8th day thoughts on the Microsoft Surface RT

So, a little more than a week ago, I made the impulse decision to purchase a Microsoft Surface. I ended up spending most of my lunch hour in line at the Microsoft Store in The Domain in a mostly chilly morning with about a 115-120 other shoppers. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who had lined up, although most of the pleasantness was not recognized at the time, because it was pretty chilly and I was in shorts and a sweatshirt

Anyhow, let’s get to the meat of this entry: the Surface RT itself.

Everyone has talked about the beauty of the hardware itself and I am mostly in agreement with that. Of course, I have not owned any other tablet device, so I do not have a comparison point, but I have used my parent’s first generation iPad and I would say that it easily blows that device out of the water (which it should do for a device that is a few years old). Compared to the various laptops I’ve owned, this definitely feels nicer and sturdier. Microsoft has promoted the sounds of the hinge and the clicking in of the cover. I’m not sure what is so special about it, but again I have not had the benefit of comparing it to another high-tech device with a hinge. The clicking in sound does sound pretty satisfying but I found, after 8 days of usage, that the only time I was clicking the cover in or out was when I wanted to demonstrate the sound to another person.

Let’s move on to another piece of the hardware: the Touch Cover. When the Surface was first announced earlier this year at an Microsoft keynote, this was the thing that immediately caught my eye. In fact, I even remember immediately posting a picture of it on Facebook, in awe. Unfortunately, Microsoft elected not to bundle the cover in the price of the base device, which I think was a misstep. That said, the keyboard itself works phenomenally for a device that is so thin and non-keyboard like. I am writing this entire review on the Surface so that I have the benefit of a relatively large document to test the keyboard out. I still make several typos and have to use the backspace key liberally, but it is eons ahead of any on-screen keyboard. In fact, when I’m in tablet mode on this device and the on-screen keyboard shows up, I can only use it for a few short words before I just flip the keyboard around and use it. The trackpad is also surprisingly responsive and challenges and, in some cases, betters the performance of several laptop trackpads. It supports multitouch, as well.

The problem areas for me with the keyboard are the space bar and the left shift key. In general, it seems that any key that needs to be fired with my pinky are slightly problematic as my brain needs to readjust to the fact that I need to apply more pressure to those keys than I’m used to. I suppose that is a con, but it is something that doesn’t really affect me that much. I will also concede that long typing sessions will probably cause fatigue to the wrists because there is no rest area for them. In conclusion, though, the keyboard is a fine piece of engineering.

The camera is unfortunately a letdown. I haven’t had a chance to do video chat on it yet, so I don’t know whether it will suffice for that purpose but for everyday picture taking, it is not very usable. I guess that makes sense since it is kind of silly to carry around a 10″ device to take photos, but it would be sweet if it packed a higher-resolution camera. The angled back camera also makes sense if the thing you want to tape is right behind your device but kind of an inconvenience for anything else. I tried to use the camera to take photos during my Halloween party last week and it was hard to use and produced pretty crappy looking photos.

Next, let’s move on to the software. The Surface RT comes bundled with Windows RT, which is essentially a handicapped version of Windows 8. When the Surfaces were first announced, I had my heart set on a Surface Pro as my laptop replacement. However, once Microsoft announced the pricing model of these devices, I realized that the Pro would probably fall out of my budget, especially given that my current Sony VAIO still works fairly well. In addition, I wanted to take advantage of the slightly lighter Surface RT as well as the fact that it was available now (see earlier comment about impulse purchase).

I did download a couple of the Windows 8 previews this year but did not get the chance to use it extensively. I set it up on my HTPC that is connected to my computer and found that the interface, while beautiful, is really not designed for a point-and-click environment. Which is why the Surface is the perfect device to take advantage of the “Modern UI” that Microsoft has been pushing. As a multi-year owner of Windows Phone devices, I have already completely been sold on the live tile-based UX and was excited to see it expanded. Having used the Surface for a little more of the week, I have to say that the gestures are very well designed and consistent across the Modern UI. I find myself swiping the Windows 8-style gestures when on my Lumia 900, now.

Let me go back to the handicapped nature of Windows RT, for a moment. As you may or may not be aware, the Surface RT packs an ARM microprocessor which means it is not compatible with Intel x86 code. Which, for the less technically-inclined, is essentially any Windows software that you have encountered prior to Windows 8. Microsoft ported a version of Office to the ARM processor but apart from that, any “apps” need to be installed from the Microsoft store. As a developer, I haven’t had the chance to play with the SDK yet and haven’t really followed the Build sessions so I do not know how restricted the available APIs are for Windows RT. It would certainly be neat to be able to run some legacy stuff, especially drivers (my printer is not supported) and stuff that rely on browser plugins (such as my work VPN as well as Google+). The porting of that legacy stuff will depend entirely on the commercial success of the device.

With regards to the stability of the device, I would give it a decent score. I do encounter some lag when I have a lot of stuff open or in some specific apps (Xbox Music being a prime example) but in general it doesn’t affect me on a daily basis. I did encounter a situation yesterday when apps seemed to crash to desktop when attempting to use them. A restart (and the restart itself is quick) fixed the issue but it was still a minor inconvenience. That said, I have applied the workaround that allows me to get to any Flash-enabled website that I want, so I’m not sure if the Surface was equipped to deal with the crappiness of Adobe’s platform.

Let me talk about the stock apps a little bit, now. Unfortunately, almost all the stock apps that I use on a daily basis are pretty sucky. First, there’s the Mail app. This app is pretty slow and definitely needs a second pass before it is usable on an everyday basis. It syncs down fine and everything but is just very laggy. Next we have the Calendar app. First of all, the Calendar app neglected to sync down my Facebook calendar properly and it is still an issue I haven’t figured out. Secondly, it appears Google still hasn’t enabled multiple-calendar support for the Surface so only the default calendar gets pulled in. I downloaded some trial software to sync my work Notes calendar with Outlook.com and it promptly brought my Calendar app to an unusable slowdown. Luckily, the live tile and notifications still work fine, so I don’t have to go into the actual Calendar app that often.

Next, there’s the Xbox Music app. Unfortunately, I think this app is a drastic downgrade from the really solid Zune desktop app. I sure hope the development team at Microsoft work on improving this app (they’ve pushed out several updates since Windows 8 was RTM’d) because right now it is buggy. I encounter everything from random songs being skipped due to Xbox Music Pass issues to the UI becoming unresponsive when trying to control my playlist. Once I get everything queued and started, it works pretty well, but that is not an ideal usage scenario.

The People Hub also appears to be a downgrade from the experience in Windows Phone. The biggest problem I have with this is the live tile doesn’t mark items as being read so I have notifications from several days ago still flipping around. Without a first-party Facebook app (so far) the People app also does not bridge the gap well enough so I find myself going into the browser-based experience often. Speaking of the browser, IE10 is very solid. The Modern UI app works really well and gives me a nice, full-screen view of the pages I want. There is still room for improvement in the form of the back and forward actions, which appear to reload the page from a very, very slow cache.

All this said, it is gratifying to note that none of the stock apps are part of the operating system, which means that they will have the ability to be updated regularly. Whether we actually see Microsoft throwing resources towards the continued improvement of those apps is anyone’s guess.

In conclusion, I’m very happy with this device. The major negative areas for me appear to be in updatable software portions. I expect Microsoft may have cut some features in their stock apps to be ready to ship by holiday season, and I hope those features get scheduled in the next few updates. This device isn’t ready yet to replace my laptop, but that is mostly a function of it not being an x86 device, something I knew going into the purchase. The Remote Desktop app actually functions pretty well so I can theoretically access anything I want from the Surface as long as I am on a network with an x86 computer I can remote in to.

I would recommend this device to anyone who is willing to deal with the growing pains of a 1.0 device. I think the keyboard is a must-buy if you get this device because it is what sets it apart from other products in the same form factor.

technology soapbox

A lot has been going on in the technology landscape over the last few weeks and I’ve decided to get on a little soapbox and share my thoughts on them at midnight on a Tuesday night instead of going to sleep so that I can wake up in 7 hours to walk my dog after (hopefully) finding out that she has not pooped all over everything. Instead of trying to make the writing flow, I’m just gonna knock them off one after another.

Apple-Samsung patent case

As you may have read unless you were taking a break from the interwebs for the last month, Apple won a huge patent case against Samsung with regards to smartphone developments and innovations. While I’m not familiar with the nitty gritty details (nor do I have the desire to get familiar with them) I still feel the need to spew some gospel.

From a purely legal perspective (which, in honesty, is what the jurors should have been looking at anyway) I agree that Samsung was guilty of copying Apple’s “innovations”. I think the issue, though, is the fact that such patents exist, anyway. Of the several patents that were successfully defended, it seems there were ones about the shape of the device, the user interface of the operating system and other visual effects (such as the “bouncing” of a scrolling list when you hit the end). Apple zealots (I won’t use the word fanboy since that always evokes negative emotions) have been quick to deride Samsung for stealing Apple’s innovations.

I challenge that these “inventions” are worthy of a patent. Is the world’s self-professed most innovative company really suing people for copying the “bounciness” of their lists? Is that really the level of innovation that we have come to expect from technology companies? The original iPhone was not innovative because the lists were bouncy or because the device was rounded. It was innovative because it was the first truly accessible touch-enabled device. The innovation came by way of the app store (as a former BlackBerry user who was trying to download apps, the iOS store was truly a cool invention).

Filing for and receiving patents for the shape of a device and minor user interface effects and animations is pathetic, more pathetic than suing a company for violating said patents. In my humble opinion, the biggest long-term effect of this litigation and judgment is the filing of frivolous patents by technology companies instead of any actual innovation. Imagine if Alexander Graham Bell had filed a patent on the curliness of the wire connecting the various parts of a phone–that is in essence what these “design patents” amount to.

Nokia Lumia 920 and PureView “Scandal”

This is only really a scandal if you are a tech-geek like myself and follow several tech blogs every day. The “scandal”, if it can be called that, is that Nokia, in an advertisement following their Lumia 920 announcement, presented optical image stabilization (OIS) in a way that suggested that they were using the Lumia 920 for the media in the advertisement. Basically, their ad showed clips of a person on a bike shooting another person on a bike using a Lumia 920 and then cut to how the video would look with OIS on and off. People (including myself) made the incorrect assumption that the video of OIS on was shot on a Lumia 920.

It turns out some super sleuths were able to catch a couple of frames in the video where the magic of reflecting light showed that the OIS on stuff was not shot with a Lumia 920 on a bike but a full camera rig on a van. The internet temporarily exploded into chiding Nokia about incorrectly leading people on. Nokia even issued a public apology and shared actual video shot with the Lumia 920, compared with video not shot on the device.

Seriously, people? Are we now in the business of calling out advertisements for not being 100% accurate? I don’t own an iPhone 4S, but 90% of my friends do and no one has told me that Siri is perfect, or anywhere close to it. I certainly don’t expect to ride on a horse backwards when I buy Old Spice deodorant and I don’t think anyone would allow me to pay them with Orbit gum. It’s an advertisement–it’s supposed to pique interest about the product.

When I watched the original commercial, the fact that Nokia used the “OIS on” and “OIS off” textual overlays in their video made me wonder if one could actually turn the feature on and off on the Lumia 920–which suggests that they weren’t malevolently claiming that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920. If that was the case, they could very easily have replaced the captions with “Lumia 920” and “<insert competitor phone here>”. Yes, there is no arguing that they were trying to “trick” consumers into thinking that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920, but that’s the point of advertising…

Windows Phone 8 + Windows 8 and Microsoft marketing strategies

As much of an MSFT fan as I am, I have always held onto the belief that there are some really dumb people running Microsoft’s PR campaigns. Surely they should be able to find a firm that does the job half as decent as Apple’s marketing team. Thinking back over Apple and Microsoft advertising campaigns, the only reason I remember MSFT ones are because they were utterly SMH-worthy (that’s shaking my head, for the acronym-challenged). Apple, for example, had the the Mac vs. PC campaign, which, although it made me cringe, was memorable and to the point (and very effective in developing the Apple zealotry). Their current campaigns, while not as powerful, are still pretty effective: close-ups of beautiful looking devices with an abundance of hyperbolic adjectives in the background along with some indie music.

If I think of Microsoft’s ad campaigns over the last few years, the two that come to my mind are the “Windows 7 Launch Party” and the “WP7: A phone to save you from your phones” campaigns. Both were supremely cringeworthy and didn’t really cast the product in a positive light. What the heck was a Windows 7 launch party? I watched several of these commercials and had no idea what they were trying to portray. The WP7 campaign was an attempted assault on other phones but one that didn’t make any sense–why would I want to spend a bunch of money on a phone that I then didn’t need to use?

Anyhow, that’s all old hat. MSFT is trying a new strategy now, which also sucks, of announcing products 2-3 months before launch. They don’t have the marketing prowess to sustain that hype over such a long period. And, unfortunately, it seems like Nokia is following a similar plan. The Microsoft Surface tablets were announced a while back but in the announcement, there were no information about pricing or availability. The same thing happened with the Windows 8 announcement, the WP8 announcement and the Lumia announcement. Tomorrow, Apple introduces the iPhone. I am absolutely certain they will announce the price, shipping date and will begin preorders as soon as the event ends.

That’s it for now. Time to get a few hours of sleep!

why i love windows phone 7

The internet, in general, hates Windows Phone so I decided to write a quick post to explain why I’m completely smitten by the platform. For background purposes, the Nokia Lumia 900 is my fourth smartphone after a BlackBerry Curve 8310, the iPhone 3GS and, most recently, the HTC HD7S. I’ve been using the Windows Phone platform since about July 2011 (the HD7S) and there’s no looking back, for me. Let’s go into details.

It’s Freaking Beautiful

The UI is absolutely stunning. Yes, the screen resolution doesn’t allow for “retina display” and WP manufacturers have not entered the ongoing pixel arms race, but the actual presentation of the operating system is beautiful. Metro is easily my favorite user experience on any piece of software I’ve used. The large tiles are bold and bright and the sharp edges gives them definition. Compare this with the grid of tiny icons that iOS/stock Android presents you (along with a number-based notification system) and the difference is massive if you allow yourself to believe in it. Of course, iOS and Android are making strides with an improved notification system and widgets, respectively, but I’m a fan of the WP presentation. It’s sexy and utilitarian. If I want to check the weather, I just need to unlock the phone and the live tile tells me the current weather and the next two days. If I want to see if anyone has posted anything on my Facebook or tweeted anything at me, once again, the live tile grabs all this information.

Everything is integrated

When I was using an iPhone, I had:

  • My contact list on my phone
  • My music playing off of Spotify with the Spotify app
  • My Facebook notifications coming through the FB app
  • My Twitter notifications coming through the Twitter app
  • Any synchronization being done through the shitty iTunes interface
  • QR Code/barcode scanning being done through third party apps
  • Pandora for live radio
  • Shazam to do song recognition

And it goes on. I use my phone primarily to keep track of my social networks, to text my friends, to listen to music and occasionally make a call or two. All the above things I mentioned are integrated into the core Windows Phone operating system. When I first set up my phone, I logged into my Windows Live and Facebook accounts. This grabbed all my contacts and even matched them up with the relevant Facebook accounts. I did install the third-party Facebook app but I hardly use it (also, it is extremely buggy).

The Windows Phone search button (a dedicated touch button that can be pressed at any time) allows you to not only search for text but to scan a barcode or QR code or even listen to music. Yup, the Shazam feature is automatically built in. Pandora still needs a third-party app (wpFandora does an excellent job) but more importantly, all my music is tracked through the Music & Videos hub. This means that if I heard a song on Pandora and then listened to other stuff on my phone, I can easily find the track in my music history as if it were being played from the same source.

I cancelled my Spotify subscription in favor of the Microsoft Zune Pass, which is the same price. The advantages? I don’t have to use iTunes again, ever. I can’t put into words how huge this advantage is for me. I absolutely detest iTunes. Zune is a more than worthy replacement and is about 1,452,530 sexier than iTunes. You know how OS X has been building up all these “full screen, immersive apps” the last few months? Well Zune has been doing that since… well, a long time. Another positive of Zune Pass is that it is essentially iTunes, Spotify, Spotify Mobile and Pandora rolled into one. I can listen to any song on Zune through subscription, and I can download it to my phone and play it offline. Of course, if I haven’t downloaded a song, I can look it up and play it from the marketplace section on the phone and even download it and save it to a playlist. Without having to buy it. Without having to download Spotify. The Pandora equivalent is “Smart DJ”. You can search for any artist and click “Smart DJ” and it will start playing related songs. Sure, their algorithm is probably not as good as Pandora’s, but you can get started with it immediately.

The hardware and software are unique… “different”

I find it most hilarious that I’m using Microsoft software and being “different”. It seems like only yesterday when Apple was forcing “think different” down everyone’s throats. For those not in the know, Nokia is using the slogan “beautifully different” to drive Lumia sales. And it’s ironic, but Microsoft’s product offering here is really unique and different. The iPhone is now the go-to smartphone for most users and the marketing advantage that Apple had with Macs of having “something cooler than yours” has not carried forward to their phone product line. Everyone has an iPhone. Except those people who have Android, which, in my opinion, basically means that you want (/need) to tinker with your OS to customize it to your needs or you are just to cheap to buy an iPhone. Or you hate the fact that Apple makes minor improvements to their product every year and then sells it as if it’s the greatest new thing. Android buyers have the latest technology available at a low price now, instead of next year. Alas, it comes at the cost of a fragmented marketplace that is struggling to deal with all the different versions of the operating system on their hardware, now.

Windows Phone has a minuscule market share and one that Microsoft, I think, should increase only enough to become the Mac of the smartphone market. The Lumia 900 is a fine hero device because it’s not just Android hardware with the WP software on it, but a device built from scratch to match the sexiness of the WP7 operating system. Of course, MS has historically operated on volume so they are trying to give the device away for free to try and get it in people’s hands. I suppose this works, but at some point I think MS should try to make Windows Phone a luxury device, rather than the Dell of smartphones.

And finally, the negatives…

Of coures, there are several negatives with the platform. The two that have been brought up the most are (1) “there are no apps” and (2) “this is last year’s hardware”. Yes, the app offering is fractional compared to the iTunes App Store and the Google Marketplace (or whatever its name is, right now). And the bigger problem, in my opinion, is that most big-name developers don’t even consider developing for WP. Which is mindblowing to me, as a developer, because Microsoft’s developer suite (Visual Studio) is heads and shoulders above iOS’ (XCode or Mono Touch) or Android’s (Eclipse or whatever Java editor you choose to use). .NET technology has been around for ages and most developers already know how to code in it. One would expect there to be a lot more Windows Phone developers, but I guess they are driven by market needs.

But going back to the crux of the issue, yes, there is an app problem. Any Windows Phone user who tries to tell you otherwise is just lying to himself or herself. I want to play Draw Something on my Lumia. I want to be with the “in” crowd of whatever game ends up being the next viral craze. This is a work in progress and it’s only going to change if there is a sufficient shift in market share for Windows Phone. All that said, the apps for WP are legitimate in themselves. There are several really nice apps that take advantage of the Metro UX and understand Microsoft’s vision with the operating system.

The second negative is, in my opinion, mostly just FUD. Yes, current generation Windows Phones are babies compared to the technical specifications of Android. Isn’t there an Android phone out there which is going to be quad-core? And really, the first thing that comes to my mind is, “why the hell do you need four cores on your phone?” It sounds like either the developer SDK is not efficient or that the developers are dumb. Windows Phone works like a dream with a single core. Everything is snappy and I have encountered little to no lag. That said, I do think that a few of the software requirements/implementations could use improvement. For example, I’d like to have higher resolution graphics and better camera software. I’m hoping Apollo will change some of this. And if Apollo does include dual-core support, I can’t imagine how awesome the platform would be. If WP’s performance is already comparable with iOS/Android with a fraction of the cores, a multi-core experience is only going to be better (especially given that MS has software pedigree in developing successful multi-core operating systems).

Alright, I’m gonna step off my soap box, now, since this was a fair bit longer than I expected. Keep in mind that these conclusions are drawn based off of my Lumia 900. A few of my opinions would be very different if I had been writing this article whilst using the HD7S, which is essentially just an Android phone with the Microsoft OS on it.

Feel free to comment with your opinion! I completely understand that my love of the MS offering is highly subjective. As with taste in music and preference for beer styles, I respect the fact that people like different things.

yay networking and remote access!

Two cool features that I unlocked today, despite knowing about them for a while, were networking and remote access. I had heard of LogMeIn for a long time and even used it in one of my classes at Rice last year, but I had never realized the true potential of it. I set up a LogMeIn account for myself this morning and tested it out at work. I was very impressed by how well the technology works and though its no Windows Remote Access, I did not have to fiddle around with port settings, security settings, firewalls and the like to get it working. Thus, at lunch at work, I took the liberty to remotely install SVN on my computer and start to set up a web-based SVN system through WebDAV. I’m planning to couple this with my DynDNS account that I created a few days back and hopefully soon I will have a computer that’s hosting a variety of different servers running.

Second was home networking. I hadn’t previously had success while trying to use Windows 7’s Homegroup feature to get my home network in place. Seems like it was an issue with the way Hubert had created the Homegroup that prevented this. Just a few moments ago I created a new Homegroup following a really easy article on Neowin. It took less than 10 minutes to do and I was able to set up my own libraries and share data out of the 5 partitions I have in an organized manner. The library feature is pretty nifty, too. This time the Homegroup read/write permissions actually worked and I was able to copy a bunch of data that I had on my laptop over through the network. The speed certainly left something to be desired, but this beats the USB flash drive system any day of the week!

That’s all for now. I haven’t checked the ability to share files that aren’t in a library and this did seem to be the problem earlier. So perhaps the problem is still there, and just hidden away. Hopefully not!


I’ve been riding the Microsoft high for the last week or so, so it was only fair that they would let me down and really screw up. Oh well, thankfully I’m not a Microsoft fanboy, so I will go ahead and call them out on their faults.

This story has to do with the Windows Installer framework and how poorly it is designed. On or around October 14th, Microsoft released a “critical security patch” that fixed SQL Server 2005–KB970892. Great… I always keep my patches up to date–or try to–so I went ahead and downloaded it. I didn’t actively do it, of course, since Windows Update takes care of all that. Unfortunately, the update was poorly designed and kept failing. All the time. Every time I opened my start menu, the little “Updates will be installed on shut-down” shield was winking at me. I didn’t realize it was the same update over and over again, and thought that perhaps updates are being triggered by each other, so that different updates are being installed.

However, a visit to the Windows Update page showed that the same KB970892 patch kept failing. With the descriptive error code of “Unknown error”. Awesome. If I had been a lazier, less obsessive person, I would have ignored the problem and let it fix itself. However, I decided to use “teh Google” to help me out. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with the issue. Apparently lots of people were having the problem. Solutions ranged from registry fixes to starting/stopping SQL services to many other random options. All suggested by third parties, since Microsoft didn’t think this was big enough to address. Even on their own damn forums.

The option I chose, that was marked the answer on one particular MSDN forums thread, involved downloading the Microsoft Windows Installer Clean Up utility and getting rid of all the installers for SQL Server products. This seemed like a viable solution since I haven’t and don’t plan to ever use SQL Server, so I set about my business. Now, a word of warning (unfortunately from hindsight). Just because it is called a “Clean Up utility” doesn’t mean that is what it does. I thought “clean up” had to do with cleaning up temporary files and the like that were generated on program installation. In actuality, clean up means to actually delete the installer files for the products you choose. Why anyone would want to do this is something I won’t understand, but why the utility is called clean up is something I’m pissed off about now. Very.

So I went through and removed all the installers for SQL server, inadvertently. I then happened upon a post later in that thread saying that following those steps broke Office. Hmm… interesting. I opened up Microsoft Word and sure enough I was greeted by a flurry of installer dialogs followed by an error message saying that Office wasn’t installed for this user. No Office. Fine… I’ll just repair it, right? Wrong. No repair allowed. Apparently you need to have the installer for SQL server to repair Office. Okay, gah, I’ll just uninstall and reinstall it. With a flashy new computer, the process is going to take 15 minutes tops.

Strike 3, I’m out. I can’t uninstall Office either, using the installer. Apparently to uninstall Office, you need to have the installer for SQL Server 2005. The logic here was beginning to baffle me. How many freaking dependencies did I have to fulfill to remove a freaking program? I Googled and found Microsoft-provided instructions for removing Office 2007 manually. There was an automatic utility I used first that seemed to succeed but I still wasn’t able to install Office since it was apparently still “installed”. But not for me, for some mysterious user that didn’t exist, so I wasn’t able to use it.

I used the manual-manual instructions, finally, and backed up the registry and set about deleting files here, there and everywhere. It took about 30 minutes to do and once I was done, I restarted. And the freaking SQL Server 2005 update was still sitting in Windows update, accompanied by a “Microsoft Office 2007 System Update”. WTF? I just went through and REMOVED MS Office… how the hell could I now be getting an update for it? Nonetheless, I selected both to install and it seemed to… WORK! I restarted my computer and guess what? Failed update… again.

Getting thoroughly annoyed, I decided to try and use System Restore to restore to before I had tried any of these shenanigans. No deuce there, either. Apparently system restore depended on some file that had been removed, and hence kept failing. I was under the impression that system restore files were stored in some alternate location so they could be used to usefully recover from a system “failure”. Apparently, not. So now I’m left with a computer with a mysterious version of Office 2007, an update for a program that doesn’t exist and a major headache.

Microsoft’s installer framework has baffled me. It seems like a ridiculous prerequisite for an installer to depend so heavily on another component such that it cannot even uninstall a program. I mean…. any program I install should be completely uninstallable, right? If I remove ALL Microsoft Office products, it should handle all the dependencies and remove EVERYTHING, not leave things here and there. This is nothing new, of course. If you install Visual Studio 2008 and then the service pack, you cannot actually uninstall the IDE without manually uninstalling the service pack first. And they don’t even tell you that… the uninstaller just goes through a process and then fails with a generic error message. Ridiculous.

Thankfully, I had made a backup of my entire registry before I set about removing any installers. So my plan of action tomorrow will be to restore the entire registry and hope things work from there. Of course, I’m not hopeful, since I have technically removed all the files for the Office installation now, so having the registry recovered is probably going to create a ton of deadlinks. Whooptee doo daaa!

On another note, I started re-watching Lost. I figured if I started now I would be all refreshed by the time the new season rolls around next year.

windows 7 launched!

I’ve been following a lot of tech news sites of late and feel like it would be worthwhile writing my responses to them on my blog rather than lost forum posts. 🙂 This one’s in response to Five Ways Windows 7 Could Become another Vista on PCWorld.

Actually surprised to see one of few articles on PCWorld that isn’t glorifying Apple at the expense of Windows 7. It seems most people ignored the whole “devil’s advocate” section of his article just so that they could come here and show off their virtual biceps.

With regards to UAC, I was one of the few who was happy to have it from Vista itself. I always feel better knowing exactly what’s going on with my system files and who wants admin access and why. The result being that I’ve gone nearly my whole life and definitely my whole life on Windows Vista+ without getting a single virus. People keep attacking Windows for being insecure, but the fact of the matter is that you have to do at least a stupid thing or two to expose a hole that cannot be easily patched by Microsoft.

Regarding drivers, with Vista being around for a couple of years, most driver development has been geared towards that platform, and hence will be compatible with 7. With MS dropping XP support in a couple of years, it would make sense for device developers to focus on the Vista/7 target platform.

I disagree with the point about performance improvements. I think at least between Vista and Windows 7, Windows 7 has been much faster and much more stable all the time. I ran Vista and Windows 7RC off the same machine to test this, in a dual boot environment. Even with the Windows 7 install booting off an external HDD through eSATA, it was far and away mindblowingly faster than Vista. In fact, after two months of using both, I realized the majority of my time was spent on Windows 7 so I went ahead and upgraded my Vista installation to the RC. I’ve been using the RTM edition since around September and just got done installing it on my powerful new build. The boot time is literally on the rate of seconds right now, which is ridiculous. Of course, this is because its a new computer, but compared to a clean install of Vista, the difference is absolute and large.

Windows 7 is indeed expensive and I would feel the bite if I wasn’t an MSDN subscriber. It would be nice for them to make the price lower. But you’ve got to see at the same time that Microsoft cannot contend with Apple in the OS pricing model. Apple knows that for 99% of the purchases made for their OS, they will have made a hardware sale. Apart from the few Hackintosh builders out there, OSX only runs on Apple hardware. So they can afford to drive the price down really low because they’re going to be making a sale of a MacBook, iMac or Mac Mini. Compare this with Microsoft, who will make very few retail sales of the OS since the vast majority of the PC market purchases pre-built computers. Microsoft has made most of its money from OEM sales to the likes of HP, Dell, etc. and these prices are low so they won’t recover the costs of development. Retail buyers will feel the pinch. However, look at any professional software and you will realize that Windows 7 isn’t that ridiculous. If users are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the Adobe Creative Suite and other specialized applications, the price tag of just about $130 on an OS doesn’t seem to ridiculous.

Direct upgrade from XP was never going to be possible and Microsoft was adamant about this from the beginning. Users who thought that MS were just joking around really shouldn’t have and should have prepared for a migration well beforehand. They can continue using XP, of course, but I would personally migrate while Microsoft still supports the XP platform since it’ll likely be a lot harder later.

iMac? $1601.37 reasons I will not switch anytime soon!

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not the biggest fan of Macs. I’ve had the pleasure of using an Apple iMac quite consistently during my time working in the Marketing & Communications department at Rice University IT and thoroughly enjoyed using it for web-design and graphics development, two of my responsibilities that were made easy by iMacs. I always knew Macs were a bit pricey, but only when I actually began setting about building my own computer did I get an idea of how much.

As many of you may know, Apple released their new line of Mac computers today. They released MacBook Pros, the good old iMac and a Mac Mini or two. Among their new offerings were two iMacs built on the latest Intel quad-core chipset–the Nehalem architecture’s LGA 1156 offerings (the Core i5 and i7). These babies start at a price of, wait for it, $1999! This is daylight robbery, in my opinion, and I’ll take it upon myself to prove exactly that.

First, to gain even ground, let’s look at a spec-down of the two computers at hand. I’m going to compare the price of the components of the computer I build with an equally spec’d out iMac. Here we go:

iSohummm Edition

Processor: Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: ASRock P55D Pro
RAM: Corsair XMS3 2x2GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GV-R467ZL ATI Radeon HD4670 1GB
Hard Drive: 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 22x Samsung DVD+R 8x DVD+RW 16x DVD-ROM 48x CD-ROM
PSU: Corsair TX650W
Case: Antec Three Hundred Illusion
Keyboard-Mouse: Microsoft Wireless Desktop 6000 v2

Apple iMac 27-inch

Processor: Intel Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: UNKNOWN
Graphics Card: UNKNOWN ATI Radeon HD4850 512MB
Hard Drive: 1TB UNKNOWN (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 8x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RW 8x DVD-ROM 24x CD-ROM SuperDrive
PSU: UNKNOWN (but apparently >365W)
Case: Apple 27″ IPS-enabled Monitor
Keyboard Mouse: Apple Magic Mouse + Wireless Keyboard Bundle

A total difference of $2380.42 – $779.05 = $1601.37. Hence the title of this post. “But what about your display!” you scream. Well, I’m going to be using my HDTV as my primary output for a while (until a decent LCD offer comes around). That cost me ~$854 after taxes and a 3-year warranty from Fry’s. And it has S-IPS (that’s Super IPS, for those who’re wondering) technology, supposedly. And it’s about $15 inches bigger (only diagonally, though) than the iMac computer. So the question is… is the all-in-one functionality+magic mouse+a slightly better gfx card worth a whopping $800? Or is Apple taking its dedicated user community on a ride (again)?

To better answer this question, I want to highlight a few details I picked up on while customizing my cart:

  1. Upgrading from the Core i5-750 (2.66 GHz) to the Core i7-860 (2.8 GHz) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of an i5-750 on Newegg is $199 and that of the i7-860 is $289. The difference is $90. Apple is charging its customers $110 extra to make this upgrade (remember, the mobo+everything else does NOT need to change to enable this since both are on the LGA 1156 socket), over the retail cost, before taxes.
  2. Upgrading from one 2x2GB memory kit to a 2 (in essence, buying another 2x2GB memory kit) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of the most expensive 2x2GB DDR3 SDRAM kit at the 1066 MHz clock speed on Newegg costs $87.49. The price difference is a whopping $112.51 extra that Apple is making from its consumers. Unless their original mobo only has 2 memory slots (which is kinda scary to begin with) and they need to do a mobo upgrade to support the second kit (did not appear true for any of the P55 boards on Newegg).
  3. And here’s the kicker–Apple charges an upgrade price of $250 for a 2TB hard-drive from a 1TB offering. That’s $70 more than the most expensive 2TB 7200RPM SATA drive on Newegg! And that is to upgrade from a 1TB, which usually retails for around $90. So, Apple is charging consumers an extra $160 approximately, to upgrade their HDD from 1TB to 2TB than it should cost.

What does this mean? It means that Apple is not only charging a ludicrous premium on their i7 offering, but they are at the same time charging HUGE premiums on upgrades. I’m going to be in the market for another TB and another 2x2GB kit of RAM come Black Friday, and I don’t expect to spend more than a total of $150 on that (did I mention that my mobo also has onboard RAID support?). That’s more than Apple is charging than market to upgrade from a 1TB to 2TB.

It’s crazy. I’ve not been making many friends with Mac fans over the last couple of days (especially on a certain CNET article) but the fact remains that these prices are heavily, heavily inflated. The iMac, I understand, is targeted towards home and home business users, compared to the Mac Pro, which is targeted towards business users and professionals. I shudder to think how much one of those will cost, after being loaded by one of the higher end i7 chips. Probably well into the $4000’s as a base price.

I’ll admit it here and once. If that Mac was available for around $1500, I’d seriously consider getting it. The cost would be just about $700 more than what I’ve spent currently to get into a seriously hard-to-upgrade, all-in-one machine with a sexy display. The best part would be I could use bootcamp and run Windows 7 off of it. But at this price, it would make more sense for me to upgrade all my components to their max (getting a 58xx video card, getting the $999 i7 chip) and I reckon I’d still just about break even.