Microsoft is evil, lame, and sucks, right?

WRONG!

Give me a freaking break!

I was just reading a post over on TechCrunch. I do not know why I allow myself to get drawn into reading this drivel, but I always seem to.

When are the anti-Microsoft crowd going to grow up and realize that this is a business, and we are all in it to make money and increase the value of that business.

(including, of course, Google and Apple – but it is somehow ok for them)

For those who do not want to waste time and bandwidth reading the actual post, I will summarize a bit:

  • Microsoft participated in the consortium which purchased the “Nortel Patents”, even though MS apparently did not need to
  • Microsoft is pursuing licensing agreements with Android phone vendors based on other IP which MS already had
  • Microsoft stands to make a lot of money from these agreements
  • Microsoft is obviously “lame” for doing this (seriously, who actually uses the term “lame” anymore?)
  • Microsoft is doing this (obviously) because they cannot compete with Android by being innovative.
  • It would be OK if Apple were doing this, since Apple can do no wrong

So lets take a look at this from a more realistic point of view.

  • Microsoft is a business. It is in business to make money, and increase shareholder value. Period.
  • Microsoft owns certain patents. A lot of them. It owned this IP before participating in the Nortel deal.
  • Microsoft felt that participating in the consortium to buy the Nortel patents was valuable in terms of protecting its IP position.

So far so good. Lets look at the Android situation.

  • Android (apparently) infringes upon a number of patents which Microsoft owns. I am not in a position to assess this, but I would suspect there is some validity to the claim or Android phone vendors would not be signing agreements with MS without fighting.
  • If this is the case, Google is making money selling something for which they do not have clear intellectual property rights. And this is somehow Microsoft’s fault?

The statement is made that Android is winning because Google “out-innovates” Microsoft. Lets compare the two:

  • Google has a mobile phone OS named Android, based on an existing open-source OS, using a programming model which some believe they do not have valid IP rights to, and using a UI paradigm which clearly borrows heavily from another famous mobile phone (though I do think Android improves on it).
  • Microsoft, after lagging for a long time, has introduced a new mobile phone OS, written from the ground up, using a unique UI model which is clearly theirs, and with a development environment to which they own the IP, and which is also highly innovative.

Whether WP7 succeeds or fails, and whether you happen to like it or not, from an innovation perspective it is clearly well beyond Android.

So what is Microsoft’s strategy? Well, it appears to be two-pronged.

Having invested heavily in innovation, they are clearly focused on the future of WP7. They intend it to be a success. Whether or not they are successful is more a question of their timing and marketing ability than their level of innovation.

At the same time, Microsoft has quite rightly taken action to preserve the value of its intellectual property. They have also leveraged their ownership of this IP to make money and increase shareholder value.

It seems to me like Microsoft is doing exactly what a business is supposed to do, and doing it well in this case.

Finally, I just have to comment on this little snippet form the post:

“When Apple takes these agressive (sic) approaches on patents, it’s no more right, but at least they can argue that they have a winning product (the iPhone) that they’re trying to protect. Their goal isn’t to get other companies licensing their patents, it’s to run those guys out of the market”

At least he acknowledges that Apple is “no more right” than anyone else in this process. It is the final statement that gets me. So, it is more admirable to crush your competitors and drive them out of business than to license technology to them, allowing both parties to survive and make money?

Of course it is, since we all know it is better to only have one choice in the market, as long as that choice is Apple!

(in case that was too subtle for any of you, that was sarcasm )

Microsoft: Get Your Shit Together on Touch Development

Testing Samples from Microsoft Surface Toolkit...

Image by John Bristowe via Flickr

I have been playing with multi-touch development for a while, both on Windows 7 with my 2740p and on the Microsoft Surface table (version 1, not the new one).

I have consistently had challenges using WPF4 multi-touch events on the 2740p, or using the Microsoft Surface Toolkit for Windows Touch Beta, and now with the newly released Surface 2 SDK.

With any of these tools, I have challenges getting the software to recognize touch events, and even more trouble getting the software to recognize 2 simultaneous touch points (the 2740p supports 2 touch points). A second touch point always cancels the first touch point.

What is funny (to me, anyway) is that the samples included with the machine in the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7 work just fine on the 2740p. This indicates that it is something in the managed drivers used with WPF that is not working.

I am fairly certain that this is a driver issue. I had it working at one point after a lot of hacking and installing drivers different from the default updates. I guess an update somewhere (Windows Update, or HP Tools) has overwritten the driver I had setup to make it work.

Can I fix the drivers to make this work again? Absolutely! But that is not the point here.

This should just work!

How am I as a software developer, or as an ISV, supposed to recommend this platform to my customers, or build applications for it, when even getting it to run on different machines requires significant hacking of drivers?

If Microsoft wants to stop being seen as a joke in the multi-touch and/or tablet market, they really better find a way to get their shit together on this.

The EMail Charter?

Proof that just because people from TED are involved, does not mean it makes sense!

I have had this link come to my attention several times now, and each time I see it, I am struck by how naïve it is (though I am sure there are those who will argue that its naïvety is its beauty). While I agree with some of the points, I think others are out of line. Lets look at each of the points:

1) “Respect Recipients’ Time” While this is obviously a good idea, it is hardly unique to email. And I would argue that in many cases, email is more respectful than a phone call, or dropping by in person. First of all, phone calls and face-to-face interactions frequently involve significantly more extraneous communications of little to no value. In addition, calling or dropping-in interrupts what a person is doing. Unless the issue is urgent enough to require immediate resolution, an email (which can be handled asynchronously when it is convenient) is far more respectful of my time than other modes of communication.

2) “Short or Slow is not Rude” Short is not rude. The response should be long enough to address the issue, and no longer. Slow may not be rude, and may be unavoidable, but it is better to set expectations as to when you will respond to emails. If people know what to expect, then they are less likely to take issue. Not responding at all is a whole other problem.

3) “Celebrate Clarity” I wholeheartedly agree – but not just for email.

4) “Quash Open-Ended Questions” BS. Within the proper context, this is an appropriate way to collect information from a number of people on the way to building consensus, without calling an unnecessary meeting (or interrupting the work of several different people using a “more personal” approach).

5) “Slash Surplus cc’s” Absolutely! This seems to be a trend from larger companies with a CYA mentality.

6) “Tighten the Thread” more BS, with an arbitrary number thrown in for good measure. The thread should be as long as required, and no longer. When in doubt, do what makes sense.

7) “Attack Attachments” Absolutely. I would do away with all attachments, especially internally.
8) “Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR” Good idea in principle. Most of the times I have used them, they have generated a bunch more email explaining them.

9) “Cut Contentless Responses” Agreed.

10) “Disconnect!” This is just good time management. Manage your email in whatever way fits in to your overall time management process. Some people only process email during certain small time periods during the day. I know some that only process email on Monday mornings, or Friday afternoons. Whatever works for you.

The biggest point of contention I have with the whole “email is evil” trend is this idea that synchronous modes of communication such as phone, f2f, or IM are more respectful of another person’s time than email. If the response does not have to be synchronous, then async is more respectful of my time.

The value of an education

The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza ...

Image via Wikipedia

I see a great deal of debate recently about the value of higher education, and whether the high cost of university is worth it from a job market/earning power perspective. I have this debate myself recently, seeing the challenges my own children are facing, coming out of college and trying to enter the workforce.

I have a few thoughts on the topic that I would like to share.

The debate scares the hell out of me

We already live in a society that does not particularly respect or reward intelligence, certainly not the way it should. People are very rarely rewarded or recognized for academic success, except insofar as it might help them be financially successful.

Most parents would much more proudly proclaim their child’s talents as an athlete or entrepreneur than as a scientist or researcher.

In addition, we see a strong social trend towards active disrespect of scientific or research disciplines because the results might challenge religious dogma and political rhetoric.

I see the arguments against higher education as threatening the very future of our society. We already have far too few young people entering engineering or scientific disciplines.

You get what you pay for

Ok – so I am not referring specifically to what your higher education costs, in dollars. What I really mean is that you get out of a higher education pretty much what you put into it.

If you are studying something for which you have a passion, if you throw yourself into your studies heart and soul, if you embrace and enjoy the entire experience, then I have no doubt at all that you will see great value from your education both economically and personally.

If on the other hand, you are only there because your parents said you should be and they are paying for it, if you pick your program based on least difficulty or avoiding early morning classes, and if you only apply yourself to least extent necessary to get by, then you will probably get out of education exactly what you put – diddly squat.

So, like many things, what value you get out of higher education depends very much on what value you are looing for.

A good education is more valuable than a mediocre education

A few generations ago, higher education was available to a small enough segment of the population that getting a university degree, no matter in what field or from what school, gave you a significant competitive advantage when it came to the working world.

More recently, say in my generation or the one before it, higher education had become significantly more accessible, but it was still typically sufficient to have a good degree from a good school (and have had reasonably good marks) to have a high probability of long term success.

Now, however, having a degree is not in and of itself a strong differentiator when it comes to the job market. It is now more important that ever to invest in an education that matches your goals. If your goal is to be highly employable and make lots of money, you better be very careful to choose a discipline and a school that matches that goal. Otherwise, you will be one of those who sees your education as a waste.

Education does not guarantee success

This should be obvious, but an education does not in and of itself guarantee success. Actually, nothing guarantees success. All you can hope for is to follow a path and takes actions which improve the probability of success.

People often point examples of very successful individuals who did not finish university, and say “that proves that you do not need higher education to be successful”. That is very true, but remember that such cases statistical outliers, and are so rare as to be meaningless in planning you future. Others often use these examples to support statements like “higher education is a waste”.

Again, what is critical is to have some idea where you are going, and then choose a type and level of education which is appropriate to those goals.

But please, do not discount higher education completely based upon questionable, anecdotal evidence.

Space shuttle: What have we learned? Apparently, not the difference between astronomy and astrology!

Space shuttle: What have we learned? – CNN.com

Ok, first off, half of this article is about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords attending the latest launch, not about “Space shuttle: What have we learned?”. Not that it is wrong to write about Giffords, it just does not belong in THIS article.

Secondly, and far, far worse, is

Musser was a high school freshman when the first shuttle mission took place in 1981. He said it fueled (sic) his interest in science and astrology. “The shuttle was the most complicated machine ever built by human beings. It’s an incredible machine,” Musser said.

Astrology???!!???!!! Are you freakin’ serious? Either it is an accurate quote, and Musser is an idiot (which I doubt), or the writer (Steve Kastenbaum) is a complete idiot and misquoted Musser (a far more likely scenario).

Is it any wonder that the public at large has no freaking idea about science, and is incapable of understanding the value of the space programme, when neither they nor the mainstream press understand the difference between “astronomy” and “astrology”.

(Or between “science” and “mythology” – which is the root of the whole evolution versus creationism silliness).

If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

image

So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

image

Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

image

Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

The end of physical books? I hope not!

I was just reading this article on CNN.com, in which author Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, foretells the demise of physical books.

I recognize the trend, and can see some reality in what he says. I am a big fan of digital books, and have been for far longer than those who have jumped on the bandwagon with the introduction of the Kindle, iPad, and other such devices. I have been using my slate tablets as ebook readers for 8 years now. The fact that I can carry several thousand books with me when I travel is really convenient (especially for an infomaniac like myself).

However, I absolutely do not advocate the end of physical books, for a number of reasons.

First of all, there is no standard distribution technology for ebooks. I do not want to have to drink Apple’s or Amazon’s koolaid just so I can read the books that I want. And when I have purchased material, I do not want that material tied to a specific device (especially if it is tied to iTunes or Apple in any way). Until there is some level of standardization (beyond PDF), then ebooks should not be the principal format for books.

Secondly, an ebook-only world introduces a 2-tier society – those who can afford ebook-readers, and those who cannot. While I applaud Mr. Negroponte’s efforts in the One Laptop per Child campaign, we are not there yet. Even if we were, laptops are not the optimal platform for reading books. There is no way I would want to read any book of any length on a laptop (tablet maybe, but not a laptop). Right now, people (in much of the world) need nothing more than a library card to have access to a wide variety of books. A switch to an entirely digital world takes that away. I recognize that in the third-world,this is not the case, but I am not convinced that a switch to digital media fixes that problem.

My biggest concern is actually more of a “doomsday” or “conspiracy theory” kind of thing. The strength of physical books is that they are just that – physical. I do not need any device to read them. I do not need electricity. I do not need DRM. I pick up a book, and I read it. What happens in situations of natural disaster, decline of society (for example in war – we are not that far removed from the threat of world war), or even zombie attacks ;-). I personally would prefer that most books continue to exist in a tangible form in addition to a digital one. Then again, I still have a slide rule, just in case all of the computers and calculators fail and I really  need to figure something out!

I am also concerned with the greater possibility of distortion and censorship of the written word once it is only digital. We already see some organizations which distribute digital content exerting inappropriate, heavy-handed control over content and “apps” that they will “allow” to be published on their devices. The potential for corporate or political censorship is great in the digital world, though as has been demonstrated in the past, it is extremely hard to completely suppress information on the Internet.

Finally, there is a distinct sensory pleasure to reading a book. It is one of the few escapes I have left from the digital, technological world. When I am reading digital books, I am unfortunately also subject to all of the distractions of the digital world (email, IM, Twitter, etc.) Physical books are an escape from that noise, and i need that.

Just because I can read everything digitally, does not mean that I should read everything that way.

Geocentrism? Seriously? | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

This is too cool!

Yesterday, I came across a link to http://www.galileowaswrong.com/galileowaswrong/, the site for a conference based on the premise that Galileo was wrong, and that the Catholic church was right to convict him of heresy, and the in fact the Earth is the fixed centre of the universe.

While I tweeted about the absurdity of this, and posted it on my Facebook page, I knew that writing a big blog post about it was a waste of time, because well, not too many people read my blog and even fewer read any posts not related to programming (my Of Mosques and Book Burnings post from last week has still yet to get a hit lol).

So I emailed the link to galileowaswrong.com to Phil Plait who writes the Bad Astronomy Blog, and the hopes that he would expose this silliness at a much more visible level than I ever could. Well, today I see the post Geocentrism? Seriously? over at Bad Astronomy.

I am not sure if this was because of my email, but I can always hope!

PS – also nice to see the that GalileoWasWrong.com is down – apparently it exceeded it bandwidth quota lol!

Health Care: It is an EQUAL Right

I was at the Georges Dumont Hospital this morning, and saw a number of signs (on hospital property?) related to our provincial election, reminding Premier Graham the French-language health care is a right.

I would like to remind the creators of those signs that health care is an equal right, and as such should be provided equally, fairly, and effectively to all citizens of the province regardless of language or any other characteristic. Unfortunately, this is not correctly the case in New Brunswick. We currently have two health care systems in the province – one of which is bilingual, and the other essentially unilingual French.

As we all know, our health care system (not just ours, but nation-wide) is at real risk of collapsing under its own cost. It is unsustainable as it currently exists. Add to that a situation in which there are two health care systems, each with its own management, bureaucracy, and other costs. With additional complexities created in trying standardize procedures and processes, and in establishing province wide programs to improve health care.

Why do we have this situation? Is this required in order to provide equal health care in both languages? NO. This situation is perpetuated purely to stroke the ego of one group within the province.

Do not misunderstand me (and don’t you dare misquote me!) – I fully support equal health care rights for everyone in the province. Does this require duplicate bureaucracies? NO! Any rational, reasonable, mature groups of people should be able to come to an agreement which eliminates  unnecessary overhead, and yet maintains equal quality of service for all New Brunswickers, and does so without giving one group in the province preferential treatment over others.

What if we had an election and nobody won?

We need a new option on election ballots – “None of the Above”. If none of the parties manage to field a platform or a candidate worth my vote, I should be able to express that fact in a meaningful way and still have my voice heard. If “None of the Above” wins in my constituency, then there MUST be a new election, with NEW candidates (the same hacks cannot run again). We could really weed a lot of crap out of our government that way, and possibly increase voter turnout – why vote it you do not approve of any of the options?