Technologizer posts about Microsoft. Windows

Windows 8 Continues the Cheery Error Message Tradition, Unfortunately

By  |  Posted at 10:46 am on Friday, September 16, 2011


(Image borrowed from

Software developers have a strange attitude towards notifying their customers of product error. They rarely just explain what happened, and apologize. Well, sometimes they do try, but with an explanation so technical that it’s pointless for us normal human beings. (That may or may not be better than providing an error code rather than actual information on what went wrong.)

There’s also a long-standing tradition of error messages being accompanied by humorous visuals, dating back at least to the Mac’s Bomb and Sad Mac icons, and probably much further than that. And now is reporting that Windows 8 has a new sort of Blue Screen of Death that sports an oversized frowny face emoticon. (The developer preview of Windows 8 is buggy, but I haven’t run into any catastrophic errors that trigger this screen myself.)

I don’t get it. Are there any other industries that see failure as an occasion for merriment? I love Chrome, but its suffering browser tab and messages such as “Aw, Snap!” always leave me slightly more irritated than if I’d just gotten a straightforward alert that something had gone awry.

Of course, Windows 8 is merely a developer preview, so its error messages are presumably subject to further tweaking. How about dumping the frowny, Microsoft?

(Side note: The one cheery error message I like is Twitter’s Failwhale, in part because it was designed by my friend Yiying Lu. In fact, I’m almost sorry I rarely see it these days…)

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Please, PC Makers, Don’t Ruin Windows 8

By  |  Posted at 1:07 am on Friday, September 16, 2011


Who says you can’t teach an old operating system new tricks? For years, Windows was the world’s most annoying piece of software. It would blithely interrupt your work to tell you that there were unused icons on your desktop. Its search feature–even in the Professional version–inexplicably involved a puppy dog. It made paying customers jump through hoops to prove they hadn’t pirated the software, and sometimes accused them of stealing it anyhow. It rebooted itself to install updates when it felt like it, regardless of what you might be doing at the moment. I get irritated just thinking about it.

With Windows 7, Microsoft took a major step in the right direction: The best thing about the upgrade was that it stayed out of your face. And now Windows 8 promises to go even further, with a new interface, Metro, that’s remarkably tasteful and pleasant. If Microsoft delivers on Win 8′s potential when it ships it next year, you might forget you’re using Windows at all.

But I’m already nervous that PC markers will sabotage Microsoft’s good work by layering on junkware that makes the operating system slower, less reliable, and more aggravating.

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My friend Jeremy Toeman says that it’s imperative that Microsoft come up with a great version of Office that uses Windows 8′s new Metro interface. He’s right, of course–without one, there’s little reason for any business to consider an upgrade, and a really good one could be a major selling point. And I’ll eat a Windows 8 tablet if Microsoft doesn’t have a pretty ambitious one ready by the time Windows 8 PCs go on sale.

I will quibble with one point in Jeremy’s post: He says that early demos of Windows Vista were “awesome.” I remember spending what seemed like eons running early versions of Vista and being briefed by Microsoft on them, and being consistently underwhelmed. I expressed some guardedVista skepticism well before the OS shipped, but to this day I wish I’d been even more skeptical even earlier. Then I could say “I told you so…”

Posted by Harry at 1:08 am


Windows 8: The Verdict Isn’t In!

By  |  Posted at 12:03 am on Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My lousy photo of two of the devices I'm carrying around at the moment.

On Monday, the day before Microsoft formally unveiled Windows 8 at its BUILD conference here in Anaheim, it held a event for the press. Tech journalists from around the world (including me) got a preview of the news that would break a day later, and we went back to our hotel rooms with loaner Samsung tablets loaded with the developer preview of Windows 8. We agreed to a Microsoft embargo that said we could publish our stories at 9:05am on Tuesday, once the BUILD keynote was underway.

On Monday night, I frantically put the Samsung through its paces and hurriedly began to write, knowing that my first-impressions piece would be one of dozens that would hit the next morning.

And then I thought to myself: What’s the rush?

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Five Big Unanswered Questions About Windows 8

By  |  Posted at 6:01 pm on Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Today’s formal unveiling of the Windows 8 developers preview at Microsoft’s BUILD conference in Anaheim revealed a boatload of information about the upcoming OS, which will introduce so many innovations that attendees and journalists are still trying to formulate (and assess) a coherent big picture.

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Coming on Tuesday: Live Coverage of Microsoft’s Windows 8 Keynote

By  |  Posted at 11:22 pm on Sunday, September 11, 2011


I’m in Anaheim, holed up in my hotel room next door to the Anaheim Convention Center, where Microsoft will be holding its BUILD conference this week. It’ll serve as the launching pad for Windows 8, and will give us our first opportunity to see more than glimpses of the OS. A new version of Windows 8 is still a big deal, so I chose to come here rather than attend any of the other tech conferences that are going on this week in other locales. (Boy, are there a lot of them: DEMO, TechCrunch Disrupt, the Intel Developer Forum, the Information Week 500, and the Tokyo Game Show.)

On Tuesday morning at 9am PT, Microsoft will hold a BUILD keynote that’s likely to involve lots and lots of new details about Windows 8, an operating system we still don’t know all that much about. I’ll liveblog the whole event at Hope to see you there–and stay tuned for other Windows 8 news this week as it develops.

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September 2001 Was a Long Time Ago in the World of Technology

By  |  Posted at 3:35 am on Sunday, September 11, 2011


I wrote about my memories of 9/11/01 a couple of years ago, on the eighth anniversary of the attacks. They involve me sitting at my desk at PC World in Boston and learning of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center when my colleague Denny Arar IMd me from San Francisco. (We both assumed it was an errant small-plane pilot, and both got e-mails from the organizers of a wireless conference scheduled to be held at Windows on the World reassuring us that the location would be moved if necessary.)

I remember trying to follow the news on the Web and discovering that major news sites were unusable, and then turning on the TV and attempting, sort of, to work as the day progressed. (By the evening, when my coworker Tom Spring and I had a beer and sat there in stunned disbelief, it felt like Tom, me, and the bartender were the last three people out and about in downtown Boston.)

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Watch: How Long It Takes to Boot Windows 8

By  |  Posted at 11:02 am on Friday, September 9, 2011


Since I can’t turn on my laptop with the power of my mind, I guess I’ll have to live with waiting for it to boot up. You know, for eight seconds. It might be seven-and-a-half seconds too long, but since I can’t expect my phone to also cook, wash my clothes and let me travel into the future, I might have to recalibrate my expectations.

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Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft’s Mr. Windows, on why the company is trying to build a Windows 8 that’s both a modern tablet OS and a smooth successor to Windows 7:

Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise! You carry one device that does everything you want and need.  You can connect that device to peripherals you want to use. You can use devices designed to dock to large screen displays and other peripherals.  You can use convertible devices that can be both immersive tablets and flexible laptops.

Which brings us back to the improvements we’re making to the desktop experience: we believe in the Windows desktop. It powers the experiences today that make a Windows 7 PC the most popular device in the world. So, even if we believe that over time many scenarios will be well-served by Metro style apps, for the foreseeable future, the desktop is going to continue to play a key role in many people’s lives. So we are going to improve it. We’re having a good dialog about what folks might think about our design choices but also wanted to put these choices in a broader context of the unmatched utility of the desktop.

Our design goal was clear: no compromises. If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop. Existing apps, devices, and tools all remain and are improved in Windows 8. On the other hand, if you prefer to immerse yourself in only Metro style apps (and platform) and the new user experience, you can do that as well!  Developers can target the APIs that make sense for the software they wish to deliver.  People can debate how much they need or don’t need different aspects of the product, but that has always been the case.  All of this is made possible by the flexibility of Windows.

Microsoft is setting the bar of success really high–and I can’t wait to judge whether it’s succeeded for myself. (With any luck, I’ll be able to do so at its Build conference, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.)

Posted by Harry at 7:02 pm


Hey, a preview of USA Today’s Windows 8 app over at ZDNet:

So far, all we’ve seen of applications utilizing Windows 8’s new user interface is what Microsoft has publicly demonstrated. But now, just 2-and-a-half weeks away from Microsoft’s BUILD conference, I’ve managed to unearth a couple of portfolios showcasing the first Windows 8 apps to be seen in the wild by 3rd party, non-Microsoft entities — one of them, being from USA Today.

Posted by Harry at 9:41 am


And in non-Apple news: Here’s an column I wrote on Windows XP, the operating system that won’t go away (and why it should).

Posted by Harry at 11:05 am


Hey Microsoft, There’s Nothing Wrong With “Windows”

By  |  Posted at 4:35 pm on Thursday, July 14, 2011


Microsoft laid out some lofty goals at its Worldwide Partner Conference this week. As Nilay Patel reports, Microsoft envisions a future in which all of its devices — phones, tablets, PCs and even the Xbox — draw from the same software ecosystem.

Sounds interesting. But being weirdly obsessed with tech nomenclature, I’m fixated on a side note in Patel’s report: Microsoft has considered throwing out the Windows name once all this unification is complete. It’s a longshot, and probably won’t happen as long as Steve Ballmer is in charge — he loves the name — but the option is at least on the table. I think that’s a mistake.

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Windows 8 in April 2012? Could Be!

By  |  Posted at 12:43 pm on Monday, July 11, 2011


ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley is reporting on a rumor: Microsoft may be trying to finish up work on Windows 8 by April of next year. She thinks it’s plausible–or at least not obviously crazy. Me, too. For one thing, the conventional wisdom that the OS is likely to show up for the holiday 2012 season is, as far as I know, based more on history than on anyone knowing anything specific about Windows 8. For another, Microsoft has a huge incentive to get this thing out the door–not so much for its PC business, but for tablets, where it’s not yet really in the game and won’t be until Windows 8 is available. And Steven Sinofksy, the Microsoft exec in charge of Windows, has a pretty good track record for exceeding expectations when it comes to shipping products in a timely fashion. (Enough so that I think that anyone who parrots the classic “Microsoft never gets anything out the door” meme hasn’t been paying attention over the past few years.)

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Between Windows 8, OS X 10.7 Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud, we’ve been inundated with previews of new operating-system stuff over the last week or so–and the one thing they all have in common is that they look beyond the era of the PC as we knew it. (Even Windows 8–when Microsoft seems to be thinking in post-PC terms, you know something’s afoot.) That’s what I wrote about for my Technologizer column for this week.

Posted by Harry at 4:15 pm


Will — And Should — Microsoft Sell Its Own Tablet?

By  |  Posted at 5:53 pm on Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Digitimes — a site with an erratic record record on scoops — is claiming that Microsoft may be in the process of considering marketing its own tablet that would launch sometime next year. This would be around the same time the company would be debuting its somewhat-tablet-centric Windows 8 operating system.

The Redmond company has supposedly called on Texas Instruments and several Taiwanese manufacturers to make the device a reality. And why not? What better way to market your brand new OS and highlight its features than your own device?

Now, is it a good idea for Microsoft? That’s up for debate. To date, the Xbox 360 is the only success that the company has had at retail outside of accessories such as mice and (of course) software. The Zune music player and the Microsoft Kin phone are two of its most notable failures.

If Digitimes’ rumor is the real deal, I think Microsoft should launch this device alongside Windows 8 to give it the most pop. Here’s my suggestion to Redmond: bring this device to Windows 8 launch events. The launch of the OS is going to be a big deal — akin to the 95 and XP launches – so make sure that Microsoft staffers are demonstrating the hot new  Windows 8 features on a Microsoft tablet. In other words, build buzz not only about the OS itself, but the product you created to show it off.

I think it’s a good idea, but it needs to be done right. Can Microsoft do it?

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I like Michael Mace’s take on Windows 8–hey, I know it’s smart, because it’s an awful lot like mine. (We both end with exactly the same thought: this is going to be fun.)

Posted by Harry at 11:41 am