Windows 8 and Surface: Microsoft’s do or die moment?

Microsoft SurfaceRecently I haven’t been blogging much as my career took a sudden change of direction and I found myself having to re-learn C# and .NET skills I’d not used for five years, as well as having to catch up with the changes to those technologies in that time. Whilst I like C# as a language, I have been feeling a sense of trepidation over finding myself using such technologies, for I couldn’t see how Microsoft could escape heading down Nokia’s path from dominance to oblivion. The announcement of the Microsoft Surface may have just changed that, but I’m not completely convinced.

Continue reading “Windows 8 and Surface: Microsoft’s do or die moment?”

“Silverlight on the iPhone”: poetic license, or just plain dishonest?

silverlight-on-iphoneA few days back, the web was a awash with headlines that Silverlight was coming to the iPhone. Behind those headlines was the story that Silverlight video was the only part of Silverlight that was coming to the iPhone. The details of the story appearing to be that IIS was going to support converting Silverlight video into a form that could be displayed on the iPhone.

Yesterday I got into a discussion with Aral Balkan on Twitter over whether or not it was appropriate to call it Silverlight video as the video is displayed using the <video/> HTML 5 tag. In order to better defend my stance that it was, I decided to investigate the matter further to gain a proper understanding of what was going on. In the process, I had to do an about-turn on my position, and conclude Aral was right. Continue reading ““Silverlight on the iPhone”: poetic license, or just plain dishonest?”

I hate arrogant software!

Most people will be familiar with dialogues that prompt you with something like “Are you sure you want to be that stupid?” They rarely put it so bluntly, but that is effectively what they are asking. I have no problem with such prompts, because either I am about to do something stupid and its good to be told so, or I know better than the software and so I gladly accept full responsibilities for the resulting action.

There is a class of dialogue though that really riles me: the sort that says “You cannot do that”. Continue reading “I hate arrogant software!”

More proof that Apple is becoming the new Microsoft

Microsoft: Big evil monopoly with closed, proprietary systems that exclude competition.

Apple: Fun loving small guy, fighting the big evil Microsoft.

apple-monopolyDoes the above sound about right to you? If you answer “yes”, then you are likely an Apple “fan-boy” living in cloud cuckoo land. Whilst these statements may have been true in the past, events this week reinforce the idea that they are no longer even remotely true.

I use iTunes. I started using it because its podcast support is second to none. I didn’t have an iPod when I started using it though. iTunes only supports iPods. So I had to indulge in a complex process of downloading the podcasts in iTunes, then  running an application that dragged them out into a standard mp3 format, loading them into Media Player and finally downloading them to my mp3 player. Windows Media Player, incidentally, supports just about every music player on the planet, except for iPods of course as Apple blocks them from talking to anything bar iTunes. These days I have an iPhone, so my iTunes experience is more pleasant. It’s still horribly slow, difficult to use and ugly, but it makes syncing my music and podcasts to my music player a breeze.

Apple only wants iPods to work with iTunes. Palm had other ideas, and used a hack to enable the Pre to work with it. Since then, Apple and Palm have indulged in an update war with each other as first Apple blocks the hack, then Palm uses a new hack to get around it, then Apple … ad nauseam. When this will end, I don’t know, but Apple have just released their latest attempt at blocking the Pre. No doubt Palm will respond in a couple of weeks.

A few years back, Palm made PDAs. One essential feature of a PDA is that it syncs its email data with your email servers. Palm made valiant efforts to get their PDAs to work with Outlook and Exchange, but Microsoft didn’t want this and put many hurdles in Palm’s way. Microsoft were roundly – and quite rightly in my view – condemned  for such practices. The EU even fined Microsoft for anti competitive practices and ordered it to open up its proprietary systems to others. This resulted this week in them announcing plans to reveal full details of the .PST file format and allowing anyone, on any OS, to write software that can read and write to these files.

So at present, we have Microsoft continuing its recent move toward openness and (sometimes begrudging) cooperation with alternate OS and office application suppliers, and we have Apple (ab)using its music player dominance to exclude Pre owners from using iTunes. So perhaps its time to update the stereotypes. I propose:

Microsoft: Old toothless ex-empire that’s learned to share the world with others (though it’ll no doubt throw its weight around occasionally).

Apple: A small, but rapidly growing, evil monopoly with closed, proprietary systems that exclude competition.

Perhaps, when the EU has finished with its current distraction of imposing an unelected president on the people of Europe, it can get back to the serious matter of fighting evil business empires…

You wait ages for someone to use the name “Wave” and then three come along at once

It’s not just buses that come in threes: “webby things” appear to do so too. Adobe, Microsoft and Google have all recently taken it upon themselves to come up with a service called Wave.

ms-waveMicrosoft Wave
By far the least interesting Wave, Microsoft Wave is a UK-based advertising portal for new-ish Microsoft products and services. As ars technica puts it, “Microsoft Wave: yet another Microsoft site about Microsoft”.Not very interesting at all therefore.

adobe-waveAdobe Wave
Adobe Wave is a still-in-beta product that bigs itself up thus:

When a friend posts a status update or there’s new content on your favorite site, be the first to know.  Adobe® Wave™ software gets the information you care about right to your desktop.  Click on the Adobe Wave badge on a website you want to follow and you’re ready to go.  Best of all, you’re in control: you choose which sites can contact you.  If you’re no longer interested, turning it off is a click away — Adobe Wave does not share your email address with websites.

Now it might occur to you, as you read the above, that RSS already does this. Such thoughts certainly occurred to me. Even the idea of having a central server that aggregates all updates seems nothing new as feed aggregators have been around for a while too.

Unlike RSS though, content publishers have to sign up with Adobe to get their content published. If this service can persuade the likes of Facebook and Twitter to join up, along with news websites, blogs etc, then one might be able to do away with multiple readers and just use the Wave desktop client. That would be a great step forward.

I’ve signed up to be an Adobe Wave publisher. If approved, I’ll write another piece later going into far more detail on Adobe Wave.

google-waveGoogle Wave
If Google’s plans with Google Wave take off, then it is safe to predict that this wave will swamp the competition and become the de facto wave of the future. In a potentially classic case of disruptive innovation, Google Wave seeks to re-write the rules on electronic communication. It seeks to be what email could have been if invented now, rather than 40 years ago. It aims to be email, instant messaging, social networking, blogging etc all rolled into one communication channel.

To play the devil’s advocate, Google Wave will not likely replace email. Email remains the dominant electronic communication medium  because its standards are completely open (despite Microsoft’s best efforts) and anyone can set up an email server. Whilst Wave looks brilliant, it is likely to need the involvement of Google’s servers. As history shows us with the likes of instant messaging, such restrictions are like a red rag to a bull to many and fragmentation is likely.

Google Wave is something to watch, and hopefully I’m going to be eating my words in a few years. Email is past its retirement date and we need a replacement. Maybe Google Wave will be that replacement.

What goes around, comes around: Microsoft win one XML patent and lose another

xmlThere is a saying that irony is lost on Americans. I’ve no idea if such a crass generalisation has any truth to it or not, but if any American (or anyone else) is in any doubt over what irony means, they need look no further than our friends at Redmond: Microsoft.

Last week, Microsoft were awarded a patent on what they claimed would be an open standard, namely OXML. OXML is an XML based file format and the patent is intended to protect the formatting and editing of Word documents that use XML. Fast forward five days and this time a judge in Texas rules that Word documents that use XML are in violation of an XML-related  patent held by i4i.

In an ideal world, this ironic turn of events will cause people to wake up to just how broken and stupid the American patent system is. In a perfect world, everyone would then look at XML and wonder what sort of insanity caused humanity to think XML was anything other than possibly the most idiotic way of storing data ever imagined. We don’t live in either an ideal or perfect world though.

More likely, the i4i case will drag on through the courts before a settlement is reached and Microsoft’s patent will be used in any future stand-off with the EU over open standards and word processing. And the insanity of software patents will continue unabated.

Gestalt: why I now (almost) officially love Microsoft to pieces

gestaltI hate JavaScript. I loath and despise it. I worked as a web developer for a number of years, but I gave it up and moved back to “proper” programming in part because of the growth in AJAX, and thus the need to do JavaScript. Almost exactly a year ago, I proposed the following question be put to Scott Guthrie:

Given the recent announcement that JavaScript 4 will likely never see the light of day, has JavaScript finally outlived its usefulness as the ubiquitous browser language? Is it now time to retire JavaScript, or at least to open up the DOM to multiple languages? The .NET runtime code can be created from C#, Visual Basic, Ruby, J# etc, yet all compile to the same byte code ready to run on the CLR. Likewise these days JRuby, Java etc can all be compiled to the same byte code ready to run on the JVM. Are there any plans to create a JVM or CLR type environment for a future version of IE? Or are we stuck with the inadequacies of JavaScript for years to come?

The question was a suggestion for a question to put to the Speaker Panel at last year’s Remix UK. Whilst I never asked it, it looks like someone at Microsoft has – metaphorically speaking – answered my question in the best way possible. And that answer is Gestalt.

So what is Gestalt, and why my enthusiasm? Gestalt builds on Silverlight to enable web developers to do away with JavaScript within web pages and to replace it with Ruby or Python code using

and

tags directly within the HTML. As Gestalt uses the DLR, this need not be limited to Ruby and Python either.

Gestalt at the moment is just an early beta, available from the Mix Online Labs. Add to this the fact that Silverlight is only available for Windows and OS X, and JavaScript isn’t quite dying just yet. With luck though, we might see Gestalt take off and spread to Linux and other fringe operating systems. Then we might finally see the death of JavaScript, and it’ll not happen a day too soon in my view.

Microsoft dither over IE in European Windows 7, but happily rip us off as usual.

Windows 7Yesterday, I commented on the shoddy business practices of Apple. Luckily for me, before people have had the chance to accuse me of anti-Apple bias, dear old Microsoft come to my rescue with a piss-take of their own.

Not long ago, it was widely reported that Microsoft were planning on shipping Windows 7E in Europe, which would be a version of Windows 7 with no browser installed. This was to get around and EC ruling regarding Microsoft’s near-monopoly of the browser market. Yesterday though they did an about turn and dropped the plan. Laughably, this decision appears to have been taken in isolation by Redmond, with Microsoft UK finding out about it no sooner than the public.

Of course all this “will they/ won’t they?” debacle over  the “E” addition of Windows 7 could simply be a distraction away from plans to charge us more than twice as much as US folk for some Windows 7 upgrades.  And let’s not forget that Apple are offering an equally major upgrade to OS X for just $29/ £19, making the Windows 7 upgrades a rip off for just about everyone.

UAC goes from crap to worse with Windows 7

Windows 7In my view, UAC on Vista is a useless waste of space. It is annoying, can be compromised and the only sensible option for a developer using it, is to turn it off.

Enter Windows 7, with its promise of an improved UAC. From my perspective, it is still as broken as ever. I created a folder in Program Files and suffered a barrage of UAC dialogues as it created and renamed the folder. So I promptly turned it off again. However it has left me wondering whether I was hasty. How were others faring with it? If Peter Bright’s analysis is anything to go by, it looks like the claims of improvements are less than honest.

Microsoft made a huge mistake with UAC. It was the wrong solution to a very real problem. They should just have admitted they got it wrong, scrapped it and tried a new a approach with Windows 7. Instead, they seem to feel that they can turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse by sowing an ass’ ear to the side of it. UAC seems to stand for Unwanted Assinine Cludge these days. It’s a great shame, as they seem to have addressed most of the other annoyances of Vista with WIndows 7. So why couldn’t they have fixed UAC properly too?

Internet Explorer will be an optional component in Windows 7

Windows 7It is being reported by those with build 7048 of Windows 7 that IE8 appears in the “Turn Windows features on or off” control panel dialogue. Disabling it – and rebooting twice apparently – then removes explore.exe from the system. It appears that programs that embed the IE activeX within themselves will still work (which is a good thing).

IE8 appears in "add/ remove windows components" in Windows 7. Image copied from <a href=
IE8 appears in "add/ remove windows components" in Windows 7. Image copied from Neowin.net

The big question is: what happens to all those crappy programs that ignore the user’s default browser settings and just launch IE when handling a link? Will they crash? Fail to do anything? Or will Windows 8 intelligently re-route such calls to the default browser? Hopefully it will be the last option, but I guess time will tell.

How to block the automatic installation of IE8

no-to-ieMicrosoft have announced that IE8 will be released as a priority update via the Windows update service, which means that – unless you only do manual updates – you’ll get it when Microsoft want, rather than when you want. Fear not though, for in these weird times we live in, Microsoft have gone and done something sensible for once: they’ve offered a simple, official, mechanism for preventing it being automatically installed. For the average – non technical – user, the process will be automatic. This is a good thing. For technically savvy users, the avoidance route is simple, and the option remains to manually upgrade when ready. This too is a good thing.

If you want to take control of the update of IE on your machine:

  1. Download the installer exe.
  2. Run the installer and extract the command to a suitable folder.
  3. Start a cmd window, cd to your chosen folder and type:

If you later change your mind, either find it is the optional updates via Windows Update, or start a cmd window once more, cd to your chosen folder and type:

See the download page and FAQ for all the gory details of the affected register key etc if you want to know more.