I, like a great many others, was quite taken aback by Microsoft when then released Windows 7. Here was an operating system that not only looked great, but it was brilliant in it's workflow and usability. MS had made all the necessary changes to Vista to make it a far more complete OS without losing the familiarity of XP. XP was the last time that MS really out did themselves in upgrading a new OS and I guess if you look at the pattern of their releases it came as no surprise that Windows 8 is an utter hash job.
Windows 7 is a robust and user friendly OS, but it's also a systems administrator friendly OS. It's SA friendly for a couple of reasons, the first being that it protects itself well from people accidentally making errors and but it also didn't lose functionality and familiarity of XP. This was awesome because when you sat a user down in front of their newly build Windows 7 machine you were able to say to them "You're familiar with Windows XP? Well this is pretty much the same but you have all this great added functionality such as aero snap, an intelligent explorer search function, pinning applications to the taskbar and a massively more functional start menu". Within all of this they had also made it a damn sight prettier.
Windows 8 is only one of these things. It's prettier. I personally believe that Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot with this release for a couple of reasons but I will get to that in a moment. Microsoft have always lagged behind in the 'cool' market. Despite having a huge presence in the gaming market with XBOX they still don't have an image of cool or desirable. Their mobile phones have historically been a non event, and even sometimes worse, they've been borderline offensive in how unusable they were. Their Zune brand has been a flop despite the hardware being stunning simply because they don't have the marketing prowess of Apple. It's because of this that they constantly strive to get a foothold in the home and mobile marketplaces.
Historically Microsoft has made the majority of its revenue from the enterprise market, Server, MS Office, SQL, Sharepoint etc. In recent years their home PC and Entertainment divisions have been picking up a fair amount of their overall revenue but they have begun to see this fade off a bit. The reasoning for this is that consumers no longer see a need for a fully blown desktop. They can play games, check email, browse the internet and watch movies all on their iPads, Android devices and on a whole host of netbook style devices. Tied in with this is that stylistically, Apple especially, these devices have a desirability about them and an extremely well marketed 'cool' factor. For every PC that would sell with Windows on it MS would be making money. If consumers don't need or want a PC because an iPad or their mobile phone/phablet/tablet does everything they need, why spend 2,3,4 times the amount on a Desktop that will only take up space and ultimately become a virus and spyware filled liability?
Enter Windows 8. Windows 8 is not Microsoft's first foray into the mobile tablet form factor nor is it the first time we've seen the 'Metro' interface. This first popped up in the recent version of Windows Mobile. What this is is a change in the way that Microsoft has prioritised it's desktop operating system. Windows has primarily been about covering all bases, both home and enterprise. Windows 8 is not about this, I suspect that Microsoft would like to think that it is, but I would beg to differ. The reason I say this is that the overriding UI is aimed at touch screen mobile devices and translates into swipes and gestures for the greater part of it's functionality. That's great for those using a tablet or touch screen device, not so great when you're using a mouse and keyboard.
I mentioned that I though that MS had shot themselves in the foot with this release. My reasoning is relatively simplistic, and it goes like this. I said that when you put Windows 7 (or any previous iteration of Windows) in front of a normal office worker, they can intuitively figure out where they should go to find stuff (and I say intuitively because they've spent the last 15 years using the same form factor). Windows 8 is not like this. It has no start button, when you go hunting for it you'll find that it kicks you back to the Metro interface completely overriding the desktop. I can only imagine the frustration that this will bring on with secretaries, legal staff, accounting staff in fact all staff other than the most tech savvy. This is only one example of changes, they've altered the way search works, it's now not so immediately context driven and it doesn't present smart results like Windows 7.
There are a whole bunch of ultimately frustrating and needless changes that have been made and I believe that this will do two things. One, it will alienate those users that are not 'power users' that come into work, push the power button and expect familiarity. Change is not great for these people. It increases their work load and their frustration spreads around all the people they work with. Second, if they have a bad experience with Windows and Microsoft product at work, then they sure as hell won't be going home and saying "we need a new PC, let's go buy another Windows machine". They're going to pull out their iPad and go "this is nice and simple to use, let's get a Mac!"
To be fair the majority of enterprise environments will likely still be migrating the last of their machines from XP to Windows 7 so they will pass over this version, but for a company that is so driven to get a foothold into the home and mobile market, it seems foolish to me to alienate their enterprise customers. I've already seen that Apple are gaining in a big way in the corporate environment with iPhones and iPads. If Microsoft doesn't back track in one way or another with Windows 9 to attempt a hearts and minds win then I think we'll see more and more people moving to Apple.
Personally I won't be touching Windows 8 with a 10 foot barge pole. It has no appeal to me, it gains me no added functionality and promises too many frustrations. I guess we could see some changes in SP1 (it's a common rule with MS operating systems to wait for the first service pack releases) but I don't believe we will see them backing down from the overall functionality because Microsoft are so desperate to get into the tablet section of the market. Personally I don't see it, just like I don't see their Windows Mobile Phone devices doing well either. For all the prettiness, Microsoft just isn't 'cool'.
I've been going back through my old photos and seeing if there were any that justified a re-process or something that I missed. I think I found a few but I also really have seen how many of the good shots were flukes out of thousands that I'd personally consider to be chaff. These are the ones that I had a second look at. They aren't brilliant but I liked them enough to put them on Flickr. In terms of processing I try to take each photo on its own merits and apply processing that I personally feel compliments the image the best. Having said that I can't help but feel that I've kinda been influenced by the instagram plague that seems to be rapidly destroying snap photography on Facebook and the like but hopefully with a more thoughtful application than a stock processing filter.
Something that I have always wanted to get into is portraiture. It's not an easy thing to do because everyone has a very definite idea of what they should look like and there are some tricks for getting the best out of someones face. An everyday snap is typically quite a laid back affair and if the photo turns out great then it tends to be a bit of a fluke. I'm not going to pretend that I know too much on the subject but I thought I'd start off with taking a self portrait and see where it gets me, if only as something to refer back to as I learn and hopefully get better. It took about 170 odd goes because it's important to not only get the eyes in focus but also to maintain some depth of field and that is a tough thing to do when you can't see through your own view finder! So here I am.
Image source: Gizmodo Something to really look forward to - Allegidly the comet could reach a brightness great than that of the moon. That is crazy cool. Living in Australia, it sounds like the perfect opportunity to make a trip out to the Northern Territories on a photography mission... actually I have several reasons why I want to head out there but just this one will do! Speaking of which, I think it might be time to get working on a photo dump... it's always the way though - too many photos, too good at procrastinating to process them...
I've been sitting back and watching the Apple iPhone 5 release unfold with some interest. It's kinda been the first really major release from Apple since the great Steve Jobs left this world and, personally, I was hoping for something that was actually a bit of a departure from the stock expectation.
Did Apple disappoint? In some ways yes, in others no. iPhone 5 saw an increase in screen size, a removal of the glass back and a slight change in the UI layout (if adding a row of icons can be described as a change in UI). It also saw them take another step away from the shared Apple/Google ecosystem by removing the GMaps from the core OS as part of the iOS6 update. The other major change was with the connector but that was in many ways expected. Just briefly on the form factor change. Really it was about time. iPhone when placed next to any other high end smartphone looks like a poor cousin in terms of screen size and I'd have to say that the added real estate has to be the most welcome change. Getting rid of the glass back was something of a necessity as I suspect that the expense incurred by Apple through smashed chassis had to have hurt. It also means that the phone can be a little lighter and a little thinner. Headphone socket at the bottom... meh, I think you might find that there is an added reason for this with docks since the analog audio function has been removed from the dock connector but then it might just be because that's the only place they could fit it in.
Changing the dock connecter from the standard 30 pin to their new 'Lightning' connecter strikes me as a pessimistic and ultimately exploitive move essentially there to generate more income. There is nothing (yet) that the connector does that a Micro USB connector can't do and, from a customer perspective, it means that everyone is going to buy a whole stack of new peripherals. The Lightning connecter has an 'advantage' in that it can be inserted any way thus removing the frustration of trying to jam your socket in the wrong way. What they seem to miss is that the Micro USB plug actually has a large 'B' on one side of it which means that you should be able to tell which way is the right way just by touch. The other thing of note is that the Lightning connecter has electronics built into it that will make duplicating the cables a slightly pricier prospect and unfortunately for the consumer it means that it will be a long time before we can buy the $5 versions off eBay etc. Once again Apple is treating their customers like money bags...
Other than a processor update and some other very small OS tweaks, the main thing that has been rearing it's head amongst the media has been the exclusion of Google Maps from iOS6. Apple still has a year left on their contract with Google Maps and so had no financial reason to exclude it from the iOS6 release so we can safely assume that it is part of their greater roadmap to remove any form of reliance from their nearest competitor. After dredging up some of the interweb scuttlebut I've discovered that their inhouse mapping App was shoehorned into the iOS6 release with a matter of weeks left and it seemed to have undergone the bare minimum of field testing. I don't know about anyone else, but mapping plays a major role in my mobile experience. I rely on it almost every single day and I take great comfort in knowing that if I get myself lost, I have a very powerful mapping tool to get me back on track. I would go so far as to say that the mapping and navigation functionality of my mobile is the single most important application that it has, closely followed by its music capability and then email/messaging and finally as a phone. For Apple to have pushed this out with such a small, apparent, amount of field testing shows a lack of foresight. Apple are in a place where they are vulnerable to being shot down for the smallest failure. With Steve Jobs gone, the tech world is waiting for Tim Cook to go to pieces and for Apple to follow. An old boss of mine made a very astute call once. He said "perception is reality". This is very true, regardless of whether the mapping functionality of the iPhone 5 is actually any good or not, the media and those that are not enveloped in Apples 'reality bubble' are just waiting for any excuse to shoot them down and they gleefully lept on the mapping failure as ammunition. To add to the fun, Tim Cook has issued a subsequent apology to the lack of apparent quality of the app and suggested using one of the other competitors apps in place - that being either Nokia or Microsofts Bing Maps. What Apple has done is allowed for the perception of their product to be tarnished. Jobs had a flare for dressing up his releases with a charismatic delivery of pomp and glitter that was swallowed up whole heartedly by the media and Apple fans alike. Tim Cook has not maintained that, the smoke and mirrors have cleared and suddenly the flawless gem is a vat grown knock off with a big crack down the middle. Apple are in a 'Tall Poppy' situation currently and they have handed the media and the Apple haters a massive chunk of ammunition to 'cut them down'. Personally I've got no real problem with this because Apple set themselves up to be the elite in a seriously underhanded way through patent litigation and sometimes when you build a reputation on falsehoods and smoke and mirrors it comes back to bite you in the ass. I don't like the way Apple do business. I don't like the fact that they've just handed the world's landfills a huge array of old dock devices and I especially don't like the fact that they keep releasing the same device over and over with the only major changes being to take away functionality. Yeah... I don't like Apple a whole lot. I'm more interested, these days, in what Windows Mobile is coming up with but for now I'll stick with the environment that doesn't treat me like a slightly retarded purse...
Over the last few months I've been taking the time to learn about something that has always been of interest but was unfortunately difficult to indulge due to living in the middle of a city. Well actually more than one thing but they're all fairly intertwined. As a child I'd always been very interested in radio controlled thing... pretty much anything that moved and could be controlled was cool, but things that could fly, well now, that was super interesting! As an adult and having the means I've now had the chance to start indulging! The other side of RC aircraft is that you often have to either build of assemble these things which in my mind is as much fun as the actual flying. There is something extraordinarily gratifying about taking something in it's component parts and assembling them to a state where they will not only fly, but fly well. I started the process with attempting to build a small glider out of balsa wood and taking the motors off a small F22 RC toy... this ended in abject failure. The reason for this failure was unknown to me and yet to be learned. Well actually there were multiple reasons - wood too heavy, wings not big enough, centre of gravity all wrong. Informed hindsight can be a damning thing sometimes!
Of course the next logical step was to up the complexity odds... or not. Watching videos on Vimeo got me a bit interested in Quadrotor helicopters, specifically this one:
So doing the standard guy thing, I took the suggested parts list from www.quadframe.com and bought them with the absolute bare minimum experience in either the electronics or the radio gear.
The process of building was as much about learning about the technologies involved as it was putting the stuff together. It also gave me the opportunity to re-learn my soldering skills. Quadrotors or quadcopters are very clever things that rely on the torque from the motors for yaw and motor speed for pitch and roll. They have small electronic gyroscopes on the controller board that help to damp out any instabilities but they need to work in unison with the motors speed controllers which unfortunately mine didn't. The end result for me was that any large control inputs resulted in a large oscillation and having it fall out of the sky. Not having the disposable cash has meant that I haven't been able to revisit the project but it's certainly on the books for very soon. I did manage to get it up and flying though and got a fair amount of joy out of it but I did manage to chew through propellers a tad faster than I might've liked. Here's a vid of it in flight. You'll see at a couple of points what it looks like when the oscillations kicked in. To try to minimise the damage I put some aluminium rods on the bottom and an old helicopter canopy on it to keep oriented whilst I was learning.