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!"


"Let's change Windows Update on tablets"
Here is the link:

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.


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.


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


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!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Surface RT - a year later

It's almost a year since I wrote my blog post on :Surface RT pricing:. So, how has the Surface RT fared in the past 12-monhts?

1. It has bombed, period
2. Microsoft stock took a huge hit when it announced earnings last evening; M$ took a 900-million write-off for excess Surface inventory
3. Microsoft has dropped the price of the entry-level device to $350. I recommended this strategy last year.

The latest post calls the Surface what I called it a year ago: Zune 2.0. Read this article at The Verge for the opinion piece.

If only someone at Microsoft took my advice on the pricing strategy, and did more to get the Surface RT in people's hands, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.

In short, Epic Fail! Microsoft, you missed an opportunity.


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The tech world is quick to forget history - Windows 8's growing pains

I just finished reading an article today about the upcoming Windows 8.1, codename Windows Blue, release. It irks me that people are so quick to judge the new user interface without even giving it a chance. Yes, it irks me, a Mac fanboi that the press hates Windows. Why does it, do you ask. Well, the criticism is unfair, that's why.

Microsoft made the bold move of casting Windows, it's flagship product, into a new mould. It spent millions on research to ascertain how people will use computers 10-years into the future, and set the ball in motion. This is not very different from how Apple recast Mac OS into the X dye about 10 years ago. The first few releases of OS X were universally panned for being unusable garbage. But in 2013, I can't think of anyone that would want to go back to Classic; in fact, the new crop of Mac OS users are actually iOS users that bought Macs. These folks wouldn't know what to do with Classic at all.

Similarly, I cannot think of any Windows 8.5 user (launched in 2017) that would interact with Windows using the Desktop. It's a matter of helping the current Windows users adapt how they interact with a PC; it's about changing their muscle memory. Anyone that tells me that affecting such change can be done in tiny increments is kidding themselves. Windows 8 is the way of the future - you can argue with the drastic nature of how Microsoft brought this change to its user-base, but you cannot argue with the need for a change. For once Microsoft took a chance, and its paying the price. But it took a chance, and that is a huge cultural change for the company.

Now, if only Apple had the balls to give a much needed facelift to its core platforms...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HP Elitepad 900

I am the proud owner of an HP ElitePad 900 64GB tablet. Yay! The machine is speedy, responsive to touch and Windows 8 has some innovative features.

Like I am wont to doing, I am going to use this post as a running list of things I like and don't like about Windows 8. I couldn't say enough about the Elitepad device - it's sleek and has heft. Though it looks like another iPad clone, this is a true enterprise tablet - it comes with Windows 8 Pro and features a TPM chip to fully encrypt content. Bravo.

Windows 8 Likes:
1. Share feature
2. IE 10

Windows 8 Dislikes:
1. Could not discover the search feature in the Microsoft App Store
2. The Start Screen does not have a Clock - WTF? Must I lock to tell time?
3. Cannot set the Clock from the Metro UI. My machine thought it was March 7 when it actually is April 11

Friday, February 08, 2013

People have spoken with their wallets

I wrote about the Surface's pricing strategy a few months ago that led to an interesting discussion on Hacker News. My hypothesis was the Surface would fail, regardless of its technical virtues, if it was not priced appropriately. The post was aptly titled, The dilemma of pricing...

The first quarter numbers of the Surface RT are out, and Microsoft sold less than 750,000 units over what is considered the busiest quarter of the retail year. It's a shame because the device has received positive reviews. Some say that their channel strategy was broken, that the ecosystem sucks, etc. I still maintain that it's the price-point.

The Distribution Channel myth

There are ZERO, NONE, NADA physical stores from which people can buy the Kindle. Microsoft has both a physical and an online presence. It should surely sell more Surface RTs than Amazon did Kindle Fire HDs.


Canalys inferred that Amazon sold 4.6 million Kindle Fire HDs in the last quarter. So it's not channel or distribution related.

Myth, busted!

The It's the ecosystem, stupid myth

Surface RT has more features than the Kindle Fire HD
Surface RT has an equally rich ecosystem as the Kindle Fire HD

Myth, busted!

So what is it? It's the price, stupid!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Say that again - Being slightly obese could be good for me?

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the following excerpt in The Economist:
Dr Flegal included studies of general populations, not just those in hospital or with specific conditions. But her findings add new fuel to the debate over what is called the obesity paradox. Those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions seem to show an inverse relationship between BMI and mortality—that is, being moderately overweight seems to have a protective effect.
I read further because I had to know,
Just why this is true remains unclear. It may be because the overweight receive life-prolonging medical care, such as treatment for diabetes and drugs to control heart conditions. It may be that they are better equipped to endure surgery. Among those who sought angioplasty for coronary artery disease, a higher BMI was linked with a higher rate of survival. Or, as Wolfram Doehner argued in 2010, chronic illness—of any sort, not just that linked to obesity—may be a metabolically demanding state, with the overweight having more energy reserves to meet that demand.
I got to the end of the article, and felt vindicated.
Relatively plump citizens may indeed pose a particular burden on the state. On the one hand, they run a higher risk than those who are less fat of developing chronic ailments such as heart disease and diabetes that require expensive treatment. On the other, corpulence may extend life, meaning such treatment may be needed for many extra years. Expanding waistlines could be making people live longer, but sicker.
All that time spent working out was time spent well, indeed!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Huawei launches 6.1 inch Ascend Mate at CES

The phone, er Phablet, could very well be 7 inches at this point because no one in their senses is going to carry this in their back pocket (no chance for a front pocket fit) or hold it to their ears to place a phone call. Read more of Yahoo's coverage :here:.

To quote the end of the article:
what exactly is the motivation behind making larger smartphones instead of smaller ones? Jaycox said the tablet and smartphone markets are going through a test phase as consumers search for the sweet spot, looking for a portable device that meets all their computing needs.

"What's that device size where people truly feel like they have an all-in-one?" he said.
Translation: We don't know what to make so we are throwing everything we can against the wall. Let's see what sticks.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Please start writing again...

I used to write every day. It used to be about nothing. It used to be about everything. I talked about squash, about code, about discoveries, about love lost. I used to fill every living minute with some activity - a workout, a squash match, a coffee, a girl, a blog post. And then I fell in love.

It's taken me a full two weeks to realize the degree of contentment I now experience when I am with Puneet. I am not compelled to venture out of my zone, to chase new escapades and adventures, to even work out like I used to. In 2013, I have resolved to tweak that ever so slightly. I want to start writing and working out again...

It will take me a few weeks of trying and failing to get back into the groove again. Ideas will start flowing again, the words will make sense when strung into a sentence, I will capture the gestalt of situations again. Until then, bear with a man whose fingers can type but whose mind has gone on a walkabout.