Why Google Search Integration with Google+ Sucks

This is a very simple example of something I am seeing more and more on Google Search. I did a very simple search for “.NET 4 launch activity in background thread”. The picture below shows the results:

image

What’s my issue with this? Well, how about the fact that the number one result has absolutely nothing to do with my search. Google knows it really is not the best result for my search, but puts it there, I assume, because the author is in almost 7000 Google+ circles.

Sorry Google, but I do not give a crap about Google+ circles when I just want relevant results from my search.

So, Apple deserves a 30% slice of all content you buy?

I was having a discussion this week with an old colleague regarding Apple’s content purchasing policies, and about the crippling of the Kindle, Nook and Google Books apps, as described here.

I was told I was a “Windows Snob”, and that “You and Fortune are criticizing a company for not wanting to send customers to their competitors site in a capitalist society?”

On the one hand, I agree. In a free, capitalist society, Apple has the right to do any damn thing it wants on its platform, to its partners, and to its customers – in the interest of scraping in even more profits.

However, that does not make their actions admirable, or in the best interests of their customers. And it does not mean that consumers should blindly accept this behaviour (though most users of Apple users have drunk so much of the kool-aid that they can no longer even think of life without their Apple products).

The basic premise being argued here is this: does owner/developer/vendor of a platform have the right to only allow you to buy content through them, and the right to a slice of all revenues for content on that platform?

Lets look at a couple of analogies, first to desktop computers, and second to browsers.

Lets think first about computer OS vendors. Would it be acceptable for a computer vendor (Apple or Microsoft) to not let you buy anything on any web site on your computer without giving them a 30% slice? Say Microsoft (always seen as the greedy capitalist in the crowd) tried to make this happen in Windows. How long would it be before consumer groups and the DoJ cried foul, fined them, and made them change the practice?

Lets think now about browsers now. Would it be ok for your web browser to ONLY go to web sites the were registered with and “approved of” by the browser vendor? Or for every e-commerce transaction in your browser to belong to the vendor, and give that vendor a 30% slice? I am pretty sure most users would complain about this.

The fact is, Apple’s policies in this area are flat-out wrong, and are anti-competitive. Any other company would not be allowed to get away with limiting choice the way Apple does, but Apple has much of the world so completely brainwashed with marketing hype that no one even questions them anymore.

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.