Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Windows 8.1 Rolling Out in Mid-October

Microsoft's much-anticipated update to Windows 8 will begin rolling out in mid-October.

"Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide on October 17 as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store," Microsoft said in a blog post. "Windows 8.1 will also be available at retail and on new devices starting on October 18th by market."

The new release contains an array of new navigation tips and tutorials apparently designed to help users who had trouble with the sweeping interface overhaul in the first edition of Windows 8, which was released on Oct. 26 of last year.

Other updates included in Windows 8.1 are more personalization, Internet Explorer 11, search powered by Bing, built-in apps, an improved Windows Store experience, and cloud connectivity with SkyDrive.

For more, check out PCMag's Hands On With Windows 8.1 Preview.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Dangers of Vertical Video Syndrome

Even if you know how to shoot video on your mobile device, you need to watch this.  Plus, it's funny.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Windows PCs See Steepest Decline Ever

Readers of this blog will remember that I have been issuing negative predictions about Windows 8 ever since I first saw it.  PC Magazine Columnist John C. Dvorak now seems positively prescient with his June 2011 column, "Will Windows 8 Kill Microsoft?"  There is growing evidence the negative predictions were right:  
The market for Windows-based PCs has declined faster than anticipated. According to two independent reports, PCs fell off 11.2 percent to 13.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013 — the steepest decline in the history of the PC.
A 'Worrisome' Decline
According to market research firm IDC, worldwide PC shipments fell of 13.9 percent in the first quarter (versus 1Q 2012) to 76.3 million units worldwide, significantly greater than IDC's previous forecast of a decline of 7.7 percent.
IDC pointed to the launch of Windows 8 as a contributing factor to the hefty decline.
"At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," said Bob O'Donnell, IDC program vice president, clients and displays, in a prepared statement.  "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices.  Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."
Microsoft keeps blowing it with desktop operating systems.  Remember Windows Vista?  It was supposed to drive new PC sales just as Windows 8 is supposed to now.  Only instead of driving PC sales with a new operating system that people wanted to upgrade to, Microsoft tried to force new PC sales by selling an operating system that couldn't run on the PC's that anyone currently owned.  People rebelled, and the result was a relatively quick roll out of Windows 7. 

Microsoft continues to labor under the impression that instead of listening to what customers actually want, or even what computer experts think computers should actually look like, they can make design decisions based on what business and marketing experts tell them they should be selling.

Let me add a note to all PC manufacturers:  PC users don't want to touch their screens!  It is one thing to wipe the fingerprints off my tablet once every couple of days.  I would really hate to have to clean my laptop or desktop PC that often.  And the best way to interact with data on a screen is with a mouse or trackpad.

So let's hope that Microsoft comes out with a replacement for Windows 8 as quickly as they replaced Vista with Windows 7.  And, while Microsoft is rethinking its mistakes with Windows 8, it might want to rethink that "ribbon interface" in Office as well.

I have been saying for a decade that I could run Microsoft better than Steve Ballmer.  So if anyone in Redmond is reading this, I'm available.  Call me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stationery's New Followers

From The Wall Street Journal:
STATIONERYTwitter executive Elizabeth Bailey Weil makes stationery on a letterpress in her garage.  Judy Clement Wall has 1,665 Twitter followers, but when she really wants to connect with one of them, she takes out a piece of stationery and picks up her pen.

She wasn't much of a letter writer before she began to spend time on blogs and social networks like Twitter.  But as some of her virtual friends became real ones, a letter, she says, "solidifies the friendship.  It makes the person real and 3D in a way that they can't be online."

Social-media fans are embracing paper.  While United States Postal Service sees a decline in mailed letters overall, tech-savvy paper-lovers—in frequent contact via blogs, Facebook and Twitter—are giving rise to a host of small stationery makers.
Read it all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spearphishing: The dirty email trick favored by the nastiest hackers

If you consider yourself a proficient internet user, you probably know to watch out for phishing attempts — massive email efforts to get you to hand over personal financial information like a credit card number or to click on a website link that could allow malware to steal information from your computer.  They usually come in e-mail messages riddled with spelling errors and terrible formatting.

Now comes a new, more subtle and more dangerous threat: spearphishing.  Spearphishing is often aimed at tricking specific individuals into opening a malicious file.  It could be, for instance, a boobytrapped PDF file or Word document which, when opened, secretly and silently installs spyware onto your computer.

Spearphishing is increasingly being used by totalitarian governments seeking to spy on individuals and to infiltrate computers belonging to government agencies in other countries.  Sophisticated criminal organizations have also started using the technique to obtain valuable financial information.   

Once installed, the malicious spyware code opens a backdoor, giving hackers remote access to all the files on your computer, as well as the ability to capture every keystroke, to steal passwords, and to read everything on your screen.

But why would an anyone be fooled into opening such an email?  The information in the email is crafted to look and sound just right enough so that it can dupe someone into clicking on a link or opening an attachment in an email and for their computer to become compromised. 

For instance, imagine you were a reporter covering human rights abuses in China.  I simply send you an email (with a boobytrapped attachment), forge my 'from' address so you believe that the email has come from a human rights group, and in the body of the email tell you that attached you'll find shocking details of human rights abuses in China.  If you click on the link or the attachment, I can then read all the information on your computer, including the identities of dissidents who may be supplying you with information.

Similarly, if you were a military supplier, I might make my email appear as though it came from a sister company or another supplier and use the access to your computer to gain vital military intelligence.

Some experts say that company employees and individuals who use cloud-based, shared document apps like Google Docs can be sitting ducks for spearphishing attempts.  In the first place, Google Docs is a very convenient way to fool end users into divulging passwords, because it is such a trusted source.  Also, Google Docs connections are HTTPS encrypted, and cannot be filtered by Web-filtering gateways to scan for malicious content.

While spearphishing may currently be used by governments and sophisticated criminal organizations against specific targets, we can expect large-scale hackers to begin using this technique to harvest financial data and other sensitive information from members of the general public.  The best precaution is to examine messages--especially those carrying attachments or containing links--very closely, to make sure you are viewing the entire file name of an attachment before clicking on it, to make certain that messages from people you know are genuine, and to be especially careful of messages from people you do not know. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Apple, Inc. akin to religion? Studies suggest yes

From here:
For years, observers have noted the similarities between Apple, Inc. and religious cults.  Origin myth?  Check.  Faithful masses?  Just walk by an Apple store when the iPad Mini goes on sale later this week.

“A stranger observing one of the launches could probably be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a religious revival meeting,” anthropologist Kirsten Bell, told Tech News Daily this past week.  Bell reviewed several Apple product launch videos for Tech News prior to the iPad Mini launch event last week.


A BBC documentary series that aired last year cited a scientific study that seems to confirm this link.  In the study, neuroscientists analyzed the brain activity of an Apple devotee and discovered that Apple stimulates “the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.”
Read it all.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poll Finds Lackluster Demand for Windows 8

PC Magazine is reporting a poll that shows people aren't exactly rushing to jump on the Windows 8 bandwagon: 

In a new poll of 1,200 U.S. adults conducted by the Associated Press and GfK, about 52 percent of people had not heard of Windows 8.  Of those who had heard about the OS, 61 percent were not interested in buying a new laptop or desktop with Windows 8.  Only 35 percent said they thought Windows 8 was an improvement over Windows 7.

This is as I have predicted in several previous posts.   The problem is that, having run out of original ideas, all of Microsoft's "innovations" for the past ten years has been increasingly bent on simply making things look different.  Take the ribbon interface in Microsoft Office.  It isn't an improvement.  In fact, a lot of people think it is confusing and, overall, a worse user interface.  But it is different!  And that is supposed to justify Microsoft's huge customer base laying out hundreds of dollars per PC to get the new thing!

Now, for fear no one would buy a new version of Windows unless it had a substantially different look and feel, Microsoft has taken the most used operating system on the planet and given it an interface like a Las Vegas slot machine or an airport kiosk.  Did they really bother to test this interface among the computer literate public?

Microsoft says they want to have the same user interface across all their devices, including the Windows 8 phone.  There are two problems with that:  (1) In a world already dominated by the iPhone and Android (with which people are perfectly happy), the Windows 8 phone will never (I repeat, never) gain a significant enough user base for most people to experience the same interface on their phone and their PC.  (2) People really don't care if their phone has the same interface as their PC.  What they want is for their phone to have the interface that works best for doing what a phone does and their PC to have the interface that works best for doing what a PC does.  

While there may be an overlap, in that phones, tablets, and PC's can do a number of the same things, people use them differently.  People will get e-mail, browse the web, and (occasionally) open Office documents on their phones.  But no one does serious word processing or creates spreadsheets on their phones, not to mention graphic design or publishing.

Every time my antivirus software does a scan, I watch as it runs through over 600,000 files.  That is not surprising--my whole digital life is on my PC.  I need a powerful file system that will allow me to find and manage those files and an operating system that will allow me to do this as efficiently and quickly as possible.

All those 600,000 files will never be on my phone, and I don't want them to be.  All I need on my phone is an interface that allows me to quickly find the relatively few photos, or songs, or e-mails, or documents I choose to carry with me. 

Having the same user interface on my phone, tablet, and PC does not help.  In fact, it makes the experience worse on each device, since compromises and trade-offs inevitably have to be made for the same OS and user interface to span all three types of devices.

And, finally, I DO NOT WANT TO TOUCH THE SCREEN ON MY DESKTOP OR LAPTOP!  The idiots at Microsoft and various PC manufacturers need to get this through their heads.  I may be content to wipe my tablet off with a clean cloth every other day, but I do not want to have to take a bottle of Windex to my desktop or laptop that often--in fact, not ever.

Microsoft just isn't getting it.  They have run out of original ideas, and under the pressure to come up with something new, they are turning out products that are actually making things worse for their customers.  Given the size of their company and their user base, the results will take time to show up.  But this isn't going to end well for Microsoft.  In five years, I expect to look back at this column and say (sadly), I told you so.