Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Windows 8, man.

I had the privilege of setting up two Windows 8 machines recently for two very different users and with two very different setups. I thought this was interesting because every Windows 7 setup I've ever done was reasonably similar.

"These are the new things your system does and all the old things from your XP machine work about the same way." --This is Windows 7-- 
"This is how you get to your email, oh wait, the Mail app doesn't support POP3. I guess go to the webpage since you don't want to sign up for Office 365... oh it's like Office but now you pay annually... you can buy it once... oh, you don't want to pay that much. Yeah, the web browser is very different, you can get the old one if you..." (you get the point) --Replacement desktop Windows 8-- 
"Yeah, it can do internet and play games and do all sorts of things from this app store. You can also click here and use old Windows programs too but they aren't made for touch." --New tablet Windows 8 (not RT)-- 

Needless to say, one experience was much more positive than the other. I can send it down to the concept of tablet vs. desktop but that's not quite it. As I watched two different people try to acclimate themselves with something new I saw a mixture of frustration and relief from the man replacing his old desktop (It wasn't POSTing and honestly, it was a dinosaur and needed replaced IMHO) and awe and surprise from the man testing out his new tablet. And I'll stumble into a bit of a segway for my first point. One man expected nothing but the other expected his old machine and more.


One of the worst feelings for a consumer to have is that of being cheated after struggling with your product. They will tell their friends to avoid the product and company even if they are 100% in the right. Ahead of Windows Blue it feels unfair to criticize Windows 8 so, but it has to be said. The Modern UI feels so forced in a desktop setup that it's a really hard sale.
It works as its advocates will tell you, but as I will tell you, just barely. In a desktop setup, it is not better and that's the problem. To convince someone that their old machine was in need of this OS upgrade it must be better.

Throwing the apps in front of someone's face is a great setup for a tablet. See it, touch it. On a desktop it is unintuitive and confusing. Most people are trained on the idea of the file system having levels and (sometimes forced) categories. At this point, we are be ushered into an era of one touch, one app, one purpose, and one common interface.

 Ecchi Sketchy One Touchy

Whether on a mouse and keyboard, trackpad, touch screen, or that crazy pressure sensitive tech DoCoMo was working on a while ago, you are using your hands to work your PC. A crazy transfer from the vast broad strokes from a mouse, trackpad, or one of those nubs Lenovo refuses to give up, to the fine controls possible with your fingers has left the GUI industry torn. Mandate a 3 product minimum like Apple (phone, tablet, PC), or try to smash two product categories together like Google and Microsoft.

The Desktop

The old machine: MidGen P4 CPU@2.8Ghz, 2GB RAM, onboard GPU (AKA: Dinosaur)
The new machine: pre-Haswell i3@2.0Ghz, 4GB RAM, onboard GPU (I didn't order it)

Mo Peripherals, Mo Problems

Something you all need to understand about the elderly is that they think the world should work for them. They have spent a lot of time in this world and in their own minds. They are extremely familiar with both.

I've heard the Windows 8 advocates shouting from every corner of the map about how amazing it is and I was ready to believe this. It's great. It really is. For me. As demonstrated by my series of sentence fragments, I was thinking about Windows 8 in my world in my mind.

Here was my challenge:

  1. Describe every visible thing on the Windows 8 start screen in relation to real life or Windows XP.
  2. Explain why Office is ridiculous suddenly.
  3. Explain the fresh hell that is the Win8 photo importer for an old Kodak digital camera.
  4. Explain why their printer is now unusable.
Excuse me Microsoft, let me drop everything and learn a new way to do almost everything. Longer story slightly shorter, we picked up a decent USB flash drive for file backup, a new printer, a download of Open Office, and a fair share of headaches. 

At the end of the day, the computer is less functional than the old one. The one benefit is that it will POST and performance is significantly improved.

Now I'll finally move on to the tablet and perhaps a more optimistic view of Windows 8. The question to lead the assault will be as follows. Why, when I click Internet Explorer with a mouse, am I taken to the touch version of the app.

The Tablet

Asus VivoTab Smart 400: Pre-Haswell Atom@1.9Ghz(if it feels like it), 2GB RAM, Onboard GPU, 64GB MicroSD.

This thing rocks. Microsoft, without a doubt, has pulled out all the stops and created a fantastic Tablet UI. It flows smoothly and loads quickly. I honestly feel that the touch version of IE beats Safari and Chrome to the finish line. Perhaps though, this is because IE's desktop interface and features are behind both Chrome and Safari. Microsoft seems to have forgotten the heaps of traditional computing setups running its OS. 

All that needed to be explained was new and fresh. The product is understood to be a new thing and not a replacement of something antiquated. The owner doesn't try to make it be his old PC only asking what it else it can do.

Now that little tablet is part of an interesting setup. With an HDMI cable, it becomes a streaming device for Netflix and Pandora. (Sure we only mirror at 720p but it looks pretty good) It is a nice research device for time spent on the toilet or sitting in front of a setting midsummer's sun on the patio.

A Conclusion of Sorts (not a TL;DR)

Microsoft seems to have overstretched itself with Windows 8 by building multiple products in one for a lot of different hardware. They haven't. They built a great tablet UI and forced other hardware to work around that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oh, There You Are Nintendo!

A triumphant (and frankly surprising) return of the Nintendo Game Machine
It would seem over the past few months Nintendo has stepped back into the dark workrooms of Nintendo EAD, allowing a wealth of other companies to hold the spotlight in the release of the Nintendo Wii U.  This has, of course, raised concern in the gaming news world over what exactly Nintendo was working on and when these long awaited titles would see the light of day.  Today, during the latest installment of Nintendo Direct, Nintendo's web-based press conference show, viewers were reminded why Nintendo is known for "dropping the bomb" when it comes to releasing new game info.
Before today's conference is discussed, however, it is important to note how effective this peculiar strategy of "quiet confidence" has been for Nintendo and the Wii U over the last few months. 
While a great introduction to the Gamepad, Nintendoland is not the groundbreaking title players wanted.
Nintendo's consoles have received flack since as far back as the Nintendo 64 for the lack of third party support.  They historically rely heavily on the first party titles from Nintendo to carry their weight through the entire console cycle.  Breaking this tradition is not as easy a feat as one might imagine.  Because any third party title would be in a sense competing with the offerings from Nintendo, the choice to publish on a system from the Big N might not always be a financially sound one.  Third party titles have rarely sold the best on a Nintendo system, for various reasons other than the aforementioned one.  It's hard to blame Nintendo, their first party titles more often than not deserve the praise they receive, and there has never been a real drive to try to get other publishers to show the system a healthy amount of support.
If you showed this to someone in 2008 and said this game is
a lead launch title for the new Nintendo system, they would slap you for lying.
This has changed, it seems, and the strategy to do so implored a technique of being purposefully absent during the console's launch.  Third party titles really stole the show through the Wii U release.  Sure there was New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendoland, but with just those two major titles, Nintendo offered the weakest launch support for a system in the company's history.  And it worked.  Exclusive titles like ZombiU became the talk of the launch, as well as the distribution of huge third party offerings on a Nintendo console for the first time.  How is it that when a Nintendo console launches the average gamer is more interested in buying the new Call Of Duty, Assassin's Creed, or Ubisoft title than they are a Nintendo game?  Games like these were finally allowed to thrive on a Nintendo platform, and set a tone that Nintendo surely wants to maintain throughout the rest of the console's lifetime.
It would seem that this backseat position of Nintendo's would last a while, with no revelations of any new titles on the horizon.  While gamers are enjoying playing Mass Effect 3 with the gamepad or jumping through the "Castle Rock" level of the Rayman Origins Demo for the 20th time, there has been a thirst for more.  And right when this thirst was beginning to turn into frustration, Nintendo delivered.
The phrase "pinch me, I must be dreaming" was in high demand during this conference.
Today's conference was a very unexpected breath of fresh air for loyal Nintendo fans.  The Nintendo Direct series has had a tendency of being...somewhat humdrum and unsurprising.  Whether or not this is due to the infamous Nintendo hype train is certainly up for debate, but regardless of this, most viewers come away feeling a little disappointed. That was not the case today, as Nintendo, by all accounts, delivered.  One could argue that from a purely informative standpoint, there was as much discussed in the 30 minute Direct Presentation as was during the 2012 E3 conference.  And they were all important, Nintendo related announcements.
The bar for this year's E3 has been set VERY high. As if the hype was not already crazy as it is. 
This is the key here. Nintendo has made the push to make third party titles a viable option for the system, but they have not forgotten the reason people will shell out $350 without thinking twice for something with that famous "N" logo.  We now know for certain that we can expect a new 3D Mario game, a new Mario Kart title, a new Smash Bros., and a new Zelda for the Nintendo Wii U.  The highly anticipated Bayonetta 2 has a very strong team behind it, and should be a major release for the system. Wind Waker Reborn marks the first Nintendo entry into the "HD Remake" market (3DS remakes aside). The new Xenoblade game gives RPG lovers something to look forward to, and The Fire Emblem/Shin Megame Tensei crossover shows an exciting new Nintendo game development strategy.  This coupled with the announcement of two huge system updates and the beginning of a new Virtual Console service made this the biggest and best Nintendo Direct to date.
Its hard to say whether or not the timeline of game info, releases, and lack thereof was a part of Nintendo's plan all along, but it appears to have been a successful strategy.  The amount of support being shown for this console by both third party developers and Nintendo themselves is staggering.  Only two months from release, the stage has been set for a HUGE year of game releases and development info.  It is an exciting time to be a Nintendo fan, and more importantly: an exciting time to be a gamer.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

These are my new things. [3/3]

Once upon a time, $100 was an expensive set of headphones.

Dr. Dre... I love your music but I hate your horrible headphones. Beats by Dre. Soul by Ludacris. Ultimate Ears from Logitech. What is the deal with charging so much for mediocre headphones. Oh, that's right. Bass. The subwoofer generation is awful. I hate to love my trunk full of subs and that half of the watts in my surround sound are less than 200hz. It sounds amazing, for listening only. 

"You need professional headphones" they said. Yes, of course. I'm going to be working in Pro Tools, Premiere Pro, and with big cameras and boom microphones. I need flat response headphones. I just had no idea I'd love them so much.

I was thinking that I would lose my bass. I was thinking the treble would split my ears. And worse. I was afraid the mids would kill me like a saxophone solo in a Dave Matthews Band song. I was so wrong.

I bought the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. They are as classic as headphones get. They released many years ago and the design has not really changed much besides adding some plastic where there was once metal. I was stuck making the decision between these and the Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones. Luckily my friend bought the 280s and I was able to try them out to see if I'd made the right decision. I think I had. The Sennheisers are by no stretch bad but they are a bit softer in their sound reproduction. Not quieter but I prefer the more crisp treble and bass on the Sony's. I'd suggest trying them out before making your decision but if you are the kind of person that prefers a speaker with a tweeter, I'd recommend the Sony's.
They come with a connector to allow you to hook them to nearly any jack. It's gold plated and screws on. This secure connection is a must for professionals. 

The headphones come with a case for travel and these cans fold up nicely for transportations. This greatly helps with my fear of snapping them in half. Hey, I'm not made of money.

They came beautifully packaged to the point that makes Apple packaging look subtle. You can tell these are not a Walmart product. (Stop shopping there... forever)

They sound... right. There is not an exaggerated sound and music really sounds good. I find myself closing my eyes and just focusing on the smallest details in the music which are now treated equally to the bass. I came from the Sony MDR-X200 headphones and while they are very good for the price, you lose some of that more precise treble. If you are an audiophile on a budget, they are a solid choice. The Sony MDR-V6 cans are also a solid choice that many people would argue are as good as the 7506 headphones but for 20 bucks less. I haven't tried them so I couldn't tell you either way.

Well, this has been my report of the semester that left my wallet smoldering and very thin. I still need to buy a new external hard drive to edit on. A decent microphone to record on. A decent camera and maybe Final Cut Pro X. I understand I'm 1 of about 10 people worldwide that likes the software. Enjoy some pictures. Thanks for reading.

These are my new things. [2/3]

I like to be in control.

Perhaps some people would call me a control freak, but I don't think that is very polite. I find that input devices, that is the stuff you touch, poke, talk to, or wave at to control your computer or electronic device, are woefully under appreciated in the space of user experience. With that I'm thinking of the Macintosh ideal for mice and keyboards. There are, like any other component, many factors you must balance in order to make a product. Recently Apple has become the cool company somehow.

When did computers get cool?

But really. When did devices made for editing documents and calculating huge strings of data become so mainstream. Apple did not start innovating in 2007 with the iPhone. They've been placing the focus on small and sleek since the 80's. Forgive the quality of the video but you get my point.

Small and sleek simply was not the thing people wanted. They wanted compatibility and power. Who cares about how great your computer looks when you are running a database query and you want your old PC DOS data to work.

Then the Internet became consumer grade. Library card catalogs. Sales records. Maybe some very nerdy IRCs. This was the old internet. The dot com boom helped make the internet mainstream. Users could just pop in your favorite website and get some news or entertainment on demand. But could you contribute? Only if you knew HTML. 

I'll save you some nerdy history details and move you forward to Web 2.0 as old geeks may say. It's social networking. Friendster, Myspace, YouTube, and blogs. Everyone wanted a computer and it was no longer a power race.

Humans are not symmetrical so why are the things we use?

When users are just clicking back and forth between wedding pictures and a rant about pop culture figures recent decision, who cares about the DPI of a mouse or the action on a keyboard. It just needs to work. To be fair, Apple's tackpad is a thing of wonders and at this time, unparalleled, but their Magic Mouse is an absolute piece of trash. It defines form over function. It's uncomfortable to use and is ridiculously heavy. It has some great additions like multitouch and bluetooth support but it seems to have forgotten was it was. A mouse.

If you only reach for your mouse about three times an hour then this will work fine for you but if you are like me and want to edit something, you use the mouse far too often to drag that hunk of aluminum (aluminium if you are wrong) across your desk. So I went Logitech!

And it tracks on glass!

Now you guys get to see how dirty the glass on my desk is.
I like glass desks. I realize the are posh and tacky but I like them. So for years I was cursed to buy ugly and quickly decaying mouse mats. Then I read about Logitech's Darkfield Technology. Combining several principles I have no understanding of with several other principles I somehow understand even less, logitech made this thing track on glass. Like a puck sliding on ice, the mouse glides with ease and precision with the slightest prod. 

This mouse is great and it's fully Macintosh compatible. There are a few things in the software that don't work quite as expected but Logitech gives you the controls to take care of that. The mouse is called the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX. (Remember, if you buy through my links I make a small percentage and that can help me bring you guys more reviews. Thanks!)

What! No Penguin! Oh that's right, Linux doesn't need your official support.
A couple problems I've had with it are that the back and forward buttons, instead of moving the internet browser back and forward a page as I'd expected, they switched me to different desktops. This was tested in Chrome but easily fixed by changing the commands on those buttons the delete key and shift+delete. The mouse works flawlessly on Windows 7 however which leads me to assume the functioning on Mac OS was a result of Apple's recent changes to the way gestures are handled, but I really have no proof of that and to be fair it was an easy fix.

The tracking is smooth and I've noticed no problems or inaccuracies from tracking on glass. I'm really considering getting the big brother for my Windows desktop now. 

What's your type?

Well, that's a bit personal but she's smart, and funny with a great... oh it's a pun, and not even a very good one. Shame. But really, the things I want in a keyboard include a slim form factor, good key travel, good key spacing, a number pad, and extra USB ports. Apple finally delivered! The Macintosh keyboard has been out for a few years now but it doesn't need to change at all. The keys have a nice feel and good travel and It has two USB ports built in so I can always have my new mouse receiver plugged in. This is a huge plus considering I only have two USB ports and one of those connects to my Time Machine drive immediately when I reach my desk.

A close second place was the Logitech Solar Keyboard but a couple things kept me away from it. The first was that since it was wireless it was not a USB hub and the second was that I tested it and just didn't like the way it felt. Everyone has a certain level of tension and travel they like but I just though it felt a little too loose and squishy when typing. It is still a great keyboard especially being solar powered but it just wasn't for me this time around. It also comes in black which I really like. They also included Macintosh keys so your are not forced to deal with an oddly placed command key. Really, this was a very close second place for me and I'd still definitely suggest it. I have the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard on my Windows machine and will not be replacing that until it falls apart. A serious quality keyboard.

Thanks everyone for reading part 2. I hope I could offer you some good information. I'm most excited for part 3. It's about my new headphones. And no, it's not those awful Beats. Stay tuned for part 3. Coming soon.