It’s Back

Yep, 2021 strikes again.

Black Friday was a non-event last year. Oh, sure, it happened. But the lines of people camping outside stores, the crushing rush inside when the doors opened, and the screaming fights over deeply discounted items were rare in comparison to the past*.

* It’s possible that being on the West Coast gives me a biased perception. Anyone in a state that didn’t have mask mandates, social distancing, and/or stay-at-home orders want to chime in with local data on last year’s Spend-a-Thon?

This year, though, it’s shaping up to be a doozy.

Not only is Black November gaining force–several major retailers have been pushing variations on the “Early Black Friday” theme since about 12:01 AM on 11/1–but those same stores are ramping up the publicity for their sales on the actual Black Friday.

Because, of course, people are sick and tired of shopping from home–even in the Southwest and Florida and all those other areas where they never started shopping from home–so they have to show up in the malls at Oh Dark Hundred Hours.

Feh.

On the bright side, the stupidity of starting the Black Friday sales on Thursday–better known as Thanksgiving–seems to have gotten lost. And good riddance.

What’s going to be really interesting is seeing what happens with Cyber Monday. Remember that? In case you’ve mercifully forgotten, the premise of Cyber Monday has been that people save their online shopping for the Monday after Thanksgiving when they’re back in the office and can use their employer’s bandwidth.

Man, that sounds quaint, doesn’t it? “Back in the office”? It is to laugh.

It’s only a little more than a week to Thanksgiving and, while your experience may differ, I haven’t gotten a single ad for an upcoming Cyber-whatever event.

Could Cyber Monday turn into a regional event? Only advertised in places where the concept of “working from home” hasn’t caught on?

Probably not. It’s cheaper for national advertisers not to filter their mailings, after all. Our best hope is that PR departments decide the optics of telling people to go to work are just too ugly this year.

First Thoughts on 11

I decided it was time.

Microsoft has fixed a few of the most egregious Windows 11 launch bugs, I’d done my weekly backup, and I had a day off coming. So I went ahead and did the upgrade.

It’s been less than a week, so don’t expect a detailed catalog of everything that’s right and wrong with the latest opus from Redmond. Remember: it’s never too soon to make a good first impression.

The upgrade itself went smoothly enough, though Microsoft sucks at estimation. After ten minutes or so, the progress indicator said 70%. Ninety minutes later, it said 91%. The last nine percent took another couple of hours. Then, of course, there was the inevitable reboot, followed by more thumb-twiddling while Windows shuffled things into place.

Once my desktop appeared, it looked a lot like the old one. Some exceptions: the Taskbar can’t be at the top of the screen–my preferred location–any more, and having the icons centered instead of at the left side of the screen* looks decidedly odd.

* Windows 11 does allow you to left-align the icons, but I stuck with the default. It’s been easier getting used to than I expected, but I do have a lot of muscle memory around the Start button being in the upper left corner of the screen; there are still occasional delays while I reorient myself.

So far, I’ve only found one major annoyance. You may have heard that the Windows 10 Live Tiles (those tiny windows and icons to the right when you open the Start menu) are gone in Windows 11. It’s true. They are gone. I mean really gone.

At least three-quarters of Windows users will never notice or care–there’s a reason Microsoft got rid of Live Tiles, after all. But some of us actually used them. Clean out all the useless games links and other such nonsense Microsoft put there, and the Tile area became a convenient place to put frequently used files and programs. Anything you put there was no more than two clicks away.

Windows 11 does let you pin things to the Start Menu. It does not, however, transfer your pinned items from Win10. Instead, you get a no-doubt-carefully curated selection of useless nonsensepinned programs. Unpinning Microsoft’s choices and re-pinning mine took almost as long as installing the upgrade.

* Sources online seem to be unanimous in saying that you cannot pin individual documents–Word files, pictures, and so on–to the new Start Menu. This seems to be a half-truth. I was able to pin several spreadsheets, but Word documents and pictures don’t seem to work. I suspect it has something to do with the spreadsheets having been pinned in Win10. Further investigation seems warranted.

I could run through my list of Things That Don’t Work Right, but there’s not much point. Most of the glitches are minor-but-annoying, and can probably all be fixed with a little effort. I shouldn’t need to, mind you, but again, Win11 is new and needs some polishing. The upgrade experience should get better over time.

And now that I’ve finished playing the Upgrade Blues, Win11 seems to be working well. Anecdotally, it feels snappier than Win10. Searches are a little faster, programs feel like they’re launching more quickly, and the Windows Photos program–which used to take forever to load and display the first picture–is enormously faster.

WSL–the part of Windows that allows you to run Linux programs–finally supports graphical programs. There were already ways to run those programs, using some third-party tools. Now the functionality is there without any special setup. In theory, one can even add Linux programs to the Start Menu or Taskbar, but that doesn’t seem quite functional yet. Or maybe it’s one of those little glitches.

It’s going to take people some time to get past the whole “It doesn’t look like what I’m used to” thing, but once they do, I think the consensus will be that Win11 is an improvement over the past.

I’m still not recommending a general upgrade. There are plenty of issues that Microsoft needs to work out. Unless you have a specific need for something in Win11, stick with Win10 for now.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to buy a new computer, it’s probably going to come with Win11. Don’t be put off by it and don’t try to downgrade to Win10.

Trust me, Windows 11 will not be the horrid shock that was Windows 8.

Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

Still Not How It Was Supposed to Work

For the second time this year, Google is caught up in a TV carriage dispute.

Correction: For the second time this year as far as we know, …

This time, though, they’re on the other side of the table.

As you may recall, back in April, Roku dropped YouTube TV. And, of course, everyone found alternate ways to get their TV fix, thanks in part to Google merging YouTube TV into the regular YouTube app. Since it would have been corporate suicide for Roku to drop the entirety of YouTube, both parties retired to their respective Caves of Solitude and indulged themselves with multiple rounds of furious fur-smoothing.

Now Google is fighting with NBC. The latter, naturally, is hyped to the max over their part in putting Locast out of business, and looking to further solidify their monopoly on their channels–even the ones that are supposed to be free to the public, i.e. local NBC affiliates.

You may think you detect a bit of bias in my language here. You’re probably right. I don’t care about most of the channels involved. The only exceptions are the two Bay Area regional sports networks (one carries the Giants’ broadcasts and the other has the As. But with the baseball regular season ending Sunday, at most I’d miss out on three games I care about. Four if the Giants wind up playing a tie-breaker game with the Dodgers to determine which would win the division and which would be the wild card. Frustrating, but hardly the end of the world, given that there are plenty of ways to purchase a few days’ access to those last few Giants games. And many, many things could happen before Spring Training rolls around.)

But even though I don’t care about the channels, I do care about the precedent.

The core of the dispute isn’t really how much Google has to pay NBC to carry those channels. Those negotiations are common and are usually handled quietly; viewers only notice when the result is a big hike in their monthly TV bill.

What’s different this time is that NBC is trying to force YouTube TV to also “carry” their Peacock streaming service.

Note the quotes. According to reports, Peacock channels would not be shown through YouTube TV, forcing subscribers to install a separate app to watch those shows and, where the lineup overlaps between Peacock and YouTube TV, pay twice for the same shows. That’s not a bundle, that’s extortion.

Of course, that assumes anyone wants to watch Peacock channels in the first place. Many commentators are pointing to the service’s low subscriber numbers as being the trigger for NBC’s demand. “Hey, if we can’t sell this crap* on its own merits, let’s force someone else to sell it for us.”

* Lest you think I’m being unduly harsh here, allow me to share a few channels: “Olympics Great Moments”, “Olympics Must-See Moments” (yes, two whole channels devoted to Olympics of the past), dedicated channels for “Saved By the Bell”, “The Office”, and “Real Housewives” (fortunately, they don’t run 24/7, but do the shows really need dedicated channels?). And the less said about “Fail Army” the better. I think NBC is well aware of how thin their lineup is; I’m sure it’s not an accidental oversight that the Peacock website does not have a simple channel list.

Parenthetically, why does the Peacock’s account creation form require you to tell them your gender? It’s nice that they included “Non-binary” as an option, but I really, really want to know why they made “Gender” a required field, especially when they also included “Prefer not to say” as a choice.

NBC charges $10 a month for Peacock if you want it ad-free. It’s probably not coincidental that Google is promising to reduce the bill for YouTube TV by $10 a month if they have to drop the disputed channels.

You can be sure that if Google had caved and ponied up for Peacock, NBC would have made the same demand of every other streaming service. (I use past tense and conditionals here because as I write this on Tuesday, reports are coming out that NBC has given up on forcing Peacock down YouTube TV viewers’ throats.) And if that had happened, we’d really be right back in the old cable model–actually, even worse: at least with traditional cable, you didn’t have to have multiple TVs to watch channels that were part of different bundles.

Hopefully Google stands firm and the future looks more a la carte and less prix fix. The latter is fine for stuffing your face, but not so great when all you want is a quiet evening of killing your imagination dead.

Arms Race

We’ve been hearing a lot about the non-medical fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic: the increasing polarization of politics*, burnout among medical professionals, children falling behind on their schooling, and so on. There’s one impact, however, that I haven’t seen noted in the press yet.

* Though, to be fair to the virus, that one was already well in progress before 2020; COVID-19 is just an excuse.

Noise pollution.

Those of us in mask-wearing parts of the country are being subjected to more and more noise. And we should have seen (heard?) it coming.

Masks do muffle speech and nobody wants to try to carry on a conversation with pen and paper. Heck, only a rare few of us carry notebooks these days, and it seems like even fewer still remember how to write*. I suppose in some situations, we could use our phones. But do you want to give a stranger your phone number just so you can text your dinner order? Think that hot guy at the other end of the bar can be trusted not to abuse your number if you don’t fall for his pickup line–or even if you do? And the whole point of meeting your sweetie in person is so you can whisper sweet nothings in their ear; you might as well skip the dinner date if you’re just going to chat at each other across the table.

* I’ll skip the rant about schools no longer teaching cursive, much less penmanship in general.

So instead, we’re all speaking louder.

Problem solved, right? Not so much.

Business owners are wedded to the notion that background music improves sales.

There’s a reason it’s called “background” music: you’re not supposed to listen to it; it’s just supposed to affect you at a subliminal level. It makes you shop faster, not think about whether you can afford something, but just buy it and move on. Or eat faster, so the restaurant can turn the table over that much sooner.

But if you can’t hear it at all, it can’t have its supposed effect. And so, with everyone tightening their diaphragms and projecting their voices, stores and restaurants are compensating by turning up the music.

Which, of course, makes it harder for the customers to be understood, so they speak even louder. Vicious circle. Arms race–make that “ears race”.

Even here in the masks-mandatory Bay Area, we’re not quite up to volume levels traditionally associated with rock concerts and airports. Not yet, anyway. But hearing can be damaged by sustained noise at lower volumes.

Speaking louder gets to be a habit. I’m hearing that in my own life. At home and mask-free, I’m still talking louder than I used to, unless I make a conscious effort not to.

So I don’t think sound levels are going to drop quickly even once COVID-19 is beaten*. You might want to pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones for daily wear over the next couple of years.

* Make that “beaten”. It’s not going to go away completely. The best we can hope for is to reduce it to the level of the flu. Get your annual flu shot (and, by the way, it’s that time of year–go get yours today!) and a COVID shot; we may even wind up combining them into a single dose.

And it just might be that now is the right time to be buying stock in companies that make hearing aids.

An Apple a Day

It seems like we were talking about Apple’s latest announcements just a couple of days ago, and yet here we are, talking about Apple’s–you know.

Let’s skip the puffery. Does anyone outside Apple really care how many awards Apple TV+ has won?

More importantly, Apple has announced new toys.

Two new iPads, specifically a new basic model and a new mini.

The former is a nice step up from last year’s model. New chips mean a 20% speed increase across the board, and a new camera will let it do some of the video trickery formerly limited to the iPad Pro.

The upgraded mini is probably the most eagerly awaited upgrade. Smaller bezels in the same form factor mean a bigger screen without increasing the weight, Touch ID in the top button*, and a 40-80% speed boost depending on what you’re doing. No more Lightning port; USB-C instead, which opens up a lot of new accessory possibilities. Better cameras, of course. That’s obligatory for any new Apple hardware, right?

* These days, Touch ID is much better than Face ID. Don’t make me take my mask off to sign in without a password, please. And nice of Apple to remember that not everyone who has an iPad has an Apple Watch they could use for automatic unlocking.

And, speaking of the Apple Watch: surprise! Get ready for the new Apple Watch Series 7. Bigger screen and bigger buttons, faster charging, stronger*, and still compatible with your old bands. Because backward compatibility is important, right?

* Let’s hope so. The screens on the previous six generations seem unreasonably vulnerable to cracking from even the smallest jolts. Interestingly, Apple is crediting the improved durability to the shape. I have to wonder why they’re not using the oh-so-strong ceramic they introduced on the iPhone 12 screens.

And it looks like Apple is simplifying the product line a little. Once the Series 7 comes out, the 5 and 6 will both go away. Series 3 for the budget-conscious, SE for the mid-range, and 7 for anyone who doesn’t want to be seen as a cheapskate.

And, of course, new iPhones. Kudos to Apple for not giving in to superstition and skipping “13”.

Smaller front camera notch and, as usual, the best camera ever in a (non-pro) iPhone. Bigger battery. Comes in regular and mini. Faster than your now-obsolete iPhone 12, naturally. Storage now starts at 128GB–no more 64GB devices–and goes up to 512GB. Not quite up to some of the top-of-the-line Samsung phone’s 1TB, but still and improvement for anyone who wants to carry weeks of music or a trans-Atlantic flight’s worth of movies.

Naturally, there’s a Pro and a Pro Max, both of which fall into the “more than six inches” category, also known as “too flippin’ big to fit in your pocket. As usual, the main distinguishing characteristic of the Pro phones are the cameras, but Apple is also talking up the improved battery life (as compared to the equivalent iPhone 12 models) and storage up to (ah, there it is–couldn’t let Samsung get that far ahead) 1TB.

As expected, most of the new devices are evolutionary; only the improved mini could even arguably be considered revolutionary.

But that’s today’s Apple.

WQTS 12

Hard to believe it’s been more than four years since the last WQTS* post. Granted, last year probably shouldn’t count. It’s not like any of us have had opportunities to encounter the results of egregiously bad testing recently. But still.

* For those of you who’ve started reading since June of 2017, or whose memories don’t extend that far back, the acronym expands to Who QAd This Shit. It’s where I mock products that were improperly tested, insufficiently tested, or–a closely related discipline–never granted a design review.

We took the car in for service yesterday–the Toyota, not The Bug. Aside from the semi-annual maintenance, it also needed a new battery. Generally, when it comes to matters automotive, we rely on experts for diagnosis, but it didn’t take much expertise for us to figure that a battery that had been in service for seven years and occasionally failed to hold enough charge overnight to start the car was about due for retirement.

Guess what happens to the radio when the battery is replaced. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If you guess that it reverts to its default settings, you’re right. Partially.

For the record, the radio in question is the KD-HDR30, made by JVC. To be fair, it is, like the car, more than a decade old; nobody’s going to be buying one today. And there is a chance that JVC’s more recent units radios were designed and built following more rigorous design and testing processes.

The radio itself reverts to the defaults. The add-on modules that give it additional capabilities don’t. So the SiriusXM module remembered our station presets, but the radio switched to its built-in FM tuner.

That’s actually a reasonable default. It doesn’t make sense for the radio to assume the presence of optional hardware. What’s less sensical–and points to inadequate testing and/or design review–is that the FM station presets were gone.

Who thought it was a good idea to withhold capabilities from the base unit that were given to an optional component–the satellite radio plug-in? Clearly, somebody who didn’t think the radio could lose all power after installation.

Wait, it gets worse. The base radio component apparently has no ability to remember anything. Every single setting reverted to the defaults. So the FM tuner was at the top of the dial and the volume was at the exact middle of the range, two ticks higher than we had left it. Annoying, but one has to set the default values somewhere, and those choices have some logic behind them.

Less logical, when we switched inputs to SiriusXM, we discovered that the radio’s default display was the time remaining in the current song. Not the title (our preference) the artist, or even the channel. The time remaining. Who chose that? Realistically, nobody did. Nobody defined the default behavior, so a developer chose the first item in the list of options. Presumably, it was the same developer who put the list of options in their current order. And most likely, that order came straight out of a list of capabilities someone gave him.

If some QA person questioned the behavior, the business owner or project manager decided there wasn’t time to fix it: “If we change the order of the list, every feature that refers to the list will need to be changed; that means reworking and retesting every menu selection. And if we start setting exceptions for the defaults, instead of always choosing the first possibility, we’ll have to decide what those exceptions are, recode the initialization sequence, and retest. For something that only happens once, when the radio is installed.” Because, of course, we all know the radio is connected to a battery, so it can’t lose power.

The really egregious design issue, however–and the one that convinces me that there were no design reviews and possibly no QA–is that by default, the radio goes into a store demo mode. That means the display cycles endlessly through a list of the radio’s features. Why would anyone want to see the list after they’ve purchased the radio?

Turning the demo mode off requires the user to find a menu semi-hidden behind a long press on a button that normally does other things, locate demo mode in that menu, turn it off, and save the setting before the menu times out and returns the radio to its normal display.

Why is this the default? Granted, any unit could be used as a store display. I’ll even grant that a store display unit is more likely to lose power than one installed in an actual customer’s car. But making every unit default to store mode suggests that either the radio is the victim of poor design practices and less-than-adequate QA, or that JVC prioritizes stores’ convenience over customers’.

Turning It Up To…

Hey, did you hear about Windows 11?

Remember when Microsoft said Windows 10 would be the last version of Windows?

To be fair, times have changed since then. That statement was made back when Apple was still cheerfully turning out version after version of OS X with no hint they’d ever turn up macOS to 11. So now Microsoft has to keep pace, lest they be seen as behind the times. That means updating the user interface to match current fashion trends and, yes, updating the version number.

Still, I wish one company or the other would have invoked Spinal Tap in their product announcement, instead of leaving it up to the tech press.

Anyway, it looks like Windows 11 is going to be more of an evolution than a radical departure. Microsoft has clearly learned from the Windows 8 debacle, and isn’t going to give us something so wildly different that we’ll have to totally readjust our muscle memory just to carry out basic tasks. Like launching programs. From what I’ve seen so far, we’ll all be able to manage the learning curve.

For appropriate values of “all”, anyway. Because it’s important to realize that not everyone is going to get Windows 11 on Day One*. And hurray for that.

* Which won’t be until “holiday season”. Which, given that it’s a marketing term with no agreed-upon meaning, could be anything from September–when the stores start pushing Christmas and Christmas gifting–to January or February. Wouldn’t you like your loved one to give you an upgrade to Windows 11 for Valentines Day? Don’t sneer: it may be a free download, but I’m sure not going to install the upgrade without first backing up my systems, and you should too. Let a competent loved one (or paid professional) spend the time and effort, while you eat the chocolate you were going to give them. You do give chocolate to your computer repair person, right? Much safer for your equipment than alcohol.

Even once it’s released, not everyone is going to get Windows 11.

Microsoft is still fine-tuning the limits, but right now it appears that Windows 11 won’t even try to install on systems that are more than about five years old.

Unlike most of the rest of the tech industry, I’m okay with that. One doesn’t run Windows 10 on machines that were originally sold with Windows 7 (or, Goddess help us, Vista). At best, one walks it; more often, one crawls it.

And Microsoft will continue to support and update Windows 10 for at least five years. That means that, by the time Windows 10 is fully retired*, all those computers that can’t run Windows 11 will be at least a decade old. That’s about 90 in human years. Let them retire gracefully. Please.

* In the same sense that Windows 7 is now fully retired, of course. Which means there are still millions of people using it.

Another bit of good news: Apparently Microsoft has finally admitted that Cortana is massively annoying. She’ll still be in Windows 11, but somewhat harder to find. And computer technicians around the world are still celebrating the news that she’s being removed from the setup workflow. I know people who have to set up multiple machines every day; they hear that awful “Hi, there!” in their sleep. Good riddance.

And, just to close out my rambling, a bit of bad news; the only thing we’ve been told about Windows 11 that makes my head hurt: Windows 11 Home (the version pre-installed on over 90% of the Windows computers sold in stores) will require a Microsoft account to get through the initial setup. There are a lot of open questions around this little nugget of information. In theory, Windows 10 has a similar requirement, but you can get around it by not connecting the computer to the Internet until after the setup workflow is finished. Maybe 11 will work the same way. Maybe not–but if not, how will Microsoft handle it if there legitimately isn’t an available Internet connection?

Because, let’s be blunt here: not everyone wants to give Microsoft that much control over their computer. (Want to see a techie froth at the mouth? Ask them to help you with a Bitlocker recovery.) Even Apple, that vociferous proponent of the “walled garden”, doesn’t force you to enter your Apple ID when you set up a Mac. They’ll nag you if you don’t, but they won’t stop you. And their setup workflow always creates a local user account. You create the account and then, several steps later, they ask you to enter the Apple ID–and most recent versions of macOS have a prominent “Ask me later” or “No thanks” option.

I’d be willing to bet that Microsoft will back down from their current “must” stance. But it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they do it quietly and in a highly non-obvious way.

About ten minutes after the formal release of Windows 11, some repair technician or security analyst will discover that the requirement can by bypassed by entering “microsoft.accounts@sucks.rocks” as the Microsoft account name. Word will spread, and eventually Microsoft will blame it on a rogue programmer–but not remove the capability.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Scammy: A Public Service Reminder

The malware scam has a long and ignoble history. We’ve talked about them before, most notably in the context of confusing the scammers. Back then (2014), we were seeing the rise of the robo-scammer. Surprisingly, it seems that was a short-lived phenomenon.

For the record, I keep an eye on what scams are making the rounds both out of personal curiosity and as part of my day job. A rare occurrence, being paid to do something I’d do anyway (that doesn’t involve writing).

Anyway, in the absence of data, I speculate that people hate talking to a computer so much that not enough people pressed 1 to allow the auto-dialer to connect them to a human being. It seems logical, anyway: the reason these scams are so successful is that the caller has a well-written and well-practiced script to panic the recipient into forking over their money and opening up their computer. No one is going to trust a robotic voice that says “Your computer is under attack.”

Heck, most people are going to assume that the robotic voice is the one that’s doing the attacking.

So we’re back to more traditional methods of scamming. But there are still new wrinkles.

Remember those popups that claim you need to install a special codec to see the video you’ve clicked on? They’re still around, but they’ve been joined by a new come-on. With the long-awaited and well-publicized demise of Flash, now we’re seeing popups telling would-be viewers that they need to reinstall the Flash player that has been removed from their browser.

I would have thought people would stop to ask themselves why Flash was removed in the first place, but apparently there’s a sufficiency of people who aren’t that self-inquisitive. Sufficient enough to keep the scammers happy, anyway.

Of course email spam is still a potent venue for scammers. The “I’ve hacked your webcam and will send your family pictures of you masturbating” letters seem to be on the decline. And good riddance. The current popular approach is a subscription renewal. “Hey, this is [large corporate entity]. Your subscription to our service is about to expire. Your card will be charged [outrageously large fee] tomorrow.” This scam works well because the fee is so high. “Five hundred bucks for a magazine/website/streaming service?” If the victim is actually a subscriber, they call to correct what they figure must have been a typo; if they don’t have the service, they call to prevent the large charge. Of course, if they aren’t a subscriber, the scammer is set with a script to apologize for the incorrect message, pitch the service in glowing terms at a much more reasonable price, and get a credit card number that can then be wildly abused.

Oddly, while the scammers go to great lengths to make the emails look like they’re coming from the real company, incorporating stolen graphics and boilerplate legal text lifted from actual emails, they often don’t make the slightest effort to forge the “From” on the email. Though the evidence suggests that they don’t need to make the attempt. People seem to be quite willing to assume that “john.smith@yahoo.com” is fully authorized to speak for Netflix, Fox News, or Xfinity. Or, more likely, nobody even looks at the sender’s address. Those big numbers apparently attached to their credit cards exert a magnetic attraction on the eyes.

The big winner from a scammer’s perspective, however, is still the phone call. Yes, Sam and Nancy and their ilk are still in business. Apparently, however, enough people have figured out that Microsoft and Apple aren’t monitoring their customers’ computers and phones that claiming to be “Sam from Apple” doesn’t work well enough.

Today, the caller is much more likely put a gloss of plausibility on their claim. “Hi, this is Jolene from Norton Security Services.” LifeLock is popular with the scammers, since so many people have subscriptions to LifeLock, either directly or through their association with Norton. Other name-brand security companies’ names are being abused as well: McAfee (many computers come with a trial version of McAfee antivirus installed, so people are used to seeing or hearing the name) and ADT–“Hey, I got my burglar alarm from them, I guess they’re protecting my Internet too”–are at the top of the list.

So let’s be careful out there. Remember, when someone says they’re watching out for you online, they’re telling the exact truth. They’re watching out for you and your wallet.