Monthly Archives: January 2007

Reviewing CNet’s Review of Vista

A few notes as I read CNet’s review of Vista:

Rather than upgrade, we recommend you perform a clean installation. With a clean installation, you keep all your current on the Windows XP drive and install only the data and applications you want to run on Windows Vista. A clean install can be accomplished by buying a new PC with Windows Vista already installed, partitioning an existing Windows XP machine to dual-boot into Windows Vista, or adding a new hard drive to an existing Windows XP machine.

This paragraph is more confusing than it is helpful and full of things that are so close to wrong that they may as well be lies. There have been many reports showing how a Vista upgrade actually gives your system that fresh system feeling as well as finally being a very viable option. A clean install can be accomplished in a lot more ways than they list plus they give just enough information to be dangerous such as adding a new hard drive to an existing machine. If you actually need to read that information on how to do a clean install you’ll probably think adding a new drive is as easy as attaching an external USB drive, which won’t work since it’ll never be hit by the boot manager.

Frankly, we think it is better for you to look beyond the Windows ecosystem for e-mail, Internet browsers, and security applications.

I use IE7 and Firefox 2 both, all day, and there is nothing besides personal preference to recommend either of them for the average consumer. As far as security applications I’d say there is no better place to look for one than Microsoft’s own OneCare. It’s far more stable, helpful, and easier to use than any of the many security products I used before OneCare.

We downloaded and installed Firefox 2, made Firefox our default browser, and quickly set up a few RSS feed subscriptions. Guess what? The Windows Vista Gadget was unresponsive to our efforts, displaying only the default MSN feeds from Microsoft.

That really shouldn’t have been suprising. Firefox uses a different feed store than IE7 does. In fact, EVERY feed reading application uses it’s own feed store, with a few newer products offering integration with Microsoft’s feed list mechanism. Perhaps CNet is going for a “hey, we’re just a normal user” approach but they are supposed to be experts and know these types of things to help guide others.

Oddly enough, this is the point when they should suggest looking to third-party applications. Browsers offer very limited functionality when it comes to feed reading, a much better approach would be to pick up a copy of the excellent FeedDemon.

The downside is that older files (say you upgraded your system from Windows XP or imported data from an earlier version of Windows) will have to be retroactively metataged in order to be searched. Also different is the file path displayed within Windows Explorer. Gone are the backslashes, replaced with arrows that offer drop-down menus of alternative folders. We liked this efficient feature.

Whew, that is a mouthful of half-truths and plan wrong facts.

First, you do not want your OS automatically retroactively tagging anything for you. That is the whole point of tagging, which obviously the reviewer doesn’t get. Tagging is personal, so while you just may be doing a report on “mountains” you do not want the OS tagging everything that has “mountain” in it for you automatically, especially for people that live in Colorado, meaning half my documents would end up being auto-tagged with mountain. So, “mountain” may be a good tag but you’d want more, such as “report”, “Ecology 101″. I can’t fault the reviewer too much as they obviously don’t “get” tags.

Second, you can still search documents that haven’t been tagged. This is an amazingly bad bit of journalism as it makes it seem as if you can’t search at all. You can search just fine, and in fact much easier, for everything with the word “mountain” in it and then you can tag it if you so desire.

Third, the backslashes aren’t completely gone. Just click up in the address bar area and all those nifty drop-downs turn right back into those trusty backslashes, so you have the best of the new AND the old.

And we disagree with Microsoft’s seemingly arbitrary division of features within individual editions.

I completely agree with this one, there are too many Vista SKUs. And, as a bitchy side note, isn’t starting a sentence with “And” one of those things that are considered a rather big English no-no?

Though video playback and, yes, even the tiny icons on Windows Vista are now crisp and colorful with Aero, unless you watch YouTube videos all day, you won’t really need Aero, nor will you miss the tiny preview windows enabled on your desktop display.

Holy crap Batman! They are somehow equating Aero with watching YouTube. I burst out laughing at this little comment, though I couldn’t decide if I should just stop reading because obviously the reviewer has no familiarity with Vista or if I should be scared that this is what people are coming away with about Aero.

About those tiny preview windows that Aero enables; at first I would have agreed with the reviewer but after using Vista for about 2 weeks I discovered that I really liked them and that I actually used them quite a bit. One of the great things is that they are updated in real time, so as you hover over it you can see things like progress bars updating, which I use all the time to check on downloads, copy operations and web page loads. It’s a very subtle feature and it’s no surprise that in the cursory review Vista was given it was written off so quickly.

While UAC notifies you of pending system changes, it doesn’t require a password. The Mac operating system does something similar but requires a password-that’s security.

Yeahhhh, what a way to sum up security review, with “That’s Security!” First, you ARE required to enter a password if you’re not logged in as an admin and second, you can EASILY enable Vista to require a password, same as your beloved little OS X. In fact, it was there until usability studies found that people turned it off or made the password so easy that it was worthless. Don’t take my word for it, read up on what Jim Allchin says about it.

…(there are separate Explorers within Windows Vista, one each for documents, photos, and music)…

Really?! Wow, a whole new feature that CNet just magically created, all with the simple power of words! There is only one Explorer in Windows people, though there are three separate folders for documents, photos and music.

…you still need to drill down one level to even access Search.

Hey, monkey boy, press the Windows key. Press key, search appears. No drilling, no muss, no fuss, one single, simple little key.

My favorite bit though, the crown jewel are these two statements, read together:

Compared with Mac OS X 10.4, Windows Vista feels clunky and not very intuitive, almost as though it’s still based on DOS…

…And there are far too many dependencies on Microsoft products; this is not a very objective operating system,…

I am Shawn Oster’s Unblinking Eyes of Incredulousness. Anyone in the tech industry should be busting a gut about now (or crying). They have just PRAISED and put on high the Apple design principle which is “walled garden“, with Apple giving VERY grudging access to any of its bits. Apple is the LEAST OBJECTIVE operating system of the big three and yet somehow Vista gets marked off for having dependencies? Apple’s whole model is one huge dependency on the iEcosystem.

All in all I give the review a 4.5. I give them points for effort but their few good points are obscured by obvious inaccuracies, bias and the fact that they spent almost no time with the system. Normally I’d give them as high as a 6 but considering that their review may actually influence people they should have spent a lot more time with the OS as well as running the entire article by a fact-checker.

Media Content Protection in Vista

Great run down by Chris Lanier about what content will be crippled when output in Vista.

I’ve seen a few people freak out about Vista and it’s multimedia content protection scheme and Chris does a great job of laying out the different multimedia scenarios you may encounter and how Vista will or won’t change that experience.

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Comparing Macs to PCs

Interesting thing I’ve noticed, anytime someone gets a new Mac they spend about three paragraphs gushing about the hardware; how sleek, how sexy, the packaging, the screen, etc. Often they’ll compare it to their old PC and list off all the short-comings it had, then in a wonderful bit of Apple mind control you’ll see something like, “Microsoft could learn a lesson or two from Apple”.

At this point I either start foaming at the mouth, give a despairing laugh or simply shake my head. For those that haven’t already picked up on the source of my ire it’s the simple fact that Microsoft doesn’t make computers yet that doesn’t stop people from comparing Apple hardware to Microsoft software. If their old HP was a clunky noisy hulking beast it’s somehow Microsoft’s fault yet because their new 17″ MacBook is light-weight and runs silent that somehow translates to OS X being the most well crafted piece of software of all time.

While I’d love to deride those people, call them idiots and fanboys and sheep, point out to them their every logical flaw and suggest they complete at least 3rd grade before trying to function in the real world the lesson here is that people don’t separate their hardware from their software. The whole hardware and software package is simply known as “the computer” and if they are staring at Microsoft Windows all day then everything about the computer is “Microsoft” regardless of the big Dell or HP logo slapped on the tucked away computer case.

Another, albeit smaller, thing about the usual Mac/PC+Windows comparison that starts me sputtering is everyone always spouts off about QuickSilver and how just that alone makes the upgrade from PC to Mac worth it. While QuickSilver may be the best thing since ones and zeros it’s a third-party utility that’s NOT WRITTEN BY APPLE yet people hold it up and wave it around as another reason Apple trumps Microsoft.

There is one not so obvious lesson that PC hardware manufactures need to take very seriously though, start making quality PC hardware and bundling it with applications that actually help users instead of the usual craplets, otherwise Microsoft is going to step into the PC game and you really don’t want that. Microsoft is already learning quite a bit about the mass production of good looking integrated PC-style hardware units, I believe it’s called the XBox 360. They’ve also shown that if they don’t think their partners are holding up their side of bargain they’ll go it alone, a la the Zune.

Comparing Apple TV to the XBox 360

I’m amazed that anyone thinks the new Apple TV product from Apple is all that wonderful. It has fewer features than the XBox 360 which can do all the same things PLUS with the XBox you get the ability to play an amazing amount of games.

Feature Apple TV XBox 360
Stream Photos x x
Stream Video x x
Stream Pictures x x
iTunes x -
Marketplace - x
PC Streaming ? x
Mac Streaming x x (using Connect360)
HMDI x -
720p x x
1080i - x
1080p - x
IPTV - x (Fall 2007)
DVD Player - x
Games - x
Voice Chat - x
DVR - x (via Media Center)
Stream Live TV - x (via Media Center)
Cost $299 $299 (Core System)

I just don’t see it, there is more bang for your buck with the 360.

TortoiseSVN global ignore pattern for Visual Studio and Delphi

Seems I’m reinstalling all the time and I commonly forget my global ignore pattern for svn. Here it is for future me:

*bin *obj RECYCLER Bin *.user *.suo *.dcu __history ModelSupport_* *.rsm thumbs.db

This pattern is useful for Visual Studio and Delphi development, though if you’re checking in third-party Delphi components be sure you have the full source, otherwise you may need to pull the *.dcu part of the pattern.

Apple Getting Sued

Wired has a great little piece about Apple’s lawsuit and I’ve seen a few people fireback with the classic, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else” line. While I’m tempted to agree with this I see two issues that give me pause:

1. Does the iPod have a monopoly and if so, does that mean so does iTunes? The iPod is the everywhere but not everyone uses iTunes, you don’t have to use it to purchase new music. It plays MP3′s just fine yet Apple’s marketing department has done such a great job of binding the two that many people aren’t even aware that the two don’t need to go hand in hand.

From that comes the question: if the iPod does have a monopoly aren’t they giving their separate music service an unfair advantage by not allowing third-party services to directly integrate into the only “official” iPod software, iTunes? Think that sounds silly? Tell that to the Microsoft lawyers that were forced to create a version of Windows for the EU that didn’t have Media Player bundled. Tell that to the software team that was forced to make it very obvious that you could switch your default web browser in Windows XP.

2. What am I buying? If I pay CD prices shouldn’t I be able to have CD rights? I can buy an album for $10 from either iTunes or BestBuy yet only one option allows me to play the music anywhere and rip it into any format I want. Many iTunes users are discovering they can’t do much of anything with their music except listen to it on what Apple tells them they can. I’m buying music, not an iPod, yet without an iPod I can’t play the music.

It’ll be an interesting case and I know who I’m cheering for, the consumer.

Joel on Bribes

Almost anyone that follows software development blogs will have stumbled across Joel Spolsky and many refer to his blog posts as some kind of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Software World. He recently weighs in on the whole bloggers accepting gifts from vendors debate that is making bloggers draw lines in the sand and is on the side that disagrees that bloggers should accept such gifts.

Joel Spolsky is wrong.

The whole thing boils down to bribes. A bribe is a secret agreement that is simultaneously advantages and disadvantages to both parties. Accept money secretly to promote a product and both you and the other party gain; they get a positive review while you have a bit more dosh, yet if either side breaks the agreement both of you lose, their product is seen as so poor it can’t stand on it’s own while your reputation is in the toilet. Secrecy is key to a bribe, without it there is no leverage, no incentive. The question is, what is left if you remove the concept of threat from an offer like Microsoft’s?

If there is a public exchange of product you could say that the one accepting the offer is only accepting it to get something for free. The interesting point here is that by wanting it they are already endorsing the product. Case in point, I’ve been offered free AOL online service more times than I care to remember but I’ve never once taken it because I don’t care for AOL. On the other hand I’ve been offered free pints of Guinness at various “Believer” events and I’ve taken each one gladly, of course I would have also paid for them.

You could also argue that a person may lose their objectivity, that they may feel a certain obligation to be nicer than they normally would have. First, someone that alters their opinion because of a free laptop is not really someone you should be listening to in the first place or they really didn’t have much of an opinion to start with. Second, there are a quite a few people that are already starting their reviews from a non-objective place, whether that’s pro or anti-Microsoft. Personally just to get me to try Visual Basic again you’d have to put a 30-year bottle of Balvenie on the table along with a full box of Cubans. I’m sure Visual Basic is actually a great language now with .NET but I’m definitely NOT objective about it and I have no incentive to try to look past my bias.

Lastly, without leverage, there is no way Microsoft can truly affect a blogger. What can they do? Never send the blogger more free stuff that they didn’t ask for in the first place? They can’t hurt or take anything away from the blogger, all the blogger can do is end up back where they started.

This laptop give-away is nothing more than the free samples they give you when you wander CostCo or the free vials of cologne you get in the store. There are no back-alley deals, no hidden handshakes, no threats of leg-breaking or public exposure. This is basic marketing 101. I can’t help but think that the people that make the biggest deal over this are those that fear that they themselves could easily fall prey to being swayed. I gladly accept free samples of Sara Lee cakes at CostCo, doesn’t mean I’m ever going to buy a single one of them.