If you didn't see the Palin-Hillary bit on Saturday Night Live -- here you go. Brilliant, especially Tina Fey as Palin.
But what if Vista is really good and all of this is just perception?
In a high-tech version of the old Folgers commercial, Microsoft showed people who were critical of Vista a next-generation version of Windows called Mojave. They later reveal that it was really good old Folgers Crystals — I mean, Vista.
Can this slick campaign put Vista back on the map? See for yourself.
If Microsoft really believes that people will like Vista, if they would only try it, how about a money-back guarantee? (Of course, if you don't like it, you them have to figure out how to uninstall it and go back to your old system.)
Leo Laporte says Vista has had a bum rap, that it's actually quite good, and way more secure than previous versions of Windows. But you do need recent hardware — don't run it on your old 800 MHz Pentium.
And by the way, I admire the polish and skill of this campaign but worry not: I still hate Microsoft. None of those reasons have changed.
Why do I dislike Microsoft? They're really a great company, with smart people, and have contributed a great deal. As much as people dislike Bill Gates, I never did. I really admire his charitable work which is precisely what he said he was going to do a decade ago. Their trade practices haven't been pristine but for the most part in recent years, it's been legal and mostly ethical. They're ruthless competitors but that's not, in itself, evil.
I also credit them for fixing the Macintosh! If Microsoft hadn't launched Windows, the Mac would totally suck.
And yet, Microsoft makes me nuts.
This is their biggest offense, in my book. Microsoft pretends to follow industry standards and common practices, while really co-opting, or even sabotaging, them. Under the guise of enhancement, they add "features" in a way that damages competing products. The best example is their web browser. Generation after generation sought to derail web standards, adding elements (such as ActiveX controls) designed to get web developers to write sites that would not work well on other browsers. It is a pleasure now to see them outfoxed.
Another example: Their Exchange mail server uses a Microsoft-proprietary format for attachments and text formatting. Non-Outlook e-mail programs can't read them. There are standard methods for doing this, but Microsoft does not adhere to them. You can configure the server to not do this, but you should not have to.
One more: SharePoint is the most popular collaboration system for companies. It works pretty well if the user has Windows and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Other browsers and systems are supposed to work but it's a hair-pulling experience. As far as I can see, everything they're doing could be done in an industry-standard way that works universally. I can't tell if the Explorer-dependence is deliberate sabotage or incompetence.
It makes me crazy because it is arrogant, anti-user, and predatory. It's one area where they exploit their leadership in a way that damages the community.
Steve Jobs once said about Microsoft that they "have no taste." Say what you will about Jobs and his arrogance (I would not argue) but he is right. They are successful — and Jobs does not begrudge that, a least in this video — even if their products and strategies are artless. He says, "they don't think of original ideas and they don't bring much culture to their product."
It's obvious to me that engineers design their interfaces and graphics. I recently saw the new release of MS Office 2008 for the Mac. It was demonstrated for me by a Microsoft program manager, who proudly showed me 3D charts in PowerPoint. I was horrified by the amaterish 3D. They had added shadows and highlights that were blocky and unrealistic. The colors were Crayola basic. Labels were improperly centered on shapes. To many business users, I am sure these look fine, but any top-tier company would have them redrawn before using them in any material that goes outside the company.
There is nothing evil or badly intentioned about this: I think it's because they're unaware, like the engineer who dresses in plaid and dots and is honestly befuddled when it's pointed out.
Then there are the user interfaces. Microsoft has some of the most advanced user interface labs in the world and a large UI staff. Yet, their interfaces are consistently confusing and convoluted.
MS Office is a case in point. It has tons of functionality, but finding and performing a function is often painful. The worst part is that with each revision, it becomes more painful! Why? Because their UI labs are very good at identifying user complaints, very poor at fixing them. When they find a function people can't do, such as mail merge, they never seen to think that the user interface is fundamentally in need of ground-up redesign. Almost invariably, they think the answer is to add something. They added a mail merge palette. A help system. Then that paper clip animation. Then a wizard. Then a "ribbon." A sequential palette. Now they have a bar thing that has no name that brings up a series of icons that, um, does something. Like a wizard. But they can't call it that because the wizards, um, didn't help.
They seem to toss solutions at the problem, never quite figuring out that the problem is underneath all these wizardly layers.
The project manager who demonstrated Office 2008 for me showed me the wizard-like bar thing they had added for special user operations, like mail merge and templates. It takes up about an inch-high row of the document window. I asked if it could be made vertical. "We thought about that," he said. "Especially with displays tending to be wider. But no, it's horizontal only."
Duh. Even when they know they're making a mistake (and they usually don't), they proceed and make the mistake.
And then, there is the underlying stuff: The code. It's bloated. It's buggy. Year after year, release after release, many bugs remain. It's slow and inefficient. The new Office 2008 for the Mac takes longer to load (a lot longer) and is not noticeably faster than the six-year-old, two-revs-ago version I had.
Someone did an interesting comparison between the open-source web server, Apache, and Microsoft's server, IIS. These "call graphs" hint at the underlying structure and you don't need to be an expert to see the difference.(thanks to Paul Rako's Anablog — which presents his own case against Microsoft — for showing me these.)
Is this typical? Meaningful? I wouldn't know, but I would bet it is.
I Don't Hate Microsoft
I don't hate Microsoft. I certainly don't hate their people. I don't even hate their products or what they have done for the industry. But I hate using their products, I hate being slave to their manipulations and incompetence.
Most of all, I hate it when I have no alternative.
In writing the article on HealthVault, I tried to log in. Won't let me.
I tried "Forgot Password" and it tells me the e-mail address I am using is not a valid login. So I try to register anew using that login. It tells me that it's already in use.
Click for help and I get a non-helpful FAQ that resizes the browser window to a tall, 1-inch wide window. Huh?
Anyway. It doesn't recognize my login except when I try to use it to register and then it recognizes that it's taken (yes, I know!!). Stuck. How much you want to bet their customer support doesn't respond?
Postscript. I went back to request support. There is a Feedback link. Guess what it gave me:
P.P.S. Microsoft, to their credit, responded to my tech support request within the promised 24 hours. They suggested going to the Windows Live ID site and managing the login there, where I was able to reset the password. But that password is not strong enough for HealthVault and a stronger form (which I use on financial sites) also was not strong enough. In fact, a random strings of letters and numbers, like frt67h8j98I is not strong enough!
I clicked their tips for making a strong password and it goes to a Help page (after resizing the browser window to that ridiculously narrow window again) that did not talk about making a strong password.
One of my pet peeves is stupid login or password restrictions. What it means is that for this login only, I have to use a different password. Some require you include numbers, some require numbers be between letters...
The stupidest one ever came up today. Blue Cross / Blue Shield requires:
Your password cannot contain the first three letters of a month (for example: Jan, Feb, Mar). Please try again. Thank you.
So if your password is Janet32puppy or imamartian, you're hosed?
"I like Barack Obama pretty well, but I’m in love with his logo. What a brilliant, versatile asset. The attention to detail and sheer number of variations are amazing and the typographic choices very distinct. The only thing I like as much as comics is a solid design identity system. (Can you guess what I went to school for?)" — R. Stevens, author of Diesel Sweeties
I love logos. Embodying a brand in 100 milliseconds of attention span is an achievement. And if you have ever designed one, you know it's hell. Capturing a feeling in a memorable swatch is hard, hard work. Many logos are tacky and amateurish but when done well, they approach high art.
I am especially fascinated by presidential campaign logos which have terrifying design limitations. First of all, you get three colors. Red. White. Blue. And second, they mostly are trying to say the same things: Solid, competent, forward-thinking, hope for a new day, that kind of thing. And most succeed pretty well.
Do check out this piece on the Obama logo and don't miss the many variations, official and not, further down the page. Very nicely done. His website, by the way, is also really nicely designed.
I am pretty close to ending my subscription to the San Jose Mercury News. I've been reading it for 30 years. It was once one of the finest half-dozen or so in the country. Really. (Even today, it's still number 34 according to "2007 Top 100 Daily Newspapers in the U.S. by Circulation" (PDF), from BurrellesLuce. But the quality and quantity have been degrading in the past couple of years. Each morning I wonder if it's finally time to move on.
Part of the decay is just inevitable: Younger readers get their news from the Internet, and many don't read the news at all. Some don't read at all. All newspapers are struggling.
Part of it has to do with the passing of the baton from Knight-Ridder to McClatchy, then to MediaNews.
But I think the Merc has contributed to their own decay. As each owner trimmed staff and expenses, they de-featured the paper, contributing to the downward spiral. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle seems to me to have increased quality and content.
I think that most newspapers are in a quandary. Phil Bronstein of the Chronicle has talked about how many years newspapers have left as we know them and the fact that most papers know they need to go to the 'net but don't know how to make a business of it.
As a marketer, I think about what I would do with this product and the answer is what it usually is: Figure out what you have and what you can do that's special. The answer, to me, is in your local content and local voice. What can you say that's special for your community? And who do you have with a face and voice that people know? In the Mercury, they have a few columnists with a personality and special contribution. Gary Richards, Mr. Roadshow is the best example. If I owned the paper, I would have been all over my people to develop a voice, a following, something special that makes people look for them. Their TV and movie critics, for instance were easily replaced by syndicated content. Newspapers should seek quality and distinctiveness that makes their people the ones who are syndicated. Like the Merc used to.
If I owned the Chronicle, I know what I would do: I'd cannibalize business from neighboring papers and the Mercury, in its weakened state, would be my primary target. I would be developing content for the South Bay and promoting it. I would be pushing the Chron all over the area, with intro deals, advertising, and friends-and-neighbors promotions. I would be trying to convert Merc readers en masse.
And I don't think it would be hard to do because even today, quality sells.
Did you see Hillary's emotional moment? I never saw the actual video, I just read the reports. I wanted to see the real thing:
Reporting about an emotional response can't capture it. If you haven't seen it, please do. A rare look past the public persona into what drives a public figure.
It's easy to be cynical about our political system but I think most politicians are motivated by real caring and a desire to make a better world. It's true for the few I have met (except Darrel Issa who was a bigger ass in person than he is in public.) I think that in order to withstand the hurdles of major politics, one has to have extraordinary motivation, which means either a deep caring, or a needy ego, and I prefer to think there are more of the former than of the latter.
A new online service, HealthVault.com, provides a single, web-accessible repository for all your health records. There is much here to like, but — there are a lot of buts.
It has always bothered me that every new doctor or medical service asks the same questions, and each with a separate form. Dentist, specialists, emergency clinics, labs, pharmacies — same questions, again and again. What drugs are you taking? Which of these diseases have you had? Family medical history. It's inconvenient but more important, it compromises one's health care: I'll bet I have answered these 100 times and there are certainly differences, either because things have changed or I don't remember every detail.
This can be important information: A doctor's diagnosis and treatment depend on what the doctor knows about you. And in an urgent situation, or when the patient is not lucid, having accessible medical records can be life and death. I really want better online medical records.
As a technologist, it makes me especially crazy. Everyone else, from the DMV to the grocery store, has an online record system that is better than the medical community's. There are legitimate issues but nothing that can't be solved — and that have already been solved. Every medical office can readily access my credit information already. Clearly we can solve the privacy and networking and access issues.
Some worry about the security issue: Having all your medical data in some centralized database worries people. But do you really think your privacy is more guarded when there are 25 uncontrolled, unencrypted copies of your records, in 25 medical offices all over the county, immediately readable by 100 office staff?
Along comes HealthVault. It's a good start. It keeps all the information for you and your family under what looks like tight security. It holds contact and profile information, medical records, etc. You can upload image files and documents. The sharing facilities seem robust — you can invite someone to view the information and choose what they may see.
Two issues are access and trust. In terms of access, will my doctors accept a HealthVault login as a substitute for their form? Not yet, but they have a few partners who are using the date.
The bigger issue is trust. Note that I did not say "security" — that's a technical issue. It's the human issue of trust that will make or break this, and other, medical automation solutions.
HealthVault is owned by Microsoft. Do you trust Microsoft? I don't share the common distrust of of their corporate intent — I think they mean well and their corporate ethos is that technology is powerful medicine to help people. They also believe that profit and benefit go hand in hand. So I trust their intent.
I am not sure if I trust their technology. They're competent technologists. They certainly are capable of making an accessible, trustworthy, secure system. But will they?
Every Microsoft product is full of defects. Even after years of refinement, glitches remain — sometimes the same issues for year after year.
I worry about bloat. Huge applications mean more opportunity for bugs and functional flaws and Microsoft often seems to not know how to say no to a feature. Worse, they keep adding rather than fixing — a palette, an assistant, a wizard, a "ribbon" — layer upon layer of new things to repair incomprehensible interfaces only a programmer could have designed.
This all affects usability. I am always in awe of what they spend on usability testing and redesign. They seem incapable of simplicity. The continuous repair tells me they know there is a problem but don't know how they are causing it.
I tried to edit my contact information. There is no link to let me do that. I think I know why. I haven't confirmed my identity by replying to the e-mail, but guess what: It's not telling me that. There is no Edit link and they give the user no clue. It's programmer-think: If a capability is not available, don't show it. Would Apple or Amazon or Yahoo have done this?
So, will I use this? Even without my doctors' buy-in, there is enough functionality for me to get started. But that's mostly because I am a tech geek. Others would not likely try this, yet.
And then there is the trust issue.
I expect that the underlying security is fine. But it's like the president of United Airlines once said, "If the tray tables are dirty, the customer has to be wondering about the condition of the engines." As much as I may want this service, I am not going to be uploading my data, given how dirty their tray tables are.
A buddy of mine was griping:
Have we become a nation of observers? Non-participants? We don't make/build anything anymore. ...
It's something I have been thinking about for a while. I used to think, as my friend said, that we watch, we buy, but we don't build and do. I heard some parents talking about his kid who made a computer -- all the kid did was buy a chassis, supply, motherboard, and processor and plug them together. I was worried about our creativity. But then I started looking harder.
I started tuning into the Makers. There are huge communities of kids building things, doing extreme sports, making videos and tunes with their computers, making fun with fire. Look up catapults, siege engines, potato guns on the web. Here is one I saw just two days ago -- a guy wanted to build a solar reflector and got carried away. Bought a satellite dish (the huge ones) and outfitted it with mirrors.
Check out MAKE magazine, published by O'Reilly, and their annual Maker Faire. I went this year and it was awesome. Must have been 1000 exhibits of stuff people are making and doing.
Do you know about Lego Mindstorms? The son of the Lego founder did a Lego-based robot kit and people started hacking it. After some soul-searching, they decided to open the architecture and the result is a fantastic network of clubs doing Lego robotics.
And likewise for the Roomba -- the company, iRobot, has developer kits and people are making robots out of them.
And you don't have to go to geekland to see it. It's all over -- Home Depot, Food Network, Martha Stewart, and the mall stores where you paint pottery. The lady who runs a coffee shop I visit is making a quilt and told me quilting is big! And the web itself is swarming with words and images and music produced by ordinary people.
Seems to me creativity is alive and well.
Gotta go now. I need to go make something.