Windows 8 First Impressions

Last night at midnight (all time zones), Windows 8 became available. I downloaded the $39.99 Windows 8 Pro version.

I installed it on my Dell laptop. I’ve been running Windows 7 on this laptop since I got it. It does not have a touchscreen.

Every time I install Windows — and I do it every six months or so — I format the hard drive first. When I started up the Windows 8 installer (running from a USB stick), I backed out twice because I didn’t think I was going to be given the option to format first. Turns out the option is there. I think there’s a trend in all software to make crucial processes — like OS installation — less intimidating to novice users. Unfortunately this also gives advanced users the impression that high-level options are missing even when they’re not. This is a very small gripe, but one that’s really an improvement for the group of users I like to generically refer to “people like my dad.” I’ll get back to Dad.

Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to tightly integrate a user’s online Microsoft/Live.com account. I appreciate this. Also, Apple’s been doing it for a while. One thing I don’t like about it is that in order to log into my computer, I need to use my Live.com password. For most people this probably wouldn’t be an issue, but I use a password manager (1Password) and therefore a long, cryptic, hard-to-remember, hell-even-hard-to-type-in password. That’s annoying, and I was not given the option to use a different (simpler) password to log into my machine. I’m still acclimating to the new OS, so I’m certain there’s a place to change my password. I hope that I will be able to have one password to log into my machine while maintaining my long and cryptic password for Live.com. I will update this post when I find out.

[UPDATE] If your PC’s account is tied to your online Microsoft account, the two accounts will necessarily share the same password. Making your PC’s account a separate account allows for a different password, but stops synching. However, there’s a pretty good third option. You can create a PIN number for logging into your PC. I kind of wonder if this isn’t designed for people like me. I’d rather have an alphanumeric password, but a PIN is tolerable.

I like the look and feel of Windows 8. It leans heavily on the Metro visual style (I refuse to refer to it by its proper name, “Windows 8 Style.”), and that’s a good thing. I would describe Metro as ultra modern. Again, good.

A quirk of Windows 8 is that it’s kind of running two operating systems simultaneously. On one hand, it runs more or less Windows 7, with a desktop, a task bar, Windows Explorer (called something else now), etc. On the other hand, it’s got the Metro UI, which will run all Windows RT applications. I consider this analagous to a hypothetical future version of Mac OS X that also runs all iOS apps.

The first installer I ran after booting into Windows 8 was Google Chrome. I didn’t even launch IE to download the installer — I have a copy on another USB stick. It installed with no issue, and as Chrome does the first time it runs, it asked me to type in my credentials so that it would sync all my bookmarks and extensions. This proceeded as it has every time I’ve installed Chrome on any machine. The 1Password browser extension is quirky and doesn’t sync like other exensions, so I installed it as I always do. It didn’t work the first time I tried it, so I decided to reboot the machine.

When I got to the Metro Start Screen, I clicked on the Google Chrome tile. Chrome launched and … prompted me to type in my credentials so it could sync all my bookmarks and extensions — as if I had never run it before. But I had run it only moments earlier! I looked around the screen, and noticed that there was no taskbar. Also, there was no button to change the size of the Window.

This was the Metro version of the Chrome browser.

I summoned the Start Screen and clicked on the Desktop tile. From there I launched Chrome, which had the 1Password extension installed (working normally now). I switched between the two versions of Chrome, nearly identical, running simultaneously. It appears that Desktop mode uses one user profile, and Metro mode uses another.

This is where I come back to users like my dad. I can’t imagine explaining this scenario to my dad, let alone telling him how to resolve it. Some quick Googling indicates that you can force Chrome to always run in the desktop mode, but it requires a registry hack. Facepalm.

Maybe Google will update Chrome with a checkbox in the settings screen to force Desktop mode at all times. Maybe Microsoft will patch Windows 8 so that each application to be forced to run in Desktop mode. In fairness, maybe there are updates available to Windows 8 that I simply haven’t installed yet.

But this is a problem. In an hour of use I encountered an annoyance clearly directed at making the experience better for novice users, then encountered what could be a serious problem — and I don’t know how I would explain it to users like my dad.

I’m curious about how IE handles the Metro/Desktop issue, but I doubt that I will suggest my dad run IE full time.

I anticipate that Google will work out a resolution to this problem — and I feel comfortable using the word “problem” rather than “issue” — but Windows 8 has been available in its final form for several months and as a full-functional beta for over a year. Why hasn’t this been sorted out already? I will monitor updates to the OS and to Chrome, and update this post as appropriate.

My 1&1 Feedback

Today I called — yes called — 1&1 so I could cancel my hosting with them. A few hours later, I got an email asking for me to fill out a short survey about my experience. There was a box at the bottom asking for “any further comments or suggestions.” Here’s what I wrote:

Four points. First, I wanted to keep my domains with 1&1 but cancel my hosting. I called the 800 number over the weekend. I was told that sales is only available Monday through Friday, but that I could go to cancel.1and1.com to cancel my hosting but keep my domains.

I went to to cancel.1and1.com but there was no clear indication that the options presented to me would allow me to cancel my hosting but NOT CANCEL MY DOMAINS. You can imagine why I wouldn’t click buttons unless I was 100% certain that I would NOT BE CANCELLING MY DOMAINS. If the option is there, make it clearer. Probably redesign the entire workflow. If this option is not possible on the website, don’t let the weekend phone support tell customers that it is.

Second point. In order to cancel my hosting package, I had to give the phone rep my password over the phone. It is unconscionable that 1&1 operates this way in 2012. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc784090.aspx Most major companies NEVER ASK A CUSTOMER FOR HIS PASSWORD. Not over the phone, not in email, not ever. A phone rep should not need a customer’s password in order to cancel some or all of that customer’s package. This poor security practice has me wondering what other poor security practices 1&1 is guilty of. Frankly it makes me think that I should end all my business with 1&1. I haven’t decided, though, so please don’t kill my domains.

Third point. Why is admin.1and1.com STILL SO SLOW? Go create an account with Dreamhost. It doesn’t take 20 seconds for their panel to load up. It is nearly instantaneous! For as long as I can remember, 1&1’s admin panel has been slow.

Fourth point — Improve PHP support. A customer must jump through hoops to enable PHP 5.3, and when he does, memory restrictions make simple tasks such as writing a post in WordPress fail. This situtation is unacceptable, and this scenario is the reason I moved my hosting to Dreamhost.

Goodbye, Netvibes

I’ve mentioned Netvibes on this blog on three previous occasions. I’ll summarize each post for you:

  • I love Netvibes
  • There are things about Netvibes that bother me
  • Netvibes has been broken for two days so I’m writing a tool from scratch to replace its functionality

Before today, I have tweeted about Netvibes three times:
September 5, 2010 (permalink):

How many years has @netvibes been around? Still, when you change your password, you’ve got to delete your cookies on all other machines!

November 3, 2010 (permalink):

The @Digg RSS feed has been broken in @Netvibes for a week.

November 17, 2010 (permalink):

@Netvibes has been in beta for five years and my RSS feeds still update erratically. One day closer to switching to @GoogleReader .

(Side note: For several weeks after rolling out version 4 of its website, Digg’s RSS feed experienced varying degrees of dysfunction. However, when I tweeted about that particular feed being broken in Netvibes, I loaded it up in other aggregators (specifically, Google Reader) to verify that the feed itself was no longer the source of the problem.)

Around November 17, I began to use Google Reader to take the place of Netvibes’ RSS aggregation functionality, and I created a Firefox Sync account to take the place of Netvibes’ bookmarks functionality. Since then I exported my bookmarks from Netvibes, imported them to Firefox, and started the arduous process of re-tagging them all.

Today, I found myself actively avoiding Netvibes despite the fact that I have yet to organize my bookmarks in Firefox. Because of this, I wrote a new tweet on the subject. For some reason — perhaps the phrase “abandoned netvibes” — Netvibes CEO Freddy Mini replied. The exchange was brief, but I’ll present it as a conversation:

Me: Abandoned @netvibes in favor of @GoogleReader and #FirefoxSync . I think netvibes’ developers abandoned it first.
Freddy Mini: @DanielPremo why would you say that?
Me: @freddymini Consistent bugs in RSS widgets — widgets that don’t update, widgets that show the same one or two items over and over.
Me: @freddymini Also: every time I change my netvibes password, I must delete cookies on every other machine, or netvibes is just a blank page.
Freddy Mini: @DanielPremo fine. see you.

Part of my frustration with Netvibes stems with the fact that I know not only that its problems can be fixed, but also how to fix them. I ran into the password/cookie issue when I was working on fav.premo.biz — and that site’s just a hobby. Netvibes is a tool that has a mountain of potential. But in the ways I use it, it’s been slowly moving backwards. This leaves me with no choice but to find more effective solutions.

Twitter ♥ Ellipsis

I felt like this warranted a blog post, no matter how short.  But hey, it’s about Twitter, so a short post is appropriate!

The ellipsis (Wikipedia) is three periods in a row often used to signify that content has been abbreviated or truncated.  In the world of automated (or automation-assisted) Tweet composition, it’s a common thing.  There’s also a premium on character count in the Twitter world, particularly when it comes to automation.

Well here’s an easy way to squeeze in two more characters:  The ellipsis character.  Rather than trimming an extra three characters (for three periods) from text that is too long, you can trim just one character (for an ellipsis).  Examples:

  • This text is truncated without three periods ...
  • This text is truncated with an ellipsis …

They look the same, but you can tell they’re different by trying to highlight each period separately on the second example.  And, in line with my rampant narcissism, I wrote a 140 character tweet about this very blog post which uses — you guessed it — the ellipsis character.  And finally (because I wanted to use Twitter’s Blackbird Pie tool), here’s a pretty representation of the same tweet:

I’m writing a fun blog post about the benefits of the ellipsis character when truncating text for the purposes of programmatic autotweeting…less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac

HTML5 and jQuery

The last time I was unemployed, I put together Fav.Premo.biz.  Unemployed again, I’ve dipped into code all over the various projects I’ve got up and running.

With the exception of the main site (i.e., the page you’re reading), I’ve decided to change all of my sites from HTML4 or XHTML to HTML5.  In addition, I’ve decided that now is a good time to stop using Prototype and script.aculo.us and start using jQuery.

I’ve decided to move to HTML5 for two main reasons.  First, HTML5 is more elegant than HTML 4.x or XHTML 1.x.  I love elegance when it comes to programming.  I find that the criteria which determines what is and is not valid HTML5 code is less draconian than for HTML4.x and XHTML1.x.  Also, HTML5 introduces new features that allow developers to add greater functionality with hand-written markup.  Greater flexibility and greater functionality sound pretty elegant to me.  Second, due to these new features, HTML5 provides for greater use of open source technologies.  The long and short of my feelings in this area is that HTML5 gets us one step close to a world without Adobe Flash.  The <audio> and <video> tags allow developers to add rich content to sites without relying on a closed source, proprietary plugin that is a resource hog and a security risk.  Who couldn’t love code that’s more elegant combined with a better user experience?

I’ve decided to move to jQuery because jQuery is updated far more frequently than the JavaScript frameworks I’ve been using up until now — Prototype and script.aculo.us.  For example, jQuery 1.4 was released in January 2010 and jQuery 1.3 was released in January 2009.  When it comes to Prototype’s progression over that time, I can only estimate that it’s seen two bug releases (0.0.0.x) and one maintenance release (0.0.x).  Although putting out regular updates to a code base may be virtuous, it’s not the whole story.  Every time jQuery is updated, its release notes contain graphs showing speed improvements for all major browsers.  Speed improvements on an annual basis.  This just isn’t happening in Prototype or script.aculo.us.

I have a few public-facing sites that use JavaScript here and there, but only one makes heavy use of it: Fav.Premo.biz.  Since modifying code to use both HTML5 and jQuery would be painful at best, I’m going to rewrite Fav.Premo.biz using these new technologies.  It’ll be an undertaking, and it might not be finished soon, but it should be interesting.

Windows Money Savers

Today I checked out Ars Technica’s latest Week in Microsoft, and came across two articles that might save Windows users some money.

The first is about Microsoft’s freshly-out-of-beta antivirus suite.  First look: Microsoft Security Essentials impresses.  In 2006, Microsoft released a retail antivirus program called Windows Live OneCare.  By the end of 2008, Microsoft had announced that it would discontinue this product in favor of a free replacement called Microsoft Security Essentials.

For years I’ve been using AVG Free, but today I uninstalled it (you don’t want two antivirus programs running at the same time) and installed MSE.  It looks like it’s a bit easier to use than AVG and I must say, it’s got some beautiful system tray icons.  I might write a post in the future with some expanded impressions of the product, especially with Windows 7 coming out this month.

Microsoft Security Essentials can be downloaded here.

The second article is about something I’ve known about for years but to which I’ve never committed.  Newegg reveals Windows 7 OEM prices.  I’ve known about OEM versions of Microsoft Windows since before Windows Vista was released.  From what I understand, an OEM copy of Windows is only supposed to be used on a newly built machine.  However, I believe that is more of a suggestion in line with the “Student and Teacher” edition of Microsoft Office (which has since been renamed to the “Home and Student” Edition.)  On Newegg’s listing page, the text appears to be cut off, but here’s the part that caught my eye:

software requires the assembler to provide end user support

That made me think:  Hell, I’m capable of that.  I’d prefer it that way, in fact.  If I were married with kids, I’d probably put an OEM copy of Windows on each of their machines, too.  I wouldn’t suggest it for my parents or my sisters, or even my best (nontechnical) friends, though.  But for me, why not?  Oh, and why is this a money saver?  Depending on the edition of Windows purchased, the OEM version is about 50% cheaper.  The greatest savings percentage-wise appears to be on the Professional Edition, which is the one I’ve got my eye on.

Newegg lists every version of Windows 7 it’s selling here.

So if you’re a technical person, take a look at both of these articles.  If you’re not, consider using Microsoft Security Essentials.  Because it’s free antivirus software.

Gmail Tasks and the Scrollbar

[Update 2012.06.20] Yes, it’s been almost three years. It occurred to me some time ago that this sort of thing would be pretty simple with iframes. While it doesn’t explain why Google would allow or even desire something like this, it really makes me feel silly about all the time I spent making these screenshots.

The other day I created a grocery list in Google’s Tasks as it appears inside Gmail.  I resized my browser window briefly and discovered what I thought was a Firefox 3.5 bug — The tasks pane rendering above the horizontal scrollbar:

Click to Embiggen
The Behavior as I First Spotted it, in Firefox 3.5 Mac

Before asking anyone about it, I decided to check if the same phenomenon occurs in other browsers. My research:

Not Just a Firefox Thing
Not Just a Firefox Thing

I thought, maybe this is a Mac OS X issue. I booted into Windows and fired up IE8:

Definitely not Limited to Mac OS X
Definitely not Limited to Mac OS X

Then I wondered, would Google let this slip through in Chrome, too?

Sure Enough
Sure Enough

Finally I booted back into Mac OS X and loaded up Gmail in Opera:

Op ... Wah?
Op ... Wah?

I’m not sure what to conclude about all this. Is this a bug from which all major browsers suffer? I can hardly believe the functionality got into all these browsers accidentally. So is it a Gmail bug? It does get in the way of the horizontal scrollbar.  I guess the moral of the story is this:  When viewing Gmail with Tasks, don’t make your browser window too narrow.

Firefox 3.5

Just downloaded Firefox 3.5 from Mozilla’s FTP site (yeah, you’re not really supposed to do that). It’s clear that JavaScript runs faster (which is a big deal to me), but I’ll give the latest browser a thumbs up just because of the New Tab button. For years the first thing I do when I install Firefox on a machine is add the New Tab button to the toolbar. Now it’s there in almost the exact same spot.

Dear ESPN.com: Your Article Layout Sucks!

Hey, ESPN.com.

We’ve known each other a long time.  We started spending a lot of time together in college.  You’ve gone through several redesigns in that time.  Heck, I even blogged about some of them.  But lately, I’m not feeling it.

Here’s the thing.  Your article layout sucks.  Take a look at what I’m talking about:

Click to Embiggen
Click to Embiggen

See the smallest column, over there on the left?  That’s the text of the article.  The second column is a sidebar.  The third column is a statbox.  The fourth column, which is empty, runs the length of the page but is only occupied near the top, with an advertisement.

Note that on several lines, only two words fit in the first column, and on one line, only a single word fits.  And this is just one screen’s worth of one article.  It’s so painful that it makes the article unreadable.

Here’s my suggestion:  Change the article layout so that it has two columns of equal width.  The first column contains the body of the article, and is untouchable.  Nothing may encroach upon it.  The second column can contain anything else — advertisements, sidebars, statboxes, whatever.

A second option might be to take inspiration from the iPhone version of ESPN.com.  Let’s take a look:

ESPN.com for iPhone Screenshot

We’ve got an ad, the section header, the score header, then hey — what’s this?  It’s a pseudo-tabular nav header.  We could apply this to the main site!  Solve the layout problem by hiding elements (additional analysis, links, stats) until the reader wants to see them.  If we were to scroll down on the iPhone site, we’d see that for the entire length of the article, it occupies the full width of the browser window.  No element encroaches upon the article’s space.  In this respect, the article is easier to read on my phone than it is on my computer.  Not only that, but the layout of the article on my computer — at its narrowest point — is not as wide as the layout of the article on my iPhone.  That’s measured in characters or inches, take your pick.

So, ESPN.com, I still really like you, but you’ve got to work on this stuff.  Or what?  Or else, that’s what.