Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘tablet pc’ Category

What do you actually use your computers to do?

Posted by shannonclark on February 1, 2010

Last night I wrote about why I think the iPad will be a great device for content creation – and included a number of potential million dollar plus ideas.

Today as I read a bunch of blogs and articles covering the iPad I am struck by how many people who are objecting to the iPad or predicting that it will fail seem to have some idea of computer usage which differs, dramatically so, from how I have used my computers for the past decade and very much from how I use my computers today.

The image that people have of “using” a computer seems to involve lots of overlapping processes, deep customization of the system and a variety of applications running which all push the limits of the system.

My reality?

I usually have one application running on my computers – a browser. On my tablet I currently use Google Chrome as my primary browser (not least of which because it doesn’t have lots of extensions and thus loads quickly and smoothly).

Recently I have been using Mindjet’s MindManager (I have the old 7.0 version installed here) which I enjoy but really only barely use, mostly I use it to capture all my various ongoing projects, to-do lists and the like (in short as my electronic GTD system).

Occasionally I use an IM application, mostly Google gchat – which I could just about as easily just use from within the browser, though I do appreciate the occasional notifications that pop up about new messages in my primary inbox. Though since I have at least three main email addresses and only get notifications for one email address and then only for my inbox and not for the many important messages I get but autofilter into various labels, the utility of this notification service is minimal at best.

And when I sync my iPod and iPhone I fire up iTunes – but since my library is vastly larger than my laptop’s HD, doing so requires that I attach an external HD to my system for the syncing to work. I use a wide array of complex smart playlists to result in every device I own and sync getting exactly the content I want to reside on that particular device – which always includes the latest podcasts I have downloaded as well as any other new content I have recently added to my iTunes library (so if I buy new content, rip a CD or download legal digital content it will get onto my music player automatically and be added to the primary playlists I use to select what to listen to during my walks, waits for buses and other podcast listening opportunities during the day.

But that is about all the applications i use on a regular basis. Sure, I have some compilers installed on my laptop, the full MSFT Office suite and much more but the reality is that I almost never need to run any of these applications. And when I do other than looking up information in my browser from time to time, I rarely need to have multiple applications open at the same time – for one my screen resolution though good for a laptop is still so low that I almost always run every app I use in full window mode.

Perhaps I am missing something major about how people use their computers today – some suite of applications that everyone other than me uses – but I don’t think this is the case.

A few possibilities.

  1. Photo & Video editing. My digital camera died a few months ago and I have yet to replace it (need a camera but don’t have the spare funds to buy one at the moment) so I don’t do a lot of photo and no video editing. But there are some great online alternatives to applications such as Photoshop. Aviary is my personal favorite – they offer a wide range of image and vector art online editing tools along with even some music editing tools. Adobe even offers an iPhone application for Photo editing (limited but
  2. Games. I don’t have powerful enough video cards in either of my computers to do much gaming (definitely not in my tablet, my iMac could handle a bit more though there are far fewer MacOS games to select amongst). But PC gaming is and likely will remain a big deal. But so too is gaming on the iPhone and in the future on the iPad and I suspect very rapidly the iPad will attract games that may be better in many ways (or at least very uniquely different) than games not just on PC’s but even against games on any of the major game console systems. I predict that the iPad will be a gaming platform as big, perhaps bigger, than the current game consoles (not their portable game systems which the iPhone already is a potent competitor to but also the main game consoles – Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox360)
  3. Personal Finance. Here in the US we have started to shift into preparing for Tax season shortly. I know in the past many years I have used TurboTax in some form to help prepare my taxes and that many friends run software such as Quickbooks for their family finances or small business finances. That said, there is a reason why Intuit bought Mint last year. Finance software including tax preparation and small (and large) business bookkeeping is rapidly moving from local computers to web/cloud delivered products.
  4. Customized “run the business” applications. These vary by business but think the Point of Sale systems in a retail shop or restaurant. Even here, however, with the rise of platforms such as Square there are many opportunities for many retail transactions to move to the cloud & mobile applications.

So what uses of your personal or business computers have I missed?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, mac, microsoft, mobile, networks, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Reading, writing, blogs, media and the new workplaces

Posted by shannonclark on July 14, 2008

Since sometime in early 2000 I have been an entrepreneur, at times with employees and an office and for the past few years with no fixed office and either only a handful of people working with me, at present just one co-founder who also has other active projects.

In the mid-90’s I bought my first laptop, with the money I made selling off my first computer I had bought for myself, a NeXT Cube which was my computer for the first two years I was in college. It still remains both the most expensive and in many ways the best computer I have ever owned. I bought the NeXT secondhand, and even then it was about the cost of a very nice used car (if memory serves I think it was about $6000 but this was some 17+ years ago). As it turns out since owning it taught me Unix, launched my career in technology and much more it was also perhaps one of the best purchases I have ever, even to this day, made.

But the next computer I owned also had a major impact on my life, in an equally important but vitally different manner. That computer was a Compaq laptop, I think it was a 486 but I’m not actually certain now, in any case it was that laptop which granted me mobility, which allowed me to work off campus, to work portably, which started my lifelong habit of working from cafes (and while still in college from desks in libraries – do less of that now however). In short that laotop also in many ways sparked my writing habit and fit better the direction I was headed academically.

When I had bought the NeXT it was because having started to use Mathematica while a summer intern at Argonne National Lab I wanted to own a computer which was capable of running Mathemica and at the time all NeXT’s came with a copy of Mathematica pre-installed. My plan entering college was to be either a math or a physics major (or possibly a history major, even entering college I was torn in multiple directions).

However that summer at Argonne National labs working with research physicists followed by the first quarters of university level phsics and calculus somewhat convinced me that my passion wasn’t fully in either field. I loved science and math, but I was also too interested in the humanities and too interested in being rooted in the reality of the world and other people (not that academic history is all that rooted either as I would also learn later). So early in my first year at the University of Chicago I changed my courseload considerably and started along the path to a history major, not a science major. Though it didn’t fully take for a few years (in part because I had a scholorship which I anted to keep for a year or two).

But getting back to the point of this trip into my past history of computer ownership.

In the past few months I have been reading once again at my historically common pace, a pace I haven’t been keeping up for much of the past few years. Historically since I learned to read (at a fairly young age) I have read multiple books a week, some weeks at nearly a book a day pace or even faster. As a child I would go to the library and return with a bulging backpack full of as many books as they would allow me to check out at one time, and before they were due back in a few weeks I would have read them all and on returning them would check out still more books. Or I would spend hard saved allowances or money from lemonade stands and holiday presents in the aisles of the local used bookstores where I grew to know the owners and even started my serious book collecting while still young and in high school (I entered high school at the age of 13 and graduated at the age of 16).

However for the past few years I have been reading more and more content online, reading a lot of individual articles and research papers offline (printed out) but fewer and fewer books for much of the past few years. This year, however, that has shifted.

Two years ago when I moved into my new apartment, connected up a new DSL connection and bought my iMac desktop I ended up owning a printer which though networkable is both no longer configured correctly for my internal network and doesn’t have a working driver for the Mac OS X. And I haven’t yet replaced it, instead I have managed to mostly live without printing out anything for the past few years. In turn this has, perhaps somewhat negatively, meant I no longer spend as much time printing out and reading academic papers, dissertations, and other long form articles.

And in the past few years my online habits have changed many times over. A few years ago I mostly read individual blogs directly at the blog sites, or I used Bloglines to skim a vast collection of blogs I had subscribed to – but which I was never caught up with. I switched to Google Reader which remains my primary means of reading most blogs.

A year ago when I bought my iPhone I started using my iPhone and the versions of Google Reader which were made for the iPhone to read my feeds, now I read more feeds via my iPhone than I do via my regular computer browsers.

What this means, most crucially, is that while I am keeping up with my much edited down collection of blogs I read plus the posts which some of my friends share via Google Reader, I am only rarely also seeing and reading the comments which form such a vital part of many blogs. I’ve also mostly stopped participating in online discussion forums, which for many years while I was in Chicago in particular, were a vital part of my online activity.

In recent months in addition to Twitter which I started using two SXSW’s ago, I have also to a lesser degree started using Friendfeed. There I do see more discussions, though I only dip into them myself and only very rarely does anything I share in my feed there spark a discussion (even spark a single “Like” or “Comment” at all).

And my blogging which had for a while now been mostly only here at this blog has bifarcated. I’ve been blogging for Centernetworks, for the Conversation Hub of SuperNova, at the MeshWalk blog for MeshForum, and at my new blog Slow Brand.

I no longer quite know how or where to define myself online, perhaps I should start using a service such as FriendFeed but even that doesn’t capture the multiplicity of my online identities or the many different ways I work, read and play online.

So all this is to say, what do you use as your workplaces today? Now I have shifted to my primary tool being my iPhone, my secondary tool my laptop, and my desktop though useful is my third option, though keeping my media libraries and the like in sync across my many devices is also increasingly difficult.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, personal, reading, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My ongoing issues with MSFT Vista

Posted by shannonclark on April 27, 2008

I hate Vista.

Hate it. Since I have had my Lenovo ThinkPad with Vista my productivity has plummeted. By far this has been the most painful and worst computer owning experience of my lifetime. And I have owned a lot of computers in my time, run a ton of different versions of OSes and I’ve had some seriously bad machines in the past.

What makes this especially painful is that technically my laptop should not be bad, in fact it should be a near dream machine. A very high resolution tablet screen (1400 x 1050), the fantastic keyboard and trackpoint of Thinkpads (more on why I love the trackpoint later). I have 3GB of ram, a dual core Intel chip (not the fastest model but for my uses – mostly web browsing, iTunes, and light other apps should be more than plenty), and a 120GB HD. All in a form factor that weighs just a bit more than 5lbs and has a 9 cell battery that should give it 6+ hours of use.

But since I waste between 10 minutes to upwards of 1 hour whenever I try to wake the computer from sleep and resume my work, I don’t count this has a very useful computer.

It manages to blue screen itself while theoretically “sleeping”.

The wifi is unreliable after waking from sleep, not infrequently failing to detect even strong signals. (but yet reporting itself has functional so Vista just insists that it is seeing only weak signals)

At least every third time or so I wake my laptop from sleep it decides that my screen resolution is much lower and resets itself to a lower resolution, someimtes it does this after I login, often then quickly detecting the problem and reseting itself to the right resolution (but leaving my windows resized as a result). Occasionally it flubs things before I can even enter my fingerprint or password and I then have to try to reset the resolution – which can be tricky at times as it sometimes insists on a spinning cursor while I try to click on the “okay” button to confirm the resolution change.

I have reset my power management settings frequently. I set them how I want them (wifi when plugged in at maximum performance for example) yet a few weeks later they will have reset themselves to different settings without my intervention. Very very frustrating as then my laptop has started to seemingly randomly (and rather quickly) turn off my wifi card by itself.

I have given up on running Outlook on this computer as when I try to do anything in Outlook (latest version, fully patched) more times than not it just freezes and every step is complicated (all I would likely want to do is update my large contacts files which are still in Outlook) but even that seems impossible yet increasingly critical.

Shadow Backup means that overtime my disk has been filling up rapidly yet I can’t configure it to only autobackup the portions of my disk I would care deeply about restoring, and perhaps not to backup portions I would not care in the least about (my frequently changing firefox cache for example, or my also frequently changing iTunes directories for at least my podcast subscriptions which I typically delete after listening)

From a general UI perspective more times than not, generally at least once a day (sometimes many many more times than that) Vista just freezes, spinning my cursor and being generally annoying. And this is on a computer, I remind you, with 3gb of ram and a dual core processor. I’m sure if my laptop had a dedicated video card it might function slightly better, but that’s not an option and I (foolishly I guess) figured that Microsoft and Lenovo would have made sure that the drivers for ThinkPads worked flawlessly – and that the video drivers for Intel graphics would work well as well.

But I guess I was quite wrong about that.

Why I love the trackpoint and hate mice or touchpads

I am a touch typist. On a computer that can keep up with me (which I foolishly figured should be all modern computers but that’s not the case) I type close to 100 wpm or faster. More crucially I do that without ever looking at the keyboard, my hands just know where the keys are and I can type without looking, my eye remains focused on the screen or on materials I am working with, not on the keyboard or what my hands are doing.

With a trackpoint (that little nub that on ThinkPads is located on the keyboard between the G H B & N keys I can navigate and move my cursor all around the screen without moving my hands. All I need to do is shift my (right) first finger a bit to the left and with a bit of pressure can move the cursor anywhere I want it and I use my thumb to select the left or right buttons (I use the right mouse button features extensively)

In contrast to use a trackpad (such as is found on all MacBooks) I would have to physically move my hand, shifting considerably my focus from what I am doing, moving my hands and arms physically and breaking the rhythm of what I am doing (just now I used the mouse to correct the spelling of rhythm and could do so with almost no break in my typing, just a moment of attention to which suggestion was correct and a bit of pressure to move the cursor back to the right location). I do it without even thinking about it, it is just a natural motion incorporated into how I work today.

And even to use a physical mouse, such as the Mighty Mouse I have on my iMac desktop I have to move my hands off the keyboard and on the mouse. Then I am still usually very very frustrated by the significant efforts often needed. For whatever reason I find myself frequently having to physically pick up the mouse and move it up then pull back down and repeat to get the cursor and items on the screen where I need them. In contrast with a trackpoint I can just apply continual pressure and the cursor keeps moving in any given direction (ideal for scrolling through long lists, though a scroll wheel can be useful for that as well but sometimes a scroll wheel is not sufficient for a given task). Perhaps there are settings I could adjust that would make the mouse a bit more function for me (as it is I try to avoid it as much as possible) but that would not avoid the primary issue.

To use a mouse or a touchpad you have to move your hand from the keyboard.

There is not getting around that fact. The trackpoint is the only mouse alternative (at least that I’ve ever seen) which allows you to use it without needing to lift your arms or move them from the keyboard. In turn this means I can position my hands comfortably and leave them there even as I type extended amounts of text without pain (this blog post for example has been typed without my needing to move my hands at all).

If you are not (as perhaps most people are not) a touch typist this may not seem all that important. And if you don’t write 1000’s of words nearly every day (and I need to only keep on writing ever increasing amounts) then you might not see what a big deal this is, but I am a touch typist and I do probably average well north of 5000 words a day (often far more).

And in the next few weeks and months that will only increase as I have to write actively online to market myself and my new ad network, and as I write emails to follow up from the 100’s of people I have met in the past few weeks and who are in many cases prospective publishers, advertisers, investors or others with whom I may need to be in ongoing and active communication (press, potential employees and partners etc).

I am an old NeXT user, I would love to have a great Mac laptop. But the touchpad is seriously a dealbreaker for me it requires a very significant reduction in my workflow and productivity. And further my other issues are that the form factor I most like (the MacBook Air) has a lower resolution screen than my current laptop (lower res means less content on the screen, thus more scrolling, so more use of the touchpad and even lower productivity. I read 1000’s of words of content every day – 100’s of emails, blog posts, twitters and more. Plus the hard drive is smaller than my current one so incapable of holding my media library (and the cost for the SSD version is quite high and the disk space even lower). Thus I would need to use an external drive to hold my media library but with only one USB port I would also need to use a USB hub if I wanted to have my media library and my iPhone/iPod connected at the same time (i.e. so I could sync it). That means a bunch of devices I would have to carry with me, reducing the value of the thin form factor and light weight.

And the larger MacBook or MacBook Pro which are available in resolutions that are nearly as high as my current machine or in fact higher (on the largest versions of the MacBook Pro) are heavy (nearly 7lbs for the 17″), physically large, and do not have great battery life (less then 4 hrs by far). Though I would appreciate the screen resolution, I would not appreciate the lack of the trackpoint, and with a larger screen would be even more need to use the mouse. (and I am also not a huge fan of the single button, even knowing the multifinger tricks to get the right mouse button functions – I use that menu on a very very frequent basis perhaps 100 or more times in a day in many cases).

And though the keyboard on the pro does have the sexy illumination feature (though as a touch typist that isn’t so critical) it is not, in my opinion, a comfortable a keyboard to type on as the ThinkPad keyboards which I think are some of the best ever made in the world, at least for laptops. I type fast and quite accurately on ThinkPad keyboards (which I’ve been using for nearly 6+ years now).

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Evaluating a new laptop vs refreshing old – MacBook Air vs ThinkPad X60

Posted by shannonclark on March 13, 2008

If you have been reading my blog for a while you may know that I have a ThinkPad X60 as my current laptop and that I have been seriously unhappy with the laptop and Vista (as well as Office 2007 and related software). At the recent SXSW conference where I mostly went without using my laptop at all (as a bit of an experiment in being highly mobile and not carrying a bag at all) when I did try to use my laptop I was seriously frustrated – in one instance it almost literally took 15+ minutes of work before I was able to actually start doing anything – and I had to shut down 5 minutes later.

While at SXSW I was also emailed an opportunity to purchase a friend of a friend’s MacBook Air – he’s decided to buy the MacBook Pro instead. Buying it from him would save me sales tax and would include the external superdrive. But it is the lower end, 80GB edition. And there are more than a few things I would have to add to the system package (AppleCare more crucially).

So in this post I am going to look at the pros and cons of my current options – and most likely won’t reach a clear conclusion. Please add a comment if you have solutions to any of my issues/concerns or if you have suggestions for alternatives I should be considering.

First note, my laptop is an extension of me – I’ve had a laptop as my primary computer since about 1994. Historically I kept most of my machines until they almost literally fell apart – driving them hard though I also have tended to buy very close to the peak at the time I could buy (not as ‘full desktop replacement” but as best weight-to-performance-to-battery-life. So each time I’ve replaced my laptop I have spent up to about $3000 – that said, I don’t really have the spare money to buy a new computer at the moment – but then neither can I afford to be unproductive or to continue to have serious issues on a daily basis.

My use of a laptop

  • heavy and frequent web browsing and research. I am “online” for many hours every day, much of which is spent with many tabs open in my browser (typically Firefox) in which I am researching, writing, and monitoring
  • syncing my iPhone. Most critically with my full contacts database which is, in turn, also synced up to Plaxo. Slightly less critically (since I rarely use Outlook these days) syncing my iPhone with my calendar (this is an area I hope to improve). And I do sync about 6gbs+ of music and the occasional tv episode or short film to my iPhone for later viewing. Most crucially this must include my most recent podcast subscriptions
  • syncing my iPod, especially when traveling. I have 100gb+ of my music (and a few tv shows I’ve bought) on an external HD, I have about 30gb of podcasts on my local disk, I synch about 30gb of my library to my 30gb iPod Video (3gb of new content such as recent podcasts, 16+gb of content I haven’t played recently, and a careful collection of my favorite content I want to have with me)
  • preparing and giving presentations. I speak at conferences, I pitch to investors, advertisers and partners. While I don’t love PowerPoint, I do have to present on a regular and increasingly frequent basis. I do not, however, do much in my presentations which couldn’t easily be done with Keynote (perhaps even could be done better)
  • manage my digital photos. I don’t take enough digital photos (or videos) but I am trying to increase the frequency with which I take photos – and I have a growing collection of photos I’ve taken. I don’t yet have a Flickr Pro account (probably should do that soon) but even with one, I would still want to retain the full resolution, local copies of every photo I’ve ever taken (perhaps stored on an external drive but everything – or at least the stuff that is good enough I might use it – should be at my fingertips at any time
  • manage my contacts. I have something close to 6000 contacts in multiple Outlook contacts files. While this is far too many and many are generated contacts from the testing of various systems (which analyzed my email traffic looking for people I should have as a contact) I really do know a ton of people. My contacts data about them is one of my most precious resources, in many cases complete with photo, bio, notes on when/how we met etc – and in many cases updated via sync with Plaxo (and in some cases LinkedIn as well)
  • manage my email archives and search them. I currently have email going back at least to 2005 and I think with archives back to 2000 on my current laptop (in a collection of Outlook files). Like my contacts data, my email archives are key data for me – data about when I met someone, what our past interactions have been on etc. Overtime I am slowly weeding and culling my archives of the cruft (old mailing lists, commercial solicitations, spam, updates from various websites etc) but even with that process done (which it is far, far from being so) my email past holds much of my memory.
  • keep up with my current email. I mostly use gmail these days, and almost entirely viw the web or my iPhone. I have multiple gmail addresses I watch (my personal address and various emails aliased or forwarded to it, and my professional email address given to only a very few people at the moment but those numbers will rapidly increase) For this as present I use Thunderbird as Outlook is far, far too flaky for me to rely on it
  • Read PDFs. Mostly as part of my ongoing research and product development, I end up with a lot of PDF files to download and read. With more arriving every day. My preference these days is to “print to PDF” rather than to paper for about the past 2+ years I have almost gone without printing anything – just occasionally a travel document or contract needing a physical signature. On my ThinkPad I have a useful but not great “print to PDF” application, Macs have this feature built into the OS.
  • MindMapping and notetaking. Historically I have used MindManager a great deal (but almost not at all for the past year+). More and more I have just taken notes down in simple text files when offline or when online in various applications (including as draft posts for this blog). This is far from ideal, especially as my needs will be growing exponentially in coming weeks and months. Whether I stay on Vista or migrate to a Mac laptop, I will need to get a great note taking, brainstorming, and task management/project management tool or tools.
  • Offline HTML writing. I occasionally blog for other sites than this blog, when I do that I tend to write my posts in an offline HTML editor and then send the editor an HTML file instead of retyping the post or trying to compose the post online (since many conferences where I might be writing from have poor to non-existent and flaky internet access even for the press). Currently I use Microsoft Expression for this, though mostly out of inertia and from having a full copy (actually multiple copies) given to me by Microsoft at various conferences I have attended over the past few years.
  • Very rarely but likely to increase spreadsheet analysis. I can crunch numbers with the best of them, but I’ve never been a spreadsheet junky. My tools of choice start with text and flow out from there – but as I grow my company I will have to make more and more use of spreadsheets over time. And likely web based alternatives won’t fully do everything (currently at least) which I need to do, though for basic collaborative tasks they are great). At least once a quarter, if not more often, I will, however have to present numbers to my board (currently small but as we close our first round of funding likely to grow). On my ThinkPad I have Microsoft Office, on a Mac I’d likely start with iWork Numbers (which I already have on my iMac) and will only buy Excel if I truly need it.
  • and that is about it really. I don’t have games installed on this ThinkPad (just the basics which come with Vista but haven’t used them in years). I have other software installed but almost never run it (Visual Studio for example). Running at boot I have Skype and Google Chat – but actually rarely use either (and for that matter they are both available for the Mac as well). I have Microsoft OneNote (my laptop is a tablet) but I actually almost never use the tablet functionality – silly I know and a bit of a shame, but also very much the truth. I kinda wish I did use it more often, but in actuality I don’t (and apparently I’m far from alone). I also almost never use video playback on my ThinkPad – I think mostly because the experience even with a local file is quite poor. Instead I watch any videos (including video podcasts) on my iPhone or on my iMac desktop – which is also the machine I’ll use mostly when I buy any video content or when I test/use a service like Joost or or another video service.

So with all that said, how can I decide between my various options.

Scenario One – keep ThinkPad but try refresh/reinstallations

At SXSW I spoke with friends who work for Microsoft. One suggestion was that the OEM installation of Vista, especially on ThinkPads unfortunately, is not very clean or well functioning. His suggestion was to get a full install disk of Vista and do a complete wipe and reinstall everything from scratch.

This would require I backed up all my data. That I made a very complete list of all of the software I have installed (antivirus software, firefox, thunderbird, MSFT Office 2007, MindManager, etc) and made sure I had all the relevant license keys for each product as well as the current installer (or at least how to get the latest versions – or in some cases the versions for which I have a license). Then I would have to reformat my disk completely (likely wiping the IBM special partition as well) and reinstall Vista. Then install MSFT Office 2007, FireFox, Microsoft Expression, Thunderbird, anti-virus software, Skype, Google Pack, some of the key pieces of IBM software (password manager using my fingerprint scanner perhaps, power management software etc) and then migrate back my key data (iTunes, Outlook files, recourses/research, writings, photos etc.

All in all that would likely require 1 to 2 full days between the full backups, reformats and very significant post-installation patching efforts.

But as a result I also quite likely have a much cleaner installation, less cruft, likely a much better performing laptop, and might take the opportunity to structure the laptop to also dual boot with a linux installation (Ubuntu?). If I can use the full license to Vista Microsoft gave me a while back the cost for this would be minimal – but the time and effort could be considerable. And almost certainly there would be one or more issues around licenses with something I want to install.

Scenario Two – I buy the MacBook Air (used) from a friend of a friend 

This would cost me about $1800 for a MacBook Air + external superdrive. On top of that I would probably buy additional AppleCare (another $250 or so) so as to have support into the future.

It would have to be shipped from the east coast to here on the west coast – or I might pick it up in person on my next trip to the east coast in a few weeks.

To make the MacBook Air functional for me I would have to install an office suite (iWork? – which I do have a copy of for my iMac have to check on the licensing for whether I can also use that on a laptop). I would likely buy a small bit of software to help migrate my data from Outlook to formats importable into the Mac built-in applications (though I’m not sure if I want to use those apps or not – haven’t ever used them so don’t fully know if I would like them or not).

I would then have to migrate my iTunes library (always painful) and connect an external drive with my music library to the Air, probably connect via a USB Hub so I can also connect my iPhone and/or my iPod. For the iPhone I owuld have to do this AFTER contacts have been synced and I would have to set up the new connections for data for the iPhone (not sure if I also have to reformat it to work smoothly with  the Mac).

If my iTunes data import works smoothly I should have everything set up, but it not I’ll have to spend a lot of time getting iTunes set up for my use (rebuilding smart playlists etc) and I may lose a lot of key data such as timestamps of when I added data to iTunes, playcounts of files, ratings of songs, podcast subscriptions.

Likely I’ll also need to replace my current, 120gb external portable drive with a much larger but still very small external drive. Ideally at least 300+gb but very lightweight. I’d expect the cost for that will be at least $100, likely closer to $150 but I’d be happy to find that’s high. In setting up my podcast subscriptions as well as my subscriptions to tv shows via iTunes I’ll have to decide where those files come from and are stored (ideally I can do this is in a way usable via my iMac as well – but that might be tricky and some files likely should be local to the Air so I can use them when not online)

Very likely I’ll also have to spend $99 a year to get a .mac account so I can use the “back to my mac” feature to reach my desktop iMac and perhaps use the .mac account to do some data synching (though Plaxo may be sufficient for much of what I actually need done.

I’ll also then need to install a variety of useful Mac software – Skitch for example is a big draw for moving to the Mac laptop, a tool I’d expect to use fairly frequently. I knwo there are dozens of other applications which friends would suggest I use and which I would test out and decide amongst over time – apps for productivity, apps for business/brainstorming/notetaking etc. All told I would like spend a fair chunk of change on new software for the Mac laptop – whether I get an Air or another model. But, for the most part, these would also be tools which pretty clearly would be helping me get more done and be more effienct.

In the case of the Air however I almost certainly won’t install VM Fusion or Parallels as there likely simply isn’t the diskspace to use either effectively. In my current home network configuration this means that I have to give up entirely on using my current printer (for which there are not OSX or Linux drivers). So though I don’t print a lot, likely I’ll have to also plan on investing in a new printer.

Scenario Three – another model of a Mac portable 

I do like the Air’s multi-touch trackpad, I can see myself using gestures frequently. So that rules out (for now) the lower end MacBooks or a used/refurbished MacBook Pro. But I would have to give the other MacBook Pro models serious consideration. The 15″ laptop has nearly the same resolution as my current ThinkPad (one of my major concerns with the MacBook Air is that the resolution there is lower than on my ThinkPad – and my ThinkPad’s resolution isn’t high enough for me – I really like be able to have a lot of information on the screen at once. That said the clarity of the Air’s screen is fantastic and the performance of the graphics is better than my ThinkPad so video etc likely will look much better (be playable in fact).

A 15″ MacBook also weighs around the same as my ThinkPad does with the extended life batteries which I have. However the battery life is a bit lower (3 hours or is what I’ve heard but I’ll be checking with people on that). But overall it would be a great machine and would cost not a lot more than the MacBook Air (less perhaps if I can get a discount from a friend who works at Apple which is a serious possibility).

Scenario Four – another model of PC laptop – running Vista 

Least likely, as there are aren’t many other models I might want to buy but this is a consideration.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, iTunes, mac, microsoft, mobile, personal, reviews, tablet pc, working | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Vista rants continued – tablet issues

Posted by shannonclark on September 28, 2007

If you follow my twitter feed you know that for the past few days I have been having another round of major problems with Vista (and some non-MSFT related issues with mail servers and mail clients).

I just rebooted my tablet and this time I timed how long it took from the login screen to having Firefox restored and back functional. It took almost exactly 7 minutes. In my book that is about 6 minutes too long and even that is pushing it, there is no excuse for why a modern laptop should take over 5 minutes to boot up and start a basic application such as Firefox. I am not starting a ton of unusual applications (anti-virus software, skype, google chat, my laptop’s power management applications, and that’s about it).

The full process to shutdown and reboot often takes 10 minutes or more, rarely if I’m lucky it takes less than 10 minutes. Even just trying to put my laptop into sleep mode (so it shouldn’t drain the battery while in my bag) can often take a couple of minutes!)

I posted a bunch of my recent issues as a comment on a post about similar Vista rants.

Here are a few of my major issues currently with Vista. I am running Vista on a Lenovo X60 tablet which I purchased earlier this year. It is a dual-core Intel system, with 1 GB of ram, a 1400×1050 resolution tablet screen, a 100+gb hd, and otherwise fairly standard but generally high end components. It is not a gaming laptop so the graphics card is not insane, nor are my cores of the absolute fastest speeds, but it is also claimed to get up to 8hrs of battery life with the battery combinations I have (that claim like so much else about this laptop is, however, false). Since I have owned it in essence most of the parts of the laptop other than the hard drive have been replaced – I have a new screen (my old one was defective) and a new systemboard (either also defective or rendered defective when the screen was replaced).

Earlier this month I crashed Windows Explorer. In a manner that generated a C++ error message. And then rendered a user experience of Windows without any icons or taskbar. Oh, what did I do to crash Windows Explorer? I copied files from a zip folder (I think my problem was I was trying to copy two different folders from the same zip folder at the same time).

I should note, my system was fully patched when this happened – and I run antivirus software etc frequently – so my issues were not spyware or virus related – they were simply a major and fatal system error.

That’s a single event, but I have more frequent issues with Vista.

1. Many, many times when I wake up from an extended sleep (like say letting my laptop recharge overnight) Vista insists on resetting my screen resolution. Not immediately, no, it wakes up (slowly), even connections (or tries to) back to the wifi, then suddenly the screen will freeze, go completely black, and a few minutes later (and I’m not exaggerating it literally will be frozen for a few minutes) it will wake back up but with the screen resolution set to 1040×768 (my screen is really 1400×1050). I have to manually reset the screen resolution (and of course this resizes any windows I might have had open at the time).

2. I mentioned above “tries to reconnect to wifi”. Not infrequently when Vista wakes up from sleep, my wifi will enter into a state where though the wireless device is active and sees networks, it is unable to actually establish an internet connection, it will connect locally, but not to the internet. The issue is not always with the servers as usually a reboot will fix this problem. But note, a “reboot” takes my laptop about 10 minutes – and that’s a good day, it can be more.

3. On my 2007 edition laptop, running the latest, fully patched OS (Vista Business Edition), my laptop often freezes for no apparent reason. My mouse will stop moving, if I am typing my text no longer shows up (as if the computer has to catch up with my typing) and it can literally be many minutes before it unfreezes, if at all. As well applications for no readily apparent reason will display “not responding” often for many minutes at a time, in these cases other applications may (or more often may not) still function and sometimes I still have mouse movement – but often that to stops after a bit. I should note, I am not recompiling massive applications or running Second Life or a major high end game or editing application – the applications I am usually running that cause these issues are: Firefox (latest version with minimal extensions), Outlook 2007, or other Office 2007 applications. All fully legal, professional installations – not running beta code or anything strange – just trying to do plain vanilla tasks like manage my contacts & calendar or edit a presentation. I rarely have more than 10 tabs open in Firefox (usually less). And I am not running anything else major (no bittorrent clients or the like just google chat & skype) I also often have iTunes open but generally not all the time.

In short a typical business professional use of Vista. Nothing too intensive and certainly not usage that should freeze a modern system. Sure, I have a lot of email (a few GB’s worth in my main system, but because it is so slow and nearly totally unresponsive I actually don’t usually use Outlook all that much (which is a major professional issue, I really do need to have a full featured and usable contact manager which will sync with my iPhone and with web services such as Plaxo – I have 1000’s of contacts + 1000’s of business cards from new contacts which I need to enter – but the constant freezes and the sheer pain of using this system have delayed me. Likewise I have a lot of serious Excel work I need to do, also around deep data gathering and modeling and the near impossibility of having this laptop work reliably have delayed that work as well.

So this is a completely unacceptable situation. I may try adding more memory (I have room to add a 2gb dimm) but it is such a painful process to figure out what dimm this system needs and order it I have also been avoiding that (and I am likewise not looking forward to then installing that memory – the design of the tablet does not make that all that trivial unfortunately). But I do not think all of my issues are a result of memory – when I launch the task manager and watch the performance measures, the memory and the CPU will often spike to 100% – which is just insane given the rather lightweight tasks I’m actually doing.

And this system also freezes on other tasks which should be easy. With nothing else running other than iTunes, playback of shows I have purchased is often halting and slow, with the audio and video sometimes getting out of sync (the same files however play back perfectly – and indeed more enjoyably and smoothly on my iPhone, which I should note is running a vastly slower processor and graphics chip than this laptop is – at least in theory)

My point is that there is something seriously wrong with Vista. Perhaps also with the design of this tablet, but if Lenovo/ThinkPad is having issues, then likely ALL laptops running Vista have issues – ThinkPads have long had a reputation as some of the best and most reliable of professional laptops. My previous laptop was a workhorse which though I tortured never gave me anything like the types of problems I am having with this current system.

I do not think it is asking too much in 2007 to have a laptop that performs better than machines I owned 5+ years ago.

Here are the specs of what I would ideally like to own – if you know of a company that makes this please leave a comment (and I’m more than happy to review a trial version of such a system):

– weight of LESS than 5 lbs. This is a deal breaker (literally for my back). I walk 4+ miles EVERY DAY. Every pound that goes into my bag I feel. My fantasy is a laptop that w/power supply is less than 5lbs, I’ll settle for a system that is <6lbs with power supply. I currently sacrifice having an optical drive in part to achieve this weight target, though I did buy a larger/heavier battery to try to meet my next goal

– real world working capacity of at least 6 hours with 8 hours the ideal without needing to be plugged in. i.e. can be used on a cross-country trip, or in cafes over the course of a day without needing to fight for an outlet. I don’t need to do this while watching videos the full time or while working with a very bright screen, but it should accommodate using wifi for the duration (i.e. being connected to the web the whole time)

– screen resolution of at least 1400×1050 and higher is better. My entire work is information – as an entrepreneur I am pulling in information from many sources and massaging it, the more pixels in front of me,the more I can work with and monitor. I refuse to go back to lower resolutions

– at least 100gb of internal storage, these days I’d probably ideally want 250+gbs

– full range of USB, firewire, etc ports. With option for adding an EVDO card in the future.

– great keyboard (ThinkPad’s have spoiled me, they really are lightyears better than most other laptops) and I have gotten used to a trackpoint w/multiple buttons (I use the right mouse button a lot, many times nearly every hour, it is a core part of my workflow).

– tablet functionality would be nice, but not a complete deal breaker – though if my system was more reliable and stable, I would likely use the tablet features more often. I want to be able to use the machine without a barrier between me and others (when in a meeting, at a conference, or giving a pitch). I also want to be able to generate content such as quick sketches of an idea or workflow and tablets make this easy – if all the rest of the applications don’t crash or freeze.

I’m not overly fussy about the rest of the specs, though ideally the system should have standard components everywhere – ideally all ones which have open source drivers (which implies they should also have good drivers for Vista though that may be stretching a point). I’m not ruling out a Mac, but the lack of a second mouse button (or a trackpoint) and the keyboards are really strong negatives – the weight and relatively poor battery life are my major other issues. The OS however is lightyears ahead of Vista.

I have been told that there are some systems that come close in Asia, though when I last looked the really ultalightweight systems had lower screen resolutions than I really want, but perhaps that is slowly changing. Certainly the current iPhones and new iPods show that pixel densities continue to get denser (though perhaps they have issues scaling up to laptop screen sizes).

But more than anything else, I want a system that is rock solid and fast and lightweight.

Update – reports on the beta of Vista SP1 indicate that some of my issues may (emphasis on may) be corrected. Note this post on the Microsoft Windows team blog about the beta. In particular, note that he has the same issues I have about losing wifi on wake up from hibernation and some of my other issues as well.

Posted in microsoft, personal, reviews, tablet pc, working | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

More Vista and Microsoft Outlook 2007 problems

Posted by shannonclark on August 4, 2007

I am beginning to think that Vista and Microsoft in general is going backwards. My current Vista Tablet (a Lenovo Thinkpad X60), which is a dual core intel laptop with 1GB ram, 1GM “memoryboost SD Card”, a 1400×1050 resolution tablet screen, and lots of other bells and whistles (fast, large hd, wifi, bluetooth etc) is by far the slowest and worst laptop I have owned in at least a decade or more – and from a lost productivity standpoint probably ever.

And I have owned a lot of laptops, almost all of which were for their time close to the top of the line. My first being a great Compaq laptop in 1993.

I spent most of the last two weeks getting various hardware faults fixed on my laptop – a broken screen, bad daughter cards and then this week an entirely new systemboard.

At the moment, however, all the hardware faults should have been solved.

However here are my symptoms so you can see what I mean when I say this is the worst OS/laptop combination I have ever used.

1. Startup takes 4-5 minutes. From turning the computer on to having everything booted and working, it routinely takes as long as 5 minutes or more (and not infrequently something about the process fails – not always with notifications either)

2. “sleep” mode is totally and utterly useless and also takes 4-5 minutes to engage IF it works at all.  In theory closing my laptop’s screen or selecting the sleep option on the windows menu should engage “sleep” mode. However more than 1/2 the time this totally fails – and most of the time it takes 4-5 minutes from when I close the screen to when the sleep light is on and everything is in powered down mode. Just this afternoon it utterly failed to engage sleep mode at all – instead leaving me in a mode from which my only option was to power down and reboot.

3. waking from sleep mode takes 3-4 minutes or more – and more often than not upon waking up devices such as my wifi stop functioning.

4. Shutdown more often than not causes faults – I’ve crashed windows explorer while shutting down. Not uncommonly it takes a good 4-5 minutes to shutdown the laptop.

And not this afternoon here are my problems with Outlook 2007. In theory this version of Outlook can handle large mail archives and should be smooth and richly functional.

I have about 2GB of mail in my main mailbox in Outlook (much more in archives but don’t have those even on this machine). In my main contacts addressbook I have about 1100 contacts at the moment (I have about 6000 in total in other contacts folders).

This afternoon I have been entering in contacts from business cards I collected at recent events.

I am running the Plaxo plug-in for Outlook (and a few others)

When I open up a new contact the window is initially unfilled in and takes a good 30 seconds or so to be editable.

While I am entering text, more often than not the cursor starts to spin and my text may or may not ever get entered and it never shows up as I type, it usually is a few seconds delayed (this as I am entering notes into the notes field – when I met someone, their bio from their websites etc)

When I go to enter a phone number I am unable usually to even select the phone number field, but instead have to wait for the cursor to again spin and only then am I able to enter a phone number.

What’s more, when I go to the main outlook window and try to search for a contact I JUST ENTERED – I get back a result that there is no contact with that name!

This type of response as well as user experience is totally unacceptable from a modern piece of software. Indexes should be updated as I entered a new contact – but even if they are not, the time a modern dual core system should take to search a mere 1100 contacts (or in my case if they have to search all my contacts folders about 6000) really should be microseconds. In no case should I get a response that there is no contact with that name when I have just entered one!


I do like Outlook’s contact forms generally speaking – I can finally easily include photos, long form bios etc -though I’d like a lot of changes to the overall fields (for one “IM” is a useless field – I need to be able to note WHICH IM SYSTEM someone has) and today I really should be able to track multiple related websites for most people (blogs and company websites for example)

But if this level of non-performance keeps up I am going to utterly give up on Microsoft (and if you want to buy a really nice tablet – to say run Ubuntu on – contact me, I probably will sell this and get a Mac)

Posted in mac, microsoft, mobile, tablet pc, working | 4 Comments »

Yellow and Green – color blindness and UI design

Posted by shannonclark on July 19, 2007

I am partially colorblind. In college I briefly worked for an eye researcher and took what was then the most accurate colorblindness test in the world. My color blindness is about as minor as possible to still deem me as having colorblindness, but it is very real.

In my case, there is a band of “orange” which appears undifferentiated to my eyes, but which a person with normal color sight would perceive as having variation.

The impact, however, of this very seemingly trivial difference in my eyesight, is that in general there are many yellows and light, yellowy greens which I do not perceive as different.

Take any Mac window. You know those three buttons on the top left side of the screen? I see a red button and then two yellowish buttons. Looking quickly, I can’t tell which is yellow and which is green (I only think that one is green because people have told me).

Or look at the LED’s on an iPod Shuffle (at least on the first generation) there too apparently, I’ve been told, the LED will show yellow for one signal and green for another – but I do not perceive this difference at all.

On the web almost all flash (or javascript) games which involve matching colors end up using yellow and green in a way that make it impossible, literally impossible, for me to play these games with any degree of success.

Windows is by no means exempt here either, in the midst of my troubleshooting my tablet issues today (tablet stopped working as a tablet, system is running insanely slow – 5-6 minutes to boot up, 3-4 minutes to wake from sleep, 10+ minutes sometimes to shut down, 3-5 minutes to sleep) I am running Diskkeeper to defragment my hard drive. Nice, except it too uses yellow and green to show certain different types of files on the system – I literally cannot see which is which.

It is important to realize that this is not a case of I see something as “yellow” which you would call “green”, rather it is that I see both of these shades as the same – I can’t see that there is any difference between them at all – especially when quickly glancing at them (as in playing a game). Intellectually I know there is a difference (say between the buttons on a Mac Window), but my eyes do not show me that difference.

Years ago this is why I never played many computer games and almost never played team online games such as Doom, Battletech, etc. I usually could not perceive the signals they used to show friend or foe. Or in the case of many of the games with puzzles, often they included an aspect which relied on color differences which I could not see. In the case of the first person shooter this lack of differentiation meant that my reactions were much slower, I would have to look for other signals as to “friend or foe” or for targeting etc.

So though I love games, love design, and spent the majority of my time in front of computer screens my colorblindness means that I have not been able to enjoy many of the even very simple pleasures, let along complex ones such as World of Warcraft, which many others enjoy.

I am also not alone with this, figures differ a bit and do have some racial/geographic differences, but something like 10% of the population (more men than women since it is at least in part tied to the same chromosomes as gender) are color blind. Some yellow/green like myself and others red/blue. A few do not see color at all, but I most, like myself, see color, just not all the same variations as someone with normal sight.

I will try to find illustrations and examples, but if you read this post and are involved in UI design – on the web, on desktops, or for that matter in any game console or other consumer product, TEST YOUR UI with people who have color blindness. There are many colors you can choose from – select ones which very rarely have perception problems. Also, whenever possible use MULTIPLE signals to show difference, rather than only using color (as in the case of the mac buttons without a mouseover action), do something like those buttons do on mouse over – show symbols on them as well. But realize that even then people such as myself literally cannot act on an instruction such as “click on the yellow button”. Make sure you say something like “click on the middle, yellow button with the minus sign”

And if you work for Apple or Microsoft – can you please change your defaults.

Posted in mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | 4 Comments »

Tools that make simple tasks too complicated

Posted by shannonclark on July 7, 2007

I am planning on buying an iPhone later today from a friend who has an extra one she purchased for someone like me, who waited a bit too long.

However, to make the iPhone useful, I need to have my sync issues solved. Specifically I need my contacts, calendar, and current media & podcasts to be available to me on the same system (doesn’t appear that you could say sync just contacts & calendar data from one system, music & video from another).

So to accomplish this in my case means finally breaking down and moving the entirety of my media collection to the iTunes instance on my Windows Vista system (my new ThinkPad Tablet). I have been avoiding this as Vista is the worst OS I have ever used and I didn’t want to tie more of my real data to a system running a crap OS.

And this process only reinforces that sentiment.

After investigating for a while, I learned that it is possible to move iTunes library data – but that the process is FAR more complicated than it should be.

First you have to export the iTunes library which generates an XML file. So far, so good. This makes sense, is a nice format (sorta) for interchange and okay, I can probably live with this.

But this is where the combination of Apple and MSFT start to make what should be a common and easy process an utter nightmare.

First, let’s bash Apple a bit here. Apple seems to have a fundamental dislike of letting the user have access to or control over where iTunes points to for its files. So there is NO way to automatically import the exported library file and at the time of import, tell iTunes where to find all the files (i.e. how to remap the file pointers from the old computer to say a new computer).

Instead you have to edit the XML file by hand and do some form of global search and replace.

Now this is where MSFT steps in to make what should be in 2007 a trivial task into a complete nightmare. I opened up the XML file – first place MSFT crashed and burned. The process of opening up a 22MB XML file takes 10-20 minutes on my brand new, dual core ThinkPad.

I am not exaggerating here over 10 minutes to open up an XML file.

Seriously, isn’t opening up a file something we solved back in the 1990’s?

Then Word insists on opening it into a mode that is specific for XML files. And if you make the slightest change, it insists on autosaving (which takes another 10 minutes or so).

Plus it breaks the usual conventions of how a word processor UI works – it shows a hand cursor which does not appear able to actually get you to a text insert/edit point, but if you use the keyboard you can – very non-obvious.

Then my global search and replace took 20-30 minutes to complete. Along with an error message along the way that Word had encountered an error and could not undo, did I want to continue.

After more pain and waiting, it finally did complete.

So I tried to close Word.

When MSFT insisted on applying their namespace to the file because they had not detected a namespace on it.


I tried to just save it as a text file.

Crashed Word completely and utterly.

Still haven’t been able to reopen the file to see what state it is in – after another 20+ minutes of a spinning cursor while trying to open the XML file.

Unfrigging believable. In 2007. On a DUAL CORE system. This is a system with more processing power than probably all my previous laptops COMBINED. (and via my companies I have owned a fairly large number of laptops). But in daily use you would never guess that I have so much CPU power on this laptop – it is by far the slowest and most irritating laptop I have used in well over a decade.

Waking up from sleep takes 4-5 minutes. Not much of an exaggeration. Vista insists on waking up, locking my system (takes 30-45 seconds) then when I finally am able to unlock it, Vista boots into my main screen, then blacks the screen entirely, resizes everything (drops down to a much much lower screen resolution), then spins the cursor and eventually wakes up and resizes the system BACK to my full screen resolution – but as a result has usually resized all my windows as well as my desktop image to be the wrong sizes.

And all that takes 4-5 minutes most of the time.

And that’s from SLEEP – not hibernate. Sleep being the mode that is supposed to be nearly instant to wake up from.

And don’t get me started on how quite frequently when it does wake up from sleep mode, Vista manages to break something with the wifi and I’m unable to get ANY wifi connections without a reboot.

And MSFT wonders why people aren’t running out rapidly to buy and upgrade to Vista.

Now nearly three hours after starting to work on prepping my laptop for the iPhone, I’m still not ready – the laptop is spinning and not working (well) and my desktop systems are too slowly moving all my media to an external HD (which is taking far too long itself), just so I can later move them from that disk to my laptop (yup, another long delay in the process).

Annoying. Very very annoying.

(and though I did burn an Ubuntu CD this morning as well, that doesn’t solve my issues as currently there is not a way to sync Ubuntu with an iPhone, though I suspect Ubuntu, unlike Vista, would scream on my ThinkPad)

Posted in customer service, geeks, microsoft, reviews, tablet pc | 3 Comments »

Explaining the basics – Why Microsoft & Office 2007 don’t get it.

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

The version of Office 2007 which Microsoft gave me for attending the launch a while back includes a product called Outlook with Business Contact Manager.

As an entrepreneur and founder of a business dedicated to networking business people I decided to install this feature and see how it might help me as I organized my large stack of pending contacts to enter from business cards. My plan for this new laptop is to migrate my old data over slowly, taking advantage of the relatively clean system to cleanup, organize and enhance my data.

However as I looked over the product I realized I was not 100% clear how Microsoft intended certain fields to be used. Specifically what are the intended distinctions between “accounts”, “contacts”,  and “opportunities”? I think I know, but I’m not sure – nor is it clear on first glance if I’ll be able to move things around in the future (i.e. if I put in every contact, can I later designate that some represent opportunities? that some will become “accounts”? further, my business will have a couple of really different types of business relationships – I’ll have (we hope) many many 1000’s (hopefully millions) of users of NELA, a large number but a subset of the total users whose companies pay for commercial features of NELA, and finally a very different set of business relationships with companies that advertise on NELA to our users. We may also have a number of other different types of business relationships – partners, service providers, companies for whom we resell or recommend their products etc. Will I be able to customize this tool to help me track these nuances of business relationships?

So, I went to what seemed like a good starting point – Microsoft’s help page for the product.

Here I encountered one of the really fundamental areas where Microsoft gets it absolutely wrong.

Take a look at the following page, which claims to help you understand how to add data. The title of the page is “Getting started with Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007” (side note, look at that URL – SEO hell, garbage data in the URL)

Microsoft actually does embed definitions of the various categories on this page – but quick, take a look, do you see the links?


Try scrolling down, click on the “add this … ” links.

Anything useful there?

Didn’t think so.

Turns out, if you hover your mouse over the words “Account”, “Business Contact”, “Opportunity”, or “Business Project” in the first paragraph you’ll note that there is embeded Javascript so that on click a definition of that term is displayed inline on the page.


This runs counter to all good web style. Other than hovering your mouse over every bit of text on the page, there is no visual clue that these words are anything different from everything else on the page.

When I was starting to write this post, in fact, I was going to say that there was NO definitions for these terms on the page.

And I’m a pretty advanced user of the web (been online, running my own servers since 1991, have helped define standards, built pretty complex web apps etc).

Turns out phrases all over this page have the same treatment.

But I, for one, am not in the habit of following with my cursor every word of a webpage I am reading just on the off chance that something is a link which does not look like one (or as in this case, has javascript surrounding it to do something on mouseover or click – so not actually a “real” link in fact.

As a further experiment, take a look at each of the “creating a … ” entries on the page.

One of these is not like the other.

All but the Opportunity section are just step-by-step instructions on how to create (of the form like click the create … button”. Pretty brainless and useless for nearly anyone who can read. No context or significant help in understanding the intention of the software.

In contrast, the Opportunity section starts with a definition of what this is intended for.

 Opportunities are chances to sell your products or services. Opportunity records help you prioritize your sales information, track your sales process and customer interactions, and forecast your sales.

And actually, in that block above, the Opportunities and Opportunity records phrases are further javascript links to definitions – though the UI expert who suggested that people would expect to click inside of a block of text which had, itself, only shown up as the result of a click should probably be looking for work in a different field.

I will give the application a bit of a try, though I am not optimistic that in the end it will prove all that useful for my needs.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, microsoft, tablet pc, working | Leave a Comment »

Outlook 2007 bugs and UI issues

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

As I continue on my path of setting up my new laptop, I have been working on getting Outlook 2007 configured and working. Working as in, spent many hours this afternoon and missed lunch trying to get what should be simple things set up.

So, in this post, a few of the bugs (my opinion), user interface (UI) gripes, and other problems I have found with Outlook 2007, all in just the initial getting it setup. I’m sure when I also go to importing my nearly 9+ gb worth of archived mail in previous versions of Outlook formats, I will find new and different sets of bugs.

I should note, that even in my current relatively quiet mode being pre-launch with my new company NELA I still receive hundreds of emails, to put it into perspective in the past <10 days I received over 4000 emails, of which Outlook 2007’s junk filters determined that about 2500 of which were spam. And that does not include how ever countless spam messages are sent to random addresses at one of my multiple domains and are promptly just automatically deleted.

So for me a highly functional email tool is not a luxury, rather it is a necessity. For about the past 6 months or so I have mostly used gmail, via the web or my cell phone, as my primary mail client. But that has been mostly possible because I have been doing relatively low volumes of outbound email, and my needs have been relatively minimal. I have gmail set up to auto-label and sort most of my active mailing lists and generally enjoy using it. But there are some issues with the mobile version (not the Java client but the mobile web) and my cell phone (around sending outbound messages).

But most seriously I do need to in the near future send out lots of emails – at least hundreds, possibly close to 1000 or so, as I start inviting the 100’s of people I have met recently to NELA, and as I begin ramping up our sales, marketing, and PR efforts.

So, on my new laptop I installed Office 2007 (Microsoft gave me a full license for attending the Office 2007 launch event in San Francisco).

When I booted up Outlook for the first time, set up my initial account, I encountered my first problem with Outlook UI (and one that I would nearly call a bug).

That is, it was all too easy to set up the account and not realize that it was set to auto send & receive, both on starting up Outlook and every 30 minutes. Further, by default, mail is set to be deleted from the server.

My practice has long been to retain mail on my pop3 server for 10 days as an automated backup. More than once this has saved me in the past – when Outlook or my local disk crashed, when something went wrong, when I have moved to a new machine, the ability to get caught up with my past 10 days worth of mails has been very important.

And yes, perhaps I should look at moving to an IMAP server seup (as many of my alpha geek friends have done).

Earlier today, however, I also found a rather odd bit of behavior on Outlook 2007’s part, and one that is symptomatic of a fundamental UI issue.

I had two accounts configured, one for my old company JigZaw, one for gmail. I set these up in part to test outbound SMTP service via my DSL (which I thought might be an issue). Running into issues with my old company’s outbound SMTP server settings, I decided to try to remove that account and just use the gmail account for the moment.

So, naturally I looked at the Send/Receive settings (under Tools, Send/Receive, Send/Receive Settings) where I saw a menu option of “Define Send/Receive Groups”.

First minor UI nit – the dialog box that opens up is titled “Send/Receive Groups”, dropped the “Define” somewhere.

This is where I turned off the auto send/receive every 30 minutes (I don’t like my mail clients fetching mail – and thus using bandwidth etc when I don’t ask them to directly, all too often this would happen as I want to shutdown while mobile – say at/during a meeting, in a cafe etc).

From here, I had to click “edit” to select the All Accounts group and edit it.  That led to a very new looking dialog where the three accounts I had set up were displayed on the left (apparently RSS which I hadn’t configured is considered an account by this dialog – more on this in a bit).

I selected the JigZaw account, and asked that it be removed from the All Accounts group (by unselecting a checkbox)

Fine, I thought, that’s great. I did a send/receive – and yes, it only checked my gmail account (didn’t seem to that time at least check RSS).

So I went along, read some emails, and then had something I had to send to my business partner. I opened up a new email, composed the email, and sent it.

Then I selected the send/receive.  And I noticed a problem It was trying to send via TWO accounts. Via my gmail (which happened very quickly – nothing to send as it turns out) and then via JigZaw. Which failed (as I mentioned, the outbound SMTP server configuration was not working).

So now I tried to figure out what was happening. I went back to the send/receive settings, and yes, only gmail and rss were set up there.

I did some more digging. Down a bit farther on the Tools menu, I saw a line “Account Settings …”

I opened this up – a very different looking dialog opened up. And in there, I saw that my jigzaw account was still set as the default for sending mail.

I think this is a bug. If you remove that account from the All Accounts group – shouldn’t it no longer be the default? At the very least, why do you have to go to two different dialogs which look and feel very different to change that behavior?

Now about the RSS feeds. I could have sworn that when I installed and first set up Outlook 2007 I had removed all of the default feeds (so as to have no feeds at all configured). But just now, I looked, and all three default feeds from Microsoft were set for me to download. I will now try to remove them entirely – I wonder how many different dialogs I’ll have to use to do that.

My UI gripe is that all of these dialogs look, feel and act differently from each other. And that menus that imply one thing then open up boxes that call themselves something different. I am a seriously advanced user (I’ve looked deeply into the Sendmail manuals, remember helping people set up their mail routing paths in the early 90’s, heck I even helped edit some of the calendaring IETF specifications). Outlook 2007’s maze of options and dialogs, each looking and acting differently and with no single, unified way to get to all of the options that effect how my system works is confusing for me.

For everyone else, I can only imagine it is even more so.

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