Thursday, December 23, 2010

Whose idea was it really to axe DreamScene?

Ever since I upgraded my Windows Vista PC to Windows 7, I miss DreamScene a lot. Why is DreamScene not available on Windows 7? Is there any sane reason or clarification for this from Microsoft? Everyone just says it has been replaced by Windows 7 desktop slideshow. Hello? Is a slideshow the same thing as a video? It's like upgrading to a car with a better engine but finding the new car doesn't have an integrated stereo system any more. Why can't Windows 7 have the better features of Windows Vista? I expected Microsoft to do something about this. Maybe an out-of-band update? That would be a great Christmas present.

And don't tell me about that ugly hack. Not only does do horrid things to desktop icon labels, but Explorer crashes sporadically after installing it.

Here's an idea Microsoft: If you think DreamScene was a waste of system resources, why not let it live as a screensaver? Is there a decent video screensaver app?

The Bing team keeps churning out animated backgrounds using HTML5 once in a while to tease you and make you jealous but you can't have that experience on your desktop because MS likes to dictate what you can use and remove any feature at any time, not caring a damn about users.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The usability of 'Classic' reigns supreme

When I first tried Windows 7, not only was I shocked to see the Classic Start Menu gone but I was extremely saddened that this very interface was touted by Microsoft 15 years ago when they launched Windows 95. Today it is not a choice presented to users at all? (Remember the "Start me up" hoopla) Just because something is old does not make it useless or obsolete. The Classic Start Menu was a very carefully designed UI. The new Windows menu has obviously noticeable performance issues when several programs are installed. The taskbar is another example of Microsoft trying to reinvent something when it already served its purpose extremely well. In their attempt to produce a real superbar, they broke and removed several classic Taskbar features, omitting many user preferences.

And Windows Explorer? How a single application critical to the user's file management experience can be ruined to such an extent is beyond me. I think during the Longhorn days, they fooled around too much with Explorer and after the reset, they forgot to include large working parts of Explorer back. There are so many things wrong in Explorer that this alone makes Windows 7 or Windows Vista immediately worthless and impossibily difficult to use. Fortunately, what Microsoft broke, others have tried to resolve. There are 2 heavenly apps that fix Windows 7's horrid Taskbar, Start Menu and Windows Explorer.

7 Taskbar Tweaker which I already covered about a year ago is now updated to allow us to individually group or ungroup applications. It fixes most usability issues with the Windows Taskbar.

Finally, Classic Shell, ahh, Classic Shell is too good of an app to be given away for free!! It packs in tons of configurable features that Explorer broke or removed. It includes the best Classic Start Menu implementation anyone has ever produced, far superior to Microsoft's original one. And it fixes numerous problems in Windows Explorer. The Classic Explorer toolbar makes Explorer completely customizable and extensible.

Check out these two heavenly tools if you haven't yet. They are indispensable. Windows 7 is useless without them.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The illusion of listening to feedback

Yesterday, I got an email regarding IE9 feedback which I had posted on Connect. All I had requested is to keep existing features intact for power users who don't want a "simplified" reduced functionality experience. Microsoft seems to have assumed new levels of EPIC FAIL. Here's what their response says:
"Thank you for your feedback. At this time we do not plan on fixing this issue. Your feedback is very important to us, and it helps us improve the quality of Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to address this particular feedback. This request doesn't match with our design goal of reduced concepts. We continue to welcome more feedback, so please don't hesitate to report other ways that we can improve Internet Explorer."

WTF! Are they trying to contradict each statement with the next one? What sort of weasel wording is this? My feedback as a user is important yet they can do nothing about it. They have design goals of reduced functionality!!! And then they expect me to still continue to give them more feedback in the vain hope that maybe they will listen to their users and make changes! I won't even consider giving any more feedback no this shit product that takes away more useful functionality that whatever irrelevant features it adds (irrelevant because without core features like progress bar, download speed and XP support, this browser is anyways useless). Goodbye IE. It was nice using you from the Internet Jumpstart Kit (IE 1.0) days.

Microsoft has done the same with Windows 7. They are very successful in creating the illusion that they actually listen to our feedback and change the product accordingly. But in reality, our feedback all falls on deaf ears. It's a lost cause now. I don't know which OS to go with. As long as Windows XP, Office 2003, IE8, WMP10 are there, it won't be a problem. Once their support expires, I will have to consider Mac OS X Lion. But doesn't Apple do the same? (Linux is out of the question due to poor design and usability compared to the commercial platforms). How long will I be stuck on Windows XP? (not that it's obsolete by any means) but I make a genuine effort to like the newer crap coming out of Microsoft but simply can't. I will not accept reduced functionality or customizability.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Zune software 4.7 is getting bloated

So the new Zune software 4.7 released today and as is the trend these days at Microsoft, they are tying Windows Phone 7 and Zune brands together. Windows Mobile Device Center is dead. If you own a Windows Phone 7-based device, you must download the bloated 551 MB software. Why is it 551 MB I ask? Probably because it now includes Windows Phone 7 device drivers (both x86 and x64 versions) and other eye-candy as well for Windows Phone including the app store support. What use do I have for it with only a Zune HD? This is a perfect example of choice being taken away for Zune-only customers. The Zune software should have been left to do only what it originally did. Windows Phone spoils the experience for me. Sure, updating from the existing version is fast, some are saying but what if I have to reformat and reinstall Windows? 551 MB of bloat in unacceptable if I just want to sync my Zune HD with my PCs. Windows Phone may be a great phone platform but why does Microsoft not have a separate "Windows Phone" software to do whatever the "Zune" software does?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Windows Live Essentials 2011: Unnecessary UI changes and dropping some features

The dumbing down era continues as yesterday Windows Live Evil Essentials 2011 got released. What's broken, what's missing by accident or removed by design? Someone tell me. I am too tired of struggling against Microsoft products. Every release is a massive heartburn.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Windows Internet Explorer 9 is getting the Windows 7 treatment: Forcing simplicity on everyone

Another example of a browser dumbing down to compete with Google Chrome. In the not-so-distant future, we will have nothing but a bunch of Chrome clones around. Apple never gave that choice with Safari and I fear Firefox 4 going the same way though I haven't counted it out yet as addons are like magic. Maybe Opera will still remain powerful and full-featured. I guess no one but Opera can build a full-featured yet fast, performant browser which, with even software rendering is impressive. Just look at Opera's market share and it shows how much in minority, power users are. I fear the day when I will have to abandon Microsoft platforms for Linux if this simplifying trend in their software continues.Maybe the time has come already but there's no better alternative than Windows where users found the sweet spot between simple and advanced in the 90s and abundant choice. Every Microsoft product shipped since Windows Vista is limited in customizability or missing features found in its predecessor: Windows 7 and major parts of the GUI (such as the shell, Windows Explorer, Windows Search, taskbar, Start menu) are dumbed down as are Windows Media Player, Windows Virtual PC, Office 2007/2010, even Visual Studio 2010, Encarta, MapPoint, the Windows Live suite, Windows Phone 7 and now Internet Explorer 9. It's time to realize where this company is going.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Zune is Dead

So I recently got a Zune HD and its HD output dock accessory as 720p HD output was enticing me ("too late" you'd say and I would even add "too little"). The Zune HD's OLED screen, audio quality, MPEG-4 ASP support and 720p output are its only plus points over the iPod. But I am not satisfied at all. Looks like I ended up buying exactly the loser device:
- No support for soft coded subtitles. iPod Touch and iPhone on the other hand support soft subtitles.
- No Flash player! Say no to dozens of video sites that stream Flash videos. Can you believe that? Maybe it will get one when Windows Phone 7 gets it. (C'mon Microsoft, this is only a software update, the hardware is more than capable).
- Okay, so no Flash but why not even a dedicated YouTube app. MAJOR FAIL. You call this an internet-enabled media player and it doesn't have YouTube!!! (This is also fixable Microsoft via a software update).
- No built-in microphone or even microphone in socket, so no VoIP/Skype, no voice recording. Limited by design.
- Internet Explorer mobile based on some shitty IE version, scores 5/100 on Acid3 standards compliance test and sucks at JavaScript performance, pictures are out of order on so many sites, no always on address bar, no battery meter, no bookmark button. FAIL FAIL FAIL. This issue is fixable in theory but I doubt Microsoft cares enough.
- No speaker like iPod Touch 2nd gen+ has (this isn't that big a deal but it helps when you occasionally want to show something to your friends).
- No Google Maps. iPod Touch has.
- No third party app store with 100000 apps and Games, only Microsoft supplied handful apps. No one writes games for XNA or OpenZDK. They might as well have put Android on this thing which has an active developer community.
- No Voice Control like iPod Touch 3rd gen has.
- No Zune to Zune sharing (Removed from Zune HD!!!!)
- Limited storage, no expansion (they apparently didn't get their own Zune 120 either). HD right, how can I do HD without ample storage?
- No 3G or mobile internet connectivity, only Wi-Fi (the iPod Touch doesn't have it either but iPhone has)
- No Bluetooth like iPod Touch has so no wireless headphones
- Separate dock required for HD video output (This is the final nail in the coffin which kills off any chance of Zune HD being super-successful). The price of Zune HD isn't $200, it's $290 (a $90 premium you have to pay for HD output).

Plus with the 4th gen iPod announced, Zune HD now also lacks:
4th gen iPod's:
- 960 x 640-pixel resolution at 326 pixels per inch
- H.264 Main Profile Level 3.1!!! (Holy crap Main Profile)
- HE-AAC (although WMA Pro is comparable, it's lesser used so less of a standard)
- 720p HD recording rear camera
- Front facing camera for video chat!
- 802.11n (Wireless N)
It looks like Apple took the latest iPhone and stripped off the 3G and phone functionality, GPS and some other power features.

The Zune fails harder this time. I wonder how or why it got so many positive reviews when it launched. But then so did Windows 7. If only, they added Flash and a better web browser based on a newer IE mobile (the same one Windows Phone 7 uses). But they won't. There are unconfirmed rumors of a new Zune but I doubt Microsoft can add all of these features in a single revision. Even if you ignore the fact that the Zune HD is not designed as a multi-purpose device but only to serve as a great media player, it's a major fail because an internet-enabled media player in this day and age ought to play YouTube videos.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Internet Explorer 9 is Microsoft's ploy to get users on to Windows 7

Okay everyone gets it that Windows XP can't be supported forever, that it is already 8.5 years old and that developing a new product for it induces support costs but considering it's sheer market share and nothing else, Internet Explorer 9 should have been supported on it. It would be better for the web. Surely the lack of hardware acceleration won't make developers as mad as an older IE version with deficient standards support. This is evil Microsoft at its best. Next to follow will be .NET Framework vNext (post 4.0) and probably Windows Live Wave 4. I hope sincerely that users and web developers force Microsoft to rethink their decision.

Edit: It's now obvious from the leaked Wave 4 installer that the next version of Windows Live also drops Windows XP support. How annoying! Microsoft is now so so desperate to get users off XP. In the past I remember, several versions of MSN Messenger continued to run on Windows 2000 and Windows 9x. It was when MSN Messenger became Windows Live Messenger than it began to require Windows XP.

IE9 is a perfect example of abuse of monopoly to leverage the latest Windows release sales. Firefox 4 continues to support the platform-neutral open web. It takes advantage of Direct2D and DirectWrite on Windows 7 but gets it that it can't cut off support for a majority of the people still on Windows XP.

The latest casualty is Windows Phone Developer Tools which won't support XP either. Apple and Google must be happy that Microsoft is sabotaging its own phone platform development.

Disclaimer: All mentions of "evil" on this blog are tongue-in-cheek as in I don't think Microsoft is an evil corporation.