What’s wrong with Windows 8? Absolutely nothing!

June 17, 2013 Posted by mark

Of late, I’ve been hearing that Windows 8 is a big if not major disappointment for consumers.  I am also hearing that the new “Metro” user interface was a great idea but isn’t really what users want.  While I think that these opinions do have some validity, in my humble opinion, I think Windows 8 is exactly what our industry needs!  It is an incredible advancement in terms of operating system evolution!  So you may ask me “but how can this be something so great when I can’t even figure out how to get back to an application that I launched just moments before!”  In a nutshell this is because Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system is very heavily oriented towards “touch-able” devices.  Without a touch screen Windows 8 can be frustrating and in some cases even difficult to use.  However, with a touch screen I’ve seen complete computer novices navigate Windows 8 without a hint of trouble!

Touch has been proven by Apple and Android mobile devices that users can perform typical user interface tasks much more efficiently and effectively through touch gestures unlike anything that a mouse driven (i.e. pointer type) interface could ever provide.  The Apple iPad’s success has really driven that point home very clearly.  While Microsoft did come out with the first touch-able operating system, it used a “pen” or “stylus” device to assist the user with touching the hardware.  And while some gestures were invented way back then, they still required a pointer instrument to be able to successfully interact.  While consumers initially bought this operating system to work with touch screens, it eventually became evident that consumers were not really fond of it and eventually the product was discontinued.  Due to the relative unsuccessfulness of these products, touch screens were not being considered all that likely to be part of the future of computing.  However all that did eventually change.

History now shows that Apple’s innovative thinking machine would eventually revolutionized the way that we all think of interacting with computing devices and took “gestures” an order of magnitude higher than before.  From their hard work and perseverance in the belief that touch-able hardware not only had a place in the future of computing but also could improve the user experience, we now have “pinch and zoom”, “swipe” and many other ways of interacting with touch-able computer hardware using only our fingers.

In much the same way, to make the Windows 8 operating system user interface a true success for the consumer, it really needs to be used on “touch-able” hardware.  Unfortunately at the time it was released  “touch-able” hardware was …. well…. quite rare!  That has been improving slowly but stay tuned closely now because the ride is gaining speed!  Hang on to your armchairs because we are really heading for some very exciting (innovative) times!

In the windows world, leading the way is Microsoft’s Surface tablet.  Other vendors have released “touch-able” hardware before Microsoft’s Surface but the Surface tablet spins it in a way that almost makes you think that all tablets should be created this way.  The surface Pro is set to be the standard by which all tablets running windows 8 will be compared to.  It is one very incredible machine sporting features and performance of a 5 lb. laptop in a less than 2 lb. device.  Beyond the surface though (pun intended!) a plethora of “touch-able” laptops and even desktop systems are on the verge of being released!  Yes indeed we are in for some exciting times!

So from my viewpoint, the initial lack of touch-able hardware is really the reason why consumers  evaluated Windows 8 negatively compared to Windows 7 non-touch, mouse driven user interface.  Hopefully though, that is on the mend and once there are more touch-able types of devices starting to become available (and it looks like the wave is about to come crashing in very soon!) then Windows 8 will start to show its real capabilities and establish itself as Microsoft’s flagship operating system and allow us to move past Windows 7.

Phone unlock ban is not a big deal

January 27, 2013 Posted by mark

I just read an article at PC World that tells me that I can no longer legally change the firmware on my phone.  Why would I ever want to do this?  Well it is a technique that allows me to keep the same phone and move it from one carrier to another.  Generally, attempting to modify any type of software whether it be an application or game for your PC or Mac or firmware used to run a water pump at your local water works or even the embedded software in your GPS has always been illegal.  These are copyrighted works and are protected under the US copyright law.  Evidently though, cell phone firmware has been exempt from the “normal” copyright law however as of this past week (January 26th, 2013) it no longer is exempt.  This was due to an interpretation of the copyright law by the Congressional Librarian.  The article I read indicated that this is going to cost all of us consumers of cell phone services even more money that we already pay.   Why will it cost me more?  Is this really true?

Lets look at the iPhone.  Lets assume that Apple sells iPhones to 4 cell phone carriers.  More than likely Apple doesn’t make 4 separate iPhones, instead they make it so that they can setup an iPhone to work with a specific carrier on demand as needed.  So if Verizon says they need 10,000 iPhones, Apple can take any iPhone that they produced and install the desired carrier firmware and then sell them to the specific carrier.  In effect they don’t change the firmware, they use a completely different firmware. I’m guessing this firmware is probably made by the carrier in conjunction with Apple.  So, if I decide to use that same phone on another network, shouldn’t I only have the switch out that firmware for the other?  I’m not changing the firmware itself, I’m throwing out my old firmware and installing new firmware.  That’s not a copyright infringement, it’s my right to purchase the software/firmware/embedded software of my choice.  Will there be a cost for this? Probably not if the new carrier wants my business for 2 years!

Another reality is that the smart phone market is continuously upgrading their devices with faster, higher resolution phones all the time.  Why would I want to keep my 2 year old iPhone and put it on a new carrier’s network?  I personally have always taken the opportunity to get new hardware when my contract allows me to!

In response to this announcement on banning consumers from being able to alter their firmware (unlock their phone) themselves, some responders are touting open source software will come to the rescue.  This isn’t realistic though since intimate knowledge of the cell phone hardware and the carrier’s network is required to create such firmware.  And this information is not likely to be divulged by the phone manufacturer or the carrier, so open source is out of the question I’m afraid, at least until the phone manufacture and carriers agree to start using it.

When all is said and done, this new ban on consumers being able to unlock their phones to be able to switch carriers will not stop you from moving to another carrier because the carriers themselves will come up with a way to get you to switch.  Remember when you couldn’t move your phone number and now you can?  That did take a legal action as the carriers did fight that, but in the end it did end up being a non issue and today we all expect to be able to move our phone number to any device or service we want.  In a couple of months, no one will ever knew that this was ever a concern.

Thanks for reading!

Think mobile

August 25, 2011 Posted by mark

When I bought my first PDA, the Palm products were the things to buy so I purchased a black and white M125 and then later bought the color version M130 when it became available.  A lot of today’s smart phone features still remind me of those PDA’s; they were mostly text based, had no wireless connectivity whatsoever and the games look pretty archaic compared to today. At the time though, I recall thinking that this is going to be a technology that will become ubiquitous, and soon.  I was right about one thing, but wrong about another.  Today, these types of devices are the trend but it didn’t happen as soon as I thought.

When I first discovered smart phones in 2003, I was convinced that in a matter of months, that these devices would dominate the cell phone market. Little did I know that they never really would until much later than I anticipated.  In fact, until Apple’s iPhone was released, smart phones weren’t really a threat their “non-smart” brethren and at the time of this writing I believe that they still are not the most common cell phone in use.

During the spring of 2004 I recall helping one of my customers purchase a windows smart phone to provide them a solution with a custom app to view and update data from their client database which was being accessed by a web app that I had written some 5 years earlier.  By the summer of 2004 I had created an app that used web services to access their database and provide the functionality they requested.  Being able to achieve this in such a short time was so compelling to me that I decided to start a larger, more involved project to build an on demand transcription system that used the smart phone as the recording device and coordinated sending the data to a server over the Internet to transcribe the recording.  Interestingly, this was all happening during the fall of 2004 and being able to achieve all this meant to me that the era of the smart phone had arrived.

That project went on to become CaseScribe but eventually fizzled when by 2009 many vendors provided the same function and many for free.  I do find it incredible though that it is now (the latter half of) 2011 and smart phones are ubiquitous and that an incredible number of applications are being created for them everyday.  In addition the buzz of the iPad and other tablets will continue to make in roads into the desktop computer space and eventually maybe even take it over c0ompletely; but that is for another blog entry!

Thanks for reading!