Microsoft is Killing the Ballmer Legacy

…but at this point, I don’t thing Ballmer cares

Microsoft

I’ve been a huge Windows Mobile guy most of my writing career. I was an enthusiast when Windows 10 Mobile was WindowsCE back in 1990-blah-blah-blah. I’ve written for the WindowsCE Lair, and helped both pocketnow and Gear Diary get off the ground. If you remember, I was nominated for Microsoft Mobile Devices MVP at least twice (that I know of) between 2003 and 2007 (when the program was officially terminated). So when I see information regarding the dubious future of Windows Phone and Windows Mobile, it always hurts a bit. Today, that development was made public; and it’s devastating for Windows Phone and Windows Mobile.

If you remember, a couple weeks ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella informed the Microsoft crew and the rest of the world of upcoming changes to the organization. A massive restructuring like that and a message of “[having to make] tough decisions” about the business going forward is upper management speak for, “layoffs are coming.” It’s never good for current staff that find themselves in vulnerable areas, and unfortunately, given their current market share and position, Windows Phone was an obvious target.

Today, Microsoft announced a number of changes to the division that contains Windows Phone. The organization is making a downsizing that will reduce up to 7,800 positions globally in the phone business; with the reductions taking place “over the next several months.”

These changes are huge, and unfortunately, very expensive. Per Nadella’s email to all MS employees:

“Today, we announced a fundamental restructuring of our phone business. As a result, the company will take an impairment charge of approximately $7.6 billion related to assets associated with the acquisition of the Nokia Devices and Services business in addition to a restructuring charge of approximately $750 million to $850 million.”

According to my good friend, MaryJo Foley,

“Microsoft will focus its phone efforts on three segments: Businesses, value-phone buyers and flagship phone customers, moving forward.”

Further, Mary Jo isn’t surprised that MS is making this change. Nadella made more than one statement in a recent earning’s call that indicated that, “further action [was needed] to reduce [Microsoft’s] costs across devices as [they] execute on our Windows 10 first-party hardware plans.”

It’s all very interesting if you think about it.

Further, it’s completely killing the legacy that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer left when he exited the organization; but I’m not certain that current CEO Satya Nadella is too concerned about that.

Nadella was never really supportive of the Nokia acquisition. In fact, he originally came out against it. Microsoft acquired the phone manufacturer’s business in 2014 for $7.2B. With this current write down – or COMPLETE devaluing – of the original acquisition (based on the original purchase price vs. the write down), Microsoft is willing to take up to a $8.45B hit – or a 10% hit over and above the original purchase price of the purchase of Nokia – just to jettison (what he obviously feel is) the dead weight.

Microsoft has stopped just short of killing Windows Phone, however. With Windows 10 still in beta, and with Windows 10 Mobile still in testing, Microsoft has a great deal of current activity and resources actively engaged in upgrading and improving their mobile experience. However, this new action may make a number of people – including me – actively question that commitment.

While Nadella has said,

” In the near term, we will run a more effective phone portfolio, with better products and speed to market given the recently formed Windows and Devices Group. We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software. We’ll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need; value phone buyers the communications services they want; and Windows fans the flagship devices they’ll love.”

Its changes like this that clearly show the breadth and depth of an organization’s commitment to a platform that just hasn’t been able to effectively compete in the mobile segment.

This, again, points the limelight and the fickle finger of fate back on Ballmer. He is the one that never understood Mobile and completely caused Microsoft to lose its competitive edge near and around (before and/or just after) the time that the original iPhone was released back in 2007. Prior to that, despite Microsoft’s lack of full support for PocketPC and Windows Mobile, they had quite a large share of the mobile market. (Their big competitors at the time were RIM/Blackberry and Palm.) While Microsoft is still in the game, the other two aren’t, and the share that Microsoft has is really a fraction of what it once was. While Nadella isn’t killing the platform, this could really be the beginning of the end.

I mean, after a buying a business for $7.2B, you write it down for as much as $8.45B (or again, a 10% bump over and above the original purchase price), for a total cost of $15.65B doesn’t bode well for a platform and a market that just don’t know what they want to be when they grows up… if they ever get the chance to. All of this really makes Ballmer look bad, and cements what I’m certain (but speculating) everyone at Microsoft already thinks they know – Windows Phone’s life expectancy is very short.

It’s also clear to me that Steve Ballmer probably doesn’t care how his legacy, if he even really left any lasting legacy at Microsoft, is perceived at this point. It’s clear that both Microsoft and he have moved on. Ballmer now owns the LA Clippers; and Nadella (and the rest of Microsoft) seem to be firmly on course to remaking Microsoft into an organization that can survive the Post PC and Post tablet computing eras, which if you REALLY think about it is not only cool, but is the way it really should be.

What do you think? Is the huge write down good for Microsoft? Will Windows Phone survive? Will Microsoft simply exit the hardware business..? The mobile business..?? Or will they reinvent mobile computing with ultrabook convertibles like the Surface Pro 3? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on all of this?

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 10162 to Fast Ring Insiders

Wow! It’s been a busy week in Redmond!

Windows 10 Build 10162

I am so behind in my writing projects it’s not even funny. I relayed the status of my big summer projects this week. I was fortunate enough that I was able to knock out my review of the Pebble Time just a short time after that. That… was a big win for me.

It was a big deal because both my Windows machines – my Surface Pro 3 and Dell Latitude ST2 – are in varying states of train wreck status, even though both of them are using Build 10158 or later. Yes… I’m still having all sorts of train wreck classification errors with the Dell. I just don’t know if this thing is going to be a good candidate for Windows 10. Dell is going to have a lot of optimizing to do in order to make certain that they don’t run into support related issues with it.

While things are a bit better on the Surface Pro 3, Windows 10 is still in a pre-release state, and there are some potholes still out there. However…

In that regard, Microsoft has released a third build of  Windows 10 Build 10162  to Fast Ring Insiders today. According to Gabe Aul – Windows 10 and Windows Insider Grand Poohbah extraordinaire – Insiders normally on the Fast Ring can now consider themselves on the faster, Fast Ring. Says Aul,

“We’re at the point in the development of Windows 10 where nearly every build is getting out to our internal rings, and passing the criteria for release to Windows Insiders. We’re focused at this point on bug fixing and final polish, so it’s much easier for each build to get all the way through than earlier in the cycle when we’re adding big new features. So now we find ourselves in a great situation, with an abundance of build candidates. We’re deciding how long to let each build stay with Windows Insiders so you can really exercise them and send feedback on any problems that you’re hitting. I know many of you have said you’d love daily builds, but it is actually important sometimes to get a few days on a build so that all of the code that does deferred work (like OneDrive sync, search indexing, background updating, etc.) can run and we can get feedback and error reports.”

According to Aul, it’s very possible that Windows 10 Build 10162 may get released to Slow Ring Insiders as well, as early as next week. This would also kick off the release of official ISO images of the build (so that I can get it on my Dell. Did I mention getting Windows 10 on that machine was a bit of a train wreck..??)

With the release and RTM of Windows 10 so very close at hand (T minus 27 days and counting…), it’s very possible that we’ll see many more rapid fire releases of Windows 10 between now and then hit the Fast Ring. If you’re on that ring, expect to see more of this in the coming weeks leading up to the release of the new OS on 2015-07-29.

I suspect that testers on the Slow Ring will also see an increase in build releases during the same time frame.

Are you on the Windows 10 Insider Fast Ring track? Have you installed any of the builds released this week? If so, what do you think of them? I’ll have some updates on the state of my installs next week. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below, though, and let me know how things are working for you.

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Current Status – Where I’m at with the Summer Writing Projects

It’s been kinda quiet in “Christopher’s Corner” over the past few weeks. Here’s what’s been keeping me up late , with my summer writing projects.

Summer Writing Projects

This year has been an ambitious one for me. I’ve started a new job with a financial services firm in suburban Chicago in a senior leadership role. I’ve joined the Windows 10 Insider Team and am actively testing both the desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10.

In February of this year I began a smartwatch/ wearables roundup with the review of the Microsoft Band (that hyperlink is a link to Part 2 of my review. A link to part 1 can be found in the first line of that article). I followed that up in April with a review of the Fitbit Surge. I’ve also hit a couple of pot holes with Windows 10 that is really keeping me hopping. To be quite honest, things haven’t been very easy at all over here in the Windows 10 camp especially; and I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…

Here’s why – I’m also looking at the Apple Watch, trying to decipher it (I was going to say, “figure out what makes it tick,” but thought the better of it…). I’m trying to look at the Pebble Time, which I have in hand; and I’m also beginning to look at OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9 (both of which have had Beta 2 versions released).

I’ve got a whole lot of beta in my life right now; and honestly, it’s really messy.

I honestly don’t have iOS 9 installed on any of my iDevices as I don’t want that train wreck to interfere with any of the reviews I’m doing in the Wearables Round-Up. I had El Capitan installed on my MacBook Pro, but nuked and rebuilt my Mac as I bumped into a adware/spyware element from some software that I didn’t get from Soft32 – a huge mistake, by the way… all of our software is certified malware free – and had to rebuild the machine in order to get rid of it. I’m still in the tail end of that, as the malware had also infected my Time Machine backups and I can’t use it to restore ANYTHING. After I figure out which apps I have to redownload, reinstall and then reregister (some, like A Better Finder Rename and ClamXav were downloaded, installed and registered outside of either the Mac App Store or any other self-downloading or updating system), then I have to blow my Time Machine drive and let it automatically reestablish its backup schedule.

There are also some really big issues with Windows 10 right now, that go beyond whether or not you’re going to get the software for free. Build 10130 is a bit of a turd; and to be quite honest, my Surface Pro 3 is very unstable. I’m also having issues wiping it and moving back to Windows 8.1 (not that I want to stay there, but if you really want to clean install a beta build, the best thing to do is to go back to the last RTM point for it and build forward). I’m not certain if that’s the recovery media I have, or if there’s a firmware or other system software issue, or what, that’s preventing THAT from working.

A new firmware update has come out for the Surface Pro 3, and MY device still wants to download and install the MAY firmware update (showing as Firmware (or Hardware) Update 05/14/2015, in Windows Update) over and over and over and over and over… you get the picture… even if it’s been successfully installed. …Very frustrating.

I also happen to be a bit impatient. This can be a bad thing during a beta software run or any other testing situation, as impatience can often lead to additional errors or support problems. However, seeing as my Surface Pro 3 likes to download the same firmware update over and over again AND seeing as how the latest firmware update was released three days ago (and my SP3 is still trying to download the MAY update), I decided to see if the firmware update couldn’t be downloaded manually.

Most hardware OEM’s have support pages for their devices. Dell is famous for all of this; and I figured Microsoft had to have something similar. I was right, too.

You can find all of the latest Surface and Surface Pro support software, here.

Simply navigate to that page and then click the download button. You’ll be taken to a page where you can select exactly what files you want or need to download for your supported device.

WARNING – Only download and install software meant for your SPECIFIC Surface model.

I know this seems like a silly thing to say; but ALL of the files for all six (6) Surface Models – Surface, Surface 2, Surface 3, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 – are mixed together. They’re all named appropriately, but the model names and file names are all similar and it’s very easy to miss a model number or a “pro” and download the wrong support file. Attempting to install a file not meant for your device can cause serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to it. You need to be very careful.

I was able to find and download the firmware file I was looking for for my Surface Pro 3, and get it installed. Problem solved.

Anyway… let’s take a moment and run down a check list of where I am with everything so that everyone knows what’s what –

Wearables Roundup

Microsoft Band Review – Completed (Part 1, Part 2)
Fitbit Surge Review – Completed
Apple Watch Review – In process (Latest article – Personal Setup of the Apple Watch
Pebble Time Review – In process
Olio Model One Review – Waiting on hardware
Final Conclusions & Round Up – Pending completion of all individual reviews

Windows 10 Coverage

Latest Fast Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Slow Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Article – Windows 10 Build 10122 Status Update
Latest Mobile Fast Ring Build – Build 10149 (Write up is pending)

Apple Coverage

OS X 10.11 – Waiting on Stability & Public Beta Release
Current Build – Developer Preview 2 (Build 15A204b)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.
iOS 9
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13A4280e)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.

watchOS
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13S5255c)
Likely will not install during the Wearables Roundup period. I don’t want to screw up the Watch while its being reviewed, as not everyone will have access to the beta bits until its formal release in the Fall of 2015 (or unless and until Apple releases a public beta).

So this, kids, is why you haven’t seen a lot from me this past month. I’m working… Oh, you can bet your babushkas I’m working… I just either don’t have much to report, or I’m busy trying to troubleshoot and dig myself out of a hole due to software (and/or hardware interaction) bugs. However, I do plan on providing coverage this summer for all of the items you see here.

Do you have a Windows Machine? Are you a Microsoft Windows 10 Insider? Are you on the Fast Ring or the Slow Ring? Which Build do you currently have installed on your Windows PC? How well (or not) is it working for you? Do YOU think they will be ready to ready to release to the public on 2015-07-29?

Do you have a Mac? Are you a Mac Developer Program member? Have you downloaded and installed OS X 10.11 El Capitan? Have you downloaded and installed the latest version of iOS 9 to your iDevice? How well (or not) is they working for you? If you’re not a Developer Program member, will you install any of the public betas on your Mac or iDevice(s)?

I’d love to hear from you to find out where you are and what your experience has been with all of this. What issues have you bumped into? What issues have you heard about, but not experienced? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area below and give me your current status and tell me how things are (or are not) working for you?

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Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 Released to Fast Ring Insiders

If you’ve got a supported device and are testing, you’re in for a surprise…

Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136

Ring master Gabe Aul from Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 to Fast Ring Windows Insiders as of noon-thirty CDT on 2015-0-16. If you’re a Windows Insider and you’re registered for Fast Ring Builds, AND you’ve got a supported mobile device, you can expect a little bit of additional love from Microsoft today.  This build replaces Build 10080, released to Fast Ring Insiders on 2015-05-15; or about a month ago.

The first thing you need to know is that no new phones are supported in this Build. I have that directly from Gabe Aul:

unnamed

I’m finding this a bit problematic.

There aren’t a lot of Windows Phones on the market.  There really aren’t.  I have a BLU WinHD LTE, and it has Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 on it, but the device isn’t supported for testing Windows 10 Mobile yet.  This may be partially because the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) doesn’t have a Windows phone 8.x recovery image for it (yet??); or it may be because Microsoft just isn’t opening the device testing pool open to any non-Lumia device besides the HTC One M8 (but again… How many different types of Windows Phones are available, REALLY?!?)

Secondly, if you want to install this build, you’re going to need to do so from Windows Phone 8.1.  You can’t do it from Windows Mobile Build 10080.  The upgrade won’t be offered to you.  To get the build, you’re going to have to use the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) to restore your phone back to Windows Phone 8.1 and then go through any and all WP8.1 upgrades (recommended, but not required).  After that, you’ll need to download and install the Windows Insider app, register for the Fast Ring, reboot your phone and then check for updates.

Once the update installs, it’s been reported that the upgrade lock screen will appear frozen, without the date and time on it, for up to 10 minutes.  Stop!  Leave it alone. It’s actually processing stuff in the background.  The Windows Insider Team has instructed users experiencing this to be patient and let the device sit and finish. It will eventually show the date and time and allow you to unlock the device and use it. If you get impatient and restart the device or try locking/unlocking your phone, you’ll wind up in a “funky state.”  Leaving the device alone so it can finish the upgrade process is the recommended and proper action.

In a nutshell, here are the changes:

New

Tons of fit and finish changes: There are far too many subtle changes in the UX to cover; but spit and polish are starting to be applied.

Improvements to Cortana: Cortana is now very close to the final design. She’s gotten smarter and she’s had some previously disabled abilities turned back on.

Photos and Camera Improvements: General improvements are available to everyone. If you’ve got a Lumia device,Lumia Camera Beta can also be your default camera app.

One-Handed Use:   The experience on larger devices – those with a screen of 5 inches or greater – is now much better.  Press and hold the Start button and your screen will slide down so you can reach items at the top of your screen.  The screen slides back up when you tap the Back button.

Resolved Bugs

  • We have fixed the MMS bug in Build 10080, and you should receive MMS messages normally.
  • We have fixed the issue where touch will stop responding on the Lock screen preventing you from swiping up to unlock your phone.
  • We have fixed some visual glitches in Action Center when expanding/collapsing.
  • We have fixed the issue where the text in the People app was too small.
  • When you toggle the Wi-Fi quick action in Action Center, it now disables/enables Wi-Fi instead of taking you to the Wi-Fi Settings page. This was one of the top 5 pieces of feedback we heard from Windows Insiders.
  • Your Start screen background should be scaled correctly now.
  • You can add a detailed status to display on your Lock screen from apps like Outlook Calendar without having the Settings app crash.
  • We also fixed the issue where a mouse cursor would appear when pressing the back button on your phone.

Known Issues

  • After upgrading, you will still see duplicate tiles for apps like Search and Phone under All Apps.
  • If you have too many PIN unlock attempts, you’ll see the “enter A1B2C3” reset experience. However, there is an issue in this build where after you enter the code you won’t see the PIN pad. The workaround is to press Emergency Call after entering the code, then press Back and you’ll be able to enter your PIN.
  • We recommend disabling the double-tap-to-wake feature on some Lumia devices by going to the Settings app then Extras > Touch > Wake to prevent any accidental PIN unlock attempts.
  • There is an issue that may cause Skype not to work after upgrade. The best workaround is to uninstall Skype on Windows Phone 8.1 *before* you upgrade to this build and then reinstall it after upgrading. If you miss that step though, you can usually resolve by uninstalling it and reinstalling from the Store once you’re on 10136.
  • If you’re having issues installing new Language Packs in this build, see this forum post.

You can check out the specifics on the Windows 10 Blog, here.

 

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 10041

Insiders everywhere (on the Fast Ring) are currently breaking the internet…

Like ALL Windows 10 Insiders, I’ve been waiting since mid to late January 2015 on a new build of Windows 10. Back then, Microsoft released Build 9926 after an eight plus week wait after the release of build 9879 (which was a HUGE train wreck, by the way…). Build 9926 got the train back on the rails, but it wasn’t in as good of shape as previous builds, at least in terms of stability, but is been usable.

Aside from issues that I’ve had with OneNote 2013 and OneNote Preview for Windows 10, this hasn’t been too horrible for me. However, the issues I’ve outlined in the article linked above, are huge as they deal with digital inking and Office Preview for Windows 10 and Office 2013. Let’s face it… I have a Surface Pro 3 specifically because of OneNote 2013.

Period.

So, to be clear, the problems I’ve been bumping into with digital inking are huge.

While I do NOT expect my specific issues with digital inking to be addressed in Build 10041, I am hoping that some general improvement may help me out. It’s a slim chance, but I can still hope, right?

So, while I and the rest of the Windows Insider program members were waiting, I got a bit impatient and posted some very impish tweets to Gabe Aul, the Head of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program.

Waiting on Win10 01

To further illustrate my points, I tweeted:

Waiting on Win10 02

Thankfully, Gabe seems to have a REALLY great sense of humor. I know he’s been getting a lot of chatter directed at him, personally. I also know that he’s been doing a STELLAR job. To really send that point home, today, Gabe tweeted the following.

Das Button

I was drinking some tea at the time I saw that and nearly spewed the contents in my mouth out at my monitor I laughed so hard. Yeah. Gabe is a good guy…

As noted in Gabe’s blog post, here are some of the release notes from the build:

Top issues fixed in this build (partial)

  • In 9926 there were several issues which prevented Start from launching, these should all be fixed.
  • Search box now works if you have taskbar on the top/side of your screen.
  • After installing the last build (9926), you saw a boot selection menu when you rebooted your PC. We’ve fixed this and you should no longer see the boot selection menu – unless you’re intentionally dual-booting.
  • We received feedback that people were seeing persistent grey thumbnails in the Collection view in the Photos app on Build 9926. We think we’ve worked through all these issues, so definitely let us know if you find a case where one still crops up.

Known issues for this build (partial)

  • Some people might hit an issue where the username and password boxes do not appear or don’t accept input when logging in, which will prevent them from logging in. Possible workarounds include clicking the “Switch User” button, using Ctrl+Alt+Del, or pressing the power button on your PC to sleep/resume and try again.
  • It is possible to manually lock your PC during the initial out-of-box experience. If you do this, you will have to hard reboot your PC and restart the OOBE experience. (So don’t lock your PC during OOBE :-))
  • There are several accessibility issues in this build, which may make it difficult to use with Narrator or 3rd party screen readers. Additionally there is an issue where using a Lens after enabling Magnifier may cause the screen to be unusable.
  • Some apps in the Store Beta will fail to install or update due to a licensing issue.
  • In this build, the Mail, Calendar, and People apps may be broken due to a licensing issue with the Store Beta. To get these apps working again, you need to follow these steps:
    • Open PowerShell as administrator
    • Run the command Get-appxprovisionedpackage –online | where-object {$_.packagename –like “*windowscommunicationsapps*”} | remove-appxprovisionedpackage –online
    • Re-install Mail, People and Calendar from the Store (green tile)
  • You might notice a chess knight icon on your Lock screen to the right of the screen. This was added by the Lock screen team so they could tell via screenshots if someone was using the new Lock screen or the old one, and will eventually be removed in a future build.
  • Font sizes on the Lock screen on devices with high DPI can be really large.
  • We currently have the Tablet Mode notification turned off by default to address some of the issues we’ve been seeing. The notifications can be turned back on via Settings.
  • The touch keyboard doesn’t show up on login screen which prevents you from unlocking your PC when Narrator is on.
  • Some people might see frequent prompts to restart to install updates, even though no updates need a restart. This prompt can be ignored safely.

I am currently downloading Build 10041. It’s at 23% as of this writing (as you can see in the screen shot below). I’ll have more on this release after I’ve had a chance to work with it.

Build 10041 Download

Additional information on the release of Build 10041 and some of its newer features, as well as the above release notes, can be found, here.

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Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

Well, it’s about frickin’ time that this got some attention…

office2016

I’m a patient person, but I’ve been waiting a LONG time for this.

Back in 2010, I was all over the beta and preview releases of Office 2011 for Mac. I’ve been an avid Office user and beta tester since the implementation of Office 95 back in 1994 and 1995. To say that I’ve been using Office since it became…Office is an understatement. Yeah… I’ve been around since the beginning.

So, back to the Office 2011 Preview for Mac – which consisted of just Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and for the first time, Outlook. The main three apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint have their quirks, but all three are very usable. They may not look or feel like their Windows counterparts, but hey, the functionality is basically the same, if albeit a bit strangely implemented. The Office for Mac Team has been, I think, overly occupied with insuring that Office for Mac looks and feels like a real Mac app as opposed to a suite that was ported over from Windows.

Big surprise, kids… Office is a Windows suite. It’s always been a Windows suite. It’s always gonna be a Windows suite, and its origins AND its UI and are firmly rooted… in Windows. You’re just NOT going to get the UI to look and feel like a true Mac app. Get over it and move on. Folks that use Office for Windows at work want to come home and have the same UI greet them when they use Office for Mac.

They do.

Anyone who tells you differently has either a hidden agenda or is too deeply rooted in the Mac culture and ecosystem to be honest about it. (Yes, I use a Mac and OS X because I didn’t want a Window machine; but I’m not married to it, you know. I may prefer it, but I’d really rather Office look and work the way I’m used to seeing and working with it. I’m just sayin’…)

So, today, I was VERY pleased to see a write up from Mary Jo Foley on the release of the first public preview of Office 2016 for Mac. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m glad that the time is now here.

If you’re already an Office for Mac user and have Office for Mac 2011 installed, you can run it alongside of Office for Mac 2016 preview without “crossing the streams.” This is a big relief for many, as there was a great deal of confusion about the initial preview release of Outlook 2016 for Mac during the Fall of 2014. The original thought was you couldn’t run it and Outlook 2011 on the same machine. Apparently now you can.

From what I’ve been able to discover so far, Microsoft is planning on updating the suite often during the preview and will notify users of the updates automatically through the Office for Mac Auto-Update tool. So, pretty much the way we’re used to getting updates to Office; but at least the thought is… on a frequent basis. Each new preview build has a shelf life of 60 days, after which, the software will expire and not run any more. Updating to a new preview build buys you another 60 days during the Official Preview period. The final preview will function for about 30 days after the suite official RTMs.

The thought on THAT date is – some time (this) Summer 2015, several months ahead of Office 2016 for Windows (which is slotted for release during “late 2015.”

So, what do you get with the suite? I mean, besides revised/reworked versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook? Well, according to Microsoft, you get a suite that is more closely aligned with its Windows (and other platform) counterparts. It’s still supposed to look like a set of Mac apps; but will more of the same features from the Windows version. For example, you get a new Ribbon that looks like the Office for Windows Ribbon. Its tightly integrated with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint and Office 365. It also supports Mac’s Retina Display resolutions out of the box.

Because the suite works with all flavors of OneDrive and with SharePoint, you get to access your data where ever it lives and can save it back to the same location from within the app. No more downloading a copy to your Mac, updating, saving back to SharePoint manually and then deleting the “original” so your new version is the only version there.

Office for Mac 2016 also supports Office 365 accounts, so you get cross platform access to all your stuff no matter what device you’re using. It’s obvious that Microsoft is really trying to level the playing field between all of the platforms that it supports, and that the Windows version of everything is losing its “most favored nation” status, which is a good thing. There should be a consistent level of parity between all of Microsoft’s products on every supported platform.

Microsoft Office should be Microsoft Office whether you’re on a Mac, PC, smartphone or tablet (the latter two of any and all flavors). The only things we’re missing now are Access, Publisher, Project Standard/ Professional and Visio Standard/ Professional. Publisher seems like it would be a no-brainer on the Mac. I have no idea why the app isn’t part of the Mac suite. Access, Project and Visio have well carved out spots on the enterprise side of the things.

I can see why Microsoft has dragged their feet there in the past, but Nadella’s New Microsoft shouldn’t look at those four components that way. If they’re bringing parity to all of Office where Office lives, then we’re eventually going to need those apps. I have need of both Project and Visio on my Mac right now. Publisher would be a real nice to have, and Access… well, with Bento going off the market, there’s need of a decent consumer or SOHO database app, isn’t there??

I’ve pulled down the Office for Mac 2016 Preview and I will be going through it over the next few weeks or so. I will have a review of the suite up for everyone to read as soon as I can pull it together.

download Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

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iTunes 12 Breaks Music Organization

Apple has been having iTunes organize music the same way since the inception of iTunes. Now in version 12, it’s totally different.

I’ve been an iPod user since 2003/ 2004 time frame. I still have my 60 GB Click Wheel iPod. It’s in great shape and still plays music well. The battery is in decent shape, too; so if I had to, I could cart it around without constantly searching for a power outlet or USB port. I still make certain that it’s as updated as it can be. You have no idea when you might need a portable hard drive with all your music on it…

I’ve really invested in the Apple ecosystem, too. Actually, that’s an understatement… I jumped into the deep end of the pool with both feet. I’ve got almost 600 movies and over 50 TV shows (multiple seasons on some, not many…but some). I’ve got 65GB just in music and audio alone. When you’re looking at 4-6MB per song, that’s a lot of songs to get to 65GB.

There’s been an influx of Apple gear in my house thanks to Gazelle and No More Rack and the recent Christmas Holiday. I’ve got at least two new Macs and two new iPad mini’s in the house that need to be connected to Apple services, including iTunes and iCloud. I’ve had reason to setup new devices and new Macs in existing iTunes and iCloud accounts, and honestly, I’m not a happy person right now.

That may be just me, as I did cut my teeth on DOS/Windows and on the Microsoft side of the world, but I’ve recently noticed that the latest version of iTunes has changed the way it organizes the music library.

itunes12-music-song-list

In previous versions of iTunes, when you checked the option to have the app automatically organize your music library (it actually organizes your whole media library on your computer, including music, movies, TV shows, etc.), it organized the media in the following folder tree:

iTunes Music

<Media Type>

                        <Sub-Organizer 1>

                                                        <Sub-Organizer 2>

                                                                                        <Media File>

So for Music, this would translate to

iTunes Music

Music

<Artist Name>

                        <Album Name>

                                                  <SongName.aac/mp3/etc.>

For TV Shows, this would translate to

ITunes Music

TV Shows

<TV Show Name>

                               <Season #> (where # is the number of the season)

                                                  <EpisodeName.m4v>

In the current version of iTunes, the middle, organizing folders have been removed. This means that for music, the Album folders have been removed, so, all of the songs you have for a given artist, coming with all the songs from all of their albums. For TV Shows, this means that every episode of every TV show is stored in a single TV Show Name folder.

Now… you HAVE to be asking yourself, “Why do I care?”

That’s a GREAT QUESTION. Here’s why – It’s totally screwed up my local copy of my EXTENDED iTunes Media Library.

While iCloud is GREAT, the key word in its name is – CLOUD. The big problem of backup and access TO the cloud is still a concern for a great many people, and quite honestly not ubiquitous and totally NOT trustworthy, even in a large metropolitan area like suburban Chicago. I’ve also got TERABYTES of media; and that’s not something that I want to have to rely on internet access to get access to; and I always download a copy of anything that I buy so that I don’t have to rely on the internet or to any other service. Having a local copy on my home network also backs up a copy for me… AND because MacBook Pro’s, MacBook Airs, and Mac mini’s no longer come with upgradable storage, I don’t keep everything I buy on my Mac.

As soon as I download a copy of anything in iTunes, I copy it to my NAS and make a backup copy. That’s just smart computing.

The problem now, though, is that the new file structure doesn’t mesh with the old file structure, and I’ve got shows copying to show folders and not in season specific folders. I’ve got a huge mess of a movie folder on Mac that now copies movies to the root of my movies folder on my NAS.

Now, after I make any new iTunes content purchases, I have to go into iTunes, find out where iTunes has stored it, move it to match the folder structure of all the content on my NAS and THEN copy over the backup. This is a huge increase in overhead, and a change that totally screws up a bunch of stuff on my network. I have to ask, WHY did you do this, Apple, especially without telling anyone?

I’ve been being a good Apple boy. I’ve been resisting to organize my iTunes library myself and have been letting iTunes organize it for me. Part of the reason why this worked for me and was so easy to accept was the fact that they organized it exactly the way I would have done it, if I organized it myself. The obsessive-compulsive, anal retentive organizer within me now screams every time I download new content.

I think what’s bothering me the most is that the change in this is unannounced, and for me to follow the Apple “company line,” I’d have to reorganize my entire extended library and I really don’t want to. I don’t want to do that not only because it’s a huge amount of work with very little return in value, but also because the new organization structure is not what I want. I want what I had. I want it the way it was. The new “organization” method that iTunes does on its own creates a huge mess…

Am I alone in this? Am I the only one that’s noticed this? Have you noticed the change? Does it matter to you? Am I the only anal retentive nut job out there that keeps a local copy of their extended iTunes media library? I really can’t think that I am…

What are your thoughts on this change? Does it matter to you? Do you have a local copy of your extended iTunes library, or do you totally rely on iCloud to get you access to content you’ve removed from your iDevice, Mac or PC? I’d really love to hear what you have to say on this, as I’d like to know how big of an issue this is for everyone. Have you looked it up in Apple’s Support Forum? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this?

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 1

 

MSB-01

Introduction

When I was a kid, I was always skinny. When I was a young, married adult, I was always skinny. In fact, I was 135 pounds (61.24 kilos) until I was about 35. I was skinny my entire life until we moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2000 where I had a group of kind hearted, good natured rednecks introduce me to the REAL meaning of fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.

Now, I’m a fat slob. I should never have learned the recipe.

My weight jumped from 135 pounds to about 170 pounds (77.11 kilos). After I turned 40, I began fluctuating between 170 and 180 pounds (81.65 kilos). Now that I’m nearly 50 (Lord, that seems so OLD!), I’m weighing in at a hefty 191 pounds (86.64 kilos); and I lost my feet. I think they’re still attached and below me because I haven’t fallen down yet.

My wife has been wanting to lose some medically added weight for a number of years and I’m finally ready to get rid of the inner tube around my waist, so for Christmas in 2014, I purchased both of us a Microsoft Band at a local brick and mortar location near the office.

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market is a smartwatch and fitness band unremarkably named, Microsoft Band. Microsoft Band is really the FIRST commercially available, actual and totally genuine, platform independent Smartwatch available on the market today; and it’s all about the quantitative self – the end user’s need/ want/ desire to learn more about how much calories they’re burning, how far they’ve walked or run on a given day, what their active and resting heartbeats are like, etc.

This review is part one of a four part series. I’m reviewing the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch (when its released, currently expected in April of 2015). The last part will be a round-up based article where I will try to compare and contrast the good and the bad of all three to help everyone pick the device that’s the best for them.

For now, let’s sit down (or, perhaps a more appropriate colloquialism would be, “let’s get up and jump around”) and really take a look at how the Microsoft Band works (or doesn’t).

Hardware

Microsoft Band is an interesting accessory. The design is a bit on the rigid side, however…and there are some strange and curious design decisions that were made, that are clearly evident, as you become more and more familiar with the device.

For example – the device isn’t water proof or even water resistant. That last one really is confusing. Depending on how hydrated you are, or like to be during a workout, you can sweat. Not to be gross or anything, but I’ve been in karate classes where I’ve soaked a gi. I’ve done walk or elliptical workouts where I’ve been equally as sweaty; and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Microsoft Band may be encased in rubber and plastic; but there are many seams in the device where it’s easy for water to get in. I do not understand why Microsoft would make and market a device that’s meant to get somewhat wet (with sweat at least) and not make it water resistant at least. Microsoft says Band is “splash resistant” meaning that if you accidentally splash water on it, it’s likely to survive, but you’re going to want to wipe it up right away.

However, you should not swim, shower or do any other kind of activity (like run any kind of marathon or other activity where you’re going to potentially pour water on yourself or get wet) while wearing Band. You’ll ruin it.

Totally the most stupid design decision I’ve heard or seen on an exercise and activity band… Why in the WORLD is this thing not water resistant at least?! I can understand the issue of being water proof… they may have issues with the heart rate sensor and such; but if Band has issues with excessive amounts of sweat and other moisture, how useful is the device going to be, REALLY?? This is a huge hole that really needs to get resolved in future hardware updates of Band.

Wearability and Usability

Microsoft Band is VERY bulky. Aside from the lack of water resistance, this is probably the device’s biggest issue and problem. As you can see from some of the graphics and photographs of the device, its thick, its bulky and very inflexible.

I’ve been wearing the device daily since Christmas Day 2014, as of this writing. There have been times when Band has loosened on my wrist, and has turned at an awkward angle. Due to its rigidity, its pressed against my wrist bones and can be very painful to wear.

I’ve also heard people say that it’s very difficult to sleep with because it’s so bulky. This hasn’t been my experience. The only problem that I’ve had sleeping with the device is when I forget to turn sleep monitoring on. I have the device in Watch Mode (it displays the date and time in a dim, white font when Watch Mode is turned on), and the screen never turns off when it’s in Watch Mode. While the full graphic and color screen isn’t active unless the device is actually “on,” Watch Mode is none-the-less, very bright at 2:37am, and has woken both me and my wife up from a sound sleep because its shining in our eyes. Obviously, during the day, and in bright sunlight, the Band’s Watch Mode isn’t very bright at all, and is in some cases, difficult to read, but in a dark theatre or other dimly lit area, it can be brighter than you think. If you’re using Watch Mode, as I am, and NOT using the sleep functions, you’re likely going to want to remove Band and charge it overnight. As I said, even its dim, Watch Mode, the display is VERY bright in a dark room.

Notifications

Microsoft Band does notifications rather well. The only other smartwatch that I’ve seen so far that does them as well or better is my Pebble Steel; and that’s feeling very, VERY tired and old (and it’s not even a year old yet). That’s both good and bad for Pebble, as they seem to understand what Notifications can and should do on a smartwatch (dismissing also deletes, and you can send a call to VM, directly from the watch). It’s bad because some of this really shouldn’t be old and long in the tooth at just shy of a year old, but that’s technology and Moore’s Law for you…

However, with the Microsoft Health software on your smartphone, you can configure Microsoft Band to send over every single notification that hits your phone (via Band’s Notification Center widget), or you can choose any number of predefined notifications, for example – Facebook, Mail, Calendar, phone calls, etc.

If you enable Band’s Notification Center, then don’t have it send over notifications for any of the other specific tiles like Messaging, Mail, Calendar, etc. You’re just going to get duplicate notifications that you’ll either need to clear or allow to expire when they hit your Band. The only thing about this is that Notification Center then becomes a huge dumping ground for duplicate notifications, and going through more than a handful at a time is messy.

The big problem with notifications on Microsoft Band is that even if you dismiss them when they pop up on Band, they don’t dismiss from your smartphone; and they also never leave your band, either. You can dismiss the notification, but there’s no real way of deleting a notification from Band, that I can find at least.

I’m hoping this is simply a work in progress and that Microsoft will soon have a software update for Band that will resolve some of this. Notifications can be really cool, but the hodge-podge of a mess that you have in Notification Center really needs to be addressed (the simple fix is that if you have both Notification Center and any of the other app/ notification specific tiles turned on, they don’t show up in Notification Center; but that’s just a start…)

MSB-03

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