CyberTech Rambler

January 27, 2012

HUD: Microsoft ribbon menu system done right …. if you are a geek

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:14 pm

Ubuntu’s proposed HUD User Interface is interesting. Stripping away all the PR fluff and implementation details, it is simply a user interface that combines keyboard and mouse, instead of using them separately. Who combines keyboard and mouse when using a computer, even on a web browsers? Geeks. So, as a geek, I like it. It simply confirms the way I use my computer is more superior than you lot! ūüėČ

The first time I heard about, and uses both keyboard and mouse to drive an application is when I attended an AutoCAD training course back in 1995. It was the first thing the instructor mentioned and I like it. In the days before touch pad and  gesture, it is a way of extending the number of ways a two (or three) button mouse can signal to the computer. Even today I still find myself more at home with using keyboard button to modify the way my computer interpret my mouse command than with gesture.

Using both hands to drive a computer interface is not everyone’s cup of tea. I only know of a few people who do this regularly. For us, HUD can be a very useful system, if implemented right.

Mark Shuttleworth compared it to Microsoft ribbon system. I do not think there is any resemblance. He was trying to use Microsoft ribbon system as an example of predicting what the user wants, the way his text-based HUD system is designed to do. Both HUD and Ribbon will change its display according to how it predict you want to use it. We human are designed to react to changes. That’s why for me, ribbon’s biggest problem is it keeps predicting what I want to do and this leads to incessantly changing ribbon that distracted me¬† from the work proper.¬† With HUD, you invoke it when you want it, so the changes in display happens when you want it. I believe this is a significant factor that influence me to say I like HUD.

HUD also mitigate against one of ribbon’s biggest problem: User felt that they are at a lost (and the UI is not helping) when they want to do something the ribbon fails to predict. With HUD, the failure to predict means the user is also at a lost. However, note that the prediction on embedded video shows the prediction as a list of menu commands, Edit->Formatting->Italics for example. This will help users recall what he can do with the menu system to get to the function he wants. It will reduce frustration, hopefully.

Will it catch on with Joe Users? I am not that sure. One thing I noticed, is people adopt a different posture when typing on the keyboard and navigating with a mouse. People sits up, and even though they need only one hand to operate the mouse, they removed both hands from the keyboard. This means it takes them longer to reposition their hands back at the keyboard. Results? Longer time needed to complete the task.  This usually means a more frustrated users.

Everyone should use the keyboard like me: Keep eyes on screen and one hand on the keyboard at all time. Keep the mouse close to the keyboard.  To operate it move only one hand and instead of looking for the mouse, feel for it. When one is done, move that hand back to the keyboard, again without looking at the keyboard, using the other hand as a  guide on where the keyboard is.

How many people will follow this advise? Probably none. And this is the hurdle Ubuntu has to overcome to make us more effective at using HUD. I hope it can achieve it, but have my doubts.

January 23, 2012

Guess I was too hasty in praising him …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:27 pm

MPAA President shot himself on the foot a short while after I praised him for his mature response to SOPA/PIPA humilation.

Unfortunately, it appears that I spoken too soon. He shot himself in the foot big time when he says he might withdraw funding to politicians that did not support SOPA/PIPA.

MPAA, like any person/corporation, is free to support which ever politician it fancy. Like them, they can drop politicians to support another at any and all time. What he says he want to do is no different from me saying I stop support politician X and support politician Y instead. Of course, coming from a person as influential as him, it sounds like bribery. In his defense, if it is bribery, than all of us who did not contribute equally to all political parties are guilty of it.

I guess for MPAA, media that are designed for instant, shoot from the hip, communication is a no go area where they will be wise to avoid.

January 20, 2012

A much more measured response …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:13 pm

Compared to his Senior VP for Communication’s¬† tweet, MPAA’s head poncho’s comment on SOPA and PIPA¬† is exactly the type of information you expected from a big association: Measured, composed and not coloured by emotion.

Not that I agreed with everything he said. Particularly the part that the DNS censorship issue is a non-issue  that is inflated by the opposition. Sure, we expected some amount of hype up from people opposing the two acts. At the same token, I expected him to play it down. In this particular case I am more convince now that DNS censorship is an issue because he spectacularly failed to explain why the DNS censorship, as implemented in the SOPA in particular, is not a problem.

His spin doctors obviously provided him with all the ammo he needs to show that DNS censorship can be justified used against provider of illegal content, e.g. child porn and big pirate sites, not that it is needed anyway. The spin here, is he used this to sidestep the actual question that makes the DNS censorship provision in SOPA bad: The potential for misuse.

He is right to say that DNS censorship is an effective way of blocking access to illegal content and can be justified. Opponents of SOPA did not dispute that. They simply argued that the proper check-and-balance is not put in place. Today, MPAA and other parties can always go to the court to ask for an injunction without SOPA. Yes, this is too costly (even for MPAA) and slow and the system need to be updated to take advancement in technology into account, but that does not mean the due-process should be short-circuited. I was actually looking forward for his argument to support this change. To my disappointment, he did not.

And Mr Dodd, I don’t think your opponent pick on you specifically. They did not pick on defense/phama/aerospace because they did not come out in support of the bill, assuming that they support it. May be they are smarter than you¬† this way. You haven’t denied your organization wanted and lobbied for the two acts and came up in support of it. That, coupled with your counterpart in the music business, RIAA,¬†inaptitude when it comes to enforcing copyrights, you painted a big target on yourself.

January 19, 2012

When in a hole, stop digging …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:08 pm

If ever there is a charge of ‘Conduct not becoming a Senior Vice President of Communication’ against someone, this will be one of the few events where one can charge a VP: RIAA’s Jonathan Lamy really bitter Twitter post that ways Wikipedia blackout is a good thing, at least for students.

I can respect his organization has different opinion from me, and my greater than 50% world population. They are free to sponsor, voice their support for a bill, any bill, that I despise (and neither SOPA or PIPA, in my opinion, risen to that level).  I cannot, however, respect the fact that he let emotions colored his official twit. That is very unprofessional for him. For a senior executive, he should know better than to let emotion color his (mi)judgement. If something looks damaging, and the internet blackout is damaging to RIAA, the worst thing he can do is to start pour oil onto fire. Especially for a PR man, he should know better.

January 18, 2012

Windows 8, UEFI and ARM architecture

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:18 pm

Just when one thought that the¬† war of words about¬†“Microsoft uses UEFI to lock out competition” had faded into the background, Glyn Moody came out with the news that confirms that Microsoft do plan for a UEFI lock down for computers using Windows on the ARM architecture.

I quite frankly do not think Microsoft was stupid enough to put that on paper, especially since there was enough time between RedHat’s engineer post about the topic, and the publication of the document which confirmed UEFI lock down to remove the offending text.

Software Freedom Law Centre take on the topic says that as we are talking about ARM architecture which still haven’t make significant in road into computers and servers, this is probably aimed at tablets and mobile market and there will be less or no antitrust concerns. I believe SFLC is correct on both count. However, there are two things that I do not understand: One, if the former is true, than one can says Microsoft’s move is simply perpetrating what tablets and mobile phones manufacturers are doing today and will probably want to continue to enforce the lock in. So, why do Microsoft want to take the heat on behalf of device manufacturer instead of hiding behind them.

Two, DMCA exemption on jail-breaking, presumably make it legal for people to workaround this restriction, at least for a few years so why do this?

One reason I can think of is Microsoft is planning to¬† take market share by heavily subsidizing Windows on ARM to gain market share on tablets and mobile markets. Originally I thought why don’t Microsoft just come out in public and say we will give you, the device manufacturer, lower licensing fee in exchange for UEFI lock down if¬† request this. For one reason or another, they judge this solution unworkable. I think it is legally difficult to do this.¬† Barnes and Nobles, in their lawsuit against Microsoft, already accused Microsoft of setting the patent fee for Android device same or higher than what it charges for Windows license. If Microsoft did¬† come out to say I am subsidizing Windows licensee to get Windows on tablets and mobile phone, it plays into B&N’s lawyers hand and will probably throw Microsoft straight into another antitrust probe, this time for using its profit from PC to subsidize other fields. Without the UEFI-based locked down, people might just buy a subsidized Windows phone and convert it to Android, particularly if Android is already available for the same phone. Sooner or later someone in open source¬† community will create a way to do this. In the nightmare scenario for Microsoft is the network provider might even send you the Android image on request. The best way to stop it is of¬† course, lock the phone down on the UEFI level.

Let’s wait to see Microsoft’s response. It is a week now since the news broke. I actually expected Microsoft to had responded. However, it is still too early to say it had chosen not to respond.

January 9, 2012

Windows Phone again …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:10 pm

Happy New Year to all

Brian Proffitt’s blog post on ‘Windows reaps what it sows’. Basically, it is Proffitt’s excellent comment on ¬† Navneet Alang’s article on Toronto Standard that seek to analyze ex-Windows Phone GM Charlie Kindel’s blog post about why Windows Phone failed to capture the market.

I agree with Proffitt that Windows Phone looks to be in the position that Linux used to occupy in the early to mid 2000s.

I want to add that from the User Interface viewpoint, Windows Phone is in a much better state that Linux’s user interface in that time period: It is feature complete and contain some innovative stuff. (Note: Innovative stuff does not necessarily equate to good feature that you and I want to use. It is just an acknowledgement that they put the effort in to differentiate themselvves from the competition). You don’t have to resort to command line on Windows Phone to do the basic functions do you? You do with Linux in that time period.

And Windows Phone today have another important advantage over Linux of yesterdays: It has a big corporate sponsor that is prepared to spend a lot of money promoting it. For Linux, while IBM might be behind it, IBM’s contribution is limited to the geeky stuff such as program development. The money on promotion, including IBM advertisements, are pittance compared to what Microsoft had and is willing to spend on promoting Windows Phone.

Still, … Windows Phone is the Cinderella of today’s mobile phone industry like Linux used to be (and probably still is) in the desktop market. Both, unlike the real Cinderella,¬† might not go to the Ball at all.

As for Kindel’s own analysis of why Windows Phone failed to get the market excited? Take it with a pinch of salt. He said we, the product team, did a good job. Windows Phone is superior to Android I hear him say. Blame the marketing. They position the product wrongly, i.e., alienating the two important “customers”: carriers and device manufacturers. The result is Windows Phone did not get to see the light, a.k.a., the end users. This sounds like he is trying passing the buck to Steve B for the failure and indirectly blaming Carriers and Device Manufacturers for the luke warm take up.

Frankly, the positioning of Windows Phone is not without merit. Apple’s total control over iPhones’ hardware and software alienate Carriers and Device Manufacturers. The former is worried that their current position, i.e. more or less dependent on what device manufacturer choose to make will get worse if Apple become their device manufacturer. The latter is already pushed to the side line by Apple and need something to bounce back from the sideline. Android offers them a lifeline and they quickly grab it. However, both Carriers and Device Manufacturers, if they have not learned the lesson from what had befallen the desktop, they would had learned with their experience on the iPhones and not to bet their company on Android. Throw them another phone operating system and surely they will be glad to be able to not put their eggs in one basket. A company like Microsoft is the perfect candidate to partner with, if only to counter Android’s potential dominant power. The question for Microsoft is where else to position itself. The two extreme ends have been taken. Microsoft does not have the expertise to throw Apple off its throne. Fighting with Android at the other end is not a good proposition. If it wins, it will always be looked down as the cheap end of the market. There is no¬† guarantee of winning either. Unlike PCs people don’t go into the shop and ask for Windows. They take whatever operating system that comes with the phone. This means the manufacturer has more control over what goes in the phone than its PC counterpart. It is skilled engineers that decide which operating systems to use and quite frankly, they are as good on Android or Windows Phone or if the day ever comes, iOS. Finally, at the really cheap end of the market, however low the licensing fee for Windows Phone is, they are still going to lose to Android as it is free. This market, although offering slimmer margins,¬† is getting bigger as more people from poorer country joins the mobile evolution and is significant enough that manufacturers cannot ignore. This is a barrier to entry for Microsoft to some market because companies, especially carriers in poorer countries might not want to maintain two operating system lines.¬† So, one of the better position for¬† Windows Phone is along the line of Windows Desktop, i.e., the middle¬† ground where you sacrifices some control over the device specification in return for not having to spend the money to develop the operating system is a good line of attack. Worry that history will repeat itself with Windows dominating the mobile phone market in the future? Let’s just say that the worry with Android dominating the market is the real threat that one have to worry about. Window’s is tomorrows’ theoretical problem. If you don’t survive today, you don’t have a tomorrow.

Unfortunately, finding the correct balance that  give device manufacturers and carrier  to be comfortable to surrender control over the hardware specification in return for Windows Phone is difficult. This, according to Kindel, is why Windows Phone failed to date. I am sure there is a lot of  truth in this. Is that the only reason? No.

There are, at least at present, serious mistakes in the innovations Windows Phone choose to incorporate.¬† The tile interface. While serving basically like icons in iPhones and Android, is visually too different from the icons in the other two devices to make users accustom to use it. To make things worse, the tiles don’t look intuitive enough for the user to want to click them.¬† Imagine being inside a shop. Would you buy a phone where the sales person has to teach you or have to demostrate¬† to you how to use it before you can use it? Early Windows Phone promotional literature like to imagine a large canvas-like ribbon with all your stuff on one aspect of your digital life laid out on it and with the phone displaying only one small part of the ribbon (because it is a small screen and incapable of showing the whole ribbon). You then move the display to the right/left by flicking to emulate moving to the left/right of the ribbon. Nice PR stunt. However, to joe user it still feels like navigating one page to the left and right. Even with the appropriate animation one is still moving pages, not along a ribbon. Finally, do I need multiple ribbons for different aspect of my digital life? I don’t most of the time.

Second, it is a bit too early to introduce always-on features like automatically update your Twitter display. Another way to see it is the always-on features is not properly back-up by a good mobile phone data plan. More precisely, leaving the mobile phone data plan to the carrier is suicidal. We all see the horror stories about someone being charged hundred of dollars because they forgotten to switch off their iPhone auto update feature when they go overseas. Having a phone that auto update twitter bring up  these scary images. To help alleviate the fear a good mobile data plan is needed.

I do not think, however, Windows Phone fails on licensing fee issue. Carriers and Manufacturers today can expect huge discount from Microsoft at any time but especially true today. In the smart phone market the rumour of 15 dollars per handset is not a deal breaker. As for engineering and integrating Windows Phone software into the device, it is not an impediment either as we are talking about skilled engineers and technicians here. Moreover, Microsoft has a lot of experience in building engineering kits which it had brought to bear on Windows Phone.

With such a radical change in user interface, Microsoft could not bring its Windows integration in as an advantage over rivals. The fact that Android and Apple did a good job with integration with Windows’ desktop kill this as a marketing strategy. However, I had always thought that integration with Office software is a big selling point. Looks like I am wrong, since we haven’t seen any big corporate take up of Windows Phone or even see Windows Phone users demo this as the reason they bought a phone (if you can find a Windows Phone user that is)

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