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.

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.

Microsoft Is the Future

Before I get to the meat of today’s post, I want to close out Tuesday’s post. I got a very pleasant e-mail from Jaxon in response to my dissing of his latest article on the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch.

Unsurprisingly, he disagreed with my view that the article places too much of the blame for the fiasco on the design committee and their choice. This is still a more or less free country, and he is, of course, entitled to his opinion, however wrong it may be. I didn’t expect that he’d read my blog post and immediately see the error of his ways. But perhaps he’ll come around in the future.

And there will be opportunities for Jaxon to see the light. He assured me that he’ll continue to cover “the flaws and foibles” of the Bay Bridge project. That’s good news. Despite my teasing and my disappointment with the latest article, his writing on the subject has been consistently good. Certainly better than that of certain other Chronicle reporters; if you doubt that, take a look back to June, 2013. Jaxon’s article names names and doesn’t cut Caltrans any slack, while his colleague’s piece a few days later swallows Caltrans’ claims of collective responsibility whole, and regurgitates them, entirely undigested.

Moving on.

There were a number of interesting announcements out of Microsoft earlier this week related to the impending arrival of Windows 10. I found two of them particularly fascinating.

First, there’s the announcement that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8, as long as they do the upgrade in the first year after Windows 10 is released. What really makes that interesting is that the free upgrade is not available to anyone running XP.

As ArsTechnica notes, XP still accounts for almost 15% of the worldwide OS marketshare–nearly twice as much as all versions of Macintosh OS X–despite the fact that it’s completely unsupported. Apparently, Microsoft is giving up trying to convince XP users that it’s time to move on and upgrade to a supported OS.

And that one year window has some interesting implications for users of Windows 7, which moved from “mainstream support” to “extended support” earlier this month and will become unsupported in January of 2020. Microsoft hasn’t announced a release date for Windows 10, but it’s almost certainly going to be sooner than four years from now. Why would Microsoft eliminate its biggest incentive to upgrade? Do they really want a years-long period of Windows 7 getting increasingly creaky but nobody moving on? Didn’t they learn anything from the effort to get people off of XP before the end of extended support?

We could be optimistic, I suppose. Microsoft has taken the important step of offering a free upgrade. Maybe as Win7’s end of life approaches, they’ll take the next step and try paying people to upgrade. Imagine: “Download your Windows 10 (2019 edition) upgrade here and we’ll send you a $50 Visa Debit Card, good at any retailer that still has a bricks-and-mortar outlet.” It’s worth a try, guys.

The other interesting announcement is, as you’ve probably already guessed, Microsoft’s HoloLens.

It seemed a little odd how much excitement HoloLens is generating, given the recent crowing we’ve seen in the press about the death of Google Glass*. On further thought, though, I think the buzz has a lot to do with the difference in HoloLens’ focus.

* For the record, Glass isn’t dead. The current hardware may not be available, but Google hasn’t given up on the idea. There’s still a Glass team, and even if the classic spectacle-mounted display doesn’t make a comeback, ideas and techniques from Glass will find their way into other Google products.

Glass was and is primarily about sharing your life–remember the live skydiving video at Google I/O 2012?–rather than enhancing it. The provision of contextual information is a secondary goal, and Google took great pains to keep it unobtrusive.

At the other extreme, you’ve got Oculus Rift and other virtual reality systems working toward a fully-immersive experience.

HoloLens sits in between the extremes, aiming to provide contextual enhancement to your environment without replacing the entire world around you.

By focusing on providing useful information without burying you in it, Microsoft may just find the sweet spot of user interest. The demos being run for reporters suggest they haven’t yet decided exactly where on the spectrum that sweet spot lies–the Mars demo, for instance, is nearly as extensive as an Oculus Rift-style virtual reality–but the current state of the hardware makes it clear that they still have time to refine their target.

Microsoft says HoloLens will be available “in the same timeframe as Windows 10.” It’s clear that the HoloLens hardware is not as close to release as Win10, so don’t expect to get a HoloLens system the same day you download your free OS upgrade. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if HoloLens doesn’t hit the shelves until after the free upgrade offer runs out–but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the hardware came with a bundled copy of Win10. That might be just enough incentive to convince a few laggard Win7–or even XP–users that the time catch up with the rest of the world has arrived.

The Cycle of Life

So there’s a lot of excitement in MicrosoftLand today. There’s a birth and a death!

The birth is the release of Windows 8.1 Update 1. Seriously, that’s what they’re calling it. Maybe somebody’s already trademarked “8.2”? Anyway, the update is the latest tiny step towards Microsoft’s inevitable admission that it just doesn’t make sense to have a single UI across their entire product line from phones with four-inch touch-sensitive screens to computers with thirty-inch non-touch monitors. Yeah, the update has a bunch of bug fixes (many of which are already installed on any computer that has automatic updates turned on). The big excitement is for the enhancements aimed at desktop users. The most thrilling of these is a tweak that will cause machine without touch support to boot to the traditional desktop instead of the new Start screen. Can you feel the adrenaline hitting your innards at the thought? No, me either.

The death is official End of Life for Windows XP. Sorta. At least two governments are paying Microsoft to continue releasing security fixes. But those fixes are for government use only; they won’t be released to the general public. Meanwhile, Microsoft has said that they will continue to issue virus definition updates for their popular “Security Essentials” program. They’ve also said that they will not continue the updates. Except that they will. But they won’t. At this point, I’m not sure if anyone, including Microsoft employees, know whether the updates will continue. Joy. That “general public” that won’t be getting security fixes, by the way, may make up close to a quarter of the machines surfing the Web. That’s a heck of a lot of machines that will be vulnerable to the security exploits that will be discovered from now on.

So with all that excitement, the search engines must be staggering under the load of people trying to find out how to upgrade their zombie XP machines to that thrilling Windows 8.1 Update 1, right?

Not so much, actually. A quick check of Google’s Trends shows that Microsoft and Windows haven’t even cracked the top searches lists.

OK, I didn’t really expect that all of the people who have been ignoring Microsoft’s increasingly frantic warnings that XP computers would turn into pumpkins to suddenly update, but I did think there would be a flood of people wanting to get the latest and greatest 8.1. I don’t have a clue what went wrong there–I can’t imagine that all of the early adopters have dropped dead. Maybe Windows 8 just isn’t as popular as Microsoft has been telling us? Certainly Microsoft has been complaining that the Windows 8 adoption has been slower than they hoped.

Here’s a thought, a way for Microsoft to solve two problems at once. We’ve discussed the recent “free OS” trend before. The latest OS X is a free upgrade. Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade from Windows 8, and Microsoft just announced a couple of days ago that Windows will be free to manufacturers of devices with screens under 9 inches.

So take the logical next step, Microsoft: Make Windows 8.1 a free upgrade from any version of Windows. Shove it into Windows Update for XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Millions of machines run by people who aren’t paying attention move off of XP, adoption of Windows 8 soars. Microsoft is leading the the way into the future instead of limping along shouting “Wait for me!” Everyone is happy.

Yes, I’m aware that you can’t actually upgrade XP to Windows 8: you have to do a clean install and migrate your settings. But it’s not technically impossible. Remember that–all jokes aside–Microsoft’s developers and QA folks have the expertise to integrate a migration tool into the Windows 8 installation system. They just need a reason to do it. Now there’s a reason.

What do you say, Microsoft?