March 26, 2007

Scam I am: Microsoft Vista Advertising

My favorite all-time scam: Guy promises to get you into the college of your choice for $5000 - Money back guarantee... if you don't get it, you don't pay.

The scam? The guy does nothing. People who aren't on the edge of making it anyway won't sign up for this... and some percentage of those who do, will get in - on their own. Those that don't, get their money back... and the rest are happy not knowing any details.

Which brings me to today's topic :)

Now... I like Vista. As I've mentioned, its gots its quirks, but is absolutely a great upgrade from XP... But the ads for Vista (and the "Wow starts now" campaign") are just incredibly wrong headed, if not a borderline scam.

Take, for instance, this ad from Microsoft:


Its not that, subjectively, Windows Vista is nicer, but not a "wow" upgrade... (true, but you knows, its an ad, not the truth :)). No, what, um, boggles me is that, as far as I can tell, *all* of the ads centrally showcase a feature (the "3d flip") that not only will the average user NEVER encounter using the product, and never even figure out how to activate should they so choose - its a feature that tested poorly enough in usability that it was, effectively, relegated to a hidden key-combo for demo-ware only usage....

The "wow, really?" starts now.

March 22, 2007

Adobe Apollo

Adobe posted the first public preview of their Flash-based content runtime (codenamed) Apollo on Monday. Its pretty good - were I Microsoft, I'd be concerned.

I've discussed the ideas at some length before and Adobe's offering is clearly the strongest one out the gate... Microsoft's WPF(/e) strategy is very confused (at best), and XULRunner, from the Mozilla foundation, is potentially promising, but in practice looks to also be unsure of what its real goals are (for example, I think the ECMAScript edition 4 spec that's at its core is poorly maturing a powerful dynamic language).

But the Adobe guys seem to get what the real problems are that the browser itself solves (from a developer perspective), which is to say, a unified cross-platform development model (not for cross platform apps, per se, but to enable broadest developer knowledge) and distribution.

It's an alpha, so there's quite some goofiness, and it suffers from many of the foibles and issues that Flash does, but all in all.... its very credible as a development platform. I think the distribution and navigation aspects skew too heavily toward the desktop application paradigm, and that's a big mistake, but its one strictly of UI, not technology, so hopefully that can be addressed.

One nice bit of icing is the inclusion of a full web browsing component, enabling easy consumption of existing web content and infrastructure in your new "desktop" application. Its also the first instance of the KHTML/WebCore (the same browsing engine in Safari on the Mac and Konqeror in KDE/Linux) that's broadly available on Windows. So if you want to see how your site might look on the Mac, you can check it out with one of the Apollo samples (you can use "Scout") on Windows...


(and minor item for team Adobe: if you haven't exorcised icu and iconv from WebKit on Windows - you can save a few MB from your distribution size - by doing so...)

March 12, 2007

Oh the humanity...

This post will probably read like spam, but....

GREAT website... click here to learn more!

In all seriousness, the website is a nice resource - it posts information on how to get to a live, actual person when voice connected to call centers of a variety of different companies. That's especially useful when you know your problem just isn't a problem automation can help....

...or you get cut off (either talking or on hold)...
...or don't find the right person to help you...
...or don't have the time to wade through their voice menus...
... or... well, you get the idea...

Anyway check it out:
http://www.gethuman.com/us/

Automation systems are fine, in principle, and voice is great for high throughput (and especially that embodied by abstract thought, or requiring dialog), but generally poor for latency (compared to say, text, or the like) - so its not so great for user interfaces.

Futurists have been extolling the coming input revolution for a long time - but clearly speech recognition is/will be only a tiny, tiny part of solving the problem.

March 5, 2007

CPU Evolution

Hardware.info has a nice article outlining the evolution of computing hardware from the CPU/motherboard/bus model to the Co-processor/Streaming model. Its probably long overdue, and will require a substantial re-working of software to fully leverage, but it only makes sense: massively parallel tasks are ideal for computation, but we've been increasingly (and arguably, at long last) gated by the linear HW/SW programming model.

This isn't just the next pin configuration standard, or motherboard communication protocol (ala PCI 2.0 Express)- its a paradigm shift, though in practice the results will be phased and somewhat gradual; there's significant infrastructure in place that'll all have to change to broadly see the benefits.

That said, there are two other "industry" factors I think the article ignores...

First, the increasing proliferation of general purpose computing interface and access points (phones, settop boxes, consoles, PDAs, iPods, PDAs and the like), i.e. NOT the desktop - and secondly, the concurrent and related emergence of the web software model; the network's going to become (is?) the bottleneck for most in the real world, and the PC will be only one of many entrypoints.

Additionally, although AMD (and therefore ATI, whom they recently acquired) and Intel have a shared vision of the "new PC", I'd imagine NVidia imagines it shaping differently...

March 1, 2007

Adobe's online applications play

Adobe seems to be throwing their hat into the "software-as-service" market: first they announced (and released into beta) an online video editing application ("Remix"), and now they've announced an online version of Photoshop in the next few months.

It'll be interesting to see what direction this takes... re-bundling applications with some online metering (ala GameTap or the like) will get some small traction in the short term, or maybe work for some niche markets or legacy application environments. But this is at best a bridging strategy - its a goofy "web" experience that doesn't embrace any of the real values (other than raw pricing) of software-as-services, and in the medium to long term.

Everyone's been experimenting with this for years and years, and it's just not workable... unfortunately the paradigm doesn't "feel" right.

Of course, that's not what Adobe's doing - Remix is a completely, ground up, brand new web application. That's good, though the problem is that, being brand new, its really not particularly more feature rich or capable than any other web video editor (like Jumpcut or EyeSpot). The only really "edge" Adobe has is brand value - and web users are pretty fickle.

So - I'm curious to see what "online Photoshop" looks like. One the one hand, a real web app is the right way to go, and what I'd like to see - and I think its important they start this now before someone else does it first (it'll happen). On the other hand, I think if its a true web app, version 1.0 will likely not be a real Photoshop replacement in any meaningful way... and it'll get dinged pretty good for that.

This has to be a commitment for the long term.

Cracking the right design patterns for "offline" web applications will also make a big difference for moving them beyond casual users, I think, among other things...