Saturday, May 30, 2009

Better with Windows?

I got burned this week; I actually believed the story that ASUS and Microsoft teamed up, and that an Asus.co.uk page was linking to a It's Better With Windows site.

But looking at it again, I'm convinced it's a hoax. And you should be, too. Here are a few obvious telltales:

Typos and grammatical errors
Companies put a lot of effort into their online presence, and any sufficiently large organization (like ASUS) has a change control process for any web pages that get posted. One obvious step in that process is spell-checking and proofreading. Yet the "Asus.co.uk" web page is littered with typos and grammatical errors:
  • With the Eee PC™ 1008HA, you don't have to put up with a cramped, uncomfortable keys — its keyboard is 92% full-size with wide, well-spaced keys. The large Backspace, Enter and right Shift keys help reduce finger fatigue to a minimum, too.
  • Enjoy superb video conferencing experience on the move with bright 10” display, built‐in 1.3 megapixel webcam and Digital Array MIC, which enhances speech‐centric applications like Skype and even your podcast recording.
  • With its 160GB hard disk drive, the Eee PC™ 1008HA provides ample storage for all of your documents, images and multimedia files; 10GB of free online storage wiath 5GB of downloads per day means you can keep your data within easy reach from any computer.
  • Super Hybrid Engine (SHE) enhances energy efficiency and reducespower usage by up to 15%*, delivering up to 6 hours*of unplugged usage.
  • ASUSTek (UK) Ltd. © 2009 All rights Reserves
Inconsistent use of trademarks
If a company is going to use ® or ™ in their copy, they will be consistent about it. But check the "Asus.co.uk" page again, and you'll see that sometimes "Eee PC™" is written "Eee PC" (without the ™ mark.) Check the top paragraph, and the date reminder.

Look closely at the "It's better with Windows" paragraph, and you'll see more examples of this:
The Eee PC™ 1008HA comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Home and Microsoft Works. With Windows® XP, you can be sure that your Eee PC™ will be compatible with your existing Windows applications and devices. Windows® XP is also easy to use and delivers a dependable experience that Microsoft and a worldwide community of partners stand behind. Visit www.ItsBetterwithWindows.com » to find out more.
Incorrect copyright
The "Asus.co.uk" page says "ASUSTek (UK) Ltd. © 2009 All rights Reserves". But check the actual ASUS UK page, and you'll see consistent use of "© ASUSTek Computer Inc. All Rights Reserved."

Missing branding and links
Take a quick look at the "It's Better With Windows" page. Where are the links to Microsoft.com? Where are the other references to Microsoft? For that matter, there are no references at all to Microsoft. Trust me, if marketers at Microsoft had been involved in this campaign, the name "Microsoft" would show up dozens of times, and there would be plenty of links back to Microsoft.com.

Poor web design
Microsoft may turn out a shitty desktop experience, but at least their web folks know something about web design. For example, they know enough to put together a web site that doesn't consist solely of a single JPEG background image, and an embedded video. All that text on the page? It's all part of a single image.

Microsoft doesn't own the page
This should have been the first and easiest way to tell that the "It's Better With Windows" site is a fake. Open up the page, and view the html source code. You don't have to understand html to see a few imporant clues:
  • The video file links to collaborationpeople.cdnetworks.us instead of Microsoft.com. CD Networks is a content delivery company, so that's why the file is hosted at their domain. Clearly, "collaborationpeople" is the account name that owns the actual video file. But Microsoft also does lots of content delivery. It's guaranteed that if Microsoft put this together, the video asset would be hosted by Microsoft.
  • Web statistics are being gathered by google-analytics.com. But Microsoft views Google as one of its biggest competitors in web search engines and marketing. Microsoft would never allow a key competitor to track the web hits of an "important" marketing site such as this.

I'll stop there. The spoofed "Asus.co.uk" page and the fake "It's Better With Windows" site were good attempts at a hoax, and I have to give them credit for putting something together that fooled so many people at first glance. But no, this is a hoax. Nothing to see here, move along.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I’m a PC

You've all seen them: those Microsoft ads with the cute redhead (Lauren) or that other guy, where the challenge is to buy a laptop for less than $1000. These ads are really geared against Apple, whose laptops (while very nice) never dip below $1000.

A reader emailed me an article in Newsweek, from a few weeks ago: I'm A PC. Keep The Change by Daniel Lyons (senior editor and columnist, covering technology.) The article spends a lot of time explaining the Microsoft ads, then raises a few cheers for Microsoft:
For Microsoft, the other good news is the early reaction to its new operating system, called Windows 7. I've been using a prerelease version for a couple of months, and it's terrific. It boots up much faster than Vista, which was one of the big complaints. There are far fewer of those annoying warning messages. The user interface has a slick new feature, a "taskbar" at the bottom that shows what apps you have open. The new system is due out later this year.

While Microsoft's engineers can be proud of that work, what amazes me most is that Microsoft's marketers—with much help from edgy ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which Microsoft signed a year ago—have finally managed to make a decent ad, something that I can't remember this company ever doing. Remember the print ads with office workers wearing dinosaur heads? What did those even mean? Microsoft's culture has always been about engineering, led by ├╝ber-dweeb Bill Gates. And marketing just isn't very important when you have a monopoly.
What's interesting to me is that the senior senior technology editor for Newsweek doesn't even mention that these features have been available for years elsewhere. "A 'taskbar' at the bottom [of the screen] that shows what apps you have open"? Please. That should be standard - Windows has had this since 1995, and Linux for just as long. Fast booting? Linux does that too.

His last statement in the above quote should give everyone pause. We've known for a long time that Microsoft has held a monopoly in the PC space. Now Microsofties begin to acknowledge that the monopoly is starting to crack. But in my opinion, Apple is the wrong target for Microsoft - after all, Mac OS X doesn't boot on just any PC, but Linux does. And with any common Linux distribution, you get applications that work just the same as (or better than) the Windows apps.

But it's okay if Microsoft chases after Apple for a while. Microsoft has a history of ignoring important changes (the Web, anyone?) until it's too late.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sorry for the delays

I know it was a while between blog posts, there. It's annual performance review time for us at the office, so I have been busy these last few weeks getting staff reviews pulled together. Not a lot of spare time for blogging.

Somewhere in there, I also attended an open source software convention, where I gave several presentations about free / open source software projects, and about running Linux at work. I think the "Linux" talk may be interesting for people following this blog. I'll try to get something written in the next few weeks, and post it here.

Open the files

Here's an annoying little bug in Vista. Try it yourself:

From Microsoft Office (in my case, Excel) save two files in 97-2003 format (XLS) and another two files in the standard format (XLSX). Exit Microsoft Office.

Use the Windows Explorer, and find the folder where you saved your files. In the default behavior, Windows will show you the filenames but not the extensions. In "Details" view, there's just enough space to tell you these four files are of type "Microsoft Office Excel."

Here's the good bit: select all four of your files, and press Enter. Oh wait, did nothing happen? Try it again, but this time right-click and select "Open". Nothing happened again, right?

This was very frustrating to me when I stumbled upon this broken behavior in Windows Vista. It took a few minutes before I realized the solution: select the two files that you saved in 97-2003 format, but no other files, and press Enter (or select "Open".) As you expect, Microsoft Office launches and opens the two files. Repeat for the other two files.

The behavior seems to be: if the files all have the same extension, then Windows will launch the "matching" application. If you select a file with a different extension, even if they are all Microsoft Office files, then nothing happens.

If you think this scenario is contrived, then you don't use Windows at work. For example, I'm a senior manager in our office, so one thing I need to do is track time across the different groups. We currently track work time using an Excel spreadsheet. At the end of the week, each manager or team lead under me sends me their "roll-up" spreadsheet, and I create a master "roll-up" for the entire group.

It's easiest for me to go into the network directory where everyone drops off their files, and open them all at once into Excel. This all worked fine when everyone used the 97-2003 file format (XLS). Then one day someone used the new Office format (XLSX), and I was no longer able to open any of the files.

I never encountered this problem when I ran Linux at work. Even if I selected a bunch of different files (for example: PDF, DOC, XLS, TXT ... which can happen when you need to write a document and need to copy/paste from other work) Linux would always act as I expected: it would open all of the documents, using the most appropriate applications. I just tried this test on my wife's Linux laptop, and confirms that it works "correctly".

I know that Vista is full of bugs, but this level of work-stopping bad behavior is going too far.

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