Note to Microsoft Press and “Fans”: Stop The Whining

I have not written in a while, but thanks to IFTTT my Instagram photos have been keeping this site full of fun and exciting pictures.  Okay, maybe they are not fun or exciting!  Then I see something that makes me angry, so here I am.

This week Facebook is cutting off access to a very old version of their Graph API.  An API that has been updated over and over again.  At an event well over a year ago Facebook announced that they would be cutting off access to this old version, and that anyone who uses it should update their app or service to use the new version.  So this week Microsoft posts that because of this change many Microsoft services that were connected to Facebook using this ancient version of an API were no longer going to work.  Then comes the crazy and stupid headlines.  Some said that Facebook was f**king Microsoft, and many others made it sound like Facebook was going after Microsoft users specifically.  This was factually incorrect, but that does not matter.

This reminds me of the Google cutting off Exchange Active Sync story from a couple of years ago.  If you just listened to and read many that covered or followed Microsoft you would think that Google was targeting the twelve Windows Phone users (I was one of them at the time).  The truth is that this was a move by Google that impacted a lot more iPhone users who used EAS to connect their Gmail accounts.  Google was trying to force their free users to use the Gmail app in order to have push e-mail.  If you still wanted EAS access, they said pay up for a Google Apps account.  You can disagree with what Google did to their users, but this was not a shot at Microsoft or Windows users.  They were doing what every company is doing, trying to get their users to use the official app.

Then there was the YouTube app debacle.  Google once again did not make an app for Windows Phone users, so Microsoft at the time decides to build their own app.  There are ways to make a third party YouTube app that works, but that is not what Microsoft did.  They built an app that broke every rule Google had set for app developers in order to get the reaction they did from Google.  Microsoft even had an option to download videos in the app!  This was going on at the same time that Microsoft was running an online and TV ad campaign called “Scroogled”.  Somehow people wanted you to believe that Google was the one targeting Microsoft here.  The truth is that Microsoft was poking Google over and over again trying to get Google to react so Microsoft can spin it and use public pressure to get an official app.  Well that did not work.

The good news is that the new regime at Microsoft stopped the “Scroogled” campaign, and seems to have moved pass this mentality.  Microsoft is going back to what they do best, making software.  This software is now running well on every platform their customers run.  From iOS to Android to Windows, you can use Microsoft’s software and services and Microsoft says thank you.  It is time for Microsoft users and the press that covers them to realize the reality they now live in.  Facebook and Google are not going out their way to target Windows Phone users.  Apple and Google are in the middle of  a holy war over privacy, but Google is still creating new apps for iOS.  They are doing what they need to do to run their own business.  The same way Microsoft is now doing what they have to do.

Metro Design Lives On…

So it looks like the Metro design language Microsoft used starting with Windows Phone 7 continues on, just not on Windows Phone anymore.  Google is updating their YouTube app on Android, and it looks oddly familiar.
Screenshot 2015-03-15 11.57.47

New YouTube Interface Rolling Out To Some Users Ditches The Hamburger Menu

Many Windows Phone users and developers were not happy with Microsoft’s changes, and this will only add fuel to the fire.  As Microsoft plays catch up by adding in the Hamburger menu, it appears others are already moving away from a menu system that many find less productive.

Peter Bright of Ars Technica sums up my feeling about the whole thing three tweets.

First Reaction to Amazon’s New Workmail

Microsoft and Google don’t have to panic yet about Amazon’s new Workmail product.  I spent just a few minutes playing with the preview, and it is evident that it is nowhere close to ready for primetime.

A few interesting tidbits.  Right now there is no POP3 or imap support.  Instead Amazon is using Microsoft’s Exchange Active Sync.  This does mean that users can easily use many of the same desktop and mobile applications to access their data which lowers the barrier to entry for many customers.  I just find it odd that a company will go after another company’s customers by licensing one of their products.  Where Workmail really falls short today is on the web.  The interface looks like Outlook Web Access from fifteen years ago. It even has a RSS Feeds folder.

Screenshot 2015-03-14 06.11.05

One interesting feature on the web is the use of tabs.  You can have multiple messages, contacts, etc open at the same time.  It has the feel of Mozilla Thunderbird or Yahoo Mail in that way.  This is clearly just an early preview, so I will continue to check in to see where Amazon is going.

The New Macbook Might Not Be For You, but Say Thank You

As everyone knows by now Apple did not just introduce a watch on Monday, they showed off their new Macbook.  A really light and thin laptop that has only one port.  That is right, one USB-C port that is used to charge your device as well as being the only way to connect peripherals to your new laptop.  Judging by the reaction of some you would think Apple just killed their dog.

Let’s start with the obvious.  You don’t have to buy the device, or use the device.  In fact if having one port is that upsetting to you that you need to spend four days tweeting about it, you might want to look elsewhere or find a new hobby.  Like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 or Google’s Pixel, this device is made to serve a niche audience.  If you are a user that rarely or never connects external devices (more users than you think) or you’re a user that considers portability and weight more important than processing power, this device might be for you.

What is amazing is that the same people who will bash Apple for every device they make are using devices that Apple has made better.  Does anyone want to go back and look at what laptops looked like when Apple introduced the first MacBook Air?  The Air pushed all PC makers to make ultrabooks that their customers were now demanding.  Every PC OEM is still trying to catch up with Apple in regards to touchpads.  While many have improved, I still have not used one that is in the same ballpark.  So this new laptop might not be for you, but chances are it will make the laptop you buy in a year or two better.

With Apple making crazy amounts of money in mobile, I am happy they continue to improve and innovate their relatively small PC business.  Thanks to their control over hardware and software, they are in a unique position to push the envelope where others have to be more conservative.  As consumers we should applaud all companies for innovating, and trying to improve.  Whether HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, or Apple.  When all of these companies push each other, we win.  As always buy the best device for you, but instead of mocking others for their decisions try stepping back and seeing what else is out there.

Apple Smells Blood

Apple over the last decade has not been a company that is great at inventing new categories, it is great at knowing when to jump into a category.  They did not invent the smartphone, but the moment teenage girls started clamoring for a Blackberry Apple knew it was their time.

That time is coming again, and no it is not in the watch or car category.  It is in the PC category.  There are a lot of rumors of two new devices coming out from Apple.  One is a larger iPad which will support a keyboard and stylus.  The other is the 12.9 inch MacBookAir.  This is Apple’s SurfaceRT and SurfacePro.  However, I don’t expect Apple to have the same struggles Microsoft did when launching these products.  Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was the first in that lineup that is having success, so Apple will see this as a sign that the time is now.

As one of the few people that thought SurfaceRT and WindowsRT were the right products for Microsoft, an iPad Pro will be the same.  A powerful product that gives you the productivity you need without the normal maintenance requirements of a full blown desktop OS.  We have all seen people using a portable keyboard with an iPad, and they are doing this without Apple fully buying in.  This can change that.  The MacBookAir is already a popular PC, but this will be a much better machine with a higher res display and better battery life.

One company that knows what is about to come is Microsoft.  They are going full in the Apple ecosystem.  Their apps are now first and best on iOS, and just this week a preview of the next version of desktop Office came to OS X.  For the first time an Office user will not feel like the wicked stepchild on their Mac.  This is a big improvement.  Microsoft is definitely now a software and services company.  They are going to care less and less what platform you use those services on.  Just this week we have seen partnerships with Samsung and this Office for Mac release.

There are going to be a lot of upset users who are all in on the Windows ecosystem. Windows will still be core to Microsoft, but don’t expect Microsoft to give their OS users any extra love.  I also would not expect Microsoft to stay in the hardware game much longer.  Why take a loss for each Windows mobile phone you sell when you can make money on other platforms?  One thing is for sure, Microsoft and Google are in a full fledged fight for the iOS home screen!

Two Images That Show Off the New Microsoft

Frank Shaw, head of communications at Microsoft, tweeted this:
 

 

I do see that the individual Office apps are running on an Android phone.  This would be an update to the current Office Mobile, and would be the same as iOS and Windows Phone 10 (at launch).

 

…and then when you open the Sunrise app on Android you are greeted with this image:

2015-02-12 05.18.46

 

My Laptop Died, Now What?

A few weeks ago my 3rd generation Intel Core I7 Asus ultrabook started showing signs of end of life.  It decided that it would power off when it felt like it.  This meant it was time for a new machine.  On the day the Asus died, I went out and grabbed a Toshiba Chromebook 2. I figured for under $300 I would have a machine that at least turned on while I figured out which laptop would be mine.

It took some work to make the Chromebook work for me, but the hardware was really impressive for the price.  This Toshiba model has a gorgeous 1080p IPS screen and 4GB of RAM.  It also did a nice job of filling in for the short term.  I could not have a device that required me to remote into other machines for so much be my daily driver.  That said, it was a very pleasant experience.  When it comes to lower end hardware, there was nothing else like it in the same class for that price.  No Windows machine in that range had those specs.  Did I mention the gorgeous screen?

Now onto the big decision.  I had a few models in mind, and looked online at the Microsoft store to see if I was missing anything.  I made a trip to both Best Buy and the Microsoft store as well.  In my mind I was going between a Dell XPS, the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, and the Surface Pro 3.  I wanted a lightweight machine, but also wanted some power.  A great screen, SSD, and at least 8GB of RAM was a must.  At the Microsoft Store it became quite evident.  Most of the machines, even at the high end, feel like crap.  The Dell XPS 13 touchpad felt like a cheap piece of plastic as did the whole area you rest your wrists while typing.  The Yoga was a little better, but the Core M processor scared me a little bit.  I also was not sure about the feel of the item.  So at this point I was looking at the Surface Pro 3.  There was one thing however that caught my eye at Best Buy.  That was the MacBook Pro Retina 13.  Forget the OS and the software for a moment.  Outside of the Surface Pro 3 I could not find one standard clamshell Windows laptop that you could put next to that machine, and have it stand up on the hardware side.  After a few hours of beating myself up for going in this direction I bought the MacBook Pro, and a week later I could not be happier.  I figured I could always install Windows if that was the direction I wanted to go, and I would have it on top in class hardware.  The reason I went this direction over the Surface was the old lap problem that the Surface products have.

I am going to go more into my thoughts on the software and OS later, but here are a few quick bits. The Microsoft apps are severely lacking outside of One Note.  I am an Exchange user for both my personal and work accounts, and find they work better in the built in Apple apps compared to Outlook.  Everything else I need is running great, and I came to a realization after being in the Windows ecosystem for years.  While Windows has the tools we consider apps for work today (or yesterday), the apps of the future are all being written for OS X first.  Even things like Evernote and Wunderlist which I used on Windows look better and work better on the Mac.  I am not sure when this happened, because being a Windows guy I missed this, but something has changed in the last four years since the last time I really used a Mac for any amount of time.  Maybe it is the marketshare for higher end machines that is leading to this, could be the users willing to pay more for software, or are we finally seeing the dominance of iOS in the enterprise creep in the rest of the users work life?

Android and “Continuity”

One of the big features Apple is promoting in their upcoming iOS 8 mobile operating system and OS X “Yosemite” desktop operating system is the ability to connect all of your Apple devices. They are calling it “Continuity”.  This feature will allow you to answer your phone, respond to texts, and receive other notifications from any of your Apple items.  This seems like a nice feature, and is a great way for Apple to push you even further into their ecosystem.  I can tell you how great this is because I have been doing something similar for a while on the Android side.
If you are an Android user and want some of these type of controls, here are some tools that will make this happen.

  • Push Bullet – Push Bullet will show you all of your Android notifications on your desktop, allow you to move links, pictures, etc. back and forth, let you receive and reply to text messages from your desktop, and even send items to other Push Bullet users from your mobile or desktop devices.
  • MightyText – MightyText is a mobile app that works with a Chrome extension that notifies you of incoming calls and messages.  You can respond to your SMS messages from the Chrome extension.  If you have an Android tablet you can also send and receive text messages from your tablet using MightyText.

  • IFTTT – IFTTT is a service that allows you to connect and automate a ton of activities.  You can set up different triggers to notify you at any time.  

  • Google Chrome – Yes the browser! Using the browser with extensions like those above makes the whole thing work.  Unlike Apple’s rendition of this, you can use Chrome and these extensions across all platforms.  You don’t need a MacBook or iPad to use these features.  

In a prior blog post, I talked about how I was moving to iOS because all of my services work better there.  However this week, I have been having second thoughts.  This post is one of those reasons.  I don’t just use Apple products. I am writing this post on a laptop running the Ubuntu flavor of Linux, and spend a lot of time in the Windows ecosystem as well.  Cross platform is important, and these tools work really well.  So another restless night ahead, tossing and turning, wondering which device I should get this week.  Do I make that jump back to iOS, do I get the next MotoX, or do I get that big beautiful screen that is the LG G3?  I know the world awaits my decision, so I will make sure to keep everyone updated.

I will talk more about this on a new podcast I am a host of.  Go check out our first few episodes of The Agnostic Tech Podcast.  Let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments, or on Twitter @RealDarrenCohen.

 

Google Now Should Be Renamed GMAIL Now

I just responded to an e-mail the same way I have responded to e-mails asking the same question for months now.  The question of course is, “Why does my Galaxy not track my flight info?”.   The answer of course is that the Google Now feature of Android phones is only useful if you use Gmail.  We see advertisements and news articles all the time telling us how Google Now will automatically track your flight, your package, and as of yesterday your bus trip.  These all sound great.  Just one little issue.  This only works if you use Gmail for everything.

Many people travel for work, and it would make sense that their flight confirmations are sent to a work e-mail account.  The same can go for packages of course, and other things you want tracked.  Google is sad to tell you that you are out of luck.  Wait, what happens if you use Google Apps? Well this can work, right?  Yes you can use Google Now with a Google Apps account, but then it won’t use your personal e-mail account.  You must pick one!  So if you have a family vacation coming up, that trip will be missed.  Why can’t Google scan the e-mails you put on your phone and get the relevant information for you?  Is it that they want to force all of your e-mails onto their servers? 

The scariest thing I am starting to see are people forwarding their work e-mail to their Gmail accounts just to get this service to be useful.  So IT and legal teams across the world who craft policies and retention rules for their company are being circumvented.  I am sure we have all gotten those e-mails that state a message from Gmail is being sent on behalf of someone. 

Samsung has been working hard trying to prove that their devices are enterprise ready.  They are even sharing some of their Knox technology with Google to include in the next version of Android.  Microsoft has solved this issue by allowing it’s own version of Google Now to go through e-mails on a device, no matter where the e-mail is hosted.  I hope Google does something similar with their service or else many more enterprise customers are going to block Android devices, many have already.