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.

Google and Microsoft Hardware

So I could get all schadenfreudian, but what would be the point? You all know what I’d say, he isn’t going to care, and besides, there’s no telling what new nonsense he’ll perpetrate between Tuesday night (when I’m writing this) and Wednesday morning (when I post it).

Instead, let’s talk hardware. After all, I gave Apple some airtime. It’s only fair that I do the same for Google and Microsoft, right? Right.

Google announced new hardware last week. Two phones, the “Pixel 4a with 5G” and the Pixel 5. A new take on the now-venerable Chromecast, the “Google Chromecast with Google TV”. And the “Google Nest Audio”, yet another smart speaker.

The phones are, well, whelming. Certainly not overwhelming, but not especially underwhelming. They’re there, they’re an improvement over the previous generation, but not by a huge amount. They’re arguably overpriced and underperforming–especially the 5–if you compare them with other flagship phones, but the value looks better when aligned against other phones with similar performance.

Frankly, I think a large part of the bad press they’re getting is due to unhappy reviewers who were hoping for another big step forward in camera technology. Which was, IMNSHO, a misplaced hope: Google has made it clear that they’re focused (sorry) on improving their phones’ cameras through the software, rather than the hardware.

Bottom line, I don’t think anyone’s going to be selling their current phone just to get a P5 or P4w5G. But if they’re in the market for a new phone anyway, the new Pixels are well worth considering.

The speaker is a smart speaker. Louder and with better sound quality than Google’s previous generation, but overall, it’s a forgettable entry in a forgettable category.

Then there’s the new Chromecast. The highlights here are that you no longer need to use your phone to control the playback and if you set up multiple media sources (Netflix, YouTube TV, and so on), you can see an overview of what’s available across all of them without digging into the individual apps.

That latter is a slick idea, but it’s a convenience, not a gamechanger. And if Google had come out with this device a couple of years ago, it would have been a fabulous advance over the original Chromecast family. But today it has a distinctly “me too” feel: “Hey we’ve got to keep up with the Rokus, Fire TVs, and Apple TVs.”

Moving on.

Microsoft also rolled out new toys last week.

A few accessories–keyboard, mice , wireless number pad, and a gadget to mirror your computer screen wirelessly to a TV or other HDMI-equipped display.

That last could be handy, as long as your computer supports the Miracast standard. If your phone does–and some Android phones do–that could make it very handy for both business and pleasure.

There’s an updated version of the Surface Pro X–Microsoft’s ARM-based laptop. Which has not, I suspect, sold in the kind of numbers Microsoft was hoping for. Not too surprising, since it’s not hugely cheaper than the Intel and AMD laptops it’s competing with.

The interesting device out of Redmond is the new Surface Laptop Go. As the name implies, it’s a smallish device–about halfway between the Surface Go and a cheap Chromebook–with a CPU suited to a standard laptop.

With a price similar to the Surface Go (and to a high-midrange Chromebook), it’s an easy choice if you need a highly portable machine that can also function as your main machine with a USB-C docking station.

Yes, granted, I’m still using my Surface Go as my daily machine. Beside the point. I’m talking about suitability for people who don’t have my patience for a slower computer.

I’ll be very interested to see how the Surface Laptop Go fares once people get their hands on them. If the keyboard is good and the screen doesn’t wobble unpleasantly, Microsoft might just have a winner.

Time Out

Google I/O has been canceled for this year, for health reasons. Well, the in-person version has been canceled, anyway. Google plans to have some form of streaming conference instead. Interesting notion. Shouldn’t be a problem for presentations–I’ve always thought the keynote address worked better as a live stream than a butts-in-seats show–but people are going to miss the opportunity to get their hands actual devices.

And now Apple is under pressure to do the same for WWDC. Last I heard–Tuesday mid-morning–it was still on, but with Santa Clara County banning large gatherings, Apple may not be able to go ahead even if they want to.

Does anyone else find it amusing that we’re being asked to tune in via computers and smartphones to find out how the big names are going to make our computers and smartphones obsolete?

Given the current difficulties in getting hardware from Asia, I’d like to see Apple and Google (and even Microsoft* and Amazon) take a step back. Don’t release new hardware this year**. Concentrate on improving what’s already out there.

* Much as I’m intrigued by the Surface Duo and Surface Neo, and despite my difficulties with delayed gratification, I have to admit that my life won’t be measurably worse if I don’t get to play with them this year.

** It’s too late to make the same plea to Samsung. The S20 is out.

Hold off the Pixel 4a devices. And we don’t really need huge bunches of new Chromebooks. Ditto for Apple. Using part shortages as an excuse to jack up the price of an iPhone 12 would be tacky. And, while I’d love to see a new MacMini–preferably at a lower price point–I haven’t been holding my breath for it.

Give us Android 11 if you must. Ditto for iOS and iPadOS 14, as well as MacOS Catalina+1. And the next iteration of Windows 10.

Take some of the people off the hardware side, let it sit for a while, and put those people to work on usability. Hook them up (online, naturally) with people who have not been using your products every day for the last five years. Find out where the pain points are in getting started with [insert your OS here]. Do a deep dive into your update process (I’m looking at you, Microsoft). Amazon, take a good look at your pricing model and honestly answer (if only to yourself) whether it’s sustainable: is it bringing in enough to pay writers, actors, and other content producers enough that they can continue to write, act, and lay salable eggs?

Then bring out new hardware next year.

It’ll never happen, of course. The industry is too tied into “new hardware every year is the only way to keep people interested” and “as long as we make a profit while I’m alive, who cares what happens when I’m not?”

But dreaming about it keeps my mind occupied while I build a disease-proof plastic bubble around the house.

Microsoft Looks to 2020

There’s nothing like a pre-announcement, right?

Take, for example, Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface Neo. Announced today for release in time for Christmas. That’s Christmas 2020.

Still, it sounds like a cool device. Aimed right at my small computer fetish. Two nine-inch screens, a detached keyboard, weight under a pound and a half. With even a half-decent CPU–which it sounds like it will have–the Neo could kill off my current favorite small machine, the Surface Go.

Of course, who knows what else will be on the market a year from now when the Neo becomes available for reals?

Interestingly, Microsoft is trying the same idea in a phone. Yep, getting back into the phone game. Only this time, they’re not trying to cram the full Windows experience into a handheld device.

The Surface Duo–also scheduled for the end of next year–is an Android phone.

Stop laughing. Microsoft Word for Android is actually solid, as is their remote desktop app. I haven’t tried the Android Excel, but the reports are good. And Android Outlook is no worse than Windows Outlook. (Yes, I know that’s a low bar to jump. So?) The point is that Microsoft has a decent track record with Android, and with a year to refine their apps for a dual-screen life, they just might score a serious win.

There’s a fair to middling chance I might be looking for a new phone around the end of next year or beginning of 2021; if the Duo reaches its full potential, it just might be enough to lure me away from the Pixel 5 (or whatever Google is pushing by then.)

Long-range planning aside, Microsoft has also announced a bunch of new gadgets that are coming out this year.

A new Surface Laptop. Two actually. One with the standard 13.5-inch screen and Intel CPU, and one with a 15-inch screen and an AMD CPU.

A new Surface Pro*. Very similar to last year’s model, but this one finally adds the USB-C port Surface fans have been screaming for. (The Surface Go has a USB-C port and it’s been great. I only wish there were two of ’em.)

* The main difference between the “Laptop” line and the “Pro” line is that the former have a built-in keyboard, while the latter use a sold-separately, magnetically attached keyboard.

Earbuds. Really? Yeah, I know Microsoft’s Surface Earphones have gotten some good reviews, but did we really need earbuds? Apparently so. Anyway, if you need earbuds that take dictation, you might give these a try.

Then there’s the Pro X. A thin-and-light laptop; it’s distinguishing feature is that it uses an ARM CPU. It should be fast, but if you need programs from companies not named Microsoft, I’d suggest holding off until we get more solid data about compatibility with existing Windows software.

Anything sound interesting to you?

Go On

I’ve been using the new computer setup long enough to have some thoughts. Since I know at least some of you share my fascination with small computers, I’ll post the thoughts here, rather than just keeping them in my head.

Let’s go back to June. In talking about my search for a USB-C hub or docking station that would support two external monitors, I said my previous computer setup just wasn’t cutting it for travel.

The biggest reason was that my laptop was too large. Too big to fit conveniently on my desk. Way too big to use on an airplane.

The adhesive holding the screen in the case was going bad, as well. I’m fairly sure it’s fixable, but until I can get that done, the “do I dare pick this up?” factor made using it even less convenient.

So, yes, I bought a new laptop. Sort of.

Remember my Windows tablet? I still love the thing. It’s a great size for an ebook reader, and having something that can run Word while still being small and light enough to carry was wonderful.

But, while I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth of use out of the tablet–$89 more than two years ago–it is showing it’s age. The storage is small enough to make Windows updates a pain the rear, the lack of RAM makes Windows 10 slower than it needs to be on that CPU, and most importantly, the power button is starting to fail. It doesn’t always turn on or off when I push the button.

So, yes, I bought a new tablet. Sort of.

To be precise, I got a Microsoft Surface Go. With the keyboard.

It’s bigger than the tablet, but when I disconnect the keyboard, it’s not noticeably heavier*, so it works well as a tablet-slash-ebook-reader. The larger screen makes it more suitable for video. I can actually watch ballgames on this thing without squinting. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to work with. I wouldn’t want to write a whole book on it, but a chapter or three while traveling wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, I’ve written two blog posts on it, and nobody’s complained about a surge in typos.

* It is heavier. Just not enough so that I notice in daily use.

The computer is far more capable than I expected. Just as a test, I’m currently playing a 4K video on one monitor while I write this post. The video is being scaled down to fit on the 1080p screen, and playback is still smooth, even though it’s being pulled down over the network. Nor is there any lag in the word processor. I type–on a keyboard connected to the same USB hub as the network adapter–and the characters appear on the screen.

It’s got enough muscle to run GIMP for the small amount of image editing I do, which is mostly preparing the pictures for Friday posts. It can handle WSL (Windows System for Linux), so I’m not cut off from the few Linux programs I need. I’ve even had GIMP, Word, a music player, and my email program running at the same time without a significant slow down.

Now, admittedly, I splurged a bit on the Go. I shelled out for the more powerful model–same CPU, but twice as much storage and memory–and then shelled out again for the LTE model. Not only can I write on the go, but I can get online anywhere I can get a cellphone signal without having to tether the computer to my phone. I’ve used the ability twice so far. Yes, to publish the two blog posts. Turns out I can’t get to my website with the Wi-Fi at work.

Dropbox keeps my writing projects synchronized between the Go and the multiple backups on my home computers*, so I can just pick it up and go, knowing I’ll have the latest version of everything I’m likely to work on already on the machine.

* Yes, I know I could do the same thing with OneDrive. But OneDrive’s cross-platform support lags behind Dropbox. And I’ve been using Dropbox long enough to have fine-tuned my configuration to fit my workflow. Not worth the effort to switch.

The Go isn’t perfect. Music playback does sometimes stutter when I open another program. But that seems to be more a Windows problem than something specific to the Go. I had the same problem on the old laptop.

I do a little video editing*. There’s no way I’m going to try that on the Go. But I’ve still got my desktop Linux machine. I can just use that for video edits. I can even do it remotely, so I can sit downstairs (where the temperature is more comfortable) on the Go while the Linux box stays upstairs and does the work.

* Which reminds me: I wanted to share a video from the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Look for that sometime next week.

There’s no optical drive. I could buy a USB drive for ripping CDs, but that same Linux box has a DVD drive. More than sufficient for my needs.

The cameras…well, I haven’t actually tried the cameras. The one that faces me works well enough for logging me in. That’s all I really need. If I want to take pictures, I’ll use my phone. Or a real camera (to the extent that a point-and-shoot can be considered “real”). That said, the facial recognition is neat, in a slightly creepy way. Maybe if it didn’t insist on greeting me by name. “Good evening, Casey” does drive home the point that nobody really knows how much detail Microsoft gets in tracking usage. But that’s another day’s post.

All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. I’m quite happy with my new little computer.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a highly portable computer and don’t need to do serious number crunching, the Surface Go is quite an attractive option.

Two Bits on Seven Gigs

Time to put in my two bits* on a technology story that’s been making the rounds. Sure, I’m late to the party, but I’m going to jump in anyway because it gives me a chance to exercise my contrarian side.

* Yes, I know the expression is “two cents worth”. I could claim it’s inflation, but the truth is, I like to think my opinion–however belated–is worth more than a couple of pennies. Either way, though, you’re getting it for free, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

Word on the street is that Microsoft is again tweaking the way Windows upgrades itself. This time it’s got nothing to do with forced reboots while you’re trying to get work done. Microsoft has noticed–and, gosh, it only took them three and a half years–that Windows 10 often runs out of disk space during upgrades.

There are all kinds of ways to avoid this problem. Making updates smaller springs to mind immediately. Upgrade files in use–a technique Linux has been using for years. Hardcore geeks will undoubtedly have other ideas.

Microsoft’s idea is to set aside a chunk of the hard drive for its own use. About seven gigabytes.

It has the advantage of simplicity.

To be fair, I’m making it sound worse than it is. On any reasonably sized drive, either 7GB is so small as to be unnoticeable or the drive is so full that sacrificing 7GB to the Deities of Richmond isn’t going to make any difference.

Where this will be a problem is on computers with small drives. Like, say, tablets, which often have no more than 32GB drives. (If the rumors are true that Google is going to allow Chromebooks to dual-boot Windows, the same will be true there.)

Much as I love my Windows tablet, space is tight. As I said in that original post, once the initial Windows updates were installed, it was down to a mere 1.5GB. After two years of use, installing just a few programs, and putting as much data on an SD card as I can, I usually have around 5GB free. If Windows sets aside 7GB for its own use, I’m going to be in negative numbers.

It may not be quite that bad, actually. Supposedly, certain temporary files will be stored in that reserved area, freeing up space elsewhere. But while zero is better than negative, it’s an awfully slim margin.

On the other hand, I have gotten rather tired of the semi-annual reclamation of disk space.

Bottom line–and this is where the contrarian bit comes in–I think this news is completely irrelevant to ninety percent of Windows 10 users.

If your hard drive is 256GB or larger, ignore the fuss. You’ll never notice those seven gigabytes.

Same goes for those of you with 128GB, unless you’re in the habit of carrying around your entire library of cat videos. If you’re in that group, embrace the cloud. Put the videos in OneDrive or Dropbox and enjoy the digital elbow room.

If you’ve only got 64GB, you’re in an odd spot. Space is likely to be tight enough that seven gigabytes will hurt, but you’ve probably got enough accumulated junk that you can free up that much space after Microsoft claims its share, and be right back where you are now. Cloud storage will definitely be your friend.

Case in point: my Windows laptop is currently using 57GB. That’s a bit tight, but quite usable. But I’d better clear out some deadwood before the spring Windows update. I note that I’ve got about eight gigabytes of photos and videos on there–a few Ragtime Festival movies and pretty much every picture of the cats I’ve ever taken. Maybe I’ll move those out to OneDrive.

As for those of us with itty-bitty teeny-weenie 32GB drives. Find that space is going to hurt. But on the bright side, once it’s done, we shouldn’t have to do it again. No more trying to scrounge those last few megabytes every six months. No more installing updates manually from USB drives and hoping the tablet’s battery doesn’t run down halfway through the upgrade. I’m inclined to think that right there is worth the initial pain.

So, yeah. Thank you, Microsoft, for trying to solve the problem. You may not have the most elegant solution possible, but if it works, don’t listen to the hip crowd. Take my seven gigs. Please!

Microsoft Hardware 2018

With Apple’s 2018 hardware announcements behind us, most of the tech industry’s attention has turned to October 9, when Google is scheduled to announce their own new goodies. Meanwhile, Microsoft almost escaped notice with their release party.

That’s at least partly because what they announced is, well, let’s say “underwhelming”.

The October Windows 10 release will officially start rolling out on Tuesday–though you can get it now by doing a manual check for updates. But why would you want to? The big feature is a cloud-based copy/paste function so you can copy files and data from one Windows machine to another. Which sounds nice, but how much value is it going to add over Microsoft’s existing cloud service, OneDrive? Then there are also enhancements to the Timeline feature that syncs app history across devices. It’s nice that Microsoft is opening the functionality up to non-Microsoft browsers, but–aside from the fact that Firefox and Chrome already have history syncing. Are there enough people who want to sync browser tabs between, say Edge at work and Firefox at home, to make this worth Microsoft’s time and energy?

Then there’s the big enhancement to the “Your Phone” app. Controlling your phone from the desktop sounds useful. But that’s a future feature. All the app offers now is syncing photos and sending and receiving text messages. If you have an Android phone; iOS is also a future feature.

Nor are their hardware announcements any more exciting.

The biggest plus most commentators can find for the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro updates is that they now comes in black. The speed and capacity updates are minimal, and Microsoft’s continuing refusal to adopt USB-C is baffling and vexing.

The hardware upgrades in the new Surface Studio 2 are somewhat more impressive, but despite the Studio’s cool form factor, it hasn’t taken the world by storm. It’s very much a niche product, aimed at digital artists, and the improved graphics and faster hard drive won’t change that.

Oh, yes. Microsoft also announced a pair of noise-canceling headphones. The specs look nice, and I like the idea of user-controlled noise reduction. But Microsoft is a late entrant into the headphone space, and I don’t think these phones offer enough to make a serious dent.

Bottom line: if you want cool new toys, hang loose and see what Google has for you next week. Sure, most of it has leaked already, but the odds are good there will be at least one surprise.

Falling Into an Update

I decided to try something different this time around.

Microsoft released the Fall Creators Update, the latest and greatest version of Windows 10, a few days ago. You probably haven’t gotten it yet, because they roll it out in batches.

The first batch goes to computers they’re absolutely sure it’ll install cleanly on. After that, they start pushing it out to machines they’re progressively less confident about. It’s a reasonable approach. When problems arise, as they inevitably will, they can include the fixes with the next batch.

But it means some users may have to wait a long time for the update, as I found out with the previous update. Counting the little Windows tablet, I’ve got three computers running Windows 10. I upgraded the tablet manually in April when the “Creators Update” was released–I had to do it by hand because it doesn’t have enough disk space to install it automatically. One of the desktops got the update in July. The other didn’t get it until September.

It’s not that having two different versions of Windows 10 running caused me any technical problems. Frankly, the two versions behaved a heck of a lot alike. But it tweaked that part of my brain that gets compulsive about numbers.

So I decided that for the Fall Creators Update, I’d do all three machines manually. Not simultaneously. I’m not that compulsive. But in sequence.

I don’t actually need any of the features in this update. I’m curious about Microsoft’s Augmented Reality implementation, but I don’t think any of my machines have enough muscle to actually run AR software. Goddess knows I haven’t been looking forward to the ability to pin a contact to the task bar. So really, I could have waited until one got the update and then done the other two, but I got impatient.

As I write this, Computer One is running the upgrade. It’s been going for about half an hour and it says it’s 80% complete. Of course, this is a Microsoft progress indicator, and they’re well-known for making optimistic estimates. But in any case, I’ll wait until Computer One finishes the update before I start Computer Two. And I’ll make sure that one is done and functional before I start the tablet.

Barring the unexpected–and with an OS upgrade, one should always expect the Spanish Inquisitionunexpected–I should be running the Fall Creators Update on all three computers before bedtime tonight.

And come February, when the rest of you are finally getting the update, I’ll just laugh, because I’ll have been not using the ability to pin contacts to the task bar for months.

Seriously, though, if you can’t wait to dip a toe into the Fall Creators Update, the Windows 10 Download page is here. Click “Update Now” and follow the prompts. Eventually–I’m now up to 86% on Computer One–you can experience the thrill of being on the cutting edge of Microsoft technology.

(You do realize I wrote this whole post as an excuse to watch that Monty Python clip, right?)

Sorry About That

My newsfeed is full of doom and gloom. I’m not going to list the subjects; I’m sure you know them as well as I do. All I’m going to say is “Thank the gods for Bill Gates.”

Yeah, really. In the middle of all those depressing stories, I’m seeing a bunch of stories reporting that Bill Gates regrets using Control-Alt-Delete to log on.

I’m serious here. We’ve got to find a chuckle now and then, after all.

If I have any complaint about this story, it’s that it’s old news. Bill made the same comment as far back as 2013. But that’s a minor quibble.

Bill’s done a lot of good since he turned his attention to philanthropy, IMNSHO, more than enough to make up for “640K RAM is plenty” and all of the other geeky complaints we could offer.

Enough to make up for Microsoft Bob? Maybe. Yeah, probably. It’s not like Microsoft was the only company to come up with a laughable attempt at a user friendly GUI.

The worst thing about Ctrl-Alt-Del as far as I’m concerned isn’t that it requires two hands (or three fingers if you prefer to look at it that way). If anything, that’s a bonus. Makes it very difficult to hit it by accident.

My objection–and I’m well aware I’m far from the first to point this out–is that it violated years of user expectations.

Remember, back in those innocent days when DOS ruled the world, the three-fingered salute was your last ditch resort to regain control of your computer when something went awry. The idea was to give you a way to kill off a program that was frozen, deleting last month’s data, or just refusing to listen to you.

People being people, that quickly got generalized to “shut down”. Okay, so people are idiots, but never the less, the association was set. And suddenly Bill was telling us to shut down to start.

Bad vibes, dude.

But, hey. Here we are in 2017, and we’re so desperate to hear someone apologize for a mistake that we’ll take a four-year-old apology.

Works for me. Apologies, like Twinkies, never get stale.

Listen Up!

I love the Internet’s response to new forms of advertising.

Specifically, I’m talking about Burger King’s recent attempt to hijack TV viewers’ cell phones and Google Home devices.

In case you missed it, BK ran–and is still running–an ad that deliberately uses the “OK Google” activation phrase to trigger any gadget in earshot to start reading the Wikipedia page about their Whopper burger.

The response? The page in question was almost immediately edited to describe the burger as “cancer-causing” and to list cyanide in its ingredients.

Allegedly, a senior BK executive tried to change the page to something more complimentary, only to have his edits removed.

So, yeah, I think that’s the perfect response. Google, who apparently were not warned about the ad in advance, modified their software’s response to ignore the ad. While I’m sure many people appreciate that, it does raise a few questions.

Let’s not forget that most of Google’s billions of dollars come from advertising. Suppose BK had come to Google and said, “Hey, we want to tie a TV ad to your devices. Here’s a stack of money.” Does anyone think Google’s response would have been “Buzz off”? I’m guessing it would have been more along the lines of “How big is the stack?”

And then there’s the privacy aspect. This contretemps should serve as a reminder that “OK Google” does not use any kind of voice recognition to limit requests to the device’s owner. Nor can the phrase be changed. I’ve complained about that before: not only does it lead to multiple devices trying to respond to a single request, but it also makes it simple for outright malicious actions.

Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are equally guilty here–Alexa, Siri, and Cortana have fixed, unchangeable triggers too.

And now, perhaps, we’re seeing why none of the manufacturers want to let users personalize their devices’ voice interaction. If we could change the trigger phrase, or limit the device to taking instructions from specific people, then the manufacturers wouldn’t be able to sell broadcast advertising like this.

If the only way you can prevent random strangers from using your phone is to turn off the voice feature, then you don’t own your phone.

Microsoft is making it harder and harder to turn Cortana off. Microsoft is also putting more and more ads in Windows. Do you sense a connection?

How long will it be before you can’t turn Siri and Google off?

And editing Wikipedia pages will only get us so far in defending ourselves.

Google was able to turn off the response to BK’s ad-spam. But they could just as easily have changed the response to read from an internally-hosted page or one housed on BK’s own servers. Either way, Internet users wouldn’t be able to touch it, at least not without opening themselves up to legal liability for hacking.

The most annoying part of this whole debacle is that now I’m craving a hamburger. I won’t be getting one at Burger King, though.