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2012-11-21 00:56:15.992028+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

Airports: CNN pushing Gaza violence porn, Microsoft booths pushing the Surface and Windows 8. Both celebrating the tragedies of humanity.

[ related topics: Humor Erotic Sexual Culture Microsoft Aviation moron ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2012-11-21 18:35:30.381689+00 by: other_todd [edit history]

This is not the best place in the world to drop in a few brief observations about Microsoft and the Surface, but I did mention to Dan that I had some, and for various reasons I can't put them anyplace of my own right this moment. So here you go.

We've been testing a Surface at work (read: playing around with it) for a couple of weeks now. We don't plan to officially support it, just as we have no official support plans for Windows 8. (The only people we OFFICIALLY support are staff and faculty, who are all happy with Win 7 if they're not still on systems old enough to run XP. But students bring in new computers and all manner of portable devices, then ask us to help them, and new computers have new OSes. So we try to at least keep up with the curve.)

The bottom line is, if you're using Win 8 on a desktop machine, you're going to find yourself switching to "desktop mode" over and over. (Fortunately this is easy.) Win 8's new front is built for touch computing. It's got some design choices which make it quite frustrating to use without touch.

For example, the gesture that produces the equivalent of the Start menu is to press AND HOLD in a specific spot in one corner for a certain amount of time. It's already a very distracting gesture, one that takes you out of the flow of whatever you're doing, and with a mouse, hitting the right spot is much harder, especially since there's an insufficient visual cue that you've started to activate it. There's also a gesture you use a lot which is a swipe down and in on the right side of the screen, which pulls in a "drawer" of options. This gesture is trivial with touch and a pain in the ass with a mouse. Again, there is no cue - no tab or handle - to indicate there's something available to be opened on the right side of the screen.

Win 8's new front is actually more usable on the Surface; but the Surface has other problems. It runs a new cut of Windows RT, but they don't tell you that, and all the apps you care about most CANNOT run in legacy mode on the Surface. In other words, they brag about it being the first tablet that can run Office, but the "Office" that comes with it is just a promo stub, and you won't be able to use your Win 7 copy of Office on it, or even your Win 8 desktop copy of Office. You have to buy a native-for-the-Surface version. Bottom line: Win 8 on a desktop and Win 8 on a Surface are NOT THE SAME OS and don't let anyone tell you they are.

[EDIT: OK, apparently there are two different OSes which run on two different types of Surfaces? One runs Windows RT only and the one with the Intel chip will run "real" Windows 8 with full app cross-compatibility? We have the RT version. So mentally filter accordingly. The Win 8/Intel version might be a better bet, if it didn't suck battery too hard or run too hot.]

The Surface tries to follow the "apps never really close, they just flush out memory and go dormant" model used on the iPad and iPhone. But so far our tests show they don't do it as well ... and closing them out really and for true, the way you sometimes have to do on an iPad by double-clicking the button and culling the list, is a lot harder to find and do on the Surface.

My personal theory is that Microsoft really would prefer to only deal with their desktop users who are locked-in for purchases of their big systems (e.g. Office). It's been a long-standing rule of mine that you can tell which product is a big company's cash cow by looking at the pricing. Windows is priced as a loss leader. Office is priced to bleed you.

But they have gradually realized that people are trying to actually do what they consider Real Work on tablets. They have realized it, but they don't like it and they don't understand it. So this is the bone they're throwing out to try to get some of that market. "Here, silly tablet users, we'll give you this Playskool OS and it'll be just barely good enough to run our app suite which we will charge you again through the nose for, since you seem to insist that you want to be able to do work on those little toys." Meanwhile they are winking at the people they still consider their real users - their business and institutional customers: "Yes, we realize this front end with the bright colored squares is useless, but it's not for you. Just hit the desktop mode square and ignore it and get back to work."

My prophecy is twofold: 1) Expect that within six months to a year you will see a desktop version of Win 8, possibly under some new name, that allows a desktop user to permanently bypass the colored squares and possibly doesn't even default to having it on. 2) Expect the Surface to remain a novelty except possibly for people who want to hack it hard enough to effectively drop a new UI onto it, or for the hardcore who really do want access to Office even while on the bus. It'll take a little longer on this one - I'd say maybe two years to see if Microsoft improves it or quietly sweeps it under the rug.

The Surface is not entirely a dud, but as it stands right now, it is not ready for prime time. And if you're a desktop user, don't bother with Win 8 yet; it's Win 7 with extra annoyance added.

#Comment Re: made: 2012-11-21 20:02:40.557049+00 by: TheSHAD0W

Amd another tragedy of humanity at an airport...


#Comment Re: made: 2012-11-21 21:40:49.22408+00 by: Dan Lyke

Shadow, here's a slightly less loaded description of the labor dispute. Seeing the name Breitbart, especially that domain, associated with anything instantly triggers my "need to find the real story" neurons. Not that the LA Times gets that much closer to the real story, but they seem to have more nuance than the Breitbart.com one.

On the Surface device, the interface seemed unintuitive, but easy enough to learn. Although I was able to use it more effectively than the guy who was supposed to be demoing it, which suggests that there are a number of heuristics on things like click-and-hold time and drift distances which haven't been tuned reasonably.

But the real issue I had with the demo is that nobody seemed to have thought about what you might want to do with a tablet. It was like "here's our hardware, it's running some software, isn't the hardware cool?". Jeepers, show me some games, coordinate with Boingo or whomever and tie them into the local WiFi network so I can see if the web browser really works, or if it's as lame as Mobile Safari. Don't just lay out some stale stock photos with the "click drag and scale" photo sorting apps that at this point we've seen done to death.

It's a "can we build a passable one of those", not a "we're fired up about revolutionizing computing" thing.

Yes, like you I expect that 90% of Windows 8 users will kick it back into stock Desktop mode and do away with the little squares. I don't really need my application switcher to be feeding me social media.

I also think that the "apps never close, they go dormant" model isn't going to last too long. The iPad seems to respond very well to closing all the background apps regularly, the Android at least makes that easier, and the whole notion of "we're going to manage application space for you" didn't work with the original Macintosh either. I expect at some point soon they'll start to figure this out.