What Windows 10 SHOULD Be

Windows 10 is supposed to be Microsoft’s future…

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I’ve been using Windows 10 on my Surface Pro for a while now.  While I haven’t had many of the Explorer.exe crashes that others have been having, I have been banging on it hard enough to develop an opinion or two.

To be honest, so far… I’m not that impressed.  I know that Microsoft REALLY needs to hit a homerun here.  They’re pretty much betting the [relevance] farm on it.  If it tanks, it’s going to be a really bad 2015 in Redmond.  But that’s just me…  There’s a lot going on with Windows 10, and (un?)fortunately, we haven’t seen everything.

At least not yet…

To be honest, even though I have been covering the Microsoft ecosystem since 1997, and I’ve written a lot for media organizations like AOL/CompuServe, InformationWeek, Computer Power User Magazine, WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group Network and LockerGnome, among other online and international print publications, I still haven’t broken into that “insider,” inner circle like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, even though Paul and I worked together at WUGNET in the late 1990’s.

So when it comes to the inside track, I trust Paul and Mary Jo explicitly.  Period.

So again, while I wasn’t impressed with the current state of Windows 10, what I’m hearing from both Paul and Mary Jo is to sit tight.  According to Paul, Windows 10 is coming into focus.  His recent statements reminded me of what most everyone in the Windows Insider Program heard from the very beginning – what you see now, isn’t the final state of the software.

This is a good thing, because as I said, Windows 10 currently has “work in progress” stamped ALL over it.  The last formally released build – Build 9879 – was pretty much a train wreck.  For many Insiders, the OS crashed all the time, requiring them to reboot multiple times a day.  When Microsoft did release a fix, it wouldn’t install for many; and in many cases, users wouldn’t know if the patch install had failed until they looked at the Windows’ Update History to see which updates had successfully installed or had failed. The fact that the patch was continually presented over and over again as an available update *did* tip most of us off; but to be honest, it could also have been Microsoft issuing additional, related updates.

So, what is Microsoft wanting Windows 10 to be?  That’s simple – the future of their desktop and mobile platform.  Notice… I didn’t say, “platforms.”

Platform… as in singular.

Microsoft is looking to completely unify its portable (meaning tablet), mobile (meaning phone) and desktop experiences into a single OS that will only install and run the bits that are appropriate for the hardware its running on.  This convergence is a complete departure from over 30 years of business practice; and as such, they’re having the problems that most everyone is seeing in the (tech) news.

In fact, Larry Seltzer has a huge article detailing some real Microsoft Update Missteps that is worth a read.  Things are changing at Microsoft, and what’s going on with Windows 8.x and with some of the official and leaked builds of Windows 10 speaks to the many development related paradigm shifts going on over at Microsoft.

At least they’re trying to change.

However, with everything that’s happening – the Windows 8.x Update missteps, the buggy internal and external Windows 10 builds, the Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi issues, many – me included – are wondering who is steering the Microsoft Release Management Ship.  At the very least, I think most are chalking this up to a change of CEO, but honestly, by this time, most of those hurdles should be cleared.

So, what does Microsoft need to Windows 10 to be..?

They need it to be a success. Windows 10 needs to be a unifying platform that doesn’t require all of the “legacy related, DOS-world” tweaking. It needs to just work out of the box, regardless of platform – tablet, phone or desktop.

Windows 10, more I think than Windows 7 did, needs to be sexy. It needs to lure users back to a user experience that provides a known, familiar feel, while providing a unified, POPULATED ecosystem where users can buy not only applications, but media content – audio, video and apps – without being totally disjointed. It needs a developer community that embraces it, with support from Microsoft as well as hardware vendors, alike.

Windows 10 needs to run Office 2010 and later – including Office 365 – without any burps or issues, as not everyone wants to upgrade or wants to buy a subscription to the productivity platform.

More than anything… Windows 10 needs to be dirt cheap. On the consumer side, that means free… as in zero dollars and zero cents.  On the enterprise side, Microsoft needs to figure out how to sell OS licensing that makes sense for IT departments who don’t jump on the newest version OS because they don’t want new, untested bits to tank their company’s productivity and profits.

Microsoft needs to look at service and support on both the consumer and enterprise side of the equation, and they need to figure out a better life cycle that ends support and moves people to the most current bits in a manner that doesn’t cause a massive revolt.  The OS needs to be solid, stable, and near bug free for those folks so they move without worry, and with confidence that, again – everything just works.

THAT kids… That’s a big order to fill.

However, I really think that if Microsoft doesn’t do it, and do it quickly, decisively and without any of the current drama, at least at some point, they’re going to force users into looking into alternatives.  That means, alternative platforms, alternative productivity tools, and internal servers, middleware and other enterprise related software.

Microsoft is sitting on the edge of a very sharp knife named, “Change.”  If they don’t embrace it and do its bidding, I think they’re really risking a LOT.

What do you think?  Have you used Windows 10?  Are you a Windows 8.x user experiencing update confusion and issues?  Are you considering a move to Windows 10?  Will you stay on Windows 7 until they pry it out of your cold, dead fingers (or until you buy a new PC and HAVE to take it)?  Or, will you simply move to another computing platform like Linux or Mac?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the whole thing. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and to see if I’m on target, or all wet…

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Get that iDevice for Cheap

Now I know why Gazelle has been hoarding mobile devices…

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Don’t get me wrong… I’m not one to push a particular web site on anyone or to provide any corporate organization with any kind of free advertising or free publicity. However, anyone who’s anyone that owns or has owned a smartphone or tablet and has replaced it over the past few years has run into the problem of what exactly to do with the old and busted once you’ve replaced with the new hotness.

It’s actually pretty easy; and it can provide some much needed extra cash if all that “old and busted” is gonna do is sit in a drawer or closet and collect dust. I’m talking about Gazelle, and like I said, if you’re replaced an outgoing mobile device, I know you’ve heard of it.

However, I’m not going to extol the virtues of selling your old and busted electronics to Gazelle. Everyone’s already heard that story and I’m not going to retell it. However, what I AM going to speak to today is how you can turn the tables and BUY from Gazelle as well.

Yes. You can buy from Gazelle just as easily as you can sell to them. Gazelle has been collecting older electronics for the last three to four years or so. Everyone – well, at least *I* – thought that they were going to sell the older devices in emerging markets (meaning smaller third world nations) where only the super-duper elite rich can afford the latest and greatest of anything.

Not so kemo-slobby!

Gazelle unveiled its used electronics purchasing arm a while ago, and I had the opportunity to use it recently, and I wanted to tell everyone about it.

I have been blessed. Truly blessed to be able to have a job that allows me to afford to purchase and review a number of different technology items over the years. Some I’ve passed to my daughter after a review period. Some have been sold through either eBay or Craig’s List. Some have been sold to Gazelle.

Recently, my wife and I decided to give our boys iPad minis for Christmas, but didn’t want to pay full price for them. I knew I wasn’t buying new, and after looking at and rejecting Apple Certified Refurbished deals as a bit more expensive than I wanted to pay, I decided to explore other options. I knew eBay and Craig’s List were out. I’ve not had great luck with either lately. Unfortunately, eBay has really lost a lot of is luster from its glory days of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Craig’s List never quite sat well with me, even as a seller.

I had heard that Gazelle was now selling devices, so I took a quick trip over to their Home Page and took a look around. I was very pleased with the results. I was able to find 16GB black iPad minis with Retina Displays for the boys at $209 USD a piece. After shipping and handling, that came to about $425 USD. So for less than the price of a new iPad mini, I was able to get two, shipped to the house for my boys for Christmas.

Services like Gazelle are very picky about the quality of devices they accept. They only want the best kept gadgets so that they appear as like new and/ or in mint condition when they are resold. That way, you feel as though you’re getting and/ or giving the best, especially around The Holidays.

If you’re looking for a way to afford giving a high end device for The Holidays and don’t mind buying used (as long as the device doesn’t LOOK or ACT used), then you might want to take a serious look at Gazelle. They’re likely going to have what you’re looking for without having Santa say, “Ho-Ho-NO!” instead of, “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

You can check out Gazelle’s Certified, Pre-Owned devices, including major carriers and unlocked devices via their home page (or use the above link).

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Convert videos for your Mac or favorite iDevice with MacX Video Converter Pro

Convert videos for your Mac or favorite iDevice with MacX Video Converter Pro

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One of the greatest things about modern computing is that the tools to create, transport and convert video – the kind that are of the quality that used to be available only to professionals – are now available to just about everyone. This is largely due to the fact that most of the hardware that common computer users now have access to, is professional grade. With that being the case, tools like MacX Video Converter Pro are a huge asset, as it provides professional processing with consumer level ease of use.

MacX Video Converter Pro is a general purpose Mac video converter that can convert video to any format. It supports MP4, H.264, MPEG, AVI, FLV, MOV, WMV, MP3, AAC, among others. It can also transfer supported HD video formats (AVCHD, M2TS, MKV) with flawless video quality. The app will also download YouTube videos. It will also record your screen, edit videos and allow you to make photo slideshows

The app supports a wide variety of formats and devices. You can convert video to and from iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPad Air 2/Air, iPad Mini 3/Mini with Retina, and Apple TV 3. The app supports files from iTunes and iMovie; and it will also support conversions to and from the HTC Desire 816, Galaxy S5 mini/S5, Galaxy Note 4/Edge, Galaxy Tab S, Amazon Kindle Fire HDX8.9, Google new Nexus 7, Surface Pro 3 as well as the Xperia Z1/ Z2/ Z3, and PS4.

MacX video Converter Pro is a decent desktop converter. Its interface is a bit disappointing to be honest, but its more than made of by the file formats and the the mobile devices it supports. The app works well with consumer based hardware, but is even better with high end hardware. The price is a bit on the high side for today’s desktop app market, but its performance is top notch. If you’re looking for a decent app that will not only download and convert YouTube video, but will also convert video to and from most of the popular mobile devices and video formats, you really will have a hard time finding a better app.

 

Download

 

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A Month or More with the iPhone 6

I’ve had the iPhone 6 since its original ship date back in September 2014. Let’s take a look at how things have gone so far…

Introduction

The release of the iPhone 6 is probably the biggest iDevice release in Apple’s history aside from the releases of both the original iPhone in 2007 and the original iPad in 2010. The iPhone 6 and its bigger cousin the iPhone 6 Plus are both evolutionary and revolutionary in the smartphone and phablet categories as they have brought both their 4.7″ and 5.5″ form factor sizes into the main stream, in my opinion. Before the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, smartphones around 5″ or larger were exclusively an Android thing… and something that Apple enthusiasts could only dream about.

No… I’m not saying that Apple defined, redefined or was the first one to the market with these larger phablet sized devices. That honor is definitely in the Android side of the world; and I think HTC or Samsung was the first to this party back in like 2008 or so. There was an Android device on the Sprint network (I forget the device name); but at the time, everyone thought it was WAY too big.

Now with the iPhone in the larger screen category, everyone is interested in how the phone looks, works and functions with a larger display, as well as with some of its newer functionality and hardware. I’ve had an iPhone 6 since the day it was originally released to the public in late September of 2014. I did an unboxing the day it arrived, and you can watch it on my site, iTechGear at your convenience. However, let’s take a look at the iPhone 6 as it compares to the iPhone 5/5s and a couple of other phones in my current device stable and see how it stacks up again not only the competition, but past iterations of itself.

Form Factor & Display

Next to the conclusion in this article, I’ve chosen to write this section last. I’m telling you this because, well… you’d think that with the size of the device and its display being one of the bigger differentiators with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ that I’d be rushing to talk about the device’s form factor and display.

No… not really; and there are a few, specific reasons as to why…

Device Size

First and foremost, I didn’t want the entire world to think that I’m too much of a fanboi. Yes… I *AM* a full Windows to Mac convert at home. I really DO prefer OS X to Windows for what I do at home, for me… which amounts to mostly multimedia consumption (audio and video) via iTunes as well as digital photography (at least, once you get past all of the writing and such…)

Secondly, the change in device size is perhaps the most noticeable thing about the device. Once people see that you’re running iOS on your smartphone, AND they see the size of the device, they almost always ask you

  1. If you’re using the iPhone 6 or 6+ (without the context of the OTHER device, most people are surprised at how big either device really is. It’s not until you have both new iDevices side by side that you realize just how big they are.)
  2. If they can compare the size of my device to the size of theirs

In the case of the iPhone 4/4s or iPhone 5/5s, both the iPhone 6 and 6+ are dramatically and noticeably bigger. The iPhone 6 makes the iPhone 4/4s look like a growth stunted, pigmy of a device. It’s clearly much larger, and as such, the device loses its classic and Apple-touted one handed usability, that is, unless you’re someone with hands like LeBron James. I don’t think he – or people of similar size and stature – would have trouble stretching their hands to any corner of the device. However, in most cases, having a 4.7″ or 5.5″ diagonal screen means that you’re going to need both hands to operate it in most settings and occasions. However, Apple has tried to compensate for that somewhat, and has included a double-tap action for the Touch-ID sensor that will bring the top of the screen down to the middle of the display, making it easier to get to items at the top.

I will say that I love the new size of the screen. It’s much nicer to have a larger screen, though I wouldn’t like to go (much) bigger than the 4.7″ of the iPhone 6. I have also got an HTC One (M8), and that has a 5.0″ display. You can see the difference in the extra 0.3″; but I don’t want to get any bigger than that.

The iPhone 6+, for example, is just too big for me. The extra 0.8″ larger display than the iPhone 6 and half inch (0.5″) larger display than the HTC One (M8) is just TOO big for me. I honestly wanted the iPhone 6+ after seeing the announcing keynote during WWDC; but after I put my hands on it in an AT&T Store…

Yeah, no. It’s just too big for me. It’s like holding a mini iPad Mini up to your head, and I don’t know that I’d be able to do that without a tin foil hat or something… (too much radiation from too large of a device).

So for me, the size is just right.

Device Profile

Oh my goodness the device is THIN!

In fact, it’s almost too thin. The iPhone 6 is 6.9mm thick. The iPhone 6+ is 7.1mm thick. Compared to the iPhone 5/5s at 7.6mm, you can really see and feel that the iPhone has “lost weight” and has a much thinner profile than before.

The biggest problem I have is not necessarily “bend gate.” I know that the device isn’t going to bend in my pocket. It’s just that I’m afraid that it will. I know… it’s completely irrational once you get beyond the conspiracy theory. So, I’ve got my iPhone 6 is a huge, ugly Otterbox Defender Series case. It’s nice, but it really more than doubles the thickness of the device. I like this case. It does a good job of protecting the device; but its ugly as sin, and really makes the device almost too big in and of itself. I’m looking for a thinner profile case that offers some decent protection, but I haven’t found one that doesn’t cost more than the $50 USD that I paid for the Otterbox Defender I got on iPhone 6 Day.

I love the profile of the iPhone 6. I truly do, but I’m afraid that I’m going to drop it; and that if I do, that I will break or fracture the screen without the right case around it.

Yes… it may be irrational, but have you seen photos of the device or have seen one up close? It’s totally beautiful. Speaking of pictures, I have the full 360, below.

Device Photos – The Full 360˚

Here, you’re going to see my iPhone 6 beside an iPhone 5, the HTC One (M8) (an Android 4.4.x device) and the iPhone 5.

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Windows 10 Features – Much ado about… Nothing?

What’s all the fuss about Windows 10 core features..?

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Over the past few days I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 cool and unknown features; and while I will spend a few moments going over some of the bigger stuff of note in the upcoming OS, quite honestly… I’m wondering what all the hullaballoo is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Microsoft’s marketing machine has to pump up the volume on Windows 10 somehow. Unfortunately, they can’t simply go with:

Windows 10 – It doesn’t suck like Windows 8 did.

So yeah… they have to say SOMETHING positive about it that doesn’t speak to just the code tweaks and optimizations that you’re going to find under the hood. Unfortunately, Windows 10 really IS all about not sucking like Windows 8…which, by the way only sucked because the UI – or User Interface – was so horrible. If you could get past that, Windows 8 ran well and would run on a LOT of budget class, legacy hardware.

The vision for Windows 8 was to be a bridging OS that got users used to the idea that computing was shifting away from a post 1990’s traditional, put a program in a movable box on a screen, metaphor to one that really tried to embrace tablet computing.

That’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Surface Pro exists – to help users find a way to have their tablet and [eat] it too. Microsoft’s thought was, “well, users want to compute on a tablet… we can give them a tablet form factor if they want one. We have the whole slate TabletPC thing that kinda tanked about 10 years ago; and THAT kinda looks like an iPad…just a lot bigger and bulkier… If we thin it down and shrink it down a bit and then MAKE a detachable keyboard that goes WITH it (one of the BEST ideas with Surface Pro, by the way…) we can pocket the 3rd party dollars there along with the device sale.”

Whaddya think Stevie B.?

It was a good idea, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t match the vision, and the whole bridging OS thing really went over like a fart in an elevator. In other words, it really stunk up the joint and people ran (not walked) and in some cases, pealed back the proverbial steel plating on the “elevator” to get off. Many of us in the tech sector had the words, “Metro Sucks” tattooed on the inside of our eyelids and spent a lot of time with them closed, shaking our heads wondering why Microsoft ticked off their established enterprise and consumer user bases with a confusing, UGLY and productivity shifting interface that not only made it hard to get anything done, but totally changed the way you HAD to work with a standard, desktop computer.

 But, again… I digress…

Anyway, as I said over the past few days, I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 features and while there’s some “nice” things in there, there may only be one or two of the 10-15 or so things that people are touting as awesome that may make ANY kind of a difference to anyone outside of the Microsoft Marketing department.

I’ve been running and testing nearly EVERY beta version of Windows on all of my production Windows machines since Windows 95 (so, for almost 20 years, now…) and I’ve seen stellar UI changes… I’ve seen great feature implementations… and I have to tell ya I’m lookin’ at all of this stuff in the Windows 10 Technical Preview and I’m thinking…

 Meh…

Some of what we’re seeing is definitely a rethinking or reworking of stuff that didn’t quite make the impact that it was intended to make. The Start Screen and the reinstated Start Button and (more importantly) reinstated Start Menu are some good examples. People absolutely HATED the Start Screen and DEMANDED their Start Button back. When they said that, everyone ALSO meant the Start Menu, but Microsoft decided to play stupid on that and only brought back the BUTTON in Windows 8.x.

When the world saw that, they called “bullshit” and gave Microsoft the big, “c’mahn…! You KNOW we meant MENU and not JUST the button..!” schpiel , but for some reason, all we got from Redmond initially was the big, wide spread armed, “WHAT?!? We gave you what you asked for…” response, which caused us to give Microsoft the “crossed armed, head tilted to the right, raised eyebrow silent treatment” that said, “Really..??”

So Microsoft is giving us the Start Menu back, but said, “okokokokokok… but you gotta give us a bit to put it back.” Its actually coming back as part of Windows 10. So, without any further kibitzing… here are the features and some of the hidden features of note <chuckle> in windows 10.

Improved and Expanded Start Menu

So, yeah… as I mentioned, the Start Menu is coming back; but its not the Start Menu that you remember from back in the day. Microsoft can’t seem to let the Live Tile thing go on the desktop, so they gimished the two of them together and we get an improved Start Menu (as you can quickly and easily pin, remove and customize items on it) but you also get the ability to pin Live Tiles to it.

Live Tiles work VERY well on Windows Phone devices. In fact, some will argue that the Windows Phone UI, with all of its Live Tiles, is perhaps one of the BEST mobile interfaces available today. You get updates, information and what you need from it and all you have to do, really, is turn on the phone. (Honestly, this would work on a tablet device as well… IF Microsoft could have let go of the Desktop computing metaphor on their RT based tablets and just gone with the Windows Phone interface approach there, and then maybe they wouldn’t have taken the $1B USD write off on all those unsold RT tablets; BUT again… I digress)

So, yeah, you get the ability to have both Live Tiles and shortcuts on the Start Menu and can now easily customize it; and while this is totally cool, its nothing really to whoop and holler about, ya know?

Oh, you also get the ability to pin the Recycle Bin on not only the Start Menu, but the Task bar as well… However, in order to get it on the Task Bar, you have to first pin it to the Start Menu and then drag and drop it from there to the Task Bar…which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I’m also a bit fuzzy on why this is so important…or cool… In order to delete items from somewhere on the PC, you have to either drag and drop it to the shortcut on the desktop, or pick it in File Explorer and hit the delete key on the keyboard/ right click and choose delete from the context menu. I’m not certain how putting the Recycle Bin on the Start Menu or Task Bar gets you anything important… Maybe someone can pop a comment in, below, and share the cool factor with the rest of us who are scratching their heads…

Run Store apps and Desktop apps simultaneously

With Windows 10, all apps can run in a window, or can run full screen. This is much like what Stardock Software’s ModernMix does. Its been running MetroUI apps in a window for a few years.

However, now, you can do this and run those applications side by side, natively. Its nice, but quite honestly, it’s a small step for computing kind. Especially since the app from Stardock started allowing this to happen shortly after Windows 8 hit the market, making the transition to Windows 8 a bit easier than without it.

Task View Button

The Task view Button in Windows 10 is really a “view all the virtual desktops you have” button. I understand that its now removable from the Task Bar. I don’t like virtual desktops because I don’t like having to cycle through a lot of open apps. If I do, ALT-TAB has always worked for me and I’m really good with just that quick, keyboard shortcut and familiar tool. See… this is why Bill invented “minimize and maximize/restore” for program windows. You can pretty much clean and clear up your active desktop just by minimizing stuff you need open, but aren’t working with just now.

However, I know I’m not EVERY use case out there, and some people may find this feature of value. If you want to put your music apps on one, photography/picture apps on another, I get it. I get it… However, I wouldn’t call this an “A list” feature…ever.

Multitasking with Enhanced Snap View

Snap is a new feature as of Windows 8 that allows you to place windows side by side in a way that allows you to evenly tile windows on your display. In Windows 10, the number of windows that can be snapped has been doubled to four windows. Windows that are snapped are evenly and equally placed on the screen.

What’s strange to me is that you could always do something like this by tiling windows across your screen. I’ve been doing it since Windows 3.x… However Snap does it without having to execute any kind of strange command, and your Windows don’t start off unevenly proportioned. So, if you have a large enough display and up to four programs that you need to swap data in and out of, it can be a huge time saver, I guess.

Snap Assist

Snap Assist is used as part of Snap View. It helps you snap windows into place and then resize the windows that get placed on your screen. The problem with Snap and Snap Assist is that it doesn’t work well with small screens.

Continuum for Windows (2-in-1 devices)

Interestingly enough, perhaps the biggest and most interesting feature that Windows 10 is going to provide hasn’t hit the streets yet. Windows 10 will work on just about any device that was able to run Windows 8.x, and will especially work well on any and all Surface Pro devices.

With Surface Pro and similar devices, Microsoft is creating a new kind of mode that will allow Windows to function as both a content consumption device as well as a tablet. Its called Continuum; and what it does is allows Windows 10 to change UI’s when a keyboard is attached to a device like Surface Pro 1/2/3. When the keyboard is reattached, the UI switches back to a traditional desktop UI. ModernUI apps will function full screen as they do in Windows 8 when the keyboard is removed and then will function in a Window when the keyboard is reattached.

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Apple DRM Antitrust Suite to Begin

A decade old lawsuit could be a huge problem for Apple…
image3014Back in the day – and I’m really referring to the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s – digital music was a total mess. There was no standardization in terms of file formats, desktop players or portable players. The only thing that WAS clear and pretty much standardized was that no matter where you turned, any digital music you didn’t rip yourself or pirate through tools like Napster, Limewire or some other torrent tool, were clogged with DRM. What that meant was that you couldn’t play it with the app or portable player you wanted to play it with…that is, without having to jump through some pretty nasty hoops.

If pirating wasn’t your thing – which in many cases turned out to be a good thing, because the RIAA is nothing but a group of money grubbing, ugly lawyers out to screw the American public… but I digress – then what you really had to do was buy your music, burn it to a CD and then rerip the songs. This worked with any and every digital music store you purchased digital music from, regardless of what your favorite or default store or app was; or what digital music player you carried. This effectively “stripped” the DRM out of the music, as the DRM didn’t transfer to the new CD you burned, and therefore, wasn’t on the songs you ripped from it. Life was a lot better for you AND the music you bought, as you set it free.

At that point, everyone DELETED the original digital music files they purchased and replaced them with the DRM free ones they just created. It was at THAT point that you copied or transferred them to your portable music player, because at that point…you could copy them to ANY player and play them with ANY desktop music app. Some people were really into WinAmp. Some really liked MusicMatch Jukebox. Some were into Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes.

That was a LOT to put on the consumer. It really made us jump through a LOT of hoops; and honestly, not everyone was happy doing it. I did it because it was easy enough for me to do. The only thing that anyone really needed was a blank CD and a bit of time to burn and rerip the music. The technical side of this whole story was wrapped up in the bit rate of the source music files vs. the bit rate of the files you ripped from the CD you burned – which was greater and offered the better quality? The big question for audiophiles here was, “did I just introduce distortion, his or other noise into the music I purchased in order to get around the playing limitations I feel I have?”

However, back in the day – and here I’m talking circa 2005 or so – a lawsuit was filed on behalf of many of the iPod owners, accusing Apple of violating both US Federal and California State antitrust laws by restricting music purchased via iTunes from being played on other digital music players or desktop apps. The suit also accused Apple of restricting iPods from playing music purchased from music services OTHER than iTunes.

Since the suit’s original filing in 2005, a number of changes have been made to the suit. Apple also removed DRM from all music sold via iTunes in 2009, effectively making the issue a moot one from that time forward. One of the major modifications of the suit was to restrict the case to iPods sold between September 2006 and March 2009.

The opening statements in the complaint reference the now defunct Tower Records,

“It would be egregious and unlawful for a major retailer such as Tower Records, for example, to require that all music CDs purchased by consumers at Tower Records be played only with CD players purchased at Tower Records, yet, this is precisely what Apple has done… Apple has rigged the hardware and software in its iPod such that the device will not directly play any music files originating from online music stores other than Apple’s iTunes music store.”

This largely came about because Apple was trying to protect its iPod and iTunes business from Real Networks and Real Player, MusicMatch, and others. Unfortunately for ALL involved, Apple’s iPod was a huge hit, bringing order from the chaos that was digital music at the time. NO ONE (really) wanted any other player, and so Apple did its best to protect their market, and they effectively created a monopoly as far as music and portable music players were concerned.

As I mentioned, the suit has been modified; and now, with its restrictions, is set to get underway on 2014-12-02. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with it. The plaintiffs are asking for $350M USD, though if found guilty and found to have willfully and purposefully violated the law, the award Apple could be required to put up could top $1B USD, according to current antitrust law penalties which specify triple the damage amount.

How does all of this make you feel? Did you buy an iPod between September 2006 and March 2009? Will you be joining this class? Do you feel you were inappropriately restricted in your choice of desktop music apps as well as portable music players? Did you put aside a desktop app or portable music player because it wasn’t Apple or iTunes compatible? Does this lawsuit, even with its modifications and restrictions have any real relevance? Does the burn and rerip option negate the whole suit because it provided for a reasonable work around? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts? I’d really like to hear what you have to say, as the right information to the right attorneys at this point, could make the difference between a simple settlement and triple the damages.

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Microsoft Acquires Acompli

…and now they have a cool mobile email app.

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When a company doesn’t really have a US focused mobile device strategy – and let’s face it… Microsoft really doesn’t – things can get a bit stressful. Yes. You’re right… Windows Phones exist. Yes. I have one. No, it obviously ISN’T my daily driver; but you also have to understand one thing – Microsoft’s target market for all of its Windows Phone is NOT the United States (or other First World countries).

Microsoft isn’t making high end Windows Phones any longer. They have instead decided to concentrate their efforts on Third World countries. Very quickly, here’s why that’s very smart
1. There’s no way they are going to overtake Android or iOS devices in any kind of market share race. They just don’t have the legs to do it. Both Android and iOS are too firmly well established to nudge out of the way.
2. Microsoft’s Mobile strategy is still largely unknown. Without any real presence in the US, we’re left to people like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott and to give us any kind of clue on what Microsoft is going to do with itself in the mobile space.

Let’s face it… even though the Surface Pro 3 may be an interesting ultrabook, Microsoft has no real content consumption device or smartphone that it can really point to or rely on in any of the markets that will either garner a lot of press or a lot of money via flagship sales. They want to concentrate on third world sales, and while that WILL perhaps produce a lot of global share, in the markets that really drive innovation and enterprise sales – First World markets – they’ve got next to nothing…

So, to help address that issue, early on during the morning of 2014-12-01, Microsoft announced it had acquired the email app developer Acompli for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200M USD.

The acquisition is a good move for Microsoft on a number of different fronts. They acquired not only the app and its IP, but also the people that coded it. Acompli has a really good Exchange interface on both iOS and Android devices, and they plug a hole where something is CLEARLY missing from Microsoft’s mobile Office Suite – Outlook.

Microsoft doesn’t have an “Outlook Mobile App” to speak of on either iOS or Android before this acquisition. According to Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Outlook and Office 365, “This acquisition brings us an app with innovative technology and a set of talented people who are passionate about reinventing email and communications on mobile screens. It will expedite our work to deliver the full power of Office to mobile devices.”

It’s clear that Microsoft is intending Acompli to be “Outlook mobile.” How the app is rebranded or actually integrated into their newly forming mobile suite for iOS and Android is yet to be totally understood. However, one would think that users would see something for those mobile suites sooner rather than later…if not before they intend to release the “touch” version of Microsoft Office for their Surface and Surface Pro tablets, currently codenamed Gemini.

This is a developing story, and I intend to follow up with either an update or a new post if something interesting comes to light. Please stay tuned.

In the meantime, what do you think of this development? Do you use Acompli? How badly do you feel “Outlook mobile” is either missing or is needed on the iOS and Android side of the world? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and let me know what you think?

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Confusing Wearable Tech – Smartwatches and Health Bands

Does anyone know the difference between the two?  Does it matter..?

Check this Computer World article about apple watch

Ok… those who are confused, please raise your hand

That should be everyone, by the way…

Ever since the Apple Watch announcement, the tech world has been all , uh-hem, a-twitter with news and such on wearable technology.  Now that Google Glass is (nearly) officially dead – nothing has been seen or heard from Google on it in more than a year – the trend in the market is turning away from stuff you strap to your head to stuff you strap on your arm or wrist.

There are a number of different options out there and while I would REALLY love to turn this article into a roundup of smartwatches and fitness bands in time for the 2014 Holiday Season, I just don’t have enough money to go and buy those that are most compelling.  Unfortunately, most of them cost $199 to $349, and there are at least 4-5 that really should get looked at, including the Microsoft Band, the Galaxy Gear S, the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and of course the Nike Fuel Band SE; and I just don’t have the cash to buy them all and compare them, regardless of how much I would really love to.  Heck, the Apple Watch isn’t even out yet, and won’t be available for the 2014 Holiday Season, anyway…

The biggest problem I see with wearable technology right now is no one knows the difference between a smartwatch, a fitness band or any other electronic biometric sampling device you might strap to your arm or wrist. Without going into a huge litany of which devices have which sensors or have which processors, etc., the following chart may be of help in trying to tell some of these things apart.

tabel

There’s not a lot of information the specifics of Apple Watch. It should have most if not all of the same sensors as Microsoft Band, but I was unable to find specifics on every sensor it has.  Though introduced in September of 2014, I think more specifics will become available as its actual release nears.

So what’s all the hub-bub about?

The quantitative self.

Everyone wants to know how much they weigh, how much weight they’ve lost, how many calories they’ve taken in versus how many calories they’ve burned.  They want to know how often they exercise, how far they’ve walked, how much hydration they are replenishing, what their active and resting heart rates are, how many flights of stairs they’ve gone up and down, how far they’ve run, walked or spun on a treadmill or elliptical.  The whole sedentary American thing has finally driven many to get off their widening bottoms and eat less and move more; but like so many people wanting instant gratification, they gotta know where they are right NOW.

In the next few years, its obvious to me that first world consumers are going to see a great many wearable computing devices come and go.  The category is going to define and REdefine itself over the next three or so years in my opinion and unless the devices we buy today are 1) Made to last, 2) Upgradeable (via firmware or other software updates), or 3) Easily and cheaply replaceable, a great many consumers are going to be very upset (as well as have a boat load of unused, electronic junk in one of their desk or dresser drawers…).

As I said, some of the devices being introduced today are anywhere from $200 to $350 USD bucks a piece.  The Nike Fuel Band I bought in December of 2012 recently broke (the button doesn’t press any longer, so the display won’t activate when its pushed).  Its not quite two years old; and it was $150 USD when I bought it. I recently purchased a Pebble Steel in February of 2013, and while it still works and is in GREAT shape (albeit with some weird software based display problems…) there’s no doubt in my mind that its going to (or likely could) get left behind for something else in just a few short months by a Microsoft Band or Apple Watch for example, that will do everything that it does, plus a whole lot more; and THAT was $250 bucks…

So, what’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness band..?  Honestly, that’s a GREAT question.  Currently, there’s no real difference between the two.  The way both are being engineered, they pretty much have much of the same functionality. Things like Microsoft Band and the Nike Fuel Band SE are more of a fitness band only because they’re more of a ruggedized, rubber wrapped bracelet than a (sports, luxury, etc.) watch like Apple Watch or the Galaxy Gear S, though they do and track much of the same kinds of things and data, respectively.

So, what do you get?  What do you wait for?  How do you tell them apart?  Right now, without any real market, design, or engineering differentiation, its really up to you and what kind of thing you wanna strap to your wrist or arm.  Do you want something sporty like the Microsoft Band, or do you want something sophisticated and elegant like the Apple Watch or the Galaxy Gear S?

Right now, it really doesn’t matter.

However, in the next few years – even by THIS time NEXT year – there may be a huge differentiator out there that may make a great deal of difference to you and what you’re interested in, want or need to buy based on what you want, what your family can afford and what your doctor wants you to track and maintain.

AND…!  That’s ANOTHER thing…

Don’t even get me started on how accurate or viable your heath care professional(s) will feel about all of this data.  They may think it’s the most accurate stuff in the world, and actively encourage you to get one and compile data with it. They may think it’s a bunch of crap – nothing more than a fad, really – using unreliable or unstable hardware, software and components (because who’s Bluetooth widget hasn’t dropped a connection with their smartphone in the past week..??) – and may not buy into ANY of the data it maintains, instead making you come in to their facility for specific exercising and health monitoring…

The market  has yet to address ANY of those issues; and the FDA has yet to chime in with what I’m certain will eventually become some kind of an addendum or an offshoot of the 21 CFR regulations on medical devices (though it isn’t right now…).

Conclusion & Buying Decision

With the start of the 2014 Holiday Buying Season officially on in the US as of 2014-11-28, the obvious questions are what should I get and should I wait until Apple Watch is available in 2015.

That depends.

As you can see from the chart I created, its going to depend on the depth of your pocket book and what your want to do with the device.  At a $350 entry point, Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S are both at the ultimate high end of the spectrum.

The Nike Fuel Band SE is definitely an activity tracker and NOT a smartwatch, though it tells the time. Time telling is a tertiary function on it, and honestly, the FuelBand SE does little more than track activity. However, at its current price point, it makes sense.  In fact, you can get a FuelBand SE for as little as $99 bucks.

The Fitbit Surge really seems to be firmly stuck in the middle. It wants to be a smartwatch, but Fitbit is so firmly planted in fitness that I think the organization would have a hard time producing anything that didn’t concentrate itself on fitness anyway.  This device is also not available yet. Fitbit notes it as “coming soon” as of the date of this publication.

The Samsung Gear S looks REALLY nice, and it’s the only device that can be its own smartphone, if it needs to at this time.  The Apple Watch is supposed to do this, but it won’t until some time in 2016, and then I don’t know if devices sold in 2015 will be upgradable to that new feature with a simple SIM card.  If not, it would be problematic, because $350 is the ENTRY point price.  The Apple Watch, Watch Edition device (with 18k gold) is likely going to be more than $1000 (depending on the price of gold at the time of release).

Microsoft Band is the only device left at this point, and the biggest problem with it is that Microsoft didn’t produce enough of them.  They are sold out online as of this writing.  There are SOME available at a Microsoft brick and mortar Store, but quantities are extremely limited, and sizing the device is going to be critical, as you’re going to need to have the device sit flush (but not gripping your wrist) so that all the sensors work right.

In my opinion, you can buy in now if you want, but you may want to wait. If you do buy in, and you want something more than just an activity tracker, Microsoft Band is probably your best bet, but you’re going to have a great deal of trouble finding one if you don’t live close to a physical, Microsoft Store.

Does all of this make sense to you?  Do you understand the difference between an activity tracker or fitness band and a smartwatch now?  Does it make a difference to you, this early in the wearables game?  Will you buy into Apple Watch when its released?  Is the Samsung Gear S something you’re interested in?  I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts on all of this.  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and tell me what you think and what, if anything, you’re going to chase after in this category for the 2014 Holiday Season.  I’d really appreciate hearing from you and getting your insight.

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