Thoughts on Microsoft Surface

Okay, you know my opinions on Microsoft. They’re not exactly private. So yes, I definitely went into yesterday’s announcement with low expectations.
Microsoft has really only done one thing really well in the last decade, in my opinion: Xbox. That was a helluva gamble — I was in the gaming industry still when the first rumours surfaced — and Microsoft could have gone down hard. But the gamble paid off — they invested heavily in content, and (in the end) content helped win their position in the video game battlefield.
But on their software end — their traditional business — it’s a very different story. It’s been a long wait for something “better”. Windows XP has been around for a decade; it finally goes away in 2014. Windows Vista was an utter mess. Windows 7 appears to be decent, but the adoption seems to be more about having to leave XP than “oh, this is so much better than X”. Windows 8? Haven’t played with it yet, admittedly, but I just don’t hear the buzz about it. Office is an ancient standby that’s in need of a serious overhaul (really, a word processor shouldn’t occupy so much RAM). Internet Information Server (IIS) is so overcomplicated as to make me wonder if someone wrote it on a dare. Don’t even get me started on IE.
Microsoft has rested on its corporate laurels for most of its life, continuing along without any real serious change. (Debate me, please! I would love to be proven wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.) We’ve not seen anything truly new.
That includes the Microsoft Surface tablet. It’s a mobile device that runs Windows. It’s been done before — the Microsoft phones, for example. (Windows RT, CE, 8, etc. It’s still Windows, regardless of the flavour.) They’ve not exactly taken off with the popularity of the iPhone or Android-based phones. The platform seems solid, but the overall environment (media integration, for example) is absent.
The tablet itself is … well, just another tablet. There was not one innovative thing announced yesterday. Oh, the keyboard? That’s not part of the tablet — that’s an accessory, and it’s already been done. It’s a smarter implementation, yes, but nothing truly new. The Surface tablet, in fact, reminds me much more of the RIM Playbook than anything else — too complicated to be a simple device, which is what makes the iPad so brilliant.
And this morning, I realised the other thing Microsoft has failed upon — releasing it. They’re taunting people with the next-nearest thing to vapourware: an unfinished product. It was so bad at the launch yesterday, that demo devices were snatched away before anyone could get any significant details on them. By comparison, Apple — the very company Microsoft is attempting to emulate, here — announces hardware by saying you can buy it today. There’s a lot to be said for immediacy. Microsoft’s announcement was the marketing equivalent of premature ejaculation.
Okay, now in Microsoft’s defence — because, yes, I do see where they’re coming from. Although Microsoft has never released a real computer of its own (they’ve done some excellent peripherals; my favourite keyboard next to the original heavy-click IBM PC keyboard was a Microsoft split keyboard), they have heavily influenced PC manufacturers for years. But that influence has … well … if you’ve gone around and looked at the recent PCs, you really have to wonder if anyone has thought outside the beige box. PC designs have changed little, and, frankly, they just ain’t sexy. They’re even more boring now than the old towers of old.
So this is Microsoft telling all their vendors that “enough is enough” — if you’re going to do something right, do it yourself. So kudos to Microsoft to stepping up to that plate, and driving it hard. This is where Microsoft could potentially change the game again — as they did with the Xbox (yes, pun intended) — and revitalise an industry that is sagging like … um … see my above comment about “premature” and draw your own conclusion.
As for my conclusion on the Surface — it changes nothing at this point. The announcement was too early, the environment undefined, and until someone antes up with a real-world demo of how awesome everything together can be, I’ll remain wanting.
Wanting Microsoft to be awesome again. I’ve been waiting a long time.
 

My upgrade to OS X "Lion"

For those of us who live on Apple-brand devices, there’s rarely an OS release that goes by without a rush of excitement that should normally require followups with a physician. While the majority come in the iOS (read: iPhone, iPod, iPad) space, there are the odd ones that come out for the desktop hardware.
One such example is the recent OS X “Lion” release, hailed by Apple as the next coming of operating systems, and anyone foolish enough not to install it might as well ship themselves off to a leper colony. Of course, anyone who has done systems support in their life (i.e. me) knows that upgrading to any “new” OS just begs for things to go wrong.
Which is why I volunteered to be a guinea pig.
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Flash: I'm not dead yet!

I’m getting a little tired of this topic. I was tired of it about a day after Steve Jobs first showed the iPad to the world, and the infamous blue LEGO appeared where a Flash plug-in should have been. It wasn’t really so much a shock to the world — Apple had been denying Flash applications on their iPod/iPhone platform all along. But this seemed to start off a little maelstrom the likes of which I haven’t read since people argued over on which end to start eating a hard-boiled egg.
The events of the last few weeks have been extremely tiresome to say the least. Far too many people and groups have been  prognosticating  the future of personal computing, and there’s been far too little in doses of reality. The future is coming, but it’s not coming nearly as quickly as everyone thinks it is, and rushing to meet the future will likely only harm the present. A little rational thought would be appreciated.
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room, first. Steve Jobs hates Flash. There, I’ve said it. Now let’s move on.
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Greed kills innovation

I was sitting at my kitchen table, poring over recommendations I’m writing for my client (partially communicative, partially CYA), when I had one of those sudden thoughts: I need tea.  While I was drinking my tea — a pomegranate green tea, if you must know — I had one of those epiphanal moments when something becomes radically clear.
Greed kills innovation.
It’s short, it’s simple, it’s sure to raise the ire of a lot of people, but it’s also a major problem we’re seeing lately, especially in internet technologies. It’s a problem that’s dogged humanity for generations. And it’s getting worse.
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Dear Canada: I'm going to break the law

Well, it would appear that short of an Act of God (or, heaven forbid, some actual common sense runs through Parliament), Bill C-61 will forever handcuff Canadians and prevent long-term technological evolution. It’s one of the worst-written pieces of legislation to hit Canadians in years, as it does not take real-world habits into account at all (short of the negative views, of course), and penalises everyone for something most of them haven’t done.
I’m going to get the Government in on a little secret. I’m breaking it. I refuse to let your ridiculous industry ass-kissing paperwork prevent me from moving with the evolutionary tide. I’m breaking the law and doing what I think is right.
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Steve Jobs blows it. Again.

Sigh.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching Apple come so close to finally tying the knot, only to leave threads dangling.  
I speak, of course, of yesterday’s Let’s Rock event where the apparently-not-dead (but much gaunter-looking) Steve Jobs talked at length about iTunes and iPods. And they played Jack Johnson, who is somehow the most popular male performer on iTunes to this point in history. (Yeah, I don’t get that either. Don’t get me wrong, Jack, you’re a great performer — just didn’t see that coming.)  
But why — oh why! — does Apple have to continually deny us a complete entertainment experience?  
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Web 2.0 Expo: Friday Keynote

Maybe it’s just me, but running keynotes every single day of a conference seems really silly, and waters down the value of the concept of a keynote. But I digress. Either way, this morning features Tim O’Reilly (again), Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems), Fake Steve Jobs (aka Daniel Lyons), Matt Cutts (Google), and Matt Mullinweg (WordPress).
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How to get good portability

Yesterday, I drooled over the MacBook Air. At least until I found out that it has an integrated battery. Then I sulked in a corner.
I still have the fundamental problem: How do I get good portability? The answer still seems to be eluding me. Understand — this is more a question than anything else.
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Will Microsoft ever admit that Vista was a bad idea?

It takes a big person to admit that they’ve made a mistake. Companies, regardless of how large they become, were reticent until recent years to come clean with their blunders.
Microsoft ain’t one of them. They still think Vista is good. And why not — they’ve sold 60 million licenses for it. But I’d be really curious to know how many of those people would have preferred Windows XP.
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