31 October 2012


In my completely unscientifically developed opinion, where Twitter breaks down is when you start following a hundred or more feeds. There are new posts coming in every couple of seconds, often with links to full articles of information. Who has time to read all this? Sure, if I am sitting around in a waiting room pondering between picking my nose or opening TweetBot then I am usually going to opt for the latter, but that limits my Twitter reading time to a half dozen moments a month. I am sad to admit that my nose gets more attention than that.

While I am no Twitter expert, I do manage three accounts. One for my kids' elementary school PTSA that posts educational related items. Another is for a users' group where we post technology stories for insurance brokers. Finally there is my own tweet land where I toss stupid comments on there occasionally. I am now a couple years into this 140 character universe and I feel mildly qualified to say that Twitter is a complete waste of time.

As with any of my stupid grandiose statements, there are exceptions. Many of the younger persuasion use the platform as a time-sink replacement for Facebook. There are also countless individuals that are nothing but feeders by providing comedy, news or other insight that you can focus in on that information.

That is where I have found success in using Twitter: Feeding information. Does anyone read what I post? Barely. Every so often a friend will respond, or maybe I will post something really idiotic and it might get re-tweeted. Once. That's about it. You can set up alerts on particular feeds, which is semi useful. You can reduce the number of folks you are following which would make it easier to read through the posts. Still, all of this misses the advertised point of using Twitter as a useful news source. It really isn't.

Oh well. At least it is a step up from public schnoz cleaning.

28 October 2012

This Surface Was Already Scratched

Microsoft's Surface tablet is a cute puppy dog. So perfectly crafted to make you want to take it home with you and give it love but much like that canine, this adorable creature is going to need a lot of time and work before this dog'll ever hunt in the tablet world. No question, there is a lot of potential here but, with potty training and torn up shoes today, it is hard to imagine many people taking this pup home when the competition has fully functional dogs ready go.

Let's start where Microsoft got it right: There is no finer crafted tablet hardware on the market today. You could argue that Microsoft out-Apple'd Apple. The screen looks beautiful, despite a non-retina resolution. The kick-out stand made me question why every tablet does not have it. The battery life is outstanding. Even the cover keyboard idea is brilliantly designed and a major advantage over the touch screen version, even if the zero travel in the keys limits typing speeds.

Even with this perfection, I have a couple of issues. The tablet is too heavy, comparable to the weight of an 11" MacBook Air. This is not an issue with a laptop that sits on your lap but you would get a serious workout holding this device in the air for hours at a time. The touch screen also needs adjustment. Surface often was unable to register properly my touching a selection on the screen without multiple attempts. Not end of the world stuff.

Where this full misery hits, though, is when we look at the software.

The initial startup process is quite a change from the typical turn-it-on-and-go with competitors but I understand the purpose of making the platform connect with all of your other Windows devices. Of course, if you are not using Windows 8 devices anywhere else then this seems unusually long, even with a demo of the device while you wait. I would recommend a guest login or skip process for customers that are, otherwise, independent of a Windows 8 world.

While using Metro is easily understood, I am not convinced this is a step forward in usability. The variety of block sizes and groupings can make it more difficult to mentally organize the options while the rectangle information animations are a challenge to find useful. Interestingly, configuration and other sub pages do not use the domino tiles and instead rely on a text and white space design held over from the Zune which does not seem to fit will with original tombstone theme. I really want to love this design because it is so refreshing but I think I still prefer Android's middle ground between iOS and Metro thanks to the usability of the options and information presented.

Form a consumer standpoint, a handful of big names are there and work well. Neflix, Hulu, Skype and Angry Birds can be installed in seconds. Provided consumers buy into the platform there will be countless more popular ones in the months ahead but today there is not much important beyond what I listed. What happens if customs do not stand on this Surface? Then it is yet another version of a mobile Windows platform that cracks without any usable code.

You know the those hundreds of thousands of Windows programs that we all swim around in to pick the absolute best product to fit our daily productivity and entertainment needs? Fugetaboutit. None of them work here. At least they give you a somewhat crippled version of Microsoft Office with the device. So, Surface has the one program no other tablet has and that is the only thing it has.

If you are a fan of Google then this device is a waste of your time. Bing is the black hole at the center of this galaxy where Google does not exist. There are no apps for any Google product and no settings to change the built-in items to point to Google Maps, Google Search, Google Voice, Google Docs, Google Drive, ... You get the idea. Sure, you can sneak it in by using POP3/IMAP with the Mail app or changing the IE home page and setting favorites. However, without specific Google apps, this is a device that Google fans will want to skip.

Web Browsing
This is one area where the Surface software works fairly well. Many of the web sites I visit each day were not compatible with this new version of Internet Explorer but this may be the quickest item to get corrected since Microsoft patches and web developers will eventually get those problems corrected. Nearly all of the mainstream web sites worked perfectly. The only problem is the touchscreen sensitivity issues I mentioned earlier.

You would think that a Microsoft device that has a big "Mail" application on the main interface would be able to connect to a MICROSOFT Exchange Server - arguably Redmond's most critical product in the workplace. Not so much. The device did not support the standard security settings enforced by our server that every corporation in the world should be using. I think that means the device does not locally encrypt the data which is a big problem for anyone who was hoping to use this to check work email like (ahem) every other tablet on the market can do.

We desperately need a "work" laptop that allows employees to connect with VPN, access file servers, be controlled by group policy, connect to Exchange mail servers, access document management, work on a CRM and use agency management systems. This device could not authenticate with Active Directory which killed the file servers and central control. Exchange did not work at all. Our document management and agency management system software was not compatible. Fortunately, our in-house CRM and intranet worked when we were on our network but it does not have a working Cisco VPN connection. To sum up: It failed on every front for our use. Fine. I will install the Citrix Receiver app to just control a remote desktop to get to everything. That did not work, either.

Okay, Microsoft - WTF? I know you needed to get this product out before Christmas, and hardware design-wise this thing is close to perfect. Stunning work for a software company. So, why is is the software, or lack of it, so ridiculously awful? Most consumers use their laptop for checking email, calendar, playing games and web browsing. This device is acceptable at web browsing and not much else. I still cannot get over the fact that your device cannot natively connect to Gmail or my Exchange Server without employing email technology I was using in 1997. Seriously?

I have no doubt that people employed by the Redmond empire might think this adorable device is fabulous but, for those of us not high on Microsoft crack, this thing is still nothing more than a conceptual design. That is unfortunate because there is a desperate need for a corporate minded tablet with iPad-like features, and Microsoft really needs a successful consumer mobile strategy. Surface is not there yet. There is another version coming that runs a full version of Windows 8 but it remains to be seen how that product will measure up. My advice is to check back on this thing in six months to see if this puppy has grown up or whether we need to look at an entirely different doggie.

26 October 2012

iPhone 5 is a beautiful ornament

Ah, smart phones. How we love to gaze into your shining face. To hold you. To stroke your buttons. To fondle your every crevice. And there is none more beautiful than the iPhone 5. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of technology ever made. A telephonic Mona Lisa. An aluminum Scarlett Johansson. We lust for this black (or white) slab that is being purchased primarily as a piece of cellular jewelry. It accurately screams to the world that you will accept nothing but the best. And, ultimately, that is the reason I had to send mine back.

Nearly everyone today carries a smart phone, and those that do not have crafted a life enjoying tweets from real birds. (Envy them.) These miniature personal mainframes are morphing from practical and entertaining ways to pass the time into a true fashion accessory. When you wait for your table and stare blindly into a four inch glowing bar, you are advertising an extension of who you are.

Manufacturers fully recognize this new role. Now these devices come in a variety of colors and form factors, within rectangular limitations, so your phone can match the imagery you wish to present to the world around you. You may think covers, cases and bands are there to protect the device, but often that is a ruse. It is defining the device to match who they are personally with many collecting multiple to change their device to match the season or just the mood they are embracing on any given day.

When it comes to perfection in mobile technology, Apple is second to none. The iPhone 5 is so perfectly designed and difficult to construct that the craftsman in China actually walked off the job because the demands were too high. Apple, rightly, chose to build their precious-es in a country with lax labor laws so they would not complain about workload, yet they had to take a break from building Cupertino's crown jewel because it was too difficult to craft perfection. Note to Apple's marketing wing: That is an iPhone commercial waiting to happen.

When it comes to practicality - the original purpose of carrying a smart phone (BlackBerry, how we miss you) - the iPhone 5 is a step backwards, even from previous iPhones. It was always so-so at making phone calls, but their new maps program cannot determine intersections or default to key locations in a city based on your current location. The new connectors makes all of your existing iPhone gadgets useless without buying expensive converters and gives little appreciable improvement. The camera turns photos into a Purple Rain poster. It scratches more than a cat living in a carpet factory. The small screen size is justified only to one handed individuals with all fingers turned to stone except the thumb. I could go on, but you get my point. If your primary reason to buy a smart phone is to get "work" done, this is the wrong device.

Still, according to nearly everyone, the iPhone 5 is the greatest smart phone ever made because of the hardware design. It feels like a precious ornament stolen from Westminster Abbey. Talking to Siri on that slab of aluminum is a communication portal to a goddess. Sure, sometimes the channel gets garbled and she sends you on a false crusade, but what does it matter when you are able to hold a conversation with the heavens?

For this reason, no matter the faults, the iPhone 5 is a device that nearly no one will complain about owning. Unless, of course, you only carry a smart phone because you are forced to by modern communication needs. Which is where I come in.

This silly device is in my pocket because it needs to be. So work can contact me on the phone, so I can work through support tickets, so the family can call me, so I can load a game and hand the sucker to my son. Were it not a requirement to look good at the office, I would probably wear jeans and a Jack the Pumpkin King t-shirt every day and there is no requirement for my mobile talk toy to meet a corporate dress code. In fact, given what I put this thing through, it is a blessing to have something that already looks ready for an abusive relationship. But, perhaps most important of all: I am cheap.

When you carry the Rolex of cells you pay for that spinning hand that rolls smoothly across the surface rather than the cheap imitation that stutters for each second. The iPhone 5 is a few hundred dollars up-front with a two year contracts at a hundred bucks a month. A comparable Android on a pre-paid plan will cost you the same initial cost with zero contract and less than half the monthly cost. Yes, there are variations to this comparison, but the bottom line is you can get a device that is functionally as good or better than the iPhone for less than half the total cost of ownership. However, everyone will know you are carrying the fake Rolex.

In this new era of fashion phoneia, your device should reflect who you are. For me, I carry grocery store branded re-usable bags, not the artistic embellishments splattered on Trader Joe's tote. I truly embrace my imperfection and fashion inadequacy. And, yes, I am a cheap bastard that refuses to pay more than I have to. That is my reality. So, with a small pang of sadness I slapped the return label on the box. Back to Apple went my sleek black beauty of an iPhone for someone who needs a perfect jewel in their pocket while I happily soldier on with my practical imperfect piece of plastic.