Monday, August 20, 2012

The Occasional 'Microsoft Ain't So Bad' Post

Every once in a while, I write a blog post about things that Microsoft is doing right. While people still carry around the opinion that MS holds the Great Borg Crown (which it wrenched from IBM's grip), I think that the company has lost its borg-like way, and now is focused on nailing down some of the things it got right, fixing some of the stuff that it got wrong, and generally doing pretty damned good work.

Perhaps this is all triggered by the Vanity Fair article squawking about Microsoft going down the chute, or maybe it is brought to the fore by the ridiculous Motley Fool video bits that I occasionally get in my email box ("The Tech That Made Bill Gates Poop His Pants!"), but I'm having the same reaction toward Microsoft that I had back when Apple was on the cover of Wired. I think that people are quick to turn on the 'bozo bit' for companys that are in a business ebb, and are certain that they will never be about to produce something good, useful or necessary.

So in the spirit of suggesting that Vanity Fair might want to stick to hosting Clinique ads, let me pop off one of my Top 5 Reasons Why Microsoft Ain't So Bad lists:

5. Skype Is Working Better Than Ever

To be honest with you, I used to hate having Skype turned on with my machines. First of all, it would choke the living hell out of the machines at the time, and would often interfere with web cams, audio signals and all the things I do for a living. Thus, I couldn't keep it connected for long.

Secondly, about every hour I would get a notification that "Your Windows Installation May Be Infected With The Clap!!!!!" or something, which was hilarious because I was often using it on the Mac. I also would get undesired contact from (mostly) women who were willing to offer me unspeakable delight in exchange for my Paypal payment. An interesting prospect - unless I happened to be piping Finding Nemo to my family TV at the time.

Skype is now invisible to me - until such time as I need it. Meetings with people in California, Germany or France all happen flawlessly, and are always in-play because I'm always available of Skype. And I *never* get Skype-spam, despite not having changed any of my privacy settings. A lot of people were hand-wringing when MS bought Skype, but somebody there is minding the store, and they are doing a great job.

4. Almost All Windows Problems Are Now Hardware Issues

At this point, almost all of my pains with Windows machines are problems with the machines, not the operating system. How about we take the person that came up with the offset trackpad into the back forty and shoot him? This was clearly designed by someone that has never sat cross-legged with the laptop in their, um, lap. Either that, or they manufactured some phrase that sounds like RSI is just an overreaction to pain during efficient computer use. Let me guess - some panel of physical efficiency experts came up with this one (since they've all lost their jobs working for manufacturers that wanted robotic worker - these having been replaced by robots).

Or how about the builders that have decided that a 768 pixel vertical screen resolution is workable. Workable for what - playing Minecraft? That, trackpads that sit under your hand while typing, inexplicable arrow and delete key locations and similar horrors are the home of the second-rate hardware designer, but Microsoft seems to do everything in their power to keep you from stumbling on this stuff (as much as possible). But at this point, when I'm frustrated on the Windows platform, it's the hardware - not the OS - that is killing me.

3. SkyDrive is the best of the virtual drives

Why would I say this - especially when I've gone on record as being a big Dropbox users? Simple - it gives me a choice. I can use it as a drag-and-drop file store without having the files duplicated on every laptop, desktop and iThing that I own. But, if I want to dupe it on a device, I can do that too. It's fast for upload (as opposed to S3, where I need to take a nap in between photo uploads), easy to navigate (its interface is a clean and simple file browse - no muss, no fuss) and always available.

My only issue is the max file size, and I'll be able to fix that with a (very) small amount of money. Best cloud stash on the market.

2. Stability Is A Good Thing - Really!

I've come to appreciate the stability of Windows releases. They wait until there is a big update before they make me buy an update. When it comes, they are clear about what I'm getting. They don't sneak in Stupid Stuff, and I'm genearlly pleased by the updates.

Apple, on the other hand, is constantly pissing me off with their updates. Doing an incremental update shouldn't break Cubase on me. I don't want to have to fish around the System Preferences looking for a way to turn off "Pacifier And Diaper Mode". And arbitrary "We no longer support programmatic interface NSWhatever" often means my bleeding edge software goes broken until the next software upgrade.

Windows 7 will run crap I bought and/or made 20 years ago. The current version of OS X will have problems with software I got 20 months ago. That gets really irritating, and actually makes me (and many others) look at our stack of obsolete software boxes, then second-guess the idea of buying software in th future. I think this is behind some of the renewed hardware love, and something that makes me appreciate Window's preference to maintain compatibility to long-lost functionality.

1. OK, I'll admit it: OneNote Rocks!

I've been struggling with note-taking, reminder lists and to-do lists for most of my adult life. I'd like to have it be software-based, and I'd like it to be constantly avail. Spreadsheets handle lists fine, but suck for idea capture. Word processors are generally crap for image stashing, and to-do lists (like Toodle-Do) are just to single-focused.

And don't even talk to me about mind-mapping software. The phrase "mind-mapping" is just a different version of "eye-poking"; I'm pretty sure that these things might map the developers' minds, but they really seem to be oriented to making me change the way my mind works. OneNote, on the other hand, is similar to Max (my hero...) - it really doesn't do anything. Instead, it lets me do what I want to do, however I choose to do it today. If I change my mind, I can reformat things without losing data. It seems willing to poop things out to my iCrap, and interacts usefully with the SkyDrive.

When I first saw OneNote, I wanted to add "Samba" to the end of the name and dismiss it. But once I started using it, I got hooked, and it has replaced most of my Moleskines for most of my note-taking, list management and dream-collecting. Love it!


So there is 5, but I'm sure I could generate a bunch more if I had to. But I've got to get back to work (or, in my case, dancing naked in the living room 'cuz the kids went back to school today...), and want to save some ammo for future entries.

I actually wish that some Apple fans would read this and flame out, but I'm pretty sure that nobody in that camp would actually read this blog. I still generally spend 10 hours a day on the Mac, so I'm not a newbie in either camp, but good is good, and I think Microsoft is not getting enough props for the things they do correctly.