned this site, my stats, and the Twitter account, it began to grow in followers significantly. I can tell you from having had it happen on getwired.com before, you do not want to get sent Mary Jo’s traffic when you are not ready. It does unpleasant things to your site.

Throughout September and October of 2012, stats that I posted on Twitter resonated pretty well, and the @WinAppUpdate account began to grow in followers. Anytime Mary Jo or Alex would mention the Twitter account or the site, I would gain several – or many – followers. What I found most fascinating was how many of these followers were Microsoft employees or partners. There was a genuine scarcity of information around Windows 8 throughout the preview process and both employees and partners, among everyone else, seemed to want to know what was going on with the Windows Store. Over the next almost 3 months, the @WinAppUpdate account grew slowly at first, but then quite dramatically.

There were, for the next two and a half months, only two sources of application counts – my site and this site, where he has diligently counted the number of apps using a different approach than me, and at first I didn’t think his methodology would work – but I think it does, and lucky for him, it can continue where mine may have hit the end of the line.

Oct. 26, 2012 – Windows 8 RTM – I noted that the store was at 9,029 applications, and as media coverage of Windows 8 increased, so did discussions of my counts, and the number of followers. Conversations with Mary Jo and Alex on Twitter, as well as mentions of the Twitter account in the news media surely helped to keep the count of followers growing, even as I both diligently tried to stop making “the count” the focus of discussion – and in particular the discussion on my @WinAppUpdate account. On the same day, I also posted on getwired.com The Turn, where I more or less bared all about how I collected my statistics.

Throughout this exercise, as I said, my intent was never malicious. I knew at some point, Microsoft could – nay, should figure out how I was doing it, and either ask me to stop or simply shut off the spigot (easier said than done, as it could affect the SEO of the Windows Store). That said, I have always felt that if Microsoft asked me, I would have stopped counting or discussing the content on the store. I was providing the numbers, and then the deeper analysis, to help people understand what was going on in the store. I did announce when the store had hit 10,000, and 20,000, applications worldwide, and when there appeared to be more apps in the China Windows Store than the US Windows Store.

After I announced how I did my counts, as I somewhat anticipated, a few people started emulating.

Nov. 30, 2012 – I was about a group of guys who have built a Web-based front-end to the Windows Store, now at http://metrostore.preweb.sk/.

Over the next week, that site got some publicity. I continued to shift discussion away from counts both on my blog and @WinAppUpdate. Though that Web-based Windows Store now included a count, I only handed out a vague “over 25K” answer when asked during the week of Dec. 3, 2012. I had spent the last month really trying to find and discuss apps that I found significant, rather than discussing counts.

Early on, the script that ran my counter did its work in the morning. I shifted it to the nighttime – at about 10PM PST, when the time that Microsoft would push out their sitemaps seemed to have reliably occurred.

Dec. 5, 2012 – The last successful polling of the Windows Store occurred from my app.

Dec. 6, 2012 – I checked my stats in the evening before going to bed. My Excel spreadsheet, which has grown from several KB to more than 7MB, was completely empty, save my Excel formulas that I inserted at build. I checked the sitemaps manually. The first part was there, and pointed to the second. The second part was there, and pointed to the actual sitemaps. The actual sitemaps… were dead. Search engines that hit the site manually are going to be confused. But if Microsoft has elected to do this on purpose, then that meant they are likely submitting the sitemaps directly to Bing, Google, and Yahoo.

Dec. 12, 2012 – So here we are. It was 100 days since from the day I first created the @WinAppUpdate account and registered  the domain name to when I lost the ability to investigate the store. The Twitter account now has 1,378 followers, after only 831 tweets. That works out to 1.65 followers per tweet, or 16.65 followers per day. When you compare that to my original @Getwired account on Twitter, which I created on May 31, 2008, it’s pretty astonishing. After an insane number of tweets (59,518) and 1,653 days on Twitter, I have only 2,513 followers. With @Getwired, I’ve found that breaking the news – finding a news source before anyone else (or saying something genuinely, uniquely witty or thoughtful) – really does help generate new followers and create tweets that resonate. Though @WinAppUpdate did not generate a massive number of tweets, nor a massive amount that resonated widely on Twitter (I think 13 or 20 RTs of one was the largest I saw, and I’ve seen better than that on @Getwired), the number of followers, and followers who recommended the account to others, speaks highly of the value people find in Twitter when the information is truly unique, and can’t be found through any other source.

As for me, for now (for obvious reasons) I’m standing down on counting apps or mining the store. I can’t be certain whether I was the reason, or someone else was the reason, as to why the sitemaps went offline – or if they went offline by accident. @WinAppUpdate has been an amazing ride, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversations I’ve had around the Windows Store over the last several months. I’m leaving the app counting to those who have other means to count than my methodology, and leaving analysis of the contents and quality of Windows Store apps to those who have the time to do such an exercise justice – given the need to dig through the store to find them now, I don’t have the time to carry on with it.

I plan to retire the @WinAppUpdate Twitter account shortly. The blog URL will most likely redirect to this site, or perhaps a partner site if I can find a relevant one. All of the blog contents have been moved to Getwired.com for posterity, under the account  at WinAppUpdate. To my followers on Twitter – I thank you all for joining me on this wild and crazy ride, and hope you’ll join me at @getwired as well, where I’m really just getting started with Windows 8.


07
Dec 12

Review: Logitech Touchpad (T650)

If you’ve known me long, you’ve known that I’ve been far from Windows 8’s biggest fan. For me, that’s been for a specific reason. The concessions that Windows 8 makes to being touch focused have – I strongly believe – compromised the ability for those of us damned to the desktop to really use the platform.

While I believe Microsoft intends for Windows 8 to be a success both with tablets and on non-touch devices, learning to use the operating system if you have a “touchless” device as I do can be a chore. My main computer is a ThinkPad W510. A relatively beefy (read: horrible battery life) Intel i7 laptop, the W510 is, horsepower-wise, more than an optimal candidate for Windows 8. Though it doesn’t support UEFI, it ran preview versions of Windows 8 quite well, whether I was running Windows to Go from a USB Flash Drive, or using VMware Workstation to run it virtually on Windows 7.

But my ThinkPad, like almost all Lenovos on the market in 2010 (and many today) didn’t/doesn’t/won’t support touch. When mobile, it has a capable 15.6″ display, and at work I dock it and use my main monitor, a gorgeous 27″ Acer. Neither has touch, and with the distance between myself and the displays, my typical work layout would make me a good candidate for gorilla arm if I used touch all the time on either one:

While friends kept telling me, “just memorize the keyboard shortcuts“, I had to say, “no“. Perhaps it’s because I’m a visual/spatial person (a “colors” person as a colleague says), perhaps it’s the sheer frustration at needing to memorize keyboard shortcuts to do what I used to use a mouse for, I didn’t want to learn 20 keyboard shortcuts. A colleague pointed out how excited I was to learn 13 new gestures upon getting the Logitech, and I guess we’re both still befuddled at that.

I had heard from several people that had tried the Logitech T650 that they were very satisfied with how it worked for them. Having used MacBook Pros for 3+ of the years I worked in Austin, as well as using ThinkPads and Toshibas with decent trackpads (but nothing like Apple’s) and being a very happy user of the Apple Magic Trackpad at home on my iMac, I really wanted to try the Logitech and see how it worked together with Windows 8. Only problem? I couldn’t find one! My local Best Buy seemed to sell out as soon as it received a shipment. A local reseller was supposed to get some in late last week, but still hasn’t. I happened to be by Best Buy in Bellevue, WA on Wednesday evening and they had one left. One. As best I can tell, the device is selling incredibly well. Unfortunately when I tried searching a couple of retailers online, I didn’t even get out of stock notifications – just pages telling me that they no longer sold the HP TouchPad (unfortunate naming overlap).

I’ve had a few people ask me why I didn’t just use another Apple Magic Trackpad. Because Apple’s gesture support for Windows stinks. They could enable the same gestures for Windows as they do on the Mac, but it would take considerable work, and to what end? So only a fraction of the gestures enabled on the Mac work on Windows – and none of the ones that would make life with Windows 8 much more palatable without touch.

Touchpad in hand, with a freshly installed upgrade from Windows 7 Pro to Windows 8 Pro installed, I set forth to try it out. The device is packed in a box that is vaguely Apple-like. No foam, a bit of paperboard. No driver CD included. Comes with the Touchpad, wireless dongle, charging cable, and instructions/warranty info.

First impressions? The Touchpad is big. No, not as big as Logitech’s odd “Touchpad in Lilliput” images on their site may make you think. but it is significantly larger than the trackpad on my ThinkPad. Here is an actual picture of the T650.

The device is wireless and requires no batteries. Logitech claims roughly one month per charge, and mine came fully charged as best as I could tell. You can also use the device while it is charging, which is a nice touch.

Assuming mine was not charged, I plugged in the USB dongle (I wish it was just Bluetooth!), the cable to another USB port and the other end to the Touchpad. There is no software included, but upon plugging it in, it installed the Logitech receiver and prompted to download and install the Logitech SetPoint Software. It was a very smooth, consumer-friendly experience. My only frustration was trying to use the Logitech Unifying Software, which prompts you to power cycle the Touchpad in order to pair it. I was never able to satiate the software that it was paired, yet the Touchpad worked. Odd.

The SetPoint software is relatively well designed, and easily lets you tweak which gestures trigger left, right, or middle click. I configured mine to mimic Apple’s, which I’m used to. Single finger click for left click, double finger click for right click.

Most importantly, for a device with no physical (or on screen) Start button, getting back and forth from the Start Screen and desktop was most critical to me. For this, a three finger swipe up gets you to the Start Screen. Three fingers back down gets you to the desktop. Three fingers down again minimizes all desktop apps and shows you the actual desktop. Nice touch. Two fingers allows you to have a Mac-like smooth scrolling experience. While Tweetro+ was temperamental a bit with this scroll, tending to overscroll a bit, Word, IE, and Outlook seemed to work quite well with it. A three-fingered swipe back and forth functions as a back/forward button and was wonderful in IE in particular.

The commonplace two-finger pinch gesture enables you to zoom in or out in many applications – I did experience some frustration in getting WinRT-mode IE in particular to like this gesture. Scrolling and pinch and zoom didn’t seem to work in the Windows common control (File Open) dialogs, an unfortunate, but minor omission.

Swiping in from edges works as you’d expect, with the app switcher (left swipe in) and Charms (right swipe in). Theoretically the top and bottom edges also display the app bar as they would on a touchscreen. While it did work sometimes, I found it a bit more temperamental. My one wish for the device would be that in a future design, Logitech include a small (say, 1/4″) outside edge that can be felt, or perhaps a small indentation to place your finger on in order to start an “edge gesture”. I say this because in particular the gesture to trigger the Charms is hard to place correctly. You want to almost start with your finger partially off the right side of the device and swipe on, but that doesn’t work well. In testing, I eventually found that the device is somewhat tolerant of this, and you don’t have to have your finger truly on the edge in order to do an edge gesture. That said, having an actual edge or bevel might make this easier for novices to learn.

Finally, Logitech includes several 4-fingered gestures for dealing with the currently active desktop application. These mirror Windows Snap functionality and include four finger swipe up or down (maximize or minimize, respectively), and left or right (left or right-side Snap). Unfortunately, these gestures don’t work to snap Windows Store applications, nor am I sure Logitech could even enable that if they wanted to.

Like the Apple Magic Trackpad, the T650’s click is physical – and how well it works depends on the surface you use it on. On my wooden desk itself it worked flawlessly. On the 3M “Precise Mousing Surface” attached to my keyboard, which slightly wobbles? Not so well. I view this as more of a defect of my desk than the Touchpad, personally. All in all, the device is built quite well.

I think that while there may be a category of Windows Store apps that this device still won’t enable (games, drawing applications or other application best handled with actual direct touch), a broad swath of the Windows Store applications, and Windows 8 itself, become much more readily approachable with the T650 than I believe they do with a mouse. More importantly, the T650 allows you to interact well with Windows 8 while still interacting well with the desktop environs and desktop applications that many of us will still be using for quite some time.

Once you get adjusted to the gestures included in the Logitech T650, I firmly believe you’ll find that not only is it a thoughtfully designed device that complements Windows 8, it is a device that honestly lets Windows 8 shine on touchless devices much better than it (Windows 8) can on a device equipped solely with a mouse.

Device specifics:

  1. Interface: Proprietary wireless. Works with some other Logitech devices.
  2. Included: Touchpad, wireless dongle, charging cable, instructions/warranty info.
  3. Price as tested: $79.99 before tax. Available at some locations for slightly less.
  4. Dimensions (courtesy of Logitech):  Width: 134 mm / 5.3 in. Height: 8.7mm / 0.34 in. 12mm / 0.47 in. (USB cable plugged in) Length: 129 mm / 5.1 in.
  5. Wireless: 33-foot wireless range, 2.4 GHz (Logitech proprietary – not Bluetooth).
  6. Works with: Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows RT. I tested on Windows 8 – cannot speak to the experience with Windows RT.

Pros:

  1. Excellent gesture support, makes Windows 8 without touch habitable.
  2. Well-designed interface for tweaking actions for the built-in gestures.
  3. Phenomenally large trackpad surface.
  4. Cordless, yet rechargable through included USB cable, no batteries needed.
  5. Glass top makes it serve as an excellent coaster. I kid!

Cons:

  1. Not cheap.
  2. Requires proprietary Logitech USB dongle. Augh.
  3. Should have a bevel or edge to demarcate the outer edge for edge->in gestures.
  4. Pairing app didn’t work. But it paired. Very confusing.
  5. Clicking action, while good, requires a very stable surface in order to achieve a solid click/right-click action.
  6. Colleagues may want to use it as a coaster.

Recommendation: Want to/need to use Windows 8 on a touchless device? GET THIS! NOW!


02
Dec 12

Windows Store: Any Way to Figure out Who’s On First?

The recent statistics Microsoft handed out about regarding the Windows Store made me think a bit. Microsoft noted that some apps on the store have had significant numbers of downloads. The fact that several “parts of Windows 8 and Windows RT” are only available as a download from the Windows Store innately twists what “some apps have had millions of downloads from the Windows Store” can mean. Some third parties have claimed to have statistics on this as well. In general, only Microsoft can really know or reveal download statistics – I have no ability to see this information without Microsoft sharing it with me.

However, I can look at the data I do have and extrapolate from there…

I contend, however, that the submittal of feedback is a bit of very useful data. In particular, applications with significant numbers of ratings (“star”) submittals tend to reflect apps that have either incited positive or negative feedback from lots of users. So while lots of ratings submittals may not correlate exactly to the most downloaded apps, there is, I believe, a correlation indicating that lots of users have downloaded it, as only a percentage of users take the time to submit feedback (either the app was stellar and they say so, or it was crap and they don’t mince words). I’ve often noticed that there tends to be a vacuum of feedback in the middle of the feedback range (2-4 star), which I theorize is a bit of a “couch potato factor”. People are satiated enough with the app to not submit negative feedback, but not ecstatic enough to submit positive feedback.

Because I don’t poll every page for every app in every locale (I long ago changed this to try and be kind to Microsoft’s site), I can’t tell you the statistics across every locale – there could be some apps in some locales (in particular, I know there are in the China Windows Store) that have a very high count of ratings submittals as well). But I can tell you in the US Windows Store. So, what happens when I take a look at my entire list of apps, filtered down just to the US? Here’s the answer:

Out of the 30 apps with the most rating submittals, 19 are from Microsoft. Almost all of the Microsoft apps have also been on the store since August as well though – so the stats may be a bit confusing/misleading. What’s more interesting is that even with the barrage of Microsoft apps early on, prolific (promiscuous?) apps such as Skype, Netflix, Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope, and Kindle have managed to eke their way into the list of apps with the most rating submittals. It’s also notable that an app from (what I believe is an) independent developer like Bernardo Zamora can both attract this volume of ratings submittals, and hold it’s review score as high as a 4.5! That isn’t easy to do.

So, while it isn’t possible for me to tell who the top downloaded Windows Store applications are, I think that this set of apps reflect a collection that lots of users are downloading.

Finally, while I probably shouldn’t really say anything here, it is notable that all of these apps in the top 30 support ARM. Um… Except two of them.

 


27
Nov 12

Windows Store: Developers, don’t stuff the store with clones!

Today while navigating the new Windows Store apps that arrived today, I ran across something that sort of broke my heart. I found dozens of copies of the same app from the same developer. Not identical, mind you. Subtle differences in how input boxes are laid out, as well as different names, colors, and application icons. Take a look at FlourMill here:

and then Personal Recipe Book here:

The developer, under the name LunaPlena, has submitted 118 apps in the last two weeks. Almost all but 3 of them (the three oldest) are effectively identical. They are the same “data input” application, with subtle design changes. It would be akin to Microsoft offering a version of Access for hair stylists, another for nail salons, etc. If you have a Windows 8 or Windows RT device, do a search for LunaPlena and you should see an innumerable number of Windows Store apps from the last week that are effectively identical.

This isn’t the only developer doing this, either – though the app is so similar, I have to wonder the relationship between the two. Developer Prafull Kelkar has 89 apps in the store. A few are actually an interesting “quiz-style” application like ADONetQuiz, but most of them are kindred spirits to MyProperties:

or GiftIsGot (which is of course ever so slightly different from GiftIsGave):

I guess in many ways, this isn’t that different from the cadre of developers I’ve seen submitting “quote” applications on the Windows Store (or the Apple App Store for that matter) where the engine of the app is identical, but one can choose a distinct app for each individual they want to find quotes for. Except here the engine is the same, and the candy shell for entering data changes. For what it’s worth, this also isn’t a problem unique to the Windows Store by any means. I’ve seen the same on the Apple store, and Microsoft even mentioned it in their Windows Phone Marketplace blog earlier this year, referring to it as “bulk publishing”, but not outright frowning on the process. I do distinctly recall Microsoft saying they frowned upon developers submitting multiple seemingly identical applications in the Windows Store, yet here we are, seeing exactly that.

Seeing developers do this is disappointing to me for a multitude of reasons. First, because it wastes time – Microsoft has to sort through a tedium of apps that will only ever be downloaded by a handful of users, when developers with a broader spectrum of consumer applicability get stuck in a queue behind them. Second, because it’s nonsensical. Customers with data entry needs would be better suited with one app that was more like Access, FileMaker (or even more likely, Bento), rather than almost 200 data entry apps that are subtly tweaked to each task. It shows a developer trying to flood the store, rather than one who truly crafts an application with broad appeal. Inundating the Windows Store with “fraternal twins” like this doesn’t help Windows 8/RT users find the applications that will make Windows 8/RT valuable to them, and it doesn’t help developers make money (heck – these are free apps we’re talking about here). Clusters of apps like this also make me feel even more that application counts – of anybody’s store are an emperor’s clothes comparison. Yet another reason why I have been de-emphasizing counts.


26
Nov 12

Why no news on winappupdate.com? I’ve been traveling!

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. While the Windows Store has been growing by ~500 apps per day worldwide, only a fraction of these are truly stellar apps, and filtering out the wheat is still a manual process – something I can only do when time allows. Similarly, my rollup reports of the store are a relatively manual process that I hope to automate someday. That day is not today. Given a subtle jab that might seem to infer a lack of news by me here is a lack of anything important in the Windows Store, I thought I’d clarify. I do try to check on on Twitter several times per day, but only do updates here when there is really major news or I’ve had time to do a major report.

This past month has been relatively insane for me, with Build, PASS Summit 2012, SharePoint Conference 2012, and vacation to the Internet-weak wilds of Wyoming for Thanksgiving with family last week. Real work has to come first for me, so that didn’t leave a lot of time for updates on the Windows Store. Combined with the lack of real huge news on the store (besides raw number growth, which I’m trying to move away from emphasizing, since it isn’t the most important metric by any means), there wasn’t much to post here, or time to post it. If you get lonely for updates here, please check Twitter!

I will be doing a rollup report this week, where I’ll discuss the state of the store, categories, which markets are strongest, and a few other details. Stay tuned.