Thursday, May 15, 2014

How Rafael Nadal can beat Novak Djokovic on Clay

Update: Changed point #5

For those of you who have not been following the happenings of the 2014 Men's Tennis Clay court season, here are the highlights:
  1. Rafael Nadal lost in the quarter-finals of two tournaments that he has dominated since anyone can last remember (he has won each of the tournaments 8-times)
  2. He is being pushed around the court by players outside of the top-10 routinely (e.g., Giles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny). These are players whom Rafa used to crush on Clay in years past.
  3. The French Open is coming to a TV screen near you soon!
So how can Rafa get back on track? After looking at footage from previous years of utter Clay court domination, here is my 5-step proposal:
  1. Stop running around his backhand so often - he is giving up too much court on the next ball because his forehand isn't what it used to be (point 2)

  2. Find the lines, or the area closer to the lines, a little more often with his forehand. For instance, Nadal needs to hit the down the line a lot more.

  3. Come to net more and finish points earlier

  4. Protect his service games -> 1), 2) and 3) will help with that significantly

  5. Return second serves from the baseline with flatter shots, increasing pressure on his opponents

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Microsoft resurgence

Background

The last few months have seen Microsoft take several leaps on the path of re-establishing itself as a relevant force in the technology industry. It's not the driving force that it used to be, but it is becoming relevant again. Mind you, Microsoft has gone to hell and back in the last 9-months or so:

1. Ballmer announced a huge shake-up as part of his One Microsoft Strategy (the stock price tanked)
2. Ballmer promptly announced his resignation immediately after (the stock price started to tick up)
3. Microsoft stayed in the news for all the wrong reasons - Mulally vs. Nadella vs. Insert-Name-Here - the world's preeminent software company cannot find a CEO?
4. Ballmer ushered in Nadella (hallelujah - he quit!)

Everyone worried that Nadella would be a figurehead. They couldn't be more wrong! In the last week alone (to the day), Microsoft has made some groundbreaking announcements that align very closely with Nadella, not Ballmer. Here are the ones that stick out for me:

1. Office for iPad
2. Windows is free for devices smaller than 9-inches
3. Open sourcing the C# compiler
4. Package Manager for Windows Power Shell (a la apt-get)
5. Gorgeous Lumia 930

Stock Price as of this writing: $41.39, a level unseen in the last 10-years.

The Renaissance

Let's be clear about one thing: All these products were not developed in the few months since Nadella took on the office of CEO. The more plausible hypothesis is that these have been in development for a long time or were ready to go but were being held back like water is held back by a dam. Nadella is the force that helped tear that dam down, an event that has triggered a metamorphosis of Microsoft's DNA. It is finally starting to act on the realization that it cannot monopolize and dominate every market/category in which it chooses to compete. It has also become comfortable with not foisting Microsoft Windows on everyone that wants to use their world class applications and tools, especially on desktops and on mobile devices. This particular shift might hurt Windows sales in the long term, but let's break down the impact on sectors impacted by this shift.

Consumer

Windows sales have been tanking for a while in this arena. Windows 8 has been to consumer sales what climate change/global warming have been to the ice caps. Microsoft's moves indicate that they are okay with ceding some of this space in lieu of lost sales.

Mobile

Microsoft announced the elimination of OS license fees for devices smaller than 9" in size. Expect all Windows Mobile devices to be 8.99" or less over the course of the next few years! More importantly, Microsoft finally released Office for the iPad (something I have written about in the past) and is already the #1 application on the App Store. This is a devilish play if you ask me. The apps are free to download and free to consume content. Creating content requires a $100 Office365 subscription. Paying customers will have 5 additional licenses to leverage Office - the best productivity suite on the planet, hands down. It moves Office customers to consuming SaaS services, which further improves Microsoft's capabilities in this space. With Microsoft teams collaborating more and more these days, the increased user base can only have positive knock-on effects for current and future Microsoft SaaS services.

Enterprise

There is no viable alternative in the Enterprise space, and this has a lot to do with Nadella's leadership in the Server & Tools division. Under his stewardship, Microsoft has released some of the best management and automation tools in the industry.

The Multi-Platform Embrace

Microsoft finally seems unencumbered with the burden of pushing its operating systems on everyone on this planet. For observers and share-holders with my collaborate or be decimated bent of mind, this is a harbinger of a bright future. Cloud-delivered applications are a key part of the technology future, and Microsoft is for once leveraging its strengths without locking out customers on non-Microsoft platforms. I hope Microsoft continues to forge collaborations and partnerships that increase its market share of applications, tools and operating systems. This isn't a zero sum game; everyone needs to be touched by the greatness of Microsoft products. "For Microsoft to win, others don't need to lose"!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why you shouldn't buy from Staples, or how I learned to love Amazon

Amazon crushed brick and mortar stores in sales this holiday season, and there is a very good reason why they have risen to the top of the rankings: People trust Amazon to do the right thing! Customers swear by Amazon, which is in no small part due to their customer service. Their customer service folks go the extra mile, almost to a fault, to do everything in their power to delight their customers. Staples, not so much...

I bought a shredder from Staples on January 12, 2014. The shredder's price had been "shredded" to a low $19.99 for just one day, and I was quick to pull the trigger on the purchase. I received a receipt in email within a minute of clicking, "Buy", and was provided an assurance of a January 14 delivery.

On the 14th, I received a call from a toll free number. An automated voice asked me if I had received my order yet. I hadn't; I was put on hold for the next available customer service representative. 10-minutes of waiting paid its dividends; the representative came on the line and let me know that there was a slight delay in transporting the shredder to my apartment. I was told that the shredder would be delivered no later than the 15th.

I received another phone call last afternoon, the 17th, from Nova Scotia. When I didn't answer, the Staples representative kindly left me a message inquiring whether I had received the shredder or not. I couldn't call the number she left for me prior to the Customer Service desk closing for the night, so I called them this morning. Mind you, it is the 18th now.

The lady on the line informed me that the shredder was "Missing" somehow even though it had departed the warehouse, and that there were no other items in stock to ship my way. She then put me on hold for about 12 minutes so she could determine the next course of action given the circumstances. Upon returning, she told me that all she could do was:

1. Renege on the order and refund the amount I paid
2. Give me a "courtesy" $50 coupon

Shredders on Staples.com run North of $90. Even with her "courtesy" coupon, I wouldn't have enough to pay for a shredder equivalent in quality to the one I bought for $19.99. Ergo, Staples wanted me to shell out another $20-odd quid for a mistake that they made!! How is this good customer service? What kind of retailer doesn't honor a purchase after charging the credit card? A retailer like Staples, apparently.

There is a lesson in all of this: Don't shop at Staples if the item is available somewhere else. And trust me, it is sure to be available somewhere else!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Assertion headlines are better than statements

Assertion headlines, or "claims", backed up by evidence make for better headlines (and articles) than a statement. Let's take an example. I wrote a new post last night about Windows Update. The post morphed, like a typical post, but I made a cardinal mistake before publishing. I changed the title from,
"Windows Update is too obtrusive for tablet users!"

to

"Let's change Windows Update on tablets"
Here is the link: http://jhatax.blogspot.com/2013/10/windows-update-is-too-obtrusive-for.html

The problem with the new title is that it doesn't tell the reader why Windows Update needs to be changed. Change for change's sake is worthless. Ergo, the reader isn't drawn in. Maybe Windows Update doesn't need to be changed in their opinion. But the former title claims that Windows Update comes in the way of my computing tasks. Now that, I am sure, is something with which people can relate.

Net result: Instead of garnering thousands of page views, the post got a few hundred.

Barbara Minto and Sarah French must be proud right now. Their teachings are taking root.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Windows Update is too obtrusive!

Though Windows Update is a necessary evil, I argue that it is an unnecessary burden on us Windows 8 tablet users. In fact, it is an anachronism, a carry-over from the desktop-only days of Windows. Let's get rid of the crummy UX, I say, and preserve the best part of Windows Update - it's underpinnings!

Here I propose an alternate user experience that takes advantage of the advances introduced in Windows 8, and an extension that Windows should implement in the near future. The proposed workflow won't be ideal for everyone or every scenario, and Windows should provide an option to disable it if they choose to implement my recommendation. But for the 90% case, this will be a huge win.

Context

For the million or so Windows tablets owners, there are many annoyances that we have to deal with on a daily basis. Much print has been dedicated to chronicling the sub-par experience of owning a Windows tablet, so let me not repeat what you already know. I have patiently adapted my usage patterns to suit the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of Windows 8. Windows 8.1 improved many things, but it left untouched what I reckon is the single, worst user experience in Windows today - Windows Update.

The Usability Black Hole

The Windows Update user experience has stayed almost unchanged, user experience wise, since when I worked on Vista at Microsoft. The default setting is for updates to be downloaded in the background. Once they are downloaded, Windows picks an inopportune time to throw up a dialog to install updates and restart Windows. Once dismissed, it chooses to harangue you until you cave in. The experience on Windows 8 is particularly insidious:

1. The dialog is *always* modal
2. If I choose to restart, my system's current state is not restored. In other words, open application windows are not restored.

Shudders!

An alternate approach

Windows 8's new model for Metro-based applications mirrors that of modern mobile operating systems. Applications are "hibernated" when they are in the background to make way for foreground applications and background services. Let's take advantage of this application model, available telemetry data in Windows, and a proposed extension to the application model for desktop applications, shall we? Let's get started.

1. Prepare for Updates

From the first day the system is used, use telemetry to record times when the computer is idle. Once a requisite number of data points have been collected, the system can deduce the best time to update itself.

2. Download updates

Download updates in the background.

3. Opportunistically install updates

During the next update install window, deduced from telemetry data in step 1, perform the following:
1. Save the state of all running Metro applications - background and foreground
2. Save the state of all running desktop applications, like the OS does today when hibernating (more on this later)
3. Save the order of applications, Metro and Desktop, for restoration when the user logs in (more on this in the next section)
4. Start installing updates
5. Reboot, if necessary
6. Finish installing updates
7. Present the login screen to the user

4. The Clincher: Updated post-login experience

When the user logs in to the system after updates have been installed, the operating system restores the last used foreground application in both Metro and desktop. In other words, the user is brought back to the application he/she was using instead of being taken to the Start screen with tiles or to the vanilla desktop (8.1 onwards). Ergo, the fact that the system was updated is transparent to the user.

The Upside

1. Users are always using the most secure version of Windows there can be
2. Updates are installed seamlessly, with minimal user intervention and interruption to their workflow
3. Windows Update becomes a *true* background service, like it should always have been
4. No more Windows Update! (3) covers this already, but typing this was cathartic.
5. Windows catches up to what Mac OSX, iOS and Android (I believe) are already doing today

The Loose End - Hibernating Desktop Applications

Windows developers, Arun Kishan and his band of developers, will have to invent a way to hibernate individual desktop applications. I know his team and he can do it; they just need the right motivation. Him and I discussed what this would take many years ago, and the tech was too complex then. If it still is, it needs to be simplified. He got rid of the Dispatcher Lock for crying out loud. This is a child's problem in comparison.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Yahoo! Mail enables an always on HTTPS/SSL connection

Yahoo! Mail, purportedly in one of its recent updates to the service, has enabled an always-on HTTPS/SSL connection.

YAHOO!! :)

Here is how you enable it for your Yahoo! mail account:

1. Login
2. Click the gear in the upper-right hand corner
3. Select Settings
4. Check the box for Security -> Use SSL



Q.E.D.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thoughts on the Surface 2 announcement

I have to hand it to Microsoft for persisting with the dual-device strategy. Removing the RT moniker might clear some of the confusion with the first iteration of these devices, but the root of the problem hasn't been fixed: I still cannot run traditional Windows apps on the Surface 2.

Other things that took some doing on Microsoft's part that I would like to highlight:

1. The launch price is $449, $50 cheaper than that of the iPad.
My reaction: This is no man's land pricing for the device. People are either going to buy the iPad ($50 more) or choose one among the Kindle Fire 8.9 HD or the Nexus 10. My prediction is this reduction in price will not help to push devices in the marketplace. I hope I am wrong.

2. Much improved Type and Touch covers

3. Increased battery life

4. Thinner form factor

5. Improved kick-stand

No one is really talking up Windows 8.1, which in my mind is the sleeper feature of the launch. If there is an uptick in sales of the Surface, it will be because the 8.1 update makes the devices buttery smooth to use.

The customer wins in the end. There is a plethora of options if you are in the market for a tablet. Hallelujah!