Windows 8 from the point of view of a Mac user

So I should mention before anything else that I use Windows 8 just for fun. I work all week on my Retina MacBook Pro in OS X, and on evenings and weekends – when I want to play World of Tanks – I reboot into Windows. That’s about it. Make money on OS X, have fun in Windows. It’s kinda like the opposite of how it was in the 90’s (working in Windows, coming home to Mac).

So today when I launched World of Tanks, I realized I was in a bit of a rut, tank-wise. Quite a bit of XP in order to get the next set of tanks. What does that mean? Windows 8 upgrade time!

I was able to do the thing all online. $200. I would’ve liked to have stepped down from my Win 7 Pro down to Win 8 Home – I mean, all I do is game in the thing. Why do I need pro? But it didn’t give me a chance. Upgrade assistant was pretty reasonable. It complained at me for not having enough space – I uninstalled some Steam games to make room, and when I flipped back to the Assistant window, it had moved along to the next screen. Not bad.

As my friend Beckley and I have been discussing – Microsoft is throwing money away not making it easier for Mac people to get Windows. And making it way too expensive. If they put up an app in the App Store (presumably with Apple’s buy-in) they could put a $99 price tag on it and make some nice money. At higher margins than OEM licenses! But they’re dumb and short-sighted about things like that. Oh well.

Anyways, it still takes quite a few reboots for the install to complete. That was unexpected – but I guess that’s me not remembering my Windows-fu. Kept having to hold down the Option (alt) key to get it to boot into Windows. It threw me into a setup assistant and I somehow managed to inadvertently hook up my Xbox account to my Windows login. Freaky, but why not.

I ended up hooking up my Metro Home screen to my Facebook account too, as well as my Xbox account. I was surprised to see Xbox avatars for all of my friends pop up – relatively easily accessible from the home screen as I clicked around. I had to download some updates and the process was not as buttery as possible, but still not bad at all. My FB friends are around too. Again, not too terrible. Hooked in two of my three Gmail accounts into the Mail app. In the end, I had a brand new view of all kinds of ‘live tiles’ giving me a newfangled view of my PC.

The Start button in Windows has always been a disaster for me – it contained a billion things I didn’t care about, and 3 that I did. And when it had a scrolling view it was even worse. And that one view where it ‘automatically’ optimized where everything went? Even more of a disaster. So in Windows 8, Metro completely replaces the Start Menu. This new one actually makes sense to me. The three things I want to find? Right there, staring me in the face. I want to move them around? Easy and obvious. The one place it consistently throws me for a loop is when I want to find something that I would normally have to dig through the lesser-used folders in the Start menu to find (Start -> Program Files->SomeStupidCompanyName->DumbUtility…). That’s where my muscle-memory gets in the way. I can’t find something, I hit the ‘command’ key (Windows key) and the Metro screen comes up -> I can’t find what I’m looking for -> I click on Desktop-> I still can’t find what I’m looking for -> hit the Windows key again…

The ‘flat’ look seems timeless to me. Reminiscent of Star Trek:TNG’s LCARS pseudo-OS. No excessive curves and embossing and rounded edges and so on. Just really clean and flat. It starts to fall down a little bit when you look at Legacy Windows things – they look a little odd – trying to be flat like Metro but inheriting all the Windows baggage. And lots of things that are buttons don’t look Buttoney. So I can imagine I will find myself in a position where I have to scrub my mouse around to see if things are clickable all the time. That will certainly cause some level of UI-fail. It’ll be even worse on a touchscreen machine.

I’m even using IE10 (!) Because it shows up better on my Retina screen. I tried Google Chrome in ‘Windows 8 mode’ and it was ok – but the text was showing up too small. IE actually is not bad. I’m completely shocked by this. The font rendering still looks a touch off to me – some parts of letters look too thin maybe? I can’t put my finger on it. But I can read the screen, and that’s a nice start.

In the end, my feelings about the look/feel of the thing? I don’t see why everyone is all up in arms. It’s actually kinda futuristic-looking, IMHO. I actually find it very pleasant. Of course, I’m a bit of a contrarian – when I first used Windows Vista it didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother everyone else. And when I first used Windows 7 I didn’t think it was so super amazingly awesome like everyone else did. So take that into account. And also take into account – the only things I do in Windows are: play games, test things in IE, and poke around. I don’t usually try too hard to get much work done.

But as always, the devil is in the Details. And that’s where Apple tends to really knock things out of the park, and where Microsoft tends to fumble. Especially when I click on something that’s “classic” Windows from something that’s Metro, things feel janky and weird and awkward. The tile layouts in the ‘top free’ and ‘top paid’ sections of the App store are awful and useless. I can’t search the store either; if you don’t click on one of the ‘suggested’ apps, you’re screwed. The Skype integration seemed exciting – but then it was insisting on doing some kind of account merge that I didn’t want it to do. I still can’t figure out how to add a third email account. I can’t get number of unread messages to show up in the email tiles. It’s hard to get apps to show up in the Metro panel thingee if they aren’t there already. Or if you (ahem) accidentally ‘unpin’ one (oops!). My Hipchat (Adobe Air) app was all messed up and confused and it took quite a bit of cajoling to get it so I could have a normal window on my screen. (That could be Adobe’s fault, or HipChat’s fault, or Microsoft’s fault. Not sure.) As I continue to play with it, I’m sure I’ll find more to complain about. I couldn’t figure out how to open multiple windows in the Metro version of IE10 until I was doing final edits of this article (right-clicking somewhere plain on the page seems to bring up a contextual menu?)

But in the end I think Microsoft is trying some really clever stuff here. I think this Metro stuff really is the future. Apple broke with OS X precedent when it made iOS; and I think Microsoft is trying to do the same thing here with Win8/Metro. And in the same way people were up in arms and completely freaked out when Apple first removed the Floppy drive – and then later, the CDROM – I think that’s how the typical Microsoft person is responding to Metro.

I think Microsoft has latched on to Apple’s “Halo Effect” strategy. Apple had the iPod, and the iPod “Halo” started to cause a boost in Mac sales (and lead to the iPhone and iPad). Analogously, Microsoft has the Xbox. Perhaps, from this Xbox Halo, they can start to rebuild the strength of their Windows empire? Maybe. But remember – Microsoft is adopting Apple’s strategy here. And Microsoft was very good at taking someone else’s idea or product, imitating it, iterating a few versions of it, throwing in some dubious business practices, and then coming up with something that actually starts to crush the competition. They might be trying that again here. Though they haven’t really pulled that off in a while, I think.

My bet is that Microsoft-users will continue to whine and bitch and moan about how terrible and awful Windows 8 is. And we’ll have a service pack or two come out, and then maybe some kind of interim release – and then maybe people will get used to it and move along.

I think, most importantly, that if they didn’t obsolete themselves with Metro, someone else – probably Apple – would’ve done it for them. So they really had no choice.


My fast review:

  • The screen is MASSIVE. 1024×768, but feels even larger. Because you tend to hold it naturally closer to your face. It feels completely huge, and like it extends into your peripheral vision. It feels more expansive than my MacBook Pro display, and that is 1440×900.
  • It is FAST as SHIT. Crap. Damn. Wow.
  • A lot of the apps you have are no longer necessary. For example, Facebook. Not needed any more. Just use the full website, it’s fine!
  • It’s heavier than I expected. That’s a little problematic when you need to hold it up the same way you hold a book. It’s heavier than a book.
  • Synchronization is a bitch. Do I have that note on my iphone, ipad, or my MacBook? Or is it synced? This really really sucks.
  • How do I carry this thing? If I have to carry my laptop bag, I’ll have my laptop. This is totally unanswered and makes it hard for me to figure out how to integrate this into my life. So far, I carry both. This is a shitty solution. And although I’m very comfortable with my sexuality, I don’t think I can swing carrying a man-bag.
  • It’s much, much better for cuddling up on the couch or on the bed. I think I may not carry my laptop to the couch when I’m trying to go ‘off duty’. Instead, I’ll just walk over with my iPad.
  • The drawing app I got – trying to replace my paper notebook – would work better with a stylus. Swiping your finger around the screen tends to have a lot of ‘drag’, and it doesn’t feel right, and it feels like it obscures too much of the display.
  • I can’t speak to the 3G part because I haven’t activated it yet. We’ll see. It kept pestering me every half hour or so to activate my 3G until I found out the control to turn it off.

OS X Server Permissions Problems – Fix

I’ve seen plenty of people complaining about similar things – in 10.5.3 or so, the help files for OS X Server Admin don’t match what you see in the control panels. Here’s how to make it so that files are shared within your group by default when you save them on the server in 10.5.3 or greater (I was using 10.5.6). (I think this applies only to AFP):

Go to Server Administrator. Click on the name of the server in the left-hand side (not any particular service, just the name of the server). Click on (Shit, I’m doing this from memory…) Uh, I think it’s “shares?” And then click on your share in question. the bottom half of the pane should have some little tab headers you can click, I think one says Permissions? Add an ACL that permits Read & Write for your group-in-question, and forces inheritance for all contained files and folders. Hit the Save button on the bottom. THEN hit the little gear icon thingee near the bottom leftish and do ‘propagate permissions’. The last step is to make all contained folders have that new ACL, the first step is so that all future created files and folders have the read-write permissions set OK. The ordering of those last two steps probably doesn’t matter.

It’s not particularly complicated, but it’s not intuitive, and it’s not what the help files were saying. Nor what people in various forums were saying. I’m doing my trick of documenting it here so I don’t have to look it up next time 😛

Bravo, MS!

Never thought I’d be saying that…

But I ran into a couple of different intertube posts that talk about the new MS ad campaign that says “Macs=expensive”. (Here’s Engadget’s.)

I’m a huge Mac lover, and were technology company/human marriages legal, perhaps I would’ve married it (sorry Nicola…). But they can actually make a valid, salient, understandable point here, so more power to ’em.

Now, the real point here is the value for what you get – yes you can buy a computer for $1000 or $5000, the same way you can buy a car for $10,000 or $50,000, it depends on what you’re looking for and what value you’re getting. But, that’s a complicated argument and isn’t going to compare to: “Teh Macs are Expensives!” There’s also an undercurrent of “Macs are for latte-sippers!” and that’s pretty subtle, and also valuable.

I kinda feel like Apple has grown a little…comfortable, perhaps, lately. So I like the idea of MS really breathing down their necks to keep them from becoming too complacent.

I mean, we are in a down economy, letting people buy cheaper stuff becomes a good idea.

Most of MS’es advertising attempts have either left Apple completely unmentioned, or been just completely pointless. This is the first one that actually seems like it has a message, and could cause a little motion in the marketplace. Good on ’em. About time they did something right.

Now let’s see Apple’s response where they come out with some more ‘everyman’ style pricing.

Two items, tenuously related – Google and iPhone OS 2.0

Google is fallible

We always think of Google as the unstoppable juggernaut that can do no wrong. But this isn’t so. Examples : First, Google Browser sync. This was a neat little extension you would install in Firefox, and it would automatically synch your bookmarks, cookies, history – everything – to a central Google server somewhere. Pretty neat, sure, though a little scary – though what with Google isn’t? After Firefox 3 came out, I tried to see if I could grab the latest Google Browser synch. Though I’d been working without it while using the Firefox 3 Beta, once FF 3 was officially released, I assumed a new version of the plug-in would be as well. Nope! It’s been discontinued…perhaps there wasn’t enough take-up? Perhaps there were too many internal business conflicts regarding it? Who knows. But here they built a thing, and finally they say “Whoops, sorry, we’re taking this thing down now.” There are alternatives, of course, but I just thought it interesting, because it made me think of them different.

Once I’d gotten it into my head that super behemoth Google can slip up, I was able to look at another feature I’d thought about myself before – Google gears. This is a browser plug-in that lets you access web applications offline, as well as online. Take a look at this architecture description, and my gut says they’re doing it wrong. (Bias alert: I have thought about solving this problem a different way.) Being able to use Gears with my google Docs and google reader are both pretty neat though.

So the iPhone 2.0 software came out (more about this in a minute). I need an RSS feed reader. NetNewsWire is out for iPhone. I need that. I get it. To ‘synch’ my read-items vs. unread-items, I need ‘newsgator’. And, just like that, in the blink of an eye, I move off of google reader, and onto NetNewsWire for Mac and NetNewsWire for iPhone. I’m not yet 100% convinced about how well it works – I still get definite feelings of ‘clunk’ going on, but I can read my newsfeeds while in the subway. Win.

They’re human beings – flesh and blood, like you and me. Prick them and do they not bleed? Their dominance can be challenged when they misstep. They’re no Microsoft, yet, but they definitely are mortal.

iPhone OS 2.0

Exchange support took a while to get going. I had to delete and readd my account, twice. I wanted it to ‘automagically’ figure out that I was on Exchange before, and I should now be on Exchange and use Push features, but it isn’t that clever. The fact that it wanted to WIPE OUT my contacts Really, really freaked me out! i don’t use the calendar on my phone all that often, so wiping that out and replacing it with my Exchange calendar is not a big deal. Emails show up on my phone faster than they show up on my computer. I can send, receive, accept, and decline meeting requests. My calendar has my Exchange calendar. This makes my life a bit better.

However, my battery has suffered, for sure. It could also be that I was poking and prodding my phone all the time, but I do think that Exchange activesync whatever it is seems to slurp more juice.

I have been gorging myself on apps. Like some kind of guy who just wandered out of a desert into an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’m stuffing every single application that looks like it might be interesting – and many that aren’t – onto my phone. Plenty are shitty. Plenty are crashy. Some are pretty neat.

  • Aim – crashy, but useful
  • Twitteriffic – sluggish, pretty…jury’s still out
  • eReader – requires an account? May toss it.
  • PhoneSaber – AWESOME
  • Remote – Haven’t tried it yet, but I hear good things.
  • Facebook – Lame
  • Cube Runner – Fun!
  • iPint – Cutesy, marketing stuff. Kinda ok. Wish I liked Carling beer better.
  • Whrrl – Haven’t fiddled to much, dunno.
  • NYTimes – Nice concept, crashed on me and even took my phone with it once.
  • NetNewsWire – Pretty straightforward, probably a few point-releases and it will be good.
  • Scratch – Pretty cute toy! If the controls were a liiiiittle more real-timey, it would be better.
  • Loopt – I can’t tell if this is genius, or shit. It’s weird, and I keep feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing with it.
  • Mobile News – Simple, does what it’s supposed to.
  • WeatherBug – Not bad, little more detail than your regular Weather app. S’ok.

MacBook Air

It’s super light. The display is gorgeous. The performance is adequate. The keyboard works great. I never really noticed the backlit keyboard, but it’s nice to know it’s there. The single USB port is annoying. The no-built in CD is for the most part, fine, except for when the lack of a USB port is bothering you. The weight is great. The form factor is superior to any other ‘ultraportable’ – it’s absolutely perfect.

However, it has a nasty tendency which pisses me off something fierce:

If you do anything that makes it run at full CPU, and use the graphics chip pretty moderately, it will actually shut down one of the cores (!). I can trigger this by playing a flash game for like 10 or 15 minutes. Or from watching YouTube. There are some fixes, which I will speak about in a moment.

My theory is that Apple had designed the MBA to work with Intel’s new Atom CPU. But Intel said “Sorry, that’s going to be another 6 months.” Apple said, “screw you, Intel, we need to release this. Help us out.” Hence the release of the un-codenamed non-roadmap weirdo CPU that powers the MBA. It uses too much juice and runs too hot for the chassis it’s in, hence the weirdo CPU speed throttle and core-dropping.

One of the workarounds I heard of was to reapply the thermal paste between the CPU and the heatsink. Some on the Apple Support Forums swear by this. I’m not dicking around with that stuff because you know I’ll end up destroying this damn thing that way. Instead, I sent it to Mike’s Mac Shop – my former employer – to have a motherboard swap. Unfortunately – that didn’t seem to help. Grrr.

The final thing I had heard of doing was grabbing this software called CoolBook and installing and configuring that so as to ‘under-volt’ the CPU – giving it less power than it’s spec’ed to use. I don’t like the UI on this program, and the documentation is super-sparse. And I don’t like having to pay $10 to fix this problem which seems to me like Apple’s fault.

But damn, if it didn’t fix the problem. I can’t make it drop a core anymore. The laptop works the way it’s supposed to know. I can make it get pretty damned hot, mind you, but both cores stay up.

So I’ll certainly update if I feel like coolbook’s not doing the trick – but it sure as hell seems that it is now.

Once the MBA gets ‘refreshed’ with actual volume quantities of Intel’s Atom CPU, buy one. They’re great. The USB thing will bother you though, so be prepared.

IPhone further thoughts

In re: it's closed – yes, but, in at least one sense it's actually infinitely open, and more open than any phone before it.

It has a fully, 100% desktop-compatible, web browser – Safari.

This means it _doesn't_matter_ that you can't run MS Office on it – you should be able to run Google Docs just fine. And who cares if you can't run your little Atom API blog posting software on it – you can just log right into Blogger. But what if I want some kind of interactivey kinda application? XmlHttpRequest, baby! That’s “Ajax” to you less-webdev-oriented people.

This is all presuming that Cingular doesn’t neuter it by forcing everything through some aggressive kind of aching proxy, which most carriers do to save bandwidth. If they don’t this device could _really_ be revolutionary. You can develop a site for the always-connected Desktop, and have it work nearly 100% with the iPhone! How cool would that be?

Edit – considering neutered web-browsing experiences – my shitty Blackberry browser truncated the post when I went into Blogger to move it from Draft to Post. See? I want an iPhone.


The UI looks Great. I’m worried about fingerprinting up the phone, but we’ll have to see.

The one thing that I hate is that it’s a Closed System. You can’t go and download the Dev Kit and start writing software for it. This is likely to appease the carriers, but it’s very limiting. Yuck.

It’s way too damned expensive. My Treo cost around that much when I bought it, and it did a hell of a lot more. Of course, this is an OS X system (allegedly).

How the hell are they going to get it to run OS X? It’s bloated and huge on superpowerful modern hardware – what the hell is going to happen in this anemic phone world? They must be chopping OS X up into little tiny pieces to jam it into this phone. I bet they use a different kernel! And I wonder what CPU it’ll use – probably ARM, since everyone uses that.

Multi-year exclusive to Cingular sounds terrible. Terrible. I know why they chose GSM (quad-band GSM to be specific), that’s so they can sell the same handset to Europe and elsewhere. And I guess you might be able to buy unlocked handsets straight from Apple, but yeesh. Ugly. And will there be a CDMA version, ever? Who knows? That’s two more carriers you can’t use (Sprint and Verizon)…

The reason the little typing-on-glass thing actually seems to work is because there is some predictive text stuff in there – so if you happen to jam two ‘keys’, it can guess which one you probably meant. It may end up being right more often than not. That’s going to be another thing that we’ll have to try out to believe. Can’t wait till they show up in an Apple Store!

But if it’s sturdy enough (lots of glass there, dunno about that…) and flexible enough and can do what I need it to do (maybe not everything, but at least just what I need…) then I can see myself getting it. But I could see that a lot easier if it were cheaper. Bastards.

I wonder if the development model is actually Widgets? It looks a lot like it. Then your development doesn’t matter whether it’s an ARM or PowerPC or what?

Apple supports iphone? No, it has to be the carrier? I don’t know where Bryan gets this from, but he insists that the support will be done by Apple, not Cingular. That’s insane, if you ask me. If it’s true. I think he’s mistaken. I couldn’t find it in the Engadget article. If that were the case, Apple could just be their own MVNO and leave it at that.

As more details emerge, I shall ponder and write about them if I think they’re interesting.