Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/21/2007 11:28 AM | Comments

Lot's of action on Microsoft's Live brand lately.  All of this activity reminded me of my own rather strong feelings about Microsoft's handling of Live and how everytime I hear "Live" I cringe a little.

You see, I’ve always thought that attaching the Live brand to so many properties was a greedy attempt to capitalize on the only hip branding Microsoft has, XBox’s Live.

As far as I remember and know “Live” first started with the XBox and became synonymous with “social gaming with a set of friends” and it was strictly limited to the XBox. With the 360 it moved to the web with your gamertag and contact list available from Live was doing well, it was often cited as the one thing Microsoft did right, a younger demographic plugged into it.

Then Microsoft got desperate. They really have nothing that’s iconic anymore, except maybe lawsuits, while Google has this “mega startup” feeling and Apple has the iPod and the silhouette commercials. Microsoft also lacks cohesion, seems every product looks a little different, has a different installer, acts differently, integrates differently, has a different look to the website, etc.

Microsoft tried to *capitalize* on the Live brand but instead they just *cannibalized* it. Putting 5 random people into a room and calling them all “Smith” doesn’t make them a family yet that’s what Microsoft tried to do with Live.

Any service that doesn’t use your Live gamertag or have seamless integration with the “real” Live service’s contacts and assets (such as Points, Account Management, items purchased via the Marketplace) doesn’t belong in the Live brand. They watered-down and squandered a lot of the Live cred where they could have extended it in logical ways.

Instead of just smearing Live on top of everything they should have kept on the path it was going. First XBox Live, then interacting with you Live contacts, then merging in the Zune to the Live, then merging XBox Marketplace and Zune Marketplace into simply the “Live Marketplace” where any content bought under your gamertag is available to anything that plugs into the Live framework. Next Live Points that work across XBox, Zune and future properties along with a micro transaction framework API, again under Live. Through all of this though the same contact list and assets.

They must have had to tranquilize J Allard when he found out they had co opted the Live brand.

Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/21/2007 11:21 AM | Comments

I often hear how OS X "just works" and how it's so easy to do pretty much everything.  Often the differences between the Windows and OS X way are just that, different, not really better or worse.  That's why I was so surprised to find out how relatively hard it is to assign a drive letter to a network share on OS X.

Chalk one up on the Windows side of things.  On XP and Vista it's as simple as right-clicking on the share and selecting "Map Network Drive..."

Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/20/2007 7:08 PM | Comments

I'm sure this is old hat for people hip on their YouTube classics but oddly enough I've never come across this before.  Nothing is perfect, not Windows, not OS X, not PC's, not your childhood puppy and this guy does a great job of pointing out some of his Mac frustrations.

Why Macs Suck

Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/20/2007 5:40 PM | Comments

I recently subscribed to a podcast that is basically a list of free MP3's that various bands offer up for download.  It's a great way to get exposed to new music but one thing I've noticed is that most of them don't include album art.

While album art is probably the last thing on the band's mind I have to say that when a song is hanging in the balance the lack of album art is enough for me to delete the song.  What is the purpose of having a lovely, vivid, large screen on my Zune if I don't get any album art while listening to the song?

While I love digital distribution and what sites like MySpace have done for indie and startup bands the thought of losing album cover art is a sad prospect.

Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/18/2007 7:25 PM | Comments

As much as I like Microsoft products I have to say I really hate some of their business decisions when it comes to Vista.  My biggest beef is the fact that Home Premium doesn't include Remote Desktop. 

A common setup of Media Center is to run a headless (without monitor, keyboard or mouse) Media Center machine that records while an extender, in my case an XBox 360, is used to watch the recorded content.  The only thing that makes this possible is the fact that Media Center Edition (the pre-Vista version) includes Remote Desktop.  Whenever I need to check disk space, make sure updates are installed, install new tuners, install new drives, etc. I just remote into my MCE machine and manage it that way.

Along comes Vista and I find that Remote Desktop is considered some kind of ultra-premium feature and now you have to go all the way to Ultimate to both Remote Desktop and Media Center.  So now a machine that sits in a corner, that doesn't even need the Aero interface, much less Ultimate Extras, is going to need Vista Ultimate in order to function like it used to.

What really brought all of this home was the fact that I recently picked up a new HP dv9000 laptop, thinking that when the laptop out-lived it's usefulness I could turn it into a Media Center to replace the pre-Vista MCE tower I have in my office.  Planning for this I paid for the small upgrade to MCE with the coupon for Vista Home Premium when it finally came out.  Well, I get Vista Home Premium, install it, and discover that suddenly what I could do in MCE I can no longer do in Vista Home Premium.  So in essence what I got was a coupon for a downgraded OS.

Microsoft has done some wonderful technological advances with Vista but has failed horribly when it comes to to their tiering structure.  It's no secret that while they have some top-notch engineers their business and marketing leaders leave a lot to be desired.

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Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/14/2007 7:46 PM | Comments

OK, not really.

I've reached a milestone, I've been labeled a Microsoft fanboy, a shill, been asked if I work for Microsoft and if I'm on the payroll.  Somehow I was also labeled a Bush-supporting, Iraq war-loving Republican.  Someone named "Will" even crowned me Shawn "Microsoft" Oster.  Hey Will, anything you want me to pass along to Bill during our weekly world domination take-over meeting?

All joking aside I'll clarify my position on Microsoft, not in defense of myself but to at least spurn more original arguments against me.

I'm not defending Microsoft, I'm not even a fanboy.  I'm trying to make sure people understand where the battle lines are drawn.  I have my own issues with Microsoft but I like to think I'm pretty informed in my arguments and that I'm looking at it from all sides before beginning my rants.  If you don't understand an issue how can you argue it?  I'm all about the good fight but I find it more useful when you're pointing your cannon in the right direction.

When someone says "Vista's DRM" I'm angered not because they are saying something negative against Microsoft, I'm angered because it's incorrect.  When it comes to HD content Vista doesn't actually contain DRM, it has support for HDCP.

When someone says Mac's are so much better than PC's because Mac's "just work" I get frustrated not because I hate Apple but because I've personally known people whose Mac didn't just work and in fact they spent hours dealing with support and struggling with   hardware and software issues.

Labeling me a Microsoft defender because I point out the flaws in their logic is like labeling someone a terrorist just because they don't agree that we're handling the Iraq war well.  Hell, even Bush finally admitted that we hadn't actually won anything yet.

Oh, for the record I don't work for Microsoft.  I'm a software developer that writes in Delphi, C#, PHP, ASP, ASP.NET, MySql, Sql Server, PostScript (don't ask), x86 Assembly (what young nerd didn't learn assembly so they could crack games?), XHTML + CSS (yes, IE6 is pure evil), Ruby (with Rails of course), JavaScript and whatever else catches my interest.  I learned to code on a Mac and became very familiar around a Linux shell while installing MythTV (though I'm using MCE now, I love using my 360 as an extender).

Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/13/2007 10:52 AM | Comments

There is a fair bit of ignorance out there about Vista's implementation of HDCP DRM and usually I just let it go by without affecting me too much but this recent article on Wired really takes the cake.  I have to give it a gold star for being the most inaccurate article about "Vista's DRM" I've read to date. 

Personally I hate the concept of DRM, as searching my blog will attest to but I hate when people spread FUD and restate their opinions as facts even more.  The waters of DRM and Vista are already murky enough and posts like the Wired one don't do anything to help people understand the real issues.

Anyone that actually cares about having an informed conversation should start by reading these articles:

OS X and Linux: CableCARD, DIRECTV, Dish, HD DVD, Blu-ray?

Windows Vista Content Protection - Twenty Questions (and Answers)


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Posted by Shawn Oster on 2/12/2007 1:52 PM | Comments

Mary Jo Foley has a recent post that highlights one of the hypocrisies you often encounter in the OS X camp.  This line highlights it best:

Parallels executives have been quoted by various outlets as being angered by Microsoft's policy to allow only the pricier versions of Vista to be used with Parallels without an additional license. But the Parallels brass don't seem overly upset by similar licensing restrictions allegedly imposed by Apple regarding the legalities of running Mac OS X in a virtualized environment on non-Apple hardware.

UPDATE: Changed the title, fixed some tensing and reworded the first sentence, it felt clunky.

Posted by Shawn Oster on 1/26/2007 2:59 PM | Comments

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. 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.

Posted by Shawn Oster on 1/26/2007 11:52 AM | Comments

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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