11
Feb 13

Delight the customer

At an annual Microsoft company meeting early in my Microsoft career (likely around 1999), Steve Ballmer interrupted the lively flow of the event to read a few letters that had been sent to him from executives around the world. As I recall, Microsoft technology was not working perfectly for these customers, and they weren’t happy. After he read the letters, Steve broke into a speech about “delighting the customer” – a mantra he adopted for some time, and I continue to use to this day. Unfortunately, while that credo ran for a few years, I distinctly remember not hearing it for the last several years of my career at Microsoft before I left in 2004. Instead, the saying I remember hearing more was about shareholder value. Perhaps I over-remember the negative aspects, but that’s what sticks in my head.

My father helped me land my first job as a teenager. I worked at a Taco Bell in Montana that was privately owned. While many corporate-owned and franchised stores had a very forgiving policy on taco sauce packets (the customer always being right and all) and offered free refills, we included only two packets of hot sauce unless you paid for more, and had the soda fountain behind the counter – refills weren’t full-price, but they weren’t free either. The owner was steadfast about these policies, and became quite irate if you violated them – even when a customer became upset at these policies that differed wildly from any other Taco Bell they had ever been to. I hated it, and so did my peers, and our customers.

As I’ve mentioned before, my first job after college was selling VW’s and Subarus. The dealership I worked at was notoriously stingy, and they would “roll you” as the terminology for selling you a car goes, without floor mats (even the ones that had come in the car from the manufacturer) or a full tank of gas – unless the customer specifically asked for them. Customers would inevitably leave the dealership pissed, and possibly in a position where they wouldn’t be likely to return to us in the future for sales or service. Inevitably, I decided to play a few games with the sales process, and began telling customers, “You’re going to want to ask me about floor mats and a full tank of gas.” Inevitably, they’d reply back, “What about floor mats and a full tank of gas?” – and I’d say, “Great! We’ll make sure you’ve got floor mats and a full tank of gas.” It didn’t come out of my pocket in the sale, and frankly, I felt it wasn’t the dealership’s money to keep. More important to me, I even understood then that sales is all about making your customer feel great about their purchase – not making your customer feel like they just got shafted. Customers don’t tell friends, “Hey, I got shafted at that dealership on floor mats and gas. You should buy your car there.” No. They don’t do that.

For the past year or so, my VW GTI has had a slow leak in a tire on the driver’s side. Whenever the temperature dropped, I knew that the tire pressure management system (TPMS) would kick in and tell me that the tire had finally dropped enough pressure to be a problem. For the last 3 days beginning on Friday, this has gotten progressively worse, and I’ve had to inflate the tire every day (yes, I’m getting it fixed tomorrow).

On my way to work, in the northern end of Kirkland, there’s a 76 gas station that offers incredible service. Most importantly for me, they offer free air and water for your car if you need it – no purchase necessary.

This last Saturday morning, I had to stop by my office in Kirkland to pick up a coat that I had left there before my eldest daughter and I went skiing. As we left, I realized I needed to inflate the tire before I left town. I looked in my wallet, knowing I would have to pay $1.00 at the nearby Shell station to fill up the tire. Only three quarters, and $3 in single bills. Digging deeper, I found two dimes and a nickel. I headed over to the Shell station where I would blow $1 on 20 lbs of pressure for one tire – for the day.

I pulled the car up, and – since the machine only took quarters, headed in to the station for a quarter. The attendant was talking quite loudly on the phone, and even though he saw me, continued rambling on his (personal) call while I waited at the counter… for a quarter. After a minute or so, he asked, “What do you need?” in a terse tone. I said, “Need to swap this change for a quarter for the air machine.” He huffed at me, got up, opened the till and swapped my change do a quarter. I left, filled up the tire, got in the car, and told my daughter, “I’m never stopping here again for air – or gas.

I don’t have a problem with someone charging me for air or water. It’s their business. But then don’t be an a-hole when the extent of my transaction with you for the day is that purchase of air. The 76 station in Kirkland gives away air and water. Not because buying that equipment or running those services is free. No, it’s a loss leader. You give those away and when a customer needs gas, they’ll keep you front of mind. Delight your customer. Tonight, as I drove home, I had to fill up my tire again before I can take it in for service in the morning. I stopped and filled up my gas tank while I was there as thanks to them.

When you nickel and dime your customers, you make their lives more complex, you can frustrate them, and make them angry and vengeful. They don’t forget that. When you treat your customers with respect – and go out of your way to help them – they also don’t forget that. Delight your customers.

 

 

 


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.


29
Jan 13

Good Times… Good Times… The book.

In 1992, I got my first Windows PC. For more than 20 years, Microsoft has been a central force in my life, and fundamentally shaped my career. From the time I joined in 1997 until I left in 2004, Microsoft would teach me lessons, frustrate me, make me happy, make me sad – and finally embolden me to leave the nest. Though I left frustrated and bitter as Longhorn was struggling and stumbling - eventually to become the much maligned Windows Vista, I have come to peace with Microsoft, and they’re still a pretty significant part of my life.

Beginning last year, I started writing a book about my experiences before, at, and since Microsoft. The current running title is simply Good Times… Good Times… though that may change. I’m a little more than half way through writing it, and my intention is to complete it during 2013. If you want status updates as I progress, I’ll be doing my best to reflect them here.

My intention with this book isn’t to write a tell-all. I’ll tell you many things you’ve never heard before, and especially if you’re a fan of Windows, I think it’ll be an interesting read as you get to reminisce – as I have while writing it – how Microsoft has grown and changed over the years. It also won’t be a nerd-fest. My goal is to make it something that non-geeks can read and still enjoy, as they enjoy my unique perspective of the company.

When the book is complete, I plan to self-release it as an ebook on iTunes, Amazon, and B&N. Complexity will determine whether I can hit all three and in what timeframe. I have no plans to publish a physical book at this time, but that could change. Follow my blog or follow me on Twitter for updates.


26
Jan 13

Office 365 and Office 2013 – A field guide

One of the most common questions I get asked – by our subscribers, by press, by my friends, by my family… by lots of people, is:

What’s the difference between Office 2013 and Office 365?

This is usually followed by the person meekly (unnecessarily) stating that they feel bad because they don’t get it.

Don’t. Don’t feel bad. Though Microsoft is getting better, the branding and packaging isn’t easy for people to digest (complex packaging and licensing is the cellulose of software?)

When I first started working with computers, the idea of Microsoft Office itself was confusing – as it packaged together applications that people were used to buying separately. In time, we got acclimated, though the many, often changing, flavors of the suite can still get befuddling at times

Before I break down the details, I’d like to offer an “elevator pitch” that describes exactly what Office 2013 is and what Office 365 is.

Office 2013 is the brand name of a series of product suites that you can pay for once and use forever.

Office 365 is the brand name of a series of products and/or services that you pay monthly for the rights to use. Quit the subscription, the software ceases functioning.

The former is a tangible software product. The latter is a volatile subscription service – Software as a Service (SaaS), even though some editions of Office 365 do include a special edition of the Office desktop suite.

The value you obtain from Office 365 (or any SaaS offering) directly depends on how you use the software and how often you upgrade. If you are a consumer or business that regularly updates to the next version of Office suite (or server applications in the case of a business), Office 365 may really make sense. For occasional updaters, or people who tend to buy and never upgrade again, perhaps not so much. You need to compare and contrast the offers with your typical usage, and see which makes the most sense for you. Before you ask, no – it is not easy to do a comparison of the two, especially when examining the editions for business. It becomes quite an apples/oranges issue with subtle nuances.

Prior to the unified Office 365 brand, Microsoft had used several different brands in order to attempt to drive subscription-based sales of Office clients and servers. I won’t go into that history here. The important thing to understand is that, where there are subscription services related to Office from Microsoft, they all exist under the umbrella brand of Office 365. Where there are perpetually licensed desktop applications, they exist under the Office <year> brand. In the case of the version expected imminently, that means Office 2013.

Take a quick look at this table, and it will hopefully help clarify the differences a bit more. Here, I have broken down the aspects of each offering, with a split denoting offerings for consumers versus for businesses. Note that as I was making this, I started adding asterisks all over the place for exceptions. But then I got rid of them. As a result, this is not an exhaustive table. It’s a quick draft, but I believe it to be accurate. You should check with Microsoft before signing up for, or buying, any software. If you spot any errors in the below, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them.

I’ll denote some of the exceptions below – but if you have further or deeper questions about licensing or packaging, we may have the answer over at Directions on Microsoft.

I have also specifically called out the 2013 variants of Office 365 – which is technically an oxymoron today. That will be changing soon. As of today, the non-preview editions of Office 365 are based around Office 2010 and 2010 server products (Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint)

Consumer Offerings

Business Offerings

Brand name

Office 2013

Office 365

Office 2013

Office 365

Office Suite

Office 2013

Office 365 Pro Plus

Office 2013

Office 365 Pro Plus

E-mail

Outlook.com

Outlook.com

Exchange 2013

Exchange Online

Communication

Skype

Skype

Lync 2013

Lync Online

Collaboration

SkyDrive

SkyDrive

SharePoint 2013

SharePoint Online

Synchronization

SkyDrive

SkyDrive

SkyDrive Pro

SharePoint Online

License type

Perpetual

Subscription

Perpetual

Subscription

Payment 

One-time

Monthly

One-time

Monthly

Licensee

Per-device

Per-household

Per-device

Per-user

Activation

Product Key

User ID

Product Key or License Server

User ID

Installations allowed

1

5 active

1

5 active

Standard install

Windows Installer

Click-to-Run

Windows Installer

Click-to-Run

Updates to next version of client & services

Not included

Yes

Not included

Yes

There are several key takeaways you should gather from this table:

  • Items in italics are not included. Some Office 365 subscriptions do not include some services listed. Man I sound like a lawyer right now.
  • The business editions of Office 365 generally include services based upon Microsoft enterprise software (Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013, SharePoint Server 2013). When a business buys a license to Office 2013, they have solely a license to Office 2013. The use of Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint from Office 2013 require licensing compatible versions of that software separately.
  • The consumer edition of Office 365 includes free services (Skype and SkyDrive, as well as using Outlook.com for e-mail), but also include additional calling time (Skype) and storage capacity (SkyDrive) above those free editions. The consumer variant of Office 2013 doesn’t inherently include Outlook.com, Skype, or SkyDrive – but a user can readily sign up and consume those free services.
  • Office 365 products include no year-iterative branding. This makes describing them quite complex, as you saw before the table. As I write this today, Exchange Online is based upon Exchange 2010. Within a few weeks’ time, it will be based upon Exchange 2013 for newly arrived customers (and during this year for existing customers). But the brand name, Exchange Online will not be updated to reflect that.
  • If you, a consumer or business, buy Office 2013, it is a perpetual license. You can use that software on 1 computer (a change from many previous versions of Office), but have no rights to the next retail version of Office. If you continue to subscribe to Office 365, you have rights to the next version of the desktop suite as well as services as provided in the edition of 365 you subscribe to.
  • Business customers can obtain upgrade rights for Office by acquiring Software Assurance (SA), which is an annual fee businesses can pay to receive product version upgrades and other benefits. SA on the client doesn’t give you any rights to the server software.
  • Client Access Licenses (CALs) are required for each user or device you connect to Exchange 2013, Lync 2013, and SharePoint Server 2013 on premises (or with some Internet-based hosters). CALs, as well as the Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint software must be acquired separately, and generally require SA to be maintained in order to qualify for an upgrade to the next major version.
  • CALs are not required when you connect licensed users to Exchange Online, Lync Online, and SharePoint Online.

I hated to include the discussion of CALs, SA, and licensing server software on premises here. But it’s important that if your head is buzzing right now, you think about why. That is exactly the appeal that many businesses see in Office 365 or other SaaS productivity suites. They can enable businesses to offset a chunk of their IT spend normally assigned to buying hardware, software licenses, management services, staff, and often datacenter space, and instead pay a single per-user, per-month fee in order to obtain the software. Since the software is self-licensing, I believe that Office 365 is also a good way for businesses who fear software noncompliance to obviate that risk.

Where Office 2013 generally limits your ability to install the software on a single PC now, Office 365 lets you install the Office suite (again, note that it is not branded Office 2013, but is that version) on up to 5 computers, and activates using user IDs associated with the Office 365 subscription. For business subscriptions to Office 365, this is 5 installs per user.  For consumer subscriptions to Office 365, this is 5 installs per household, regardless of user(s). Since these can now be streamed down using a derivative of the App-V application virtualization technology, these installs are fast! They’re also volatile – meaning you can visit family for the holidays, install Office on  their computer if they don’t have it but you need to edit a document, and it will cease functioning on it’s own.

Note SkyDrive (the service) and SkyDrive (the client) are analogs to SharePoint 2013 (the service) and SkyDrive Pro (the client). For more information on the difference between those and a deeper discussion, check out my article below.

As I stated, the table is not exhaustive. There are subtle difference between all editions – for example some Office 365 subscriptions do not include the Office desktop suite, only the Office Web Apps (see article below). In particular, I elected to avoid talking about the many editions of Office 2013 and Office 365, as well as their respective prices. To do that requires a much more exhaustive article, which was not my goal here.

I hope you found this article helpful.

Some additional, related resources:

 


03
Jan 13

Email 101

While talking with my wife the other day, I happened to mention Atos to her. If you don’t remember Atos, they’re the company that banned email at the tail end of 2011. I’m not sure how well that has gone, but I haven’t heard that they’ve reversed the decision – in fact they are still blogging about it as of last October. I thought the idea of banning email was illogical then, and I still believe it is.

I was thinking about Atos as a side effect of my last blog post. You see, email has gotten this bad rap. We hear, “email is cumbersome”, “email is a time waster”, or “email is inefficient”.

No, it isn’t. Email is remarkably efficient, if you use it right. It’s also remarkably useful, in ways no other communication medium is. I believe that email was crucial to my survival within Microsoft and helped me defuse issues rapidly in a way no other medium could either.

I’ve used Twitter for almost 5 years, and I think one of the most valuable skills I have learned as a result is the same focus on accuracy and brevity that I mentioned in my last post.

To that point, I believe that if email is broken in your organization, it isn’t email that’s broken. It’s more likely how your organization is using email that’s broken.

Imagine if someone asked you to have a 10 minute meeting with them, but gave you little foundation as to why you were being invited? If they didn’t tell you what their expectations of you were, and that they had action items for you? Would you go? If you said yes, I believe you need to rethink the mental decision tree you use for meetings.

Meetings can be incredibly wasteful if there is no order to them, and no clear ownership. It is the meeting organizer’s obligation to ensure that:

  1. A meeting is only held if it must be held to reach an outcome. If you don’t really need a meeting, don’t have one!
  2. The subject matter of the meeting is clearly understood.
  3. All attendees, and only those attendees that need to be there to come to closure on the outcome are invited.
  4. A clear agenda to the meeting is included in the invite.
  5. An appropriate, but not undue amount of time is allocated to the meeting.
  6. The meeting is not scheduled on too short, or too long, of an advance notice.
  7. The decisions to be closed upon are clearly understood ahead of, and closed during, the meeting.
  8. All attendees have materials they need before the meeting and understand action items they may walk away with.
  9. The meeting begins on time, stays on agenda and on topic, and ends on time.
  10. The specified outcomes are agreed to, the matter is closed, and the outcome is clearly communicated to everyone invited.
  11. All attendees with action items understand those action items and their due date.

If you have a meeting and there is no decision to be made, I have to ask you – why are you having a meeting? Meetings are incredibly expensive in terms of resources and time, and can be wasteful, if not borderline toxic to an organization.  You’re disrupting every single participant in that room for as long as the meeting runs (plus as long as it takes for them to get there and back to their real work). A few employees meeting weekly? Wasting thousands of dollars per month. I’d argue companies should kill meetings before they kill email. I personally believe that status meetings are a sign of an organization that is in pain, an organization that is having broader communication issues and may be in trouble.

So why did I just write about meetings when I’m talking about email? Because they reflect the same problem. Email is a meeting which is a few minutes long (but like bad meetings, bad email threads can run on far longer than they should). Every rule above has similar applicability to email. Observe the following. The email sender has the responsibility to ensure that:

  1. An email should only be sent if it must be in order to reach an outcome. If you don’t really need to send an email, don’t send  one!
  2. The subject of the email is clearly stated.
  3. All recipients, and only those recipients that need to be there to come to closure on the thread are included.
  4. A clear description of the issue to be decided upon, and all known potential conclusions are included in the email.
  5. The email is no longer than it needs to be to state the issue, potential outcomes, possible action items, and expectations for closure date.
  6. The email is not left open-ended in terms of objective or timeframe to reach the conclusion and assign any action items. (No response = no opinion on outcome.)
  7. The decisions to be closed upon are clearly described in, and closed during, the email thread.
  8. All recipients have either links to, or attachments of, background materials they may need to issue their opinion and understand action items they may walk away with.
  9. The email thread has the information recipients need to close on a decision, stays on topic, and ends on time.
  10. The specified outcome are agreed to, the matter is closed, and the outcome is clearly communicated to everyone on the original email thread.
  11. All recipients with action items understand those action items and their due date.

There is a quote attributed to many, but often to Mark Twain, which says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” As I’ve said before, it is important that communication be well thought out, organized, efficient, likely revised or considered several times, and sent. Make messages and action items clear, or you only have yourself to blame when a thread goes off the rails. Unclear message or potential outcomes? Don’t send it, at least not yet.

In many ways, it is a pain that Twitter has a limit of 140 characters, and brutally constrains the length of messages. But it results in a quick, fast dialog as a result. In many more ways, it’s a shame that email is such an open-ended device, that it enables users to create tomes instead of emails, and that users are given so little training to use email efficiently (and inadequately chastised when threads kill productivity). Today, Outlook has an “Ignore thread” button. I believe such a feature shouldn’t be there, as it is a sign of malignant communication.

Think before you send email. Don’t be afraid to do it – but be ruthless in your efficiency with it. Pretend that every email you send carelessly wastes money and time. Because it does!


29
Dec 12

When I worked at Microsoft

Few phrases would strike fear into the hearts of my co-workers in Austin faster than “when I worked at Microsoft”. I’ve since learned to keep my stories to myself a bit more. But recently I’ve been contemplating not what I learned at Microsoft, but instead what I’ve learned since.

At Microsoft, I was a horrible writer. I’ll be honest. I hated writing specs. Considering I was a Program Manager (PM), I think that was a bad thing (in hindsight). But I’ve realized since then that it wasn’t the writing that I hated, it was the process. I lucked out and worked with several devs for most of my career in Windows that were willing to work “on the fly” on features as we isolated the customer need. In particular, one dev and I did an immense amount of work on a key deployment feature primarily using his whiteboard and my whiteboard.

In particular, I hated the idea of creating a monolithic document that was often referred to as an “artifact”. Artifacts aren’t things that people use. Artifacts are something that archaeologists discover after great societies fail.

In 2005, while I worked at Winternals, I was offered an opportunity to write an article for TechNet Magazine. One article became 3, 3 articles became a year-long contract, and that was renewed. For many of these pieces, I largely just regurgitated knowledge about how deployment features worked based upon my deep knowledge of them. I built a quickie outline, filled it in with knowledge, made a few edit passes, and handed it off. For better or worse, most of my pieces went to publish with only a quick edit after that.

A few years later, as TechNet changed forms, my contract wasn’t renewed. For a while I wasn’t writing. In 2010 I joined Directions on Microsoft, who I had met in 2001 when describing a feature that I owned to my now colleague Michael.

Directions has a guiding tenet – the idea of uncovering the fundamental news for whatever topic you’re writing about. You have the obligation, as a writer, to describe to your reader what the feature or technology is, how it works, and how it could prove valuable to the reader (or what gotchas it brings). Many of us are ex-Microsoft, and understand the importance of approaching the idea of describing the technology not necessarily in terms of the marketing message, but instead in terms of the actual value customers can expect to find in the technology, or the complications that they may find as well.

The hardest part of becoming an effective analyst at Directions in fact has less to do with understanding how the technology you are covering works, and more with how to adequately, and accurately describe it to the reader, without overwhelming them. In short, like many kinds of sauces or foods, it’s not throwing things together quickly and eating. It’s a matter of finding the important elements, making an outline, reducing it to the important key components, and writing an effective piece. Sometimes this process takes days. sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes you have to go through the process of letting go after you realize that there is no story there. Then several comprehensive edits later, ideally, you have a piece you can be proud of.

In this video, one of my favorites on YouTube, Apple designer Jony Ive discusses Apple’s approach to design, and in many ways, towards manufacturing. I’ve watched this many times, and what I take away from it is that good technology is complicated, and good designers do their best to buffer the end user from that complexity. Either a good designer absorbs the complexity of the technology and makes the experience approachable for the user, or a bad designer fails, and passes along the complexity of the underlying technology to the user - producing technology that is unpleasant to use, and often largely unusable.

As I read a lot of content on the Web, sometimes it drives me a bit crazy. So many articles - like my old ones at TechNet were at times - aren’t planned well, aren’t edited, ramble on, leave key points unclosed while  wasting time on chaff. All too often I click through to an article – or often a blog post – and abandon it at the 1,000 word mark, when it appears sufficiently clear that the writer lost their way in the woods, and at some point simply said, “screw it, I’m done”, and pushed publish, when they should have either saved it as a draft or just closed their browser.

Earlier tonight, I stated on Twitter that I think many of the things I’ve learned that have made me a better writer today would helped me a better PM at Microsoft. In addition to writing and editing skills, part of this is likely my own maturity, and another part is surely me having the patience to do the best job possible and taking my time to do it - even if it means cutting key work I’ve done, or discarding an idea that is important to me personally. Finally, another part I’ve learned is that it’s okay to write with brevity – as I always wanted to do at Microsoft – as long as you manage to clearly and accurately get the primary points across to the reader - at Microsoft, the developers, testers, user assistance writers, among others. Whether you’re a PM at Microsoft, a writer, or a blogger, I think it’s important to understand who your consumer is, what you’re trying to tell them, and if you’ve successfully transmitted your message, or whether you’ve gotten lost along the way.


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.