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.

MS’ Tablet Experience

Last week, I introduced “Tim,” a tablet running Windows 10. I’d like to talk about him more.

Specifically, I wanted to talk about a couple of areas where Microsoft’s concept of what we might call the “tablet experience” falls short.

Apple, Google, and Amazon have promoted the tablet as an “always on, always ready for you” device. Pick it up, unlock it, and you’re right back where you were when you last set it down. Even more, until recently all three didn’t require you to set a password in the initial setup. Even now, you’re not required to set any kind of lock, although you may have to dig a little to figure out how to go passwordless.

But Microsoft has gone in a different direction. Because the initial setup is identical to setting up a desktop system, you must set a password. Not a PIN, not a gesture. A password. Using an on-screen keyboard.

Once you complete the initial setup, you can add a PIN or a gesture*, but it’s an addition, not a replacement, and Windows will occasionally require the password instead of your preferred alternative.

* Microsoft has given us the “Picture password,” in which you draw on top of a picture you select. There’s an interesting, and very readable, article about the security of the technology at Sophos, but the gist is that they’re arguably more secure than a four digit PIN, but less secure than a six digit PIN or an Android-style gesture unlock. From a strictly practical perspective, I have to wonder how well a picture password set up in portrait mode will work in landscape mode or visa versa.

If you’re willing to accept the security risk, you can also set your device to log you in without a password and to not require a password to unlock. But a tablet is certainly more accessible to potential evildoers than a desktop system, and possibly more so than a laptop. That might tip the decision against auto-login. But even if you choose to take the risk, Windows will still occasionally request your PIN or password when you turn on the tablet.

I think that’s a bug. It’s too random for me to think Microsoft has designed Windows that way–it’ll sometimes go for days without requiring the PIN, then demand it on three successive unlocks–and frequently one of those three will ask for the password instead of the PIN. But whether it’s a bug or a feature, it still betrays a desktop-oriented focus: entering a password isn’t particularly onerous on a physical keyboard, so falling back to the more secure option regardless of the user’s preference isn’t a big deal.

And that, right there, is where Microsoft’s version of the tablet experience runs head-on into user expectations: in Windows 10, Microsoft has given us a much more “father knows best” design than ever before. Consider how upgrades are installed.

As I said earlier, users are conditioned to expect their tablets to give them an “always on” experience. When Google and Apple release updates, the user is in charge of installing them. Don’t want to go from iOS 15.6.1 to 15.6.2? Don’t install it. Don’t want the August Android patches? Don’t install ’em. But if you don’t want next Tuesday’s Windows updates, you’re out of luck. You may be able to delay installing them for a couple of days, but Windows will give them to you eventually. It’ll try to do the installation at a time when you’re not using the machine, but that’s not guaranteed*. Amazon also forces updates, but there’s a critical difference between Android and Windows.

* You can set a range of times during which Windows won’t install updates, but the range can’t be any longer than twelve hours. OK for desktops, where, even with the expansion of work hours you’re probably not sitting there for much more than twelve or thirteen hours at a stretch. Less good for laptops, where you’re likely to bring work home. Not good at all for tablets where you might pick it up for a couple of minutes almost any time.

Android was designed with the preservation of state in mind. Reboot your phone or tablet, and you’ll not only find the same apps running, but in most cases they’ll be in the same place: a web browser will be displaying the same page, for example. (iOS behaves similarly, though to my mind, not as thoroughly.) And Amazon’s Fire OS inherits that state preservation from Android.

Windows doesn’t worry about state; the onus is on individual developers to save state in their own software. Reboot and none of your programs are running. Launch them manually, and, unless the programmer has implemented state preservation on their own, you’re at a default screen.

So consider the experience: you pick up your Windows tablet to, say, check what time a movie is showing. In the worst case, you’re greeted with “Windows is preparing to install updates.” You wait while the updates are installed–a process that can take fifteen or twenty minutes, or more if it’s a Windows version upgrade–and then get your login screen. Enter your password and wait for the programs that run at login to load. Launch your browser and check the movie time–you did bookmark the theater’s page, so you don’t have to type the URL again, right? By the time you get through all of that, it’s probably too late to make the show.

To be clear, this isn’t a wrong design. But it prioritizes security over user expectations, and subordinates the user’s desires to Microsoft’s vision of how people will use their computer.

That may be acceptable in a desktop or laptop–as is so often the case, Your Mileage May Vary–but it’s not going to fly in the tablet space. Unless Microsoft loosens up a little and gives tablet users the always on experience the form factor demands, they’re never going to be more than a tiny niche player in that space.

New Toy

Will anyone out there be surprised to hear that I have a new gadget? I didn’t think so.

What you might not have expected is that it’s not an Android or iOS device; it’s a Windows tablet. Not a Surface. Microsoft is positioning those as more of a laptop with a detached keyboard, or at most, a two-in-one.

This is an honest-to-gosh tablet running Windows 10. To be precise, it’s a “NuVision TM800W610L*”.

* Quite a mouthful, that, and a real loser when it comes to advertising. Who’s going to walk into a store and say “Lemme see one a them TM800W610L tablet thingies”? It’s not much fun to type, either. For the sake of my fingers, I’ll call it “Tim”.

When they’re available–and it’s currently not in stock at the Microsoft Store–they normally sell for $149, but shortly before Christmas, Microsoft dropped that to $59. At that price, I couldn’t resist the chance to see what the Windows tablet experience is like.

To be blunt, the reviews of the first generation of Windows tablets were lousy. The hardware was generally underpowered and they were further crippled by being saddled with Windows 8. But Tim’s specs are more or less in line with low-end computers, and Windows 10 is much more usable than Windows 8.

Tim did not have the Windows 10 Anniversary edition installed when he arrived. So the first order of business after connecting him to the Wi-Fi was to wait through several Windows updates. That was the first stumbling point: Tim’s hard drive is only 32GB. By the time all of the updates were installed, he was down to a mere 1.5GB of free space. If you didn’t know, when major Windows updates are installed, the old version is kept around in case there are problems and you need to revert. Windows noticed the lack of space and helpfully suggested deleting the backup. I gave it the go-ahead, and wound up with a much more usable 10GB of free space.

Of course, after installing some software–Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Firefox, a couple of games, an ebook reader,…–I’m back down to about 7GB. It’s tight. I picked up an SD card for my data files, and that smoothed out the experience significantly.

By default, Tim will run in Windows 10’s “Tablet Mode”. That means you get the Start Screen instead of the traditional desktop/start menu interface, and all programs will be forced to run maximized. It’s a sensible approach, mirroring the iOS and Android “one app at a time” UI, but there’s a bit of a catch.

I’m going to have to digress a little here.

It’s a truism bordering on cliché (and I won’t address which side of the border it’s on) that the current generation of phones and tablets have as much computing power as a desktop computer from [insert date here, chosen to make your rhetorical point]. But part of the reason so many people feel compelled to make that point over and over is that because the portable gadgets use different UIs than desktops, we don’t really feel how powerful they are.

Holding Tim–0.6 pounds of computer–and seeing that familiar Windows interface on an eight inch screen, without a keyboard or mouse around, the truth hits you like a crowbar to the kneecaps. “This is a computer. Not a toy, not a single-purpose gadget, but a full-fledged computer.”

Which brings us back to that catch: it’s a computer. Running Windows. On an Intel CPU. That means you can install any of the zillions of Windows programs that have been written since, oh, 1995 or so. To some extent, that’s a good thing. The Windows App Store has a very limited selection of software compared to the Apple and Google stores. But the downside is that not all programs written before “programs” became “apps” play nicely with Tablet Mode.

Some don’t like running full-screen, and you wind up with a tiny window floating in the middle of a vast expanse of blank pixels. Some don’t recognize when they’re in the background and constantly demand attention with pop-ups.

The problem is compounded by NuVision’s decision to design the tablet with portrait mode in mind. Note the pictures in the link at the top of the post–they’re all vertically-oriented. The cameras are on one of the short edges. And the controls are on one of the long edges, where they’re most convenient when holding Tim with the cameras at the top.

Programs written with desktop–or laptop–computers in mind are designed on the assumption that the screen will be wider than it is tall. Maximizing them in portrait mode can make for an unusably skinny interface, with menus half-hidden behind “More” buttons and dialog boxes too wide to fit on the screen.

There’s also the matter of scaling.

NuVision has equipped Tim with an excellent 1200×1920 pixel screen. Squeezed into eight inches, that makes for very tiny pixels, which in turn makes for nigh-microscopic text and controls.

Microsoft’s solution–and, to be fair, it’s the same solution everyone else uses–is to combine multiple pixels into one, thus zooming in on the display. That makes text readable and buttons tappable, but it comes at the price of lowering the effective resolution.

By default, Tim comes set to display UI elements at 200%. That’s great for visibility, but in portrait mode it means the screen is effectively only 600 pixels wide. When was the last time you visited a website that was usable on a 600 pixel screen? No, mobile-optimized sites don’t count. Servers see Tim as a desktop computer and serve up the desktop site, not the mobile version. Nor is the problem limited to the web. Even the oldest of Windows programs assume a screen width of at least 640 pixels. Remember the days when a VGA 640×480 screen was awesome? I do–but it ain’t so spectacular nowadays.

Dial back the magnification to 150%. That makes the functional width 900 pixels, which is much more usable, but still large enough to read. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

That’s a lot of negatives.

But honestly, now that I’ve used Tim for a month and gotten used to his quirks, I like him much more than I expected I would. I’ve been using him as my fulltime ebook reader, and it’s a pleasure to be able to open a book in an ebook editor and fix a broken tag that turns three paragraphs into italics.

I love being able to carry my current project along in my pocket, open it in the same program I’m using at home–not a web app, not a stripped down “mobile version,” but the very same software–and make changes while I wait. Sure, I could almost do that with a laptop, but none of my jackets have a pocket large enough for my laptop.

I wouldn’t want to write a novel on Tim, or even a short story. But the onscreen keyboard is good enough for adding a paragraph when I’ve got ten minutes, and with an external keyboard, I probably could manage a whole chapter in an emergency.

I’m not going to recommend everyone get a Windows tablet instead of an iPad or Samsung/Nexus/Whoever Android tablet. The current state of the art makes it a niche choice. But it’s a damn sight better than it used to be, and that niche is getting larger.

Brace Yourselves

A couple of times a year, I sneer at the new hardware and software announcements coming out of Apple and Google. Microsoft may not be on the same regular announcement schedule, but that shouldn’t exempt them from scorn. I’m an equal-opportunity sneerer, so, without further ado, here’s my take on yesterday’s announcements.

To nobody’s surprise, the Surface Book is getting an upgrade. Faster CPU, faster graphics, larger battery. All the usual tweaks when a device gets an upgrade. Oh, and a price upgrade as well: $2399. If I paid that much for a laptop or two-in-one, I’d be afraid to take it out of the house. But maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the Surface Studio. That’s Microsoft’s first attempt at an all-in-one computer. It’s aimed squarely at graphics professionals: the 4500×3000 pixel, 28-inch touchscreen is large enough to do 4K video editing with both the video display and the editor interface on the same screen. Imagine what you could do in Photoshop with that much uninterrupted screen real estate. And, I’ll admit, the sheer flexibility of the monitor stand is astounding.

For what you get, the $2999 price tag on the low-end model seems almost reasonable, but if you want the full-blown, top-of-the-line experience, be prepared to come up with $4199. At that price, you might want to consider picking up the Surface Book i7 instead and pairing it with a third-party external monitor. You could probably manage three-quarters as much performance for half the price.

Given its target market, it’s not surprising that the Surface Studio comes with a Studio Stylus. But it doesn’t come with the new Surface Hockey PuckDial. I blame Apple for this Microsoft innovation. The gang from Cupertino made such a big deal about the interface on the Apple Watch, with all that crown twisting, that Microsoft felt compelled to bring a twist interface to the desktop. Because who wouldn’t want to replace that horrible Alt-Tab combination to switch among running apps with a simple twist of the wrist? How about scrolling pages, changing volume, or undoing commands without touching your mouse? It’s cute; I’ll grant them that much. But I’m not seeing the usability gain here. How is moving your hands from keyboard to puck any better than moving them from keyboard to mouse or keyboard to stylus? Artistically-inclined folks, your thoughts?

Finally, there’s the upcoming “Creator’s Update” to Windows 10. This is the Spring successor to this past July’s “Anniversary Update” and the big enhancements are in exactly the areas you would expect: 3D, VR, and people.

Wait, what?

The 3D and VR enhancements are completely understandable. Apple and Google are putting heavy emphasis on them, so Microsoft has to keep up. But people? According to Microsoft, the idea is to make sharing and communicating more central. For example, they’re working from the idea that when you see something neat, you don’t think, “Hey, I should share that with Lisa.” In reality, they say you think “Hey, Lisa would love that. I should send it to her.”

So, Lisa is going to get her own space on your taskbar. Well, Lisa and all of your other “important contacts.” The idea is that you’ll drag the document you want to share to the contact, instead of finding a “share” link in your program and then hunting through that program’s address list to find the person you want.

Interesting idea, but the implementation seems fraught with peril. I suspect that Cortana is going to decide which of your contacts are important; Microsoft’s track record suggests that overruling her may not be simple. Be prepared to argue with her over whether the prime real estate should go to “Mom,” “Boss,” or “Sweetie”.

Oh, and there’s also going to be a new popup window to show all of the messages from a contact in one place. Any bets on whether this will make it easier to uninstall Skype? I didn’t think so. Hopefully this will be a “right-click and select” popup, not a “move the mouse over” popup. Do you really want every e-mail, text message, and phone call you’ve had with Mom appearing onscreen while you’re making a presentation to the rest of your team?

Creator’s Update builds will start showing up in the beta channels this week. Brace yourselves.

Painfully Obvious

Apparently, Intel has decided that the best way to sell computers with their latest processors is to insult the intelligence of potential buyers.

Consider the pair of ads they’ve been running in heavy rotation recently. The first focuses on the wonders of facial recognition for security.

Let’s consider that for a moment. Leave aside the fact that facial recognition doesn’t require a sixth-generation Core processor and all the Intel trimmings–my old Android phone could do it just as well. Ignore the fact that facial recognition can and has been defeated with photographs or short videos played on a cell phone. Forget the fact that the amount of security provided by any single authentication feature is limited.

Even without considering all of those facts, how in Hell would locking his laptop with his face–or anything else–help the guy in the commercial? He doesn’t keep his money on his laptop*! He keeps it in the bank, like any sensible human being. The chances that someone cracked his laptop to steal his life’s savings are somewhere between slim and none. More likely, his bank’s been breached by a cracker in Asia who’s made off with millions.

The poor schlub being castigated in the commercial is probably delivering cash to the bank so it can cover the expected demand for account closures when word of the breach gets around.

* Well, OK, maybe he’s heavily into Bitcoin. But if he’s that heavily invested in digital currency, he’s not keeping his wallet on his laptop; he’s got it on the machine at home that’s busy mining currency 24/7.

Then there’s the second ad. This one talks up how fast and light the new computers with the latest Intel processors are. “Well, if it’s so old, why are you chasing it?” the spokesperson asks the poor, befuddled woman who just left her old computer in a cab.

Well, maybe it’s got something to do with the years of data she’s got stored on its hard drive. If she’s lucky and smart, most of it’s backed up somewhere, but chances are, there’s something on there that isn’t backed up. Maybe the latest changes to the presentation she’s about give? Or maybe the steamy photos her sweetie just e-mailed her. Why should she care if some random stranger opens her laptop and sees those*?

* Don’t forget: in Intel’s universe, if the computer is that old, it can’t be securely protected, because it won’t do facial recognition!

Again, leaving all of that aside, what good would it do her to have a new, fast, light laptop? She’s still going to be chasing the damn cab trying to get it back when she leaves it on the seat.

Come on, Intel, assume we have a modicum of intelligence, and spend those advertising dollars telling us what your CPUs can do better than anyone else’s.

Moving on.

A brief Windows 10 Anniversary Edition note: There are reports from the first people to install the new Windows 10 that it’s not playing nicely on computers that dual-boot Windows and Linux. Details are inconsistent; some users are saying that their Linux partitions have been deleted; others report that the partitions are present, but inaccessible; still others say that Windows detects the partitions as unformatted and asks permission to format them.

Naturally, users are screaming about Microsoft’s insidious plan to force a “Windows-only” world on us.

Let’s be honest: Windows has never played well in a dual-boot scenario, especially when it comes to upgrades. I strongly doubt that Microsoft is intentionally wiping out Linux installations. For one thing, if they were, every dual-boot system would be affected, and we’d have a lot more information about what’s going on by now.

The smart money says it’s a bug–and given the incredible variety of hardware configurations Microsoft supports, it’s not even a “Who QAed This Shit?” bug. High-severity, yes. Hopefully a high priority for a fix, as well. But I think it’s a mistake to ascribe it to malice or a plan for world domination.

That said, if you do dual-boot, I’d recommend postponing the upgrade as long as possible. Let someone else risk their setup until more details emerge.

If you don’t dual-boot, the upgrade to the Anniversary Edition shouldn’t be any riskier than any other Windows upgrade. The most likely outcome is a successful install, possibly combined with some changes to your desktop (i.e. if you’ve turned Cortana off, the upgrade may turn her back on.)

For what it’s worth, my Windows-only laptop is installing the upgrade now. But my desktop machine, which is dual-boot, will stay in Linux for at least a couple of weeks–if I don’t go into Windows, I won’t get Anniversary Edition.

Word Outta Redmond

Multiple sources are reporting that Microsoft has released a pricetag for upgrading to Windows 10 when the current free upgrade offer expires at the end of July.

The cost? A mere $119.

Color me skeptical.

Not that I doubt that will be the official price. But consider that, as Ars notes, there are currently three times as many Windows 7 systems out there than Windows 10. Does anybody really believe that Microsoft sincerely thinks users who haven’t upgraded at no cost will pay for the privilege?

And remember, it’s greatly to Microsoft’s benefit to convince everybody to upgrade. Not only are there the cost savings for them in reducing their support burden for older OSes, but there’s also a significant income opportunity for them in monetizing the user information they get from Cortana and the OS in general.

So I suspect that Microsoft will find continuing opportunities to reduce or eliminate the upgrade fee after July 29th. For example, “To celebrate the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on July 30th, we’re offering a free upgrade to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8!”

OK, I’m not an advertising copywriter. But I’m sure Microsoft has several of them on staff, fully capable of making the same thing Microsoft has been doing for a year sound fresh and exciting.

Am I changing my recommendation to those of you still running 7 and 8 that you should upgrade before the end of July? No. Microsoft has fooled the experts in the past, and it could happen again. And, realistically, the user experience in Windows 10 is miles ahead of 8. It’s more of a wash compared with Windows 7, but even there once you get to the top of the learning curve, it’s no worse.

And there’s one other thing to consider: If you upgrade to 10 and decide you absolutely can’t stand it, you can still downgrade back to your previous operating system. But that does not invalidate the Windows 10 license you got when you upgraded. So you would still have the option of waiting a year or two, seeing where Microsoft goes with Windows 10, and then re-upgrading when support for 7 and 8 runs out.

One final note. I mentioned the monetization of user data earlier. It’s true that Windows 10 collects a lot of information about what you’re doing. It’s also true that you can’t turn it all off. But you can take a few steps to minimize it.

Number One is Cortana. If you’re trying to cut down on how much Microsoft knows about you, don’t use Cortana. Turn her off.

And while you’re at it, turn off a few other things:
Open the Privacy Settings dialog (the easiest way to find it is to type “privacy” in the search field at the left end of the task bar). Work your way down the left menu and turn off everything you can live without. Everything on the “General” screen–although if you use Microsoft’s Edge browser, you should probably leave the “SmartScreen Filter” on.

Turn off Location, turn off the camera or strictly limit the apps that are allowed to use it, and ditto for the microphone.

“Speech, inking, & typing” is, by and large, Cortana.

Strictly limit the apps that have access to your Account Info, Contacts, Calendar, Call history, Email, and Messaging. Radios and “Other devices” should be under tight control too.

Feedback & diagnostics is an interesting one. You can set Feedback frequency to “Never” to prevent Microsoft from occasionally asking you questions about your “Windows experience”. But you can’t turn off Diagnostic and usage data. If a program crashes, Microsoft will be told about it, and they will collect at least some information about what applications you’re using. The best you can do is select “Basic” to minimize what they get.

Don’t forget to review which apps have permission to run in the background. You probably want the calendar running in the background, but do you really want Edge running, downloading whatever Microsoft thinks you might want to see–or more importantly, whatever Microsoft wants you to see?

And one last thing to check: The privacy implications are somewhat limited, but it’s especially important for those of you who have slow network connections or are charged by the amount you use your connection.

Go to the Windows Update settings, click “Advanced options” and then “Choose how updates are delivered”. Turn OFF “Updates from more than one place”. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft is using every Windows 10 computer that leaves the default settings in place as part of the Windows Update delivery system. How charming.

I’ve heard that it works like bittorrent software, in that there’s no central registry of which computers have what updates available, but even so, do you really want your computer advertising that it hasn’t yet installed the latest security fixes?

Windows 10+

Very interesting.

Microsoft’s annual developer’s conference is going on now. There weren’t any astonishing announcements on the scale of last year’s revelation of HoloLens, or even at the level of “free upgrade to Windows 10” announcement*.

* Nor has there been any word about what happens when that free upgrade period runs out at the end of July.

But what they did announce is rather interesting. Not the AI tools and the ongoing announcements of new cloud functions. Developers may go ga-ga over some of that. Consumers will be more interested in the announcement of “Windows 10 Anniversary Update” (which I’ll refer to as “AU” for the rest of this piece).

AU, which will be released “this summer,” will tie Cortana more deeply into the infrastructure, allowing the OS to link applications together–the example demoed was writing a note “Call Mom tomorrow” and having Cortana automatically create a calendar reminder, complete with Mom’s phone number. The functionality will be exposed to third-party developers. If non-Microsoft programs pick up on that–and I suspect they will, and quickly–that just might be useful enough for me to turn Cortana on.

Biometric authentication will also take a big step forward in AU, according to Microsoft. “Windows Hello” isn’t just fingerprint scanners. It will also include other technologies, including facial recognition: sit down at your computer and it’ll use your webcam to recognize your face and unlock itself. Android has had that capability for a while, but it’s still rough around the edges. Hopefully more powerful desktop machines will do a better job of reliably recognizing users than phones do. In any case, AU will not only implement Hello for unlocking the computer, but will also let third-party software use the same technology for other logins: programs, networks, and websites.

Then there’s the third major enhancement for consumers. AU will include what could be called a Linux accessibility layer. For those of you who speak Linux, Windows will introduce the bash shell as an alternative to the aging “DOS” command prompt and the (IMNSHO) over-complicated PowerShell. As you might guess, this is controversial in the Linux community. Accusations of selling out are flying.

This isn’t totally new territory, of course. Tools for running Linux software on Windows have been around for years–Cygwin is arguably the best known, and it dates back to the mid nineties. For that matter, Microsoft has supplied tools to integrate Windows and UNIX systems since the days of NT.

What’s new here is that it’s (a) from Microsoft, (b) written with the help of Canonical (makers of Ubuntu Linux), and (c) doesn’t have the hassles of previous solutions: no recompiling applications, running a full-on virtual machine, or being limited to a tiny subset of available software. If we can believe the early reports, most command line Linux software will run unmodified–just download and go, and GUI software should theoretically* be almost as solid.

* The difference between theory and practice is, of course, that in theory there isn’t a difference…

As I said, there’s a lot of sniping, snapping, and snarling going on in the Linux community right now. Personally, I’m on the side that considers this move a definite positive. At least three-quarters of the Windows-using public will never notice the “Windows Subsystem for Linux”. But those of us who live on the command line should be cheering. No more “bad command or filename” when we absentmindedly type “rm” instead of “del”. And I’ll take vim over Notepad any day. (Maybe that’s just me.)

One final thought: AU is due out “this summer” and the free upgrade offer expires July 29. Here’s my bold, fearless prediction: AU will come out in mid-July, and on August 1, the nag messages upgrade to Windows 10 will stop. Instead, Windows Update will simply go ahead and install AU on every system capable of running it. You heard it here first.

Whoops

Engadget has a story up which claims that “tablets with detachable keyboards” are the new hot. Or at least, the only thing that’s hot in an otherwise ice cold tablet market.

They cite fourth quarter shipments of 8.1 million devices, more than double last year’s number.

There’s only one little problem with the story they’re telling. It’s almost completely wrong.

See, the thing is, they’re counting the 1.6 million Microsoft Surface tablets and the “over 2 million” Apple iPad Pros. Neither of those are tablets with detachable keyboards. They’re both tablets that can work with an attachable keyboard.

Let me say that a little differently. In both cases, the keyboard is sold separately and can be connected to the tablet. That’s no different from any other tablet out there. Any iPad or Android tablet can use a Bluetooth keyboard. Heck, most Android tablets can even use a USB wired keyboard!

I have to wonder what percentage of the Microsoft and Apple buyers even shell out for a keyboard. Especially the iPad Pro owners, given Apple’s marketing spin.

Contrast that with something like Asus’ Transformer Book line, the Dell Latitude 7000 series, or any of the other true “2 in 1” devices: the keyboard comes with the tablet and the two devices function as a unit. In many cases, they even work when the keyboard is detached.

Take away those 3.6 million Apple and Microsoft devices and the remaining 4.5 million units shipped doesn’t seem nearly as hot. If it’s true that last year’s number was around 4 million, then this year’s number is still an improvement, but it’s not the kind of sexy number that really makes hardware companies sit up and beg.

Full disclosure: I have an Asus 2 in 1 and, despite a couple of annoying design glitches*, I like it quite a bit. It’s lighter than my old laptop, despite the much larger screen, and I love the ability to rotate it into portrait mode so I can see a whole page at once when I’m editing. Try that with a regular laptop. On second thought, don’t–even with an external keyboard, it’s not a good experience.

* In particular, I had to buy a third-party stand to use the device in portrait mode. A built-in kickstand would have been nice. But the biggest problem is that it only has one USB port. Really, guys, would it have killed you to put in two ports so I could simultaneously connect one of the three zillion non-Bluetooth mice running around the house and an external drive?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not running down the iPad Pro or the Surface 4. By all reports, they’re both pretty darn kickass devices. I am running down Engadget. Next time, how about you limit your comparisons to citrus fruits, without bringing in those apples?