Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Windows Woes

I actually like Microsoft Windows.  It provides a reasonably intuitive interface so that non-techies can harness the incredible -- and ever-increasing -- power of a computer, which is probably the most useful productivity tool in the world today.  Everyone knows the software empire that is Microsoft, and Windows has been the flagship product driving its success for years.  But boy, how things change...

The real take-away from Net Applications' May 2013 release of NetMarketShare monthly operating system statistics is that, as PC sales continue to collapse, Microsoft's Windows 8 could be a factor behind the plunge.
Windows 8 falls further behind Vista at similar points in their life-cycles. Numbers on the bottom reflect PC market share. (Data from NetMarketShare)
While Microsoft apologists focus on Windows continuing to be the dominant desktop operating system, they keep missing the two elephants in the room: Windows 8 continues to fall behind Microsoft's previous top operating system failure, Vista, and Windows is no longer the dominant end-user operating system when PCs, smartphones and tablets are considered.
True, on the desktop, Windows 7 still ranks as the top operating system with 44.85-percent of all PC users, followed by the still popular Windows XP with 37.74-percent. Vista—yes the never-loved Vista—comes in at third with 4.51 percent. Despite the fact that finding and buying Windows 7 PCs has become increasingly more expensive and difficult, just try finding one in a retail store, Windows 8 share is growing but still comes in last at 4.27 percent.

Let's dissect this info a little bit.  Personally, I would disagree with a couple things here.

I don't think that smartphones and tablets should be considered in the same class of computing device as desktops and notebooks.  They've come a long way over the past 3-5 years, yes, but they're not fully capable replacements (yet).  They lack the sheer computing power, the upgradeability, and the vast array of connectivity that is essential for functioning in today's office environment.  They're terrific peripheral devices that allow easy portable access to everything you could need on your main system...which is still a desktop or laptop.  Every few months a new tech blogger tries to use only a smartphone or tablet to do his job for a period of time, and documents the experience.  Invariably, they figure out a way to brute force their way through with a mish-mashed amalgamation of products and services, but that sort of experiment is really not possible in a corporate environment with thousands of users and a finite IT support staff.  Aside from the problematic hurdles in simply getting everything working, there's still the question of full functionality.  When there's a tablet that has 1TB of storage space and is capable of driving the graphics for dual monitors, as well as allowing a user to perform a memory upgrade in less than 2 minutes, then we'll talk about being in the same space as a desktop or laptop.  Until then, I think they should be considered separate technology segments.

That being said, I think this article still paints a pretty dismal picture for Windows.  Not only has the adoption rate been abysmal, but it's actually getting worse as time goes on.  I'll let you read the whole article for the full scoop, but the bottom line is that Windows 8 has been rejected by pretty much everyone.  Microsoft fanboys (yes, they do exist) will boldly proclaim that Microsoft has sold well over 60 million licenses, blah blah blah.  That's an argument that is as simplistic as it is irrelevant.  I know my company has purchased thousands of licenses from Microsoft that allow the installation of Win8...or Win7.  I can assure you they're not installing Win8.  Not only is the ridiculous UI change going to be a support nightmare -- "Where's the Start button?!" "Where did my programs go??" "How do I print??" -- but it hasn't been all that long since we finished rolling out Win7, and there's no way they're moving on anytime soon.  But they still have to be prepared for the future from a licensing perspective.  I'm guessing most large corporations are following much the same pattern - buying licenses all the time, but not actually using them until it's beneficial (or necessary, as in the exit of Windows XP).  The number of licenses sold is an empty shell of an argument.  You could also look at it this way - how many people do you know who are using Win8?  I can think of only one, but that's on a tablet rather than a "real" computer.

And that brings us to another argument.  Win8 is supposedly a really good experience on touch screens.  Emphasis on the supposedly.  If it really was for most people, then Windows 8 smartphones and tablets would be going like gangbusters.  Instead, the pathetic adoption rate of desktops and laptops actually towers above the adoption rate of smartphones and tablets.  And there's still the nagging little problem of having to replace tens of millions of monitors on the desk of every corporate environment and home office in order to take advantage of it, and that is not a cheap or fast process.  The idea of a unifying platform for all devices is certainly good (and we'll probably get there eventually), but it's not there yet, as the Windows experiment demonstrates in spades.

Also, did I mention the customer experience disaster that is Windows 8?  Just go look on YouTube and you'll find more videos documenting how horrible Win8 is than you can shake a memory stick at.  It's counter-intuitive in many respects, and the interface is even worse than that of iOS.  Sure, there are a handful of people who love it...but most don't.  Like iOS, there's little customization that can be done to it, but iOS is far more polished in terms of a slick-looking and seamless visualization, so without customization all you have is a bunch of solid colored blocks cluttering up your screen.  What's that about real-time updates?  Big deal.  Android has these things called widgets that give you real-time information in a vast array of configurable and customizable tools that give you everything you could possibly imagine, but in a theme and/or design that looks damn good and fits with the smartphone environment of your choice.  Win8 falls short again.  In fact, several hardware manufacturers have publicly blamed Win8 for the roughly 14% decline of PC sales over the past year, though the changing nature of what exactly constitutes a "PC" does obscure the field quite a bit.  Regardless, Win8 is clearly a loser in terms of market success.  There's been some recent signs of hope with the 8.1 upgrade, but even that is too little too late, I think.

So here's my take on what's going on.

Touchscreens are where the industry is going, and the blending of "PC" and "tablet" is only going to continue.  Microsoft is right about going for a single unifying experience, they just did an atrocious job of it on their first attempt.  But let's be honest - any time you have that radical a change to something people use daily, it's going to cause some waves, especially with users who don't understand the difference between a hard drive and the tower, or who can't figure out when their monitor is simply turned off.  That's different than what Win8 has done, though - it's frustrating and annoying savvy, technically proficient power users, leading me to believe that any realistic chance of rolling out to the mass public or corporate America is slim to none because of the literal nightmare that would ensue for IT departments everywhere.  This is not unprecedented, though.  Vista was such a terrible release that almost no one actually used it in the corporate space, and people got away from it as quickly as they could in the consumer space.  It is not normal for a desktop operating system to be supported for 15+ years, but the mass rejection of Vista is what prompted XP to have such a long and successful run.  If you look at Microsoft's history, you see a pattern developing:

Win 3.1 - great
Win95 - decent
Win98 - great
Millennium - awful
XP - great
Vista - awful
Win7 - great
Win8 - awful

I can't imagine it's intentional, but it sure seems like they alternate between great success and great failure.  Does it just take that long to really build all the necessary features into a release and get them working properly?  Do they not pay enough attention to their user base until too late in their development process?  Do they want to let their good releases linger for as long as possible in order to really lock up the segment?  Something else?  I have no idea, but this is the pattern we see.  So, in the context of Win8, here's what I think happened.

Microsoft knows the industry trend is toward touchscreens.  They know they have a lock on the desktop/laptop OS segment.  They know that a unified environment will eventually be the ace in the hole (think about how both Apple and Google have worked long and hard to create an ecosystem where all your content is provided by one unified platform for all your services).  They know Win7 is highly regarded, and they're due for another clunker release.  They know the number of touchscreens in both the consumer and commercial space is vanishingly small.  In short, they can't possibly succeed right now with Win8.  Thus, I think they're positioning themselves for Win9, and threw Win8 to the wolves from day one.

And really, it's not that bad an idea.  What better beta test can they run than actually releasing it and getting real feedback from real customers over the course of several years?  They're still making a ton of money off of it from those purchased licenses, and they already own the only viable alternative (Win7) if people don't like it.  Where's the down side?  Some negative press, sure, but Microsoft is hardly a stranger to negative press, and raking in billions of dollars a year is a pretty soothing balm for negative press.  In reality, they've just bought themselves a few more years to really refine and develop the unified Windows platform into something that will be polished, comprehensive, and an ecosystem capable of going toe to toe with Apple and Google.  They have a ton of work to do to get there, of course, but that's the only thing that makes sense to me.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Awards You Don't Want To Win

I find this MentalFloss compilation hilarious:

You've no doubt heard about the Darwin Awards, a "prize" for people who cause their own demises in the dumbest ways possible. It's definitely an award you don't want in your trophy case. Surprisingly, there are a lot of awards out there that you don't want your name attached to. Here are nine of them.


A literary award, the Diagram Prize (above) is exactly what it sounds like. I think you'll agree that the 2013 winner is definitely deserving of the honor: Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop.Goblinproofing faced stiff competition from God's Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penisand How Tea Cosies Changed the World.


Presented by the Literary Review every year since 1993, the BSFA is bestowed upon authors who have written overly flowery or otherwise ridiculous sex scenes. The 2012 "winner" was Nancy Huston, author of Infrared. An excerpt:

"Kamal and I are totally immersed in flesh, that archaic kingdom that brings forth tears and terrors, nightmares, babies and bedazzlements. The word pleasure is far too weak for what transpires there. So is the word bliss."


Remember way back in 1992 when a woman sued McDonald's because they didn't warn her that her coffee would be hot? This award for "outrageous and frivolous lawsuits" is named after her. The awards are on indefinite hiatus right now, but here's how the most recent Stella recipient won:

"Roy L. Pearson Jr. The 57-year-old Administrative Law Judge from Washington DC claims that a dry cleaner lost a pair of his pants, so he sued the mom-and-pop business for $65,462,500. That's right: more than $65 million for one pair of pants. Representing himself, Judge Pearson cried in court over the loss of his pants, whining that there certainly isn't a more compelling case in the District archives. But the Superior Court judge wasn't moved: he called the case 'vexatious litigation", scolded Judge Pearson for his 'bad faith,' and awarded damages to the dry cleaners. But Pearson didn't take no for an answer: he's appealing the decision. And he has plenty of time on his hands, since he was dismissed from his job. Last we heard, Pearson's appeal is still pending."


The English Department at San Jose State University sponsors this contest to deliberately write the worst opening sentence to a novel. (Since it's deliberate, it probably wouldn't be too awful to win this one.) The 2012 winner was Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England, who wrote:

"As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting."

The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the famous "It was a dark and stormy night" line. There's more to that line, though. The whole thing goes a little something like this: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind, which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."


Though you'd probably like to nominate someone you know for this honor, the Plain English Campaign awards the Foot in Mouth to a public figure who has made a baffling comment in the last year. Mitt Romney won in 2012, for statements such as "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love."


As opposed to the Nobel Prize, which is typically awarded for momentous achievements, the Ig Nobel is given for rather insignificant accomplishments. Winners for 2012 included the authors of a study entitled "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller," and the U.S. Government General Accountability Office, "for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports."


If you've ever doubted that people can bend spoons with their minds or contact long-dead loved ones, then you'll love the Pigasus Award. Skeptic James Randi founded the award in 1979 and gives it to parapsychological, paranormal or psychic frauds almost annually on April 1. One of this year's big winners:

"Houston biochemist and physician Stanislaw Burzynski, who sells expensive cancer 'cures' by administering 'antineoplastons,' costing his customers tens of thousands of dollars, and which have never been shown to be efficacious in controlled trials. His cancer therapy is not FDA approved. Despite his many customers to whom he sells his so-called 'cancer cure,' he has never published the final results of a single clinical trial. The FDA has sent his clinic warning letters about their unsafe research methods and is currently investigating possible violations of rules meant to protect research subjects, including children."


A crowd of 400 Australian women gather every year to hear the nominees of the Ernie Awards, a recognition of the most misogynist statements. The statement that is booed the most "wins." A recent winner was prominent Australian law firm Clayton Utz, which released a statement saying of the female partners in the firm: "Certainly they are all females but each of them are extremely competent lawyers."

The awards are named after Australian Workers' Union official Ernie Ecob, who was known for saying things such as, "Women aren't welcome in the [sheep] shearing sheds. They're only after the sex."


Since 1980, the Golden Raspberry Awards have served as a counterpart to the Academy Awards. Instead of being honored for excellence, the Razzies are awarded to people in the film industry who gave absolutely awful performances. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 nearly swept the Razzies this year, winning in the categories of Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Sequel, Worst Director, and Worst Screen Ensemble.

I think all of those awards are very, very justified...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Alienware Awesomeness

Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!!!  I'm not in the market, of course, but these look fantastic:
If there’s one thing Dell has done right over the years, it’s been to let Alienware—the boutique gaming PC manufacturer Dell acquired in 2006—remain Alienware. Based on the new notebook lineup that Alienware unveiled tonight, that let-‘em-be strategy is still working.

As the annual gaming/marketing orgy known as the E3 Expo gets underway, the company announced three brand-new notebook models based on Intel’s fourth-generation Core processors. But Alienware General Manager Frank Azor dropped by PCWorld’s offices late last month to give us a hands-on sneak peek. The lineup has undergone a significant makeover while managing to remain unmistakably Alienware.

"It’ s a big departure from 2009,” said Azor. “The new models are 60 percent metal, including a 100-percent aluminum A panel [lid] and a magnesium alloy chassis.” The reduction in plastic composites is a welcome departure, but the most significant visual cues come in the form of LED light pipes gracing the lid and the front and sides of the body, and the backlit trackpad.

Between those, the alien-head logo, and the backlit keyboard, each notebook has 10 distinct lighting zones that can be lit in any combination of colors from a palette of 20. Games that support the AlienFX utility can change these color combos in response to in-game events, such as taking damage, healing, or completing a mission or quest.
Here are a few more things that set Alienware apart from most other brands:
Alienware allows its customers to open up and upgrade their notebook, and they can overclock the CPU—both without fear of violating the manufacturer’s warranty. ...
Azor said that people often ask why Alienware’s notebooks are so thick. “It’s because we don’t share performance among components,” he said. “Every part can run at its full TDP (thermal design power). A lot of manufacturers will throttle down the GPU when the CPU ramps up, and vice versa, thinking only one component needs to run full out at once. Our notebooks can run everything full tilt without anything needing to back off.”
... the 17- and 18-inch notebooks also have an HDMI input, so you can connect a game console or a smartphone and use the notebook’s larger display. ...
All three models will also come with a new dynamic performance optimizer—dubbed Accelerator—that can turn off Windows services that aren’t essential to gameplay, freeing up system resources for the game. Once you exit the game, Accelerator automatically turns these services back on. ...

I won't go into the details of the specs on these beasties, but you can hit the link for all the gorgeous details.  Let's just leave it at these beautiful pictures...

More here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fun And Inspiration

No real theme to this post, other than the simple fact that all of these pictures amuse me greatly.  Enjoy!

 My opinion of today's Republican party

If only...

This one's actually pretty accurate for me.

Why don't I use Facebook more? Bingo.

You know who you are...

Maybe this is why T-rexes were so angry they ate everyone else.

If I had a business, I'd be sooooo tempted to do this.

I think this is one of those illegal moves from the government that Napoleon Dynamite talked about.

Or was it because a certain someone was driving, got lost, and arrived late...?  We'll never know.

Yep, pretty much.

I can't honestly say what it is about this one that amuses me.  It just does.