Friday, May 14, 2010

OneNote 2010 - None of My Feature Requests Made the Cut

OneNote is probably my favourite desktop program of all time.  So I was really looking forward to some upgrades to OneNote in the 2010 edition.  Unfortunately, none of the features I was hoping to find were added in the new release.  Here’s a short list of things I was hoping to see:
  • Smart shapes.  I want to be able to draw a crude looking box and have it magically transform into a rectangle shape.  Same goes for circles, diamonds and other commonly found diagram shapes.
  • Connectors.  I want to be able to connect these shapes using smart connectors.  Yes, I could switch over to Powerpoint, but this is something I’m doing in a classroom, on the fly, and I’m recording notes at the same time, so I want it in OneNote.
  • Mindmaps.  Mindmapping is one of my favourite ways to take notes in a lecture.  My favourite mindmapping software (and believe me, I’ve looked at them all) is Mindjet’s MindManager.  I’d really like it if the basics of MindManager were baked right into OneNote.  That’s probably overly ambitious, but hey, I want what I want.
  • Gestures.  Okay, I know that I’m the only one in the world that still wants pen-based computing to work.  But come on Microsoft, you had the answers at hand.  InkSeine was a great piece of software that offered some OneNote-like functionality with a pen-centric approach to accessing menus, etc.  It was so cool!  If the interface for OneNote worked more like InkSeine, you might have the cool software needed to dominate pen or touch-based computing for the student world.

Office 2010 fixes interface mistakes of 2007

For anyone that became very familiar with Office 2007, the upcoming Office 2010 will not seem very different.  There are “wow” moments in the latest version.  Instead, the new version is mostly focused on undoing the mistakes of Office 2007, and making it easier for the legions of people who never switched to the ribbon interface of ’07 to do so now.  Gone is the big ball that replaced the “file” menu in 2007.  In its place, there is a file tab which has the predictable features one would expect.  Thus 2010 provides a smoother upgrade path from 2003 and earlier versions of Office.  If you’re relatively new to 2007, you should probably get the beta and start learning 2010  now.  It’ll save you a few moments of frustration.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Xbox: Wake up and be a real media center already!

Lately I've been amassing old sci-fi films.  For the most part,these stream from my mac mini to my Xbox with no problems.  But every once in a while, I run across a film encoded with DIV3.  Apparently, for whatever reason, the good folks at Microsoft decided that this particular codec shall not be found on an unmodified Xbox.  DIV3 movies play back directly on my mac without issue. They also play back on a Windows 7 machine without problem.  But Xbox - the only one of these machines intended to be hooked up to a TV, does not do DIV3.  What's with that?  Why is it that with Apple TV, WII and other media hub devices abounding, MS hasn't got their shit together and made the updates needed to ensure that Xbox is a media hub category killer?

Instead, they've fragmented their own strategy in this space. Enter Windows Media Center Extender.  This little update to Xbox does enable me to view DIV3 encoded files via the xBox.  But not easily and not well.

Setting up WMCE is tedious and sometimes fraught with difficulties.  Once completed, you might think to yourself that WMCE will become the new way that you'll access all your networked media.  Such is not the case.  The WMCE interface is noticeably slow, and it takes a good 30 seconds to get the ball rolling.  So, for any media that will play via the normal Xbox dashboard, it's much faster to stick with the older interface.  In addition to being slower, the media controls for the WMCE do not use the normal conventions for playing, pausing, skipping chapters, etc.  In fact, instead of utilizing the same basic UI conventions that all Xbox game and system interfaces share, it appears the designers of  WMCE went out of their way to create the least intuitive approach imaginable.  For example, it took me a good 5 minutes to find the play/pause button the first time I used it, and if I go a few months without opening WMCE, I spend another few minutes trying to recall the awkward configuration while the movie plays on in the background..

I really don't understand how the folks at MS could possibly decide that the Xbox should sport two ways of playing videos, and that each would use an entirely different UI configuration.   It can't be a question of stupidity because no one is that stupid.  And then there's the question of YouTube.  Why hasn't MS created an Xbox interface to playback youtube videos?  The only plausible explanation is that the company is deliberately trying to limit the success of Xbox as a media hub. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Microsoft: Please surrender, already.

Why is Microsoft stock following the same trajectory as Apple and Google?  Apple is poised to re-monetize the entire print media business, and Google has so many green field opportunities in front of it, it feels comfortable in threatening to leave the world's single largest market.  Meanwhile in Redmond, the failures just keep piling up:
  • Bing is proving to be an absolute waste of 127 million dollars, with the highly pumped initiative actually LOSING marketshare months after launch. 
  • Windows Mobile had a three year lead on every other major mobile platform yet it already seems like a bygone era of computing. 
  • Zune is so last year, it's rediculous.
  • XBox is still the dominant game platform and media room gateway appliance.  But MS has practically layed out the red carpet for competitors by announcing that they have no new hardware planned for that space in the foreseeable future.
  • Xbox Live Marketplace can't find a single movie to sell me worth watching.  Downloading a movie from there takes about a DAY! 
  • Windows operating system is under threat from Chrome.
  • Tablet support, which MS perfected to an extreme well beyond any market demand is about to be tipped over the cliff by whatever Apple tablet gets announced in upcoming weeks.
  • Sharepoint continues to be a half-pregnant idea with lots of potential.  But the potential is being eaten up by third-parties.  It looks like MS has basically thrown in the towel on this one.   
So what should MS do?  Here's my 2-cents:
  1. Get a new president.  Sorry, Balmer, but no one deserves an eighth chance.
  2. Focus on the enterprise.  The brand name is too tarnished in the consumer space and you clearly lack the innovation skills needed to hit a home run here.  Give it up. 
  3. Spin off Xbox.  Otherwise you might accidentally "fix" it.
  4. Buy RIM and DON'T rebrand it.  Don't even visit.
  5. Right-size your assets.  Given your thin competencies, you have more cash than you appropriately invest . Offer generous dividends to your shareholders or find other ways of returning capital to investors before you simply burn through it. 
  6. Integrate a hardware and software solution that creates the ideal corporate work solution.  Make a One-Note appliance that is light, cheap, secure and pen-based.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lexmark Pro205 All-in-one Review

I love the concept of a wireless all in one.  In addition to wanting it to serve multiple computers, I was looking forward to being able to scan mail quickly and easily without having to be working at a computer at the time.  However, ultimately, I'm a bit disappointed with this purchase.

I was able to set it up on the first XP computer with ease, and it found my wireless network without problem.  However the CD drivers and the online update to those drivers failed repeatedly on a windows 7 machine.  Later, when I plugged the unit into the win 7 machine, Windows was able to install drivers correctly without the aid of the CD. 

The paper handling on the machine is pretty much useless.  For some reason it's exceptionally ease to "over insert" paper into the feeder.  Any paper with the slightest fold causing it to have a bit of lift on the leading edge is automatically considered "over inserted" complete with beeping and flashing warnings.  This is terrible, because any mail that arrives inevitably has a fold in it, so it's really no better than a plan flatbed scanner.

Also, I think the designers really missed a lot of great opportunities when they put this machine together.  It's on a network, so why not just scan the document and then email it me.  That would ensure that I don't need to have a computer turned on, and would also mean that I can automatically keep an archive of scanned documents on the web.  Instead, my choices are to scan document to either a memory card or a program on a running computer.  You can configure which programs will accept scanned files but it's awkward and, of course, the computer needs to be turned on at the time.

The memory card feature is another missed opportunity.  Since the machine is basically always on, it would make sense to have the memory device show up as a shared drive on the network.  But it doesn't.  Sneaker-net is the only way to move the file to your computer, and that assumes your computer has a memory card reader.  I wish you could hook a usb drive into the machine and have it work as a shared drive. 

I haven't done much printing or copying yet, so I'll leave those topics to others.  Cheers.

Follow Up, Jan 14: Okay, I've done some printing now.  Not impressed.  The machine seems to have very few sensors following the plight of paper jams.  It doesn't stop printing until the printhead literally cannot move, so instead of one page to remove, there are multiple pages crammed into the machine like some sort of oragami interstate pile up.

Monday, October 5, 2009

iPhoto vs Picasa

The short answer is: Picasa.  Here's why:
  1. Face Recognition.  iPhoto pretty much only recognizes that there is a face in the photo.  Picasa does an impressive job of figuring out who's face is in the photo.  This makes categorizing photos much faster.
  2. Files.  iPhoto requires you to store all your photos in an iphoto folder where it hides all the file names for no reason that I can figure out.  Apparently, if you can get used to it, it's not so bad. 
  3. File locations.  iPhoto offers no simple way for a user to indicate where the big blop of photos that iPhoto will make is located.  I like to have all my media on an external drive.  That's not an option with iPhoto.  Note: there is a way to configure it from the command line, but why bother given items 1 and 2 in this list.
Overall, iPhoto is kinda lame when compared to Picasa.

Dear Steve Ballmer

Hey Steve, quick question for you.  ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?  I've been out here with the Win 7 beta code for almost a year now.  I've been busting my ass telling people how it's very cool, how it's got features that Mac doesn't and how it really easy fast and light.  And you promote the thing by encouraging people to throw Windows 7 House Parties?! 

Look, I know "cool" is not something you do.  But seriously, can't you just find one or two reasonably cool employees and get them to stop you from doing things that are this uncool?  Really, I am starting to think that the majority of your problems are marketing-related.  The new ads with the kids are pretty funny, and the people shopping for a cheap laptop made some sense.  But these things are not connecting in a way that gives MS a cohesive brand impression.  And you keep gumming up the works with things that don't make sense.  Bob, for example.  That stupid paperclip guy, for another.  And now after you guys bet the farm on Vista, you are going low key on win 7 when clearly, the reverse should have happened.  But windows 7 tupperware parties.  That's just pathetic judgement on your part, Steve.