Tag Archives: Update

Every Other Update

I’m not much of an early adopter anymore. Too many times I have been burned by “not ready for prime-time” products and updates. Now, I usually wait for the second or third iterations before making any technology changes. I made an exception this time, for Windows 10. I have found that Microsoft gets updates right about half of the time; usually on every other version. Time will tell if I chose wisely or not, but I have been playing with it long enough to form some initial impressions.

My Surface Pro 2 came with Windows 8.1 Pro installed and it took a couple of weeks for me to adapt to the new touch-designed interface, which has been called Metro, Touch and Tile World at various times since its launch. Microsoft figured that all personal computing was going to the tablet/touch interfaces commanded by iOS and Android, and they wanted to gain a piece of that market. They banked on that idea so much that they completely lost the traditional Windows desktop that has commanded computing since 1994. Public outcry was such that Microsoft quickly brought the desktop back to Windows 8 as a patch, which effectively split the user experience in two, leaving many to complain that 8.1 suffered from dual personality syndrome. Even so, I had a grasp of the nuances and managed to get my Surface to work for what I need it to do, though I was still missing the simplified user experience of Windows 7.

Microsoft, evidently wishing to distance itself from its Metro mistake, completely skipped Windows 9 and redesigned the entire OS for its newest update. The biggest news about the upgrade, however, was not the return to the desktop—a welcome piece of news for windows users, to be sure—but that the upgrade would be free. Free, that is, for those who are upgrading from 7 or 8 and do so within a one-year time limit from the release. Those who are still running XP or Vista (why would anyone be?) are out of luck.

This also means that all future upgrades are also free. Microsoft announced that there will be no more “Versions” of Windows, merely updates and patches. This is similar to Apple’s Macintosh OS stopping with OS X, even though there are constant updates for that system. Microsoft will not be losing money, to be sure. They have figured out a way to monetize OS usage by collecting user data. More on that later.

So, I upgraded my tablet the day after the release. The update process was simple and painless for me, although some Norton users complained that they lost their antivirus and had to go through some hoops to get it back. I had no such problem. My Norton immediately updated itself upon completion of the initial Windows 10 setup process.

Most of my configurations remained, such as my desktop image and icons. Users boot right onto the desktop just like previous versions, with the tiled Metro start screen now popping up as the start menu from the Windows button. Gone is the 2-App limitation on multitasking that Metro imposed on us; back is the multiple windows on the task bar. Now some of the touch-specific niceties of the Metro interface are also gone, such as the charms and the swipe to close/minimize feature. Closing is back to clicking the X in the upper right corner where it has always been. I had gotten so used to swiping down to close windows, that I kept dragging windows below the task bar and having to work to get them up and closed. I’m almost over that now.

Swiping in from the right used to bring up the charms, but that feature has been replaced by what I think is one of the biggest improvements in Windows: the notifications panel. In Windows 8, metro social apps like Facebook and Twitter kept a process running in the background to update their live tiles on the start screen. They still do this, but now they also show up in the notifications panel, and they remain there until the user clears them. This functionality is not new to mobile users—phones have had this for years—but Windows has never embraced it for computer users until now.

Windows also has included a built in mail app that can be configured for any POP3 or iMAP4 service. Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail can appear right beside ISP/work email in the same streamlined client, which alerts the user of new mail in the notifications panel. For those who use a web-based calendar like Google or hotmail, reminders for appointments and tasks also appear in the notification panel alongside any alarms the user might set.

Even with those updates, the biggest improvement for Windows might have to be Cortana. Apple launched Siri several years ago to the amazement of the mobile world. Google followed suit a few years later and there have even been some independent personal assistants like S-voice on Samsung phones. Windows developed Cortana to compete in that market, and rather than program a life-like computer-generated speech synthesizer, Microsoft employed an actual human actress to record her voice for the digital assistant.

Cortana is actually the name of a character in Microsoft’s game series Halo. In the game, a computer AI is named Cortana and is one of the antagonists for the hero. The voice became so popular that Microsoft decided to make Cortana real. Now Windows users can talk to their computers by simply addressing them with “Hey, Cortana.” Doing so will open a voice search window where a user can speak search terms, ask about the weather, inquire as to the day’s schedule, check email or even ask Cortana to tell a joke.

Again, Siri users will say “Been there, done that,” and they would be correct. In fact, Siri is still a bit more intuitive than Cortana, who opens web browsers to Bing for simple questions way too often for my taste. I can only expect that Microsoft will improve the service as time goes on.

Now for the concerns. In order for Cortana to work, the computer’s microphone has to be on all the time, and the network connection must also be active all the time. While this is a drain on the battery, it also means everything that is audible in the vicinity can be picked up and transmitted to Microsoft’s servers. Again, this is no different from Siri or Google, so many people won’t mind. But with all these voice recognition programs and devices, more personal data is being transmitted, collected and used by tech companies to gather information on users for marketing purposes. Some privacy advocates may be bothered by this.

Since Windows 10 is “free,” Microsoft has put a lot of data gathering tools embedded deep in the system. There are several places to find the settings for them and they are not easy to find and they are not together in the same place. Concerned users can opt out of all the data collection if they so choose, but Cortana will stop working if they do.

So, overall, Windows 10 is a step up, continuing the trend of good upgrades skipping a version. 95 good, 98 bad, 98 second edition good, ME bad, XP good, Vista bad, 7 good, 8 bad, 10… well, we’ll see if it ends up being as good as the first two weeks seem to indicate. One of my friends posted that her newly upgraded desktop locked up on Windows 10, which may be more of a problem with the fact that it is a cobbled system, rather than an out of the box computer. I am on a Microsoft-built device, so it may be that my good experience is owing to tight development between Microsoft hardware and software. So far, so good.

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The Path To Hell Is Paved With Forced Upgrades

I broke my phone the other day.  It had a problem reading the battery voltage and would spontaneously shut down because of low battery indicators, even though the battery was nearly fully charged.  The second time it did that in an hour, it met the floor with a bit more force than it should have.  Gorilla glass is tough, but it makes the most interesting patterns when shattered.

Dead Epic 4G

It has failed me for the last time.

Since it was almost two years old, I decided to upgrade to the new Samsung Galaxy S3, since it has many improvements over my older Epic 4G (Galaxy S) and the newest Android operating system.  Upgrading when a device is broken is a perfectly understandable and even expected thing to do.  But these days, it seems we are expected to upgrade everything even when we don’t need or even want to.
The morning after I brought home my new smartphone, my wife’s Galaxy S2 phone upgraded itself to Android 4.0.4 (AKA Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS).  This is not a bad thing, but it necessitated upgrading several of her apps as well.  Later that same day, I was working on my old Powermac G3 computer at work and I got several errors when I tried to watch videos from some tech and news sites.  It seems Adobe has upgraded Flash and the flash player in my G3 is no longer compatible with the codecs being used these days and Adobe is not making the updates compatible with Motorola based G3 processors like the one in my Mac.  Adobe is on the hook for another serious annoyance that pesters me virtually every single day: Adobe Acrobat Reader updates.  I get a nag almost every time I sit down at the computer to upgrade this software.  Java is another one that is almost as bad.  When I turn on my phone, I get anywhere from 4 to 40 app alerts from the Google Play (formerly Android Market) to update the apps on my phone, and periodically, my computer will prompt me to install new updates to windows.  It seems that software designers never heard of the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
(as I typed that line, Android just popped up with “updates are available” again, and I just updated last night)
Once upon a time, software developers wrote programs (apps in today’s vernacular) and spent a lot of time and money debugging them and tweaking them to make them as good as they could be.  When they released them, the software was packaged in a box with a user’s manual and the disks or CDs in jewel cases and a user took them home, installed them and that was that.  If a program was updated, it was a significant change in the user experience with additional features added that would prompt the change and it would more than likely cost money.  There were rarely “bug fixes” because most bugs were discovered before publication.  Oh, sure a few got through, but those were dealt with. With the advent of the internet, software companies found they could deal with the few bug fixes with a “patch” that could be downloaded, thus reducing expense.  This lead to more software being released with more bugs, since deploying the patches was easier and cheaper.
Now software is released and then updated within days of each other.
Upgrades are not necessarily a bad thing, many programs get significant new features or improvements in upgrades.  Antivirus software must update regularly to handle the ever changing threat of viruses and hackers.  However, some updates actually worsen or even break the programs by removing features or options with which users are familiar.  Apple removed the ability to format filenames in an earlier version of iTunes and Microsoft is going to alter media center software with the Windows 8 version so that it will no longer be a boot option and must be downloaded as an add-on rather than being included in the release.  These do not even touch the number of apps that are completely broken and stop working when an update is downloaded and applied.  Android wins the contest on this issue since developers have to try to make the apps work on various hardware platforms.
Back in the old days, when the hardware makers built faster machines, software makers wrote programs that utilized these faster processors and memory.  If a user had an older machine and they wanted to run the newer programs, they would need to get a newer machine (or at least upgrade the older machine if possible).  This was known as the forced upgrade path and Microsoft and Intel kept each other in business for years doing just that.  App developers don’t seem to be using that logic.  In fact, they don’t seem to be using any logic with these updates.
With the ever increasing amount of apps available on so many different platforms, it forces one to wonder why the developers can’t leave well enough alone.  If it works, leave it alone.  Most of the updates have no appreciable difference in user experience, add no new features and are indistinguishable from their predecessors.  If a developer makes a significant improvement to an app, fine, push the update, otherwise stop pestering me to update.

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