• Newsletter Issue #616

    September 19th, 2011

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    As the media, and millions of Apple customers, waited for announcements about the next iPhone and, to a lesser degree, the newest iPods, we focused most of our attention elsewhere on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. On the front burner was Windows 8, Microsoft’s forthcoming OS upgrade that will combine mobile and desktop systems, which is widely expected to arrive in 2012. Along to discuss what he regards as some of the questionable aspects of Windows 8 was cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider. You also heard from Seth Rosenblatt, from CNET, who had a hands-on encounter with an early beta of Windows 8.

    As you regular readers no doubt realize, I am skeptical about the reasoning behind Windows 8, not because I don’t expect Microsoft to sell hundreds of millions of copies. That’s a given considering the company’s continuing dominance of the PC market. I’m skeptical because I do not believe Microsoft understands what makes Apple and its iOS gear so successful. They seem to believe you want Windows everywhere, more or less, and that taking interface schemes that have already failed will somehow succeed when transferred to different products. But I’ll get into more details later in this issue.

    Also this week, Macworld writer Lex Friedman discussed the curious disappearance of gift card balances from some iTunes accounts, and what might be responsible for these cases of online theft. The sordid details are simple. Some people who add the gift cards to their accounts will, not long thereafter, find the balances zeroed out. Yes, Apple will make good on the loss, but why it’s happening remains an open question, although Lex had some credible suggestions to offer about the possible causes.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return appearance from Peter Robbins, a founding member and Advisory  Board member of Budd Hopkins’ Intruders Foundation, and author of “Left at East Gate: A First-Hand Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident, Its Cover-up, and Investigation,” which was co-authored by Larry Warren.

    Coming September 25: Gene and Chris present a “Great Debate” on whether there is UFO secrecy with John B. Alexander, Ph.D, author of “UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities” and nuclear physicist and UFO authority Stanton T. Friedman. We also ask the questions you posted in our forums.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    SHOULD WE BE GUSHING OVER WINDOWS 8?

    It must be frustrating for Microsoft. Apple gets nearly all the attention these days, even though Windows still dominates the world’s PC desktops by a huge margin. Yes, the share is eroding somewhat, mostly because the Mac is growing faster, but Microsoft still makes loads of money from Windows licenses.

    At the same time, Microsoft has failed to spread the joy to other markets. Although the Xbox has done all right in the gaming business, Microsoft has struck out when it comes to tablets and smartphones. These days, Windows Phone 7, though praised for a good-looking user interface, is essentially a non-issue. It’s all about the iOS and Android.

    When it comes to search, Bing’s market share has increased, but largely at the expense of Yahoo!, which continues to flail after agreeing to use Microsoft’s search engine. In the wake of the sudden firing of their CEO, Yahoo! is reportedly looking for merger partners in the hopes of staying afloat.

    So the pressure is on Microsoft to get Windows 8 right, not to mention devising a workable solution for tablets and mobile phones. It seems to me and other commentators that Microsoft simply looked at what Apple has accomplished by melding some iOS features into OS X Lion, and decided to attempt to go one better.

    With Windows 8, you’ll see the same basic look and feel on a tablet and a regular PC, dubbed Metro. If the colorful tiles are familiar to you, it’s because you’ve seen them before in two failed products. If any of you have a Zune around, just turn it on, and have a look, or maybe check out your Windows Phone 7 smartphone. Then again, I wonder how many of my readers have such gear, but if you do, the Metro interface would be quite familiar to you.

    So the first question Microsoft needs to answer is how they expect to take a user interface that has failed on two other products, and make it work on their flagship product? I’m not sure I understand the logic behind Windows 8. Surely Microsoft has enough talented interface designers on hand to devise something with a better chance of success. But that’s just me.

    This isn’t to say that Metro is bad, although I consider the basic look rather ugly and just too busy for casual users. I’m also concerned about the choice to place white lettering over a color tile, because it reduces visibility. Isn’t that simply Web design 101, although the text will certainly be sharper on a regular computer, right?

    Now commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on my tech radio show, likens Metro to a magazine, with the same flat or two-dimensional look and feel. But aren’t magazines passé these days, what with the growth of online content? So why would Microsoft take yesterday’s look and feel and somehow believe that’s what customers will accept?

    Now I realize some of you might criticize me for commenting on something I haven’t used, but I’ve installed the developer beta of Windows 8 under Parallels Desktop 7 for the Mac. Performance is not that snappy since Parallels hasn’t delivered a set of optimized drivers for the new OS, but I’ve seen enough to give me a sense of the damage Microsoft has wrought.

    Take the initial setup screen, consisting of white lettering against a deep green background. As I said, it’s not quite as readable as one ought to expect from a casual glance, but I was able to get through the simple setup process, since I used the “Express” option, which merely requested my Windows Live ID. My Hotmail address sufficed. Indeed, only moments later, I got an email in my Hotmail Inbox asking me to confirm that I wanted to add my new “trusted PC” to the account, which I did.

    As you’ve probably seen from the screen captures already published, the Start screen is laden with tiles. Confirming my first impression, some of the white lettering was so thin it almost faded into the background. As I said, it doesn’t make sense.

    More to the point, I just wonder how the enterprise will adapt to this ill-thought user interface. My impression is that they won’t. They’ll just disable Metro and revert to an interface that looks little different from Windows 7. So why bother?

    Now Microsoft’s argument is that Windows 8 will offer performance advantages, particularly when it comes to boot and shut down times. While I couldn’t evaluate performance fairly on a virtual machine, it seemed to boot quickly enough, though it took far longer than the eight seconds Microsoft demonstrated on specially configured tablet computers handed out to the media. At the same time, those computers included powerful Intel i5 processors and 64GB solid state drives, and the latter would surely ensure a quick startup process.

    Less certain is how Windows 8 will fare on a true mobile gadget using an ARM processor. Will you get decent battery life and snappy performance? That’s not a given. Even the failed HP TouchPad, with reasonably powerful hardware, had troubles with the WebOS. I suppose we won’t be know for certain until Windows 8 is further along in its development process.

    But the real problem for Microsoft is that Metro is just a veneer, not something infused with Windows 8 that somehow makes it better. You will not, for example, be able to run regular Windows apps on an ARM device powered by Windows 8. You’ll only be able to share a new class of Web-based apps on both devices. And, yes, Microsoft will have its own app repository designed in the spirit of Apple’s App Store, complete with the requisite 30% take from software sales.

    I really have concerns as to how this smoke and mirrors scheme will catch on with the business customers on whom Microsoft depends. As to consumers: Since they’ve already given the Zune and Windows Phone 7 a pass, what makes Microsoft believe that using a similar interface on Windows 8 will somehow succeed? That’s the larger issue. For now, color me skeptical.

    THE END OF A LONG AND HOT MOVIE SUMMER

    In the movie business, the summer blockbuster season begins in May and ends by Labor Day. During that time, they earn most of their box office revenue and, one hopes, the major portion of their profits. But this year’s tallies are troublesome, as some of the flicks Hollywood hoped would become smash hits ended up being duds.

    So while we tolerated new entrants in the “Transformers” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, and gave “Harry Potter” a rousing send off, films based on comic book super heroes were a mixed success. Yes, the mighty “Thor” had a pretty decent audience, earning nearly $450 million worldwide. The “X-Men” reboot, “First Class,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” earned modest profits for their studios. But the public gave thumbs down to a DC comics character, “Green Lantern,” and to a peculiar sci-fi themed western, “Cowboys and Aliens.”

    Now the latter arrived with high expectations, sporting an A-list production team that included Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Roberto Orci. The latter three are famous for various J.J. Abrams TV hits, and Kurtzman and Orci were the scribes for the “Star Trek” reboot. The film’s director, John Favreau, is known for his success with the first two “Iron Man” films. But even stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig couldn’t save this curious concept, based on a graphic novel about alien marauders in the old west.

    And please don’t get me started about yet another super hero flick from earlier this year, “The Green Hornet,” based on a radio show back in the 1930s and 1940s, which got lost between bad comedy and bad action.

    This won’t stop next year’s comic book onslaught, which includes “The Avengers,” sporting a team of Marvel superheroes, including the Hulk, all in one film, and Christopher Nolan’s third entry in the Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

    At the same time, it appears the entertainment industry’s bigwigs have begun to watch their wallets, and they have passed on some projects, including a $250 million dollar remake of “The Lone Ranger,” with Johnny Depp as Tonto. Go figure! Now it’s possible that the masked man will still get the green light with a more sensible budget. But you have to wonder why moviemakers would need so much cash to film a western. Just what sort of state-of-the-art special effects do you need for gun fights and galloping horses? Well, actually, they were going to add some strange creatures and other sci-fi elements, but you’d think that good writing, snappy dialog, great performances, and lots of physical action would be sufficient to carry a film. Or maybe not.

    In passing, I do hope the 3D craze will fizzle out. Sure, adding 3D, even to a film originally photographed with standard 2D cameras, lets the local movie theaters charge you much more for a ticket. But that doesn’t necessarily make the film more enjoyable. Unfortunately it may take a while longer for the multidimensional craze, which returned with the success of “Avatar,” to settle down. The consumer electronics makers are busy struggling to sell 3D TVs, but there aren’t as many takers as they hoped, largely because the market for flat panel TVs is saturated, and there are few sources of 3D material. Cable and satellite providers are adding some, and there are a small number 3D Blu-ray discs, if you care to buy a new player on which to run them.

    In the past, when box office receipts were down, Hollywood hoped to recoup the losses with DVD (and now Blu-ray) sales. But the great revolution from VHS to DVD, where most people simply bought the same content all over again, is over. Those who have DVD versions of a movie aren’t very likely to buy a Blu-ray equivalent. Sure, it looks better, but not that much better.

    This won’t stop the movie industry from wishing and hoping for better box office receipts next year. And don’t forget the Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” due for 2013, the inevitable sequels for the few comic book movies that did succeed in the last couple of years, and lots of other special-effects laden fare. Sure, the industry will possibly retrench for a while, but it only takes a few blockbuster hits to convince them to take out their checkbooks all over again.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    9 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #616”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Please Link to Us!<a href="http://www.technightowl.com/2011/09/newsletter-issue-616-should-we-be-gushing-over-windows-8/&quot; >Newsletter Issue #616: Should We Be Gushing Over Windows 8?</a>Related Articles:Microsoft’s Version of Innovation or SomethingThe Microsoft Death Watch Report: More Demands for a New CEOThe Microsoft Death Spiral ContinuesMicrosoft: The Definition of Insanity?Attention Apple Critics: Change Your Expectations! […]

    2. jfutral says:

      I’m not totally convinced that it was the interface that caused the two MS products to fail. That’s a bit too reductionist for me. Windows is big because of corporate buyers, not consumers. I just think the Zune failed because of ALL that the product was, not the interface. And WP7 failed because it needed hardware makers to get on board, but why in the world would a handset maker pay MS when Android is “free”? I do think with the problems Android continues to face on the licensing front, Windows may start to become more appealing. Handset makers traditionally don’t really care about interface issues. Just look at what they continue to do to Android and why Google is looking, and needs, to rein in how Android is used by those handset makers?

      Now, I say all that without having _used_ the Metro interface myself, just having seen it used by others. So all the usual Windows unnecessary clutter and complexity probably still lurks under the covers, which would be a shame, but predictable. But on the surface of it, MS is heading in the right direction. If Windows 8 fails, I don’t think it will be because of Metro, which strikes me as a more intelligent move than Bob was. It will fail because it may be a promise unfulfilled, i.e. the promise of simplicity without the simplicity.

      As for the press and MS shills, they are also behaving predictably. They have shown an historic and consistent lack of understanding of people’s purchasing psychology. They also believed Zune would swamp iPod. But then if everyone new how to create and market products, they would all be Apple. How boring would that be?

      Joe

      • @jfutral, The interface is an important part of the whole package; to some customers, it’s everything. There’s nothing to indicate that large numbers of customers will embrace Metro because they like it.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • jfutral says:

          @Gene Steinberg,
          Right. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all saying the interface isn’t important. But I do think to say that was the only or even primary reason for the failure of the Zune or WM7 is ignoring a lot of other equally important factors, making it a difficult leap to say Metro will lead to the failure of W8. I don’t think even if one could put the iOS on some of the cheaper Android phones/tablets or even a Zune, I don’t think that would be enough to make them worth purchasing.

          IMHO,
          Joe

          • @jfutral, I think it’s hit or miss for consumers. If they don’t like the interface, they will largely avoid Windows 8 unless it’s preloaded on their new PCs. For the enterprise, they will probably opt to dump it and revert to the standard Windows look and feel, assuming they even upgrade. They don’t like surprises, or changes.

            Peace,
            Gene

    3. jfutral says:

      Oh, and I completely agree about 3D movies. This fake 3D is for the birds. Give me REAL 3D if you’re going to give me 3D at all. I want to be able to watch the movie from different angles. And make sure it actually enhances and is integral to the narrative. I want my holodeck!

      There is no substitute for a good story.
      Joe

    4. AlfieJr says:

      First, enterprise certainly will bypass W8. in general, enterprise is just now finally abandoning XP and updating to the now-proven W7, along with all the crucial MS support software like Server 2011. and all the third party proprietary software for enterprise is finally being updated to W7 as well. there is no way on earth that businesses – having gone through all the expense, reworking, training, etc. – it took to move to W7 are going to go through all that again after just two or three years just for Metro eye candy.

      if MS is smart, they will just update W7 with W8’s technical improvements, especially security, but leave the rest alone without Metro. maybe they will call it W8 Enterprise, or some such fig leaf for what amounts to a service pack.

      Second, MS will never bring W8 to market on schedule. they never do (where is the Nokia W7 phone?). they don’t even have an engineering prototype of W8 running on ARM that is good enough to show yet, or we would have seen it last week. no way that will come to market in a year from now. working with some OEM they might get a small-production V.1 of an x86 W8 “slate” out the door by the end of next year, but even that is doubtful. and they might release the W8 gold master by the end of next year too. but we are not going to see any significant number of new W8/Metro products until well into 2013.

      as it is, Metro is pretty much equivalent to iOS 4/5 and Android Honeycomb (ICS? who knows?). but by 2013 it will be opposite iOS 6 and Tutti Frutti (or whatever). what we saw last week won’t be good enough for that.

      Finally, the websphere is gushing over W8 like adolescents with a crush on the new kid in school. which should come as no surprise. high-school smart kid BS is pretty much the general tenor of the web anyway. the high end sites just bump it up to college undergrad BS.

    5. ViewRoyal says:

      The main selling point that Microsoft is pushing for Windows 8 is that it will be able to run all of your existing Windows applications (with some caveats).

      Yes, you will be able to run all of your existing Windows applications on a Windows 8 tablet… as long as that tablet has an Intel or AMD processor. Those tablets will be basically the same “Tablet PC” that Microsoft has been trying to sell unsuccessfully for the past 10 years, since 2001.

      A Windows 8 tablet with an Intel or AMD processor (like the Samsung 700T reviewed by PC ADVISOR) are thick, heavy, run hot, need air vents and a fan to spin most of the time, and (as in the case of the Samsung 700T) only have 2.5 to 3 hours of battery life.

      These tablets are also much more expensive than current ARM tablets like the iPad. The Samsung 700T has a list price of about $1,600.

      In addition, since Windows applications are designed to operate with keyboard and mouse, NOT with multi-touch, and the interface is too complex and small to use with your fingers anyway, you will need to use a stylus like the one included with the Samsung 700T.

      This is just like the Tablet PCs that have not sold well during the past 10 years. Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

      But Microsoft will have a version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors. Won’t these be the better choice for Windows users?

      Unfortunately, the version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors will NOT be able to run any of your existing Windows applications… it will only run Metro tablet applications, of which there are currently none from third-party developers.

      So as much as Microsoft wants you to believe that Windows 8 is just one operating system that runs on all of your desktop, laptop, and tablet “PCs” (Microsoft has stated that they consider tablets to be “PCs”), it is not really true.

      There are really two different OS’s.

      One is a poorly thought-out version of Windows 7 slightly redesigned with Windows Phone 7 interface (Metro) stuck on top of it. This OS will run on Intel or AMD desktop, laptop, or tablet PCs, and will run all of your Windows applications… but an Intel or AMD tablet is impractical.

      The other version of Windows 8 runs on ARM processors. It won’t be able to run your Windows applications, only the Metro tablet apps whenever they become available.

      Some people will believe whatever Microsoft tells them, and won’t question its veracity.

      In reality, Microsoft is following in Apple’s footsteps, and selling an operating system for desktop and notebook PCs, and another incompatible one designed for ARM tablets. They are even copying Apple’s App Store for Metro tablet apps, and using the same 30% – 70% developer split.

      The main problem is that both of Microsoft’s Windows 8 versions are neither well designed for desktop and notebook PCs, nor for ARM tablets.

      It will be “interesting” to see how many Windows users actually upgrade to Windows 8, or if they still buy-in to Microsoft’s bull after using it for a while.

      • Al says:

        @ViewRoyal,

        I don’t have any strong objections to what you said.

        I just wish people would put Einstein’s definition of insanity to rest because it’s just plain wrong. Einstein is one of the greatest physicists that ever lived but that doesn’t suddenly make him an expert in psychology. The behavior described by the definition is more in the line of stubbornness or stupidity and to call it insanity is giving stubborn and stupid people an excuse that they don’t deserve.

        Yes I’m being petty.

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