Tag Archives: windows

The Calendar Conundrum

calendars

I’m a devoted Mac user, with interconnected (via Google Drive and Back to My Mac), backed up (via Time Capsule and via Arq backing up to Amazon Glacier), and secured (via multiple, redundant means) iMacs at home and on the farm.  These beautiful, powerful devices communicate and interact beautifully with my Macbook Air, iPad Air and iPhone.  It all works beautifully, and elegantly, except for one little problem.

I have a job.  Where I am forced to use a locked-down Windows computer.  A committed Apple-loving geek being forced to work on a walled-off Windows machine all day is a recipe for disconnected frustration.

lockeddownThere are shortcuts, hacks and workarounds for most of my workflow.  I use Google Drive, IFTTT and Hazel to move documents around, and to keep them in their desired locations.  After years of managing a single contacts list via Google Contacts, Google’s insistence on jamming my contacts into Google+ and Hangouts and my desire to have a small, manageable personal contacts list led me to separate work and personal contacts, with my work contacts located inside the Outlook prison on my work computer and my (very limited) list of personal contacts residing in iCloud, and my various Apple devices.  I used to think having two separate contacts lists would be burdensome, but the increasing integration between Apple contacts and various apps-and my desire to avoid inadvertently sending personal content to work contacts- made me a believer in separate contacts lists.  In other words, my inability to sync my Outlook contacts with my iCloud contacts (and thereby my various Apple devices) led me to embrace a better, separate solution.

As an aside, I think work contacts are going the way of newspapers and record labels.  I almost never resort to my work contacts list.  Rather I search my emails (instantly via X1) to find the email address or telephone number I need.  If that fails, I Google it.

I have always had separate work and personal email addresses and accounts, which has been and will always be preferable.  Again, my inability to access my Outlook email via iCloud or my Mac has never been a problem.  After all, both sets of email and both contacts lists are easily accessible via an iOS device, even if not be via a Mac.

Such is not the case for my calendar.  Unlike email and contacts, I very much desire a single, unified calendar.  Also unlike email and contacts, accessing multiple calendars via an iOS device alone is not a happy solution for me.  For years, I kept my calendar on Google, and pushed (not synced) my Outlook calendar entries (consisting mostly of accepted meeting invites) from Outlook to my Google calendar via the recently deprecated Google Calendar Sync.   Sadly, this no longer works and there is no acceptable substitute.

Which leaves me with the Hobson’s choice of having two separate calendars or having to manually enter every single Outlook calendar item in Cloud or the calendar application on my Apple device.  The latter is simply unworkable, given the large number of calendar entries I have.  The former is extremely unsatisfactory.  There is just no answer for a Mac-loving geek forced to work on a locked-down Windows computer.

Until I find a better solution, I am currently using a less than ideal workaround, via which I repurposed two of my old iPads as dedicated calendar devices, each hung on the wall in each of my offices, and each displaying my combined calendars, via Fantastical.  Because Fantastical can display multiple calendars, at least I have a unified calendar to look at, without having to pull out my iOS device each time.  This is horrible solution, but it’s the one I have.

I wish there was a better way to solve my calendar conundrum, but for the time being this is the best I have come up with.

What I really wish is that Macs had infiltrated corporate America long ago, so that I could use a Mac at work.  This is probably never going to happen- and will certainly not happen in my lifetime- so the best I can do is keep looking for some hacked up workaround that will allow me to live semi-efficiently within the frustrating digital walls I cannot climb.

I welcome any other ideas.

Adios Live Writer, 'Ello WordPress App

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Having decided that getting the remnants of Windows off my Mac is more important than keeping my beloved Live Writer (which seems, sadly, to be circling the drain), I’m experimenting with the WordPress iPhone app.

So far, so OK. With 4-5 easy added features, this app would rock. As it is, it only hums.

Stay tuned.

Risky Business: The Windows 8 Story

I’ve been reading a lot about the forthcoming Windows 8. I’ve used the Developer’s Preview a little. There’s a lot to like about it. And there are some problems. I haven’t written much about it, simply because I can’t decide if Microsoft’s Windows 8 plan is brilliant or idiotic. It’s clearly one or the other.

There’s no middle ground. That’s for sure.

Here’s what I think I think. So far.

One, Michael Mace has a fantastic write-up on the state and prospects of Windows 8. Literally one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. In any medium.

Two, I’m just about certain the bolted together combination of the new Metro interface and the more traditional Windows interface is not going to make anyone happy.  Will people suffer through it as an interim step into Microsoft’s mandated future desktop?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  If I were a Windows user, I would.  Because I’m a computer nerd.  Those who don’t care about anything other than finding, starting and using the programs they need to do their work?  That’s a tougher call.

Three, I think it is very risky for Microsoft to bet the farm on a mobile-first computing experience.  I’ve thought about it a lot, and I simply don’t think anyone is going to use a Windows tablet, when the iPad is so clearly the established, preferred and beloved brand.  Even dedicated Windows computer users have embraced the iPhone and iPad.  I don’t see that changing.  At all.  Even if somehow Windows tablets turn out to be significantly cheaper (and I doubt this will be the case, especially when you add next to latest generation iPads into the mix), then there’s Android to deal with.  It seems like Microsoft is aiming for the lower end of the market.  Or at least drifting that way.

Fourth, pigs will fly before corporate America makes its change-resistant and outspoken workforce retrain under Windows 8, and Metro.  My company is moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 (a tiny step at most), and you’d think they were moving from an Abacus to a Cray.  The IT folks are, rightly so, very worried about the potential hue and cry from the people who create content.  The jump from Windows 7 to Windows 8 would be seen (rightly or wrongly) as an invitation for mutiny.  I think Paul Thurrott may be onto something, when he wonders if Microsoft has already given up on business adoption for this release.

If so, that is straight up crazy.

Fifth, while not specifically Windows 8 related, if I were running Microsoft, I would absolutely, without a doubt, nurture my last remaining monopoly by releasing Office apps for iOS.  As fast as I could.  The iPad experience has conclusively demonstrated that users will not forego a better tablet simply because Microsoft Office isn’t natively on it.  There are multitudes of third party developers standing by to implement work-arounds.

Sixth, Microsoft’s inability to deliver a clear and concise marketing message is catching up with it.  Need some examples?  Well, there’s this.  And the never-ending branding/naming changes.  It seems very haphazard.  Maybe it’s not, but nothing coming from Microsoft proves it.  As much as anything, Microsoft needs someone to step up and become the spokesperson for- and face of- its strategic plan.

In sum, I want Windows 8 to be a roaring success.  For a lot of reasons.  I’m by no means certain it won’t be.  But I am by no means certain it will be either.

Scary times for Microsoft.

A Room with No View: Microsoft and the Marketing of Windows Phone 7

Two of my pals posted two very different takes on Windows Phone 7 and its less than stellar sales figures so far.

James Kendrick asks if Microsoft can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  JK uses some quotes by hardware partner LG to show that maybe Windows 7 has stumbled out of the gate:

Even though typical of smartphones today, Microsoft’s hardware requirements for WP7 are apparently seen by LG as raising the bar too high for the market. “There is a lot of skepticism at the moment, but once Windows Phone 7 handsets that are mid-tier to low tier start appearing the market share will grow. Right now it’s only exclusively present in a high tier, because of its hardware requirements, and that’s limiting growth.”

Windows Phone 7JK goes on to wonder if Windows Phone 7 will end up in the bargain bin.  Sounds sort of like a possible Kin sequel.

Steven Hodson, on the other hand, says Window Phone 7’s lack of traction is not Microsoft’s fault, and that the carriers and sales outlets are not doing their part to market the phones.

I tend to agree with Steven that the marketing has been lacking.  In fact, I haven’t seen this little marketing buzz surrounding a similar product since the Palm Pre was tossed out there and thudded to the ground, never to be heard from again.  Having said that, I don’t know that the lack of marketing isn’t Microsoft’s fault.  Clearly it bears some of the blame.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Microsoft needs a major paradigm shift in the way it names, releases and markets its products.  Seriously, could the name Windows Phone 7 be any less exciting?  They could have picked a random name out of the dictionary and it would have been better.  Want me to prove it, hold on.  I got a dictionary, closed my eyes and picked a word: “knuckle.”  At least there’s imagery with that.

Maybe if Microsoft created an air of true 2011 era (and not Victorian Era) excitement about its products, the carriers and resellers and users and tech bloggers would get excited.  It’s kind of hard to get excited about Windows Phone 7.

I continue to believe that Microsoft’s marketing is like Masterpiece Theater.  It’s high quality, but boring as hell.  And I don’t always understand what they’re saying.

3 Reasons Why There is Hope for Windows Tablets

ballmerces

I read with interest Paul Thurrott’s post today on the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and Microsoft’s underwhelming presence there.

While I completely agree with Paul’s recent theme regarding Microsoft’s dire need to pick up the pace and raise its game, to keep up with new evolution cycle and the rapid migration to the cloud, I don’t know that I agree with Paul about the prospects for Windows tablets.

Paul says:

This year, dozens of companies will ship Windows 7-based tablets and they will all fail. Instead, consumers will continue buying iPads, and they will buy Android-based tablets (and, possibly, the RIM PlayBook), because those products, unlike Windows tablets, have been created specifically for that market.

While it may very well be in spite of- and not thanks to- Microsoft, I think there is a real chance for Windows-based tablets to succeed.

Why?  Three reasons.

Better Content Creation

iPads are great for consuming content.  They are very, very bad for creating content.  Sure, you can read a Word document, but anything more than minor revisions are extremely difficult.  Tracked changes (which are mandatory in corporate America)?  Forget it.  Microsoft keeps hinting that it may one day bring Office to the iPad, and maybe if Microsoft does blow the Windows-based tablet opportunity, it will.  As plan B.  Because I think the fact that it hasn’t yet is very telling: as slow and insular as Microsoft can be, even an old dog knows that Office on a tablet- in any semi-workable form- would be a good selling point.

Consuming is one thing.  But creation is king.

And it’s not just corporate documents.  I knew that I would never be able to manage my flow of Word documents via iPad.  I did think, incorrectly, that I’d be able to blog via one.  To call the WordPress iPad app horrible is a vast understatement.  It’s simply unusable.  Even if they get it fixed, the lack of useful copy and paste and the inability to easily acquire, insert and place photos will always be a frustration.  Live Writer on a tablet?  Sign me up!

The creation hurdle has clearly affected my iPad usage.  I have noticed that the number of days I carry my iPad with me to work has slowly and steadily declined since I bought it.  Now, it’s about one day every two weeks.  That does not sound like a mission-critical device.  Frankly, more than half my iPad usage these days is playing Words With Friends.

Greater Enterprise Acceptance

Like all tech bloggers, I love new technology.  But my company is still running Windows XP and some ancient version of Office.  I’ve only seen one other iPad in my office.  Ever.

A Windows-based tablet, with software that we already have, has a much bigger chance for Enterprise acceptance than the iPad, Steve Jobs and coolness factors notwithstanding.

User Convenience

Again, I’m a tech blogger.  I have Windows computers, Macs, an iPhone, an iPad, several Apple TVs and one (currently highly content deficient) Google TV.  But the large, large majority of people out there in the real world use Windows-based computers.  It would be much easier for a new customer to choose the known- Windows- over the unknown- IOS.  Better does not always trump convenient.

Microsoft clearly needs to be more nimble, and certainly needs a paradigm shift where application naming and marketing are concerned.  But I think the tablet space could be a big win for Windows.

Shoot, I had a Windows based tablet six years ago.

Fujitsu5110

That little tablet can still create content easier than my iPad.  All it needs is a few tweaks here and there: an option to use the stylus or touch; a leaner version of Windows; wireless broadband; a better display.

I’d give it a try.  Wouldn’t you?

Microsoft Store: Moving at the Speed of a Glacier

image My kids are starting to compete for computer time on their shared computer, so I decided to revive the old but still very functional HP Laptop I used to experiment with Ubuntu (verdict: beautiful GUI made useless by a complete inability to configure a wireless card).  Since I wiped the hard drive, I needed to do a clean install of Windows. Having somewhat of a current software obsession, I decided to part with $216.49 to buy a Windows 7 Home Premium license.

All of this happened on Saturday, so I thought I’d save some time and buy this license at the online Microsoft Store.  Did I say this was Saturday?  Three long days ago?

After completing my purchase, I watched my inbox eagerly for my confirmation and Product Key.  I watched.  And watched.  And watched.

Then I decided to go on living my life, and forgot about the whole thing.

Until today, when I got that email, with the confirmation.  And the Product Key.  That’s 3 days.  72 hours.  4,320 minutes.  259,200 seconds.

Which is about 259,170 seconds longer than it should have taken.

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In this real-time world where speed is measured in seconds, isn’t it crazy that an online purchase from Microsoft, of all companies, takes 3 days to complete!?

It would have been faster to have it delivered by pony express.  Or on a glacier.

Annoying Windows Vista Problem Solved

Ever since I installed Vista on KN-1, my home built computer, I have had one extremely annoying problem.  After my computer runs for a while, the toolbar gets all out of whack.  Like this:

mess 2

The buttons get all jumbled up and stop responding.  It is very, very annoying.

The only solution I could come up with was to reboot, which was very disruptive to whatever task I was working on.  The problem was even more irritating because when this happens, the restart button stops responding, and I have to do the control-alt-delete thing just to restart.  This mess has been a major drain on my efficiency and I had even begun to consider trashing my computer and starting over- in a desperate attempt to solve this problem.

Weekends in the Houston language translates to “rains all day.”  So I decided to use my forced indoor time today to see if I could find a solution to this problem.  Of course, I started with the answer machine- Google.  After running down a few wrong trails, I came across this inviting Microsoft Knowledge Base page.  I first tried the work around:

1. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL.
2. Click Task Manager.
3. Click the Processes tab.
4. Click the explorer.exe process.
5. Click End Process, and then click End process.
6. Click the Applications tab.
7. Click New Task.
8. Type explorer in the Open box, and then click OK.

Lo and behold, that fixed the problem.  At least now I wouldn’t have to control-alt-delete and restart every hour or so.

Next I installed the hotfix from that page.  It installed.  I was hopeful.  I rebooted, even though I wasn’t prompted to.

Four hours later, I am still working and my toolbar looks normal.  And the buttons work.

I can’t adequately explain how happy I am to (cross my fingers) have this problem solved.

If this post can help one other person solve this problem, it will be worth it.