Why Video Chats Don’t Work

Video chat may never replace a real life face-to-face. I think I know why.

I was talking to a friend earlier today about video chats and why they don’t work. She said she really didn’t like to do video chats. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t really know many people that like to video chat.

I am a refugee of Generation X. I don’t know anyone in GenX that actually enjoys video chatting. Face time is irreplaceable. I mean time that is spent face-to-face, not Apple’s FaceTime. I’ve often thought about why I don’t like to video chat and I think it comes down to one simple thing. You can’t properly make eye contact.

When you’re video chatting with someone, you can’t look them in the eye. You look them in the eye on the screen, not the camera. The person on the other end sees you looking at something else – not them. That starts to grate on your nerves a little bit I think.

Could this problem be solved? Probably. If someone could invent some multi camera method of video chatting so it looks like you’re making perfect eye contact it would likely go a long way. What I don’t know is how other generations other than mine feel about this. What do you think?

Pixar is releasing RenderMan for free!

Pixar is releasing RenderMan, the 3D tool behind its films, for free… noncommercial use only.

Make a note to pick it up around SIGGRAPH 2014!

The Tone of the WWDC Keynote

One thing I wanted to mention in my post about WWDC last night… did anyone feel that the tone of the overall keynote was different? It felt a little more relaxed and fun. It seems like Tim Cook has encouraged his staff to be more relaxed and at ease with what they are doing. There was more humor and more open honesty.

I think Tim is trying to strike a keen balance between old school Apple secrecy and a new humane approach to the work they are doing. I think he’s listening to the consumers about how things should be (iCloud Drive is a likely example of that).

I like Tim Cook. I like where he’s taking the company. All of you who keep crying about Apple’s lack of innovation need to look back at Microsoft’s record the past 20 years. Give Apple some time and they will surprise you. They like to lay a lot of foundation work before they spring a surprise on anyone. This WWDC was foundational. I expect a lot of interesting things this fall.

OS X 10.10 and iOS 8 Thoughts

I should be at WWDC 2014 this year, but I’m not. I work for a Microsoft-centric shoppe right now and they just don’t see the value in it. Nevertheless, I put my name in for the lottery and I didn’t win anyway.

I watched most of the keynote from afar and parts of the State of the Union address. All of it is ultra exciting. If they get Continuity, iCloud Drive (FINALLY OMG) and Messages right, this will be a killer OS combo with iPhones, iPads and Macs.

There’s a plethora of articles out there explaining what’s up. I highly recommend Anandtech write-ups in almost every scenario.

Also, I’m really interested in Swift – this new programming language. It seems quite daft. Too bad I’m not as proficient with Obj-C as I wanna be yet. When they announced the new language, my first thought was all the people who are groaning about the iOS and Mac programming courses that they have to remake… or, more likely, how excited they are that they can make another round of these things and a windfall of cash.

There’s great things to come in the world of Apple. I’m looking forward to seeing where the home automation stuff goes too.

Who cares about an iWatch and TV? Whatever.

Microsoft’s Settled for Relevance

This post summarizes my thoughts on Nadella’s Microsoft very nicely.

When OneDrive gets provider-side encryption and an API that puts it on par with Dropbox… the war is really on.

Microsoft (and Paul Thurrott) says Windows 8 sucks

Last week, Hell froze over in one of the deepest freezes in the history of the United States.

This week, Paul Thurrott finally speaks the truth about Windows 8/8.1. It’s not pretty.

“Threshold” to be Called Windows 9, Ship in April 2015 | Windows 8 content from Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows

It’s going to be a very interesting 2014 in the tech world.

Speaking of which, I hope you’re having a fantastic start to this new year. I need to get back to blogging and updating my websites.

Lync 14.0.6 update may not install

This morning I was alerted to Microsoft’s update of Lync 2011 for Mac. They’ve released 14.0.6, which apparently fixes three relatively minor issues. However, the bloody thing doesn’t seem to install.

I clicked the link in the update notice and discovered that it’s going to the 14.0.5 update. I already have 14.0.5, so that makes little difference to me. Microsoft blew that one. Seems like my Mac was trying to install 14.0.5 and kinda failing since I already have it. It gets better though. I found the real link and noticed that buried deep inside the article is a little note:

Before you install the Lync for Mac 2011 14.0.6 update, you must uninstall any version of Lync for Mac 2011 that is earlier than Lync for Mac 2011 14.0.4 on your computer. Additionally, make sure that the computer is running Mac OS X 10.5, or a later version of the Mac OS X operating system.

If you’ve not been updating Lync as soon as it comes out, make sure you’re at least on 14.0.4!

Why Windows is Broken: Part 1

The two characters from the ads who personify ...
The two characters from the ads who personify a PC (left, John Hodgman) and a Mac (Justin Long). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my dear friends on G+ saw my earlier blog post whining about what’s wrong with Windows 8. He challenged me to dive deeper into the complaints. I decided that would would be a good blogging mini-series, even though I’m trying to steer this blog clear of purely technical crap. That’s a long-winded way of saying, “Challenge accepted.” Besides, I’m just idling while Adobe Creative Cloud soaks up my hard drive space.

Let me first put this blog mini-series into context. If you look over this blog you’ll see that in 2006 I made a marked, deliberate switch to the Mac platform. I was sitting in Microsoft building 26, I believe it is (or 25)… wherever the test lab is located… in Redmond. We were running a massive amount of tests on our proposed Exchange system design. This Exchange system had kept all of us up for many, many nights at a time. That’s when Steve Jobs announced the switch to Intel. Since I had to support Mac, Windows and Linux platforms at NASA, I wanted to get one of these machines immediately. I fell in love with it.

During the course of my love affair with the Mac I discovered that there are a great many ills with Windows that are bizarre and ridiculous shortcomings. I know a lot of people have issues with the Windows 8 GUI. I’m one of those people. I didn’t like the Office 2010 ribbon and I still despise it. I generally am not in favor of software that rearranges menus based on what it thinks you want or need to do. Ironically, the people who claim that’s a good feature often complain about Apple’s control over the platform, but that’s another debate.

If this makes you take my feedback with a grain of salt, that’s fine, I understand. Ultimately, we’re all trying to get the same things done. We all work together on this shared collective called the Internet and it’s up to us to choose… individually… how our sausage is made. Every day I find myself booting Windows to do something because I feel like doing it there. Perhaps I feel like booting Linux to do something because it’s more fun to execute it there. Whatever. Let’s take all of that out of the mix and figure out why Windows has not been my platform of choice for full-time production since 2006.

When Chris challenged me to this I decided I would take each one of these topics one by one and work through them, stream of consciousness style. Some of this will come off as ranting or even rage. You’ve been warned. I’m not going to go in order. The first one I’ll discuss is:

The concept of application installations (and all the garbage that comes with it – DLL’s and the like) is completely broken.

When you first use a Mac and understand how applications work and why they’re portable, this annoyance becomes more of a glaring misstep. An application that you install in Windows becomes a permanent extension of your operating system. The only exception to this rule is lightweight applications like Adobe AIR or Java applets.

Don’t believe me? Consider how many hours you’ve spent trying to exorcise a piece of software from your Windows OS since Windows 95. When you install a piece of software using an installer like Windows Installer or Installshield, most or all of the following happens:

  • Binary executables are written to the hard drive.
  • Slices of code are written to the system registry to tell Windows where these binaries are located and what to do with them.
  • Dynamic link libraries (*.DLL) files are written to the hard drive. In most cases these are DLL’s that are provided by Microsoft themselves, written to your hard drive to support the application you installed.
  • Bits are scattered into your Windows folder in some cases.
  • Shell extensions are installed in various places to support plugging into Windows Explorer or other applications (also written to the registry).
  • Bits of files are written into the system to inform Windows what files were written into the system and where they are located so that if you ever hit the uninstall button, Windows can theoretically remove them.

Several of these concepts are completely broken and fully responsible for why your Windows installation gets worse and worse over time. When I was a full-time Windows user, I had to reinstall the operating system at least once a year to return it back to a useful state. OS X and Linux has proven to me that the entire concept of that is just ridiculous. An operating system should not get slower as you use it. Why the hell would you want to use it if that’s going to happen?

Let’s dissect each of these bullet points and dive a little deeper into why they’re bad.

Binary executables are written to the hard drive.

Well, okie. That’s not too bad. That’s why you’re installing something.

Slices of code are written to the system registry to tell Windows where these binaries are located and what to do with them.

The registry is a single-file database that exists on every Windows installation. It’s a single. File. Database. Microsoft has long had this bizarre fascination with databases as The Answer To All Performance Problems. They will cram all of your Outlook data into a single file database. Not only will they do that… let’s one-up that a little. They’ll cram thousands of users’ worth of data into a single-file database when you use a Exchange. That’s right – it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on hardware to make Exchange perform better. If that single file becomes corrupt, thousands of users lose all of their data and you either get to restore it or pray they have an offline copy of it.

But I digress. We’re talking about the registry. It’s a single-file database. Sure, there are bits of the registry that make up the user side of it and it’s stored in your profile, but the fact is the system registry is a single-file database. This means every Windows installation on the planet has a single point of failure. Consider the fact that it’s a database. This means that it suffers from regular database problems. If it gets corrupted, it’s toast. If you add data to it, that data is a permanent relic of the database. Even if you try to delete the data you end up with white space where the data once stood. You can try to compact the white space if you like, but the fact is those little bits of code are permanent. If you pull out those pieces of data from a rogue install there is a good chance it will harm some other portion of the registry or your system. This is why viruses are such a pain to destroy in Windows and once you get one, you really should just nuke the system from orbit and start over with a fresh installation.

The amount of time and money lost to the care and feeding of the registry is insane. The whole concept of this thing is broken and should not exist. I didn’t even realize what a problem this thing is until I used a Mac where… lo and behold… there is no registry to corrupt.

It’s been nice.

If you uninstall an application you will find that bits and pieces of code are left in the registry. The uninstaller does not remove these entries in the registry because it could either damage the system’s ability to handle something else or because the uninstaller is so awful it just forgot to remove it. Even if it does remove it, you get the white space issue I mentioned. So yeah, whatever you installed is a permanent relic of your Windows installation until you reformat. I find that ridiculous.

Dynamic link libraries (*.DLL) files are written to the hard drive. In most cases these are DLL’s that are provided by Microsoft themselves, written to your hard drive to support the application you installed.

These are runtime libraries that are tested and declared compatible with your application. Over time, you will have multiple copies of these DLL files in multiple places. If you install later versions of applications or other applications that use these DLL’s, they could be overwritten or trashed. Most of the time you just end up with multiple copies of multiple versions of multiple DLL’s. The end result is a troubleshooting nightmare when things go wrong. If you spend more than 4 hours fixing a Windows problem, most of the time you should just reformat and reinstall. Ridiculous.

Bits are scattered into your Windows folder in some cases.

This is something that is bound to happen with almost any operating system, I admit. In some cases you’ll install a kext (kernel extension) or whatnot on the Mac and it’ll write something out to operating system’s base folder. I get that. I generally do not like that. I like my operating system to be as read-only as possible. Windows does a lot to keep the user out of the c:\windows folder. Why can’t it do the same to keep applications out of there, if it’s so bad to do?

Shell extensions are installed in various places to support plugging into Windows Explorer or other applications (also written to the registry).

This is kind of the same as writing to the c:\windows folder, but sometimes these shell extensions are written to c:\Program Files or the (x86) version if you have 64-bit Windows. (Three places to store programs? Really?) They’re really, really hard to get rid of if you need to pull them out. (See the registry complaints).

Bits of files are written into the system to inform Windows what files were written into the system and where they are located so that if you ever hit the uninstall button, Windows can theoretically remove them.

My problem with this is that no uninstaller… ever… in the entire history of Windows installers… has ever properly removed all files left behind by a program installation. Seriously. If you go out and uninstall a program, take a few minutes to look over the registry and hard drive folders (Program Files, etc.). That program is still all over your hard drive. Again, Adobe AIR and other lightweight applications are the exception here.

Once you install a program, it’s a permanent part of your OS. Period. The only way to get rid of it is to reformat.

I never really understood that there was a better way to do this until I got on a Mac. Mac handles directories with a .app extension as an application. All of the files and resources required to run that particular app are bundled inside that directory. There are obvious advantages to this:

  • Drag an app to the trash. The directory is deleted and the app is permanently removed from your system. All traces of it are gone.
  • Drag an app to an email message. OS X will zip up the directory and attach the zip file.
  • Applications are sandboxed into their own directory and user space.

Linux is a similar story, but sometimes you end up with binaries in /usr/bin or /usr/local/bin and it can be just as hard to extract.

There you have it. I dissected one of the reasons Windows is broken. All of you people complaining about the GUI in Windows 8… cut Microsoft some slack. They’re trying some new GUI. GUI can be changed and people can get used to it. The real problems with Windows aren’t being addressed. It’s the same problems that have been around since the early 90’s and I don’t see Microsoft getting rid of the way they do things. They’re locked into one type of software engineering and it’s not going to stop.

That’ll keep me away.

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Introducing Windows Red: A serious plan to fix Windows 8 | Microsoft windows – InfoWorld

Introducing Windows Red: A serious plan to fix Windows 8 | Microsoft windows – InfoWorld

This is an interesting article, but it still addresses the overall cosmetic flaws with Windows. Windows has had much more fundamental flaws since the days of Windows 3.11 that still go unfixed. I’ll list a few of them here. These flaws prevent me from ever using Windows again as my main personal operating system and if you knew better, you’d feel the same way.

  1. File system events do not work properly.
  2. The concept of application installations (and all the garbage that comes with it – DLL’s and the like) is completely broken.
  3. The concept of drivers, both signed and unsigned, is broken.
  4. Windows does a really shitty job at supporting standards (calendaring, email, instant messaging… I’m looking at you).
  5. NTFS needs to advance beyond its current incarnation. (To be fair, HFS+ does too).
  6. Windows is far, far too fat. It used to be bloated before. Now it’s just ridiculous.

Now let’s look at some of the more recent destruction with Windows that really takes this to a whole new level. Here I’ll rope in some other items that really irritate me.

  1. Office 2013 is really, really broken. The file formats issue was a real problem in Office 2010. Now it’s just a disaster. The amount of people calling me because documents do not open in different versions of Office is absolutely ridiculous.
  2. The Office server ecosystem is in a state that requires your entire enterprise to move to the same versions/releases of Office and servers all at once to support full functionality. I have yet to meet a single enterprise (Microsoft’s own included!) that can support this type of migration and arrangement. This isn’t realistic and I don’t understand why Microsoft continues to shrug it off.
  3. The Microsoft account ecosystem is a disaster. Have you tried telling Office 2013 that you have an Office 365 account AND a Microsoft account? Good luck with that.
  4. On the server side, it’s way… WAY too hard and time consuming to actually implement functionality. The amount of knobs and switches you have to tweak to make something work on EVERY server is insane.

I continue to be baffled as to why anyone puts up with this… or spend money on it.

Boot Camp 5 is out with 10.8.3… but beware the Windows 8 Support

I still have a 2008 Mac Pro (3,1) and it’s still running strong. I’ve invested a lot of money in keeping that thing running. I probably won’t do that again for a machine such as this, but for now I intend to keep it afloat for a few more years. Yeah, I know, it’s 5 years old already. Still, it’s a beast. 8 processors with 32gb of RAM and multi-terabytes of hard drive space can last me a little longer.

I was excited to learn that Apple intended to release official Windows 8 drivers for Boot Camp 5 with OS X 10.8.3. I had already installed Windows 8 on a separate partition and it runs pretty nicely. I had to manually add the NVidia video and Realtek audio drivers, but that solved just about every major noticeable issue. Aside from that, it would be nice to have to Boot Camp utility in the systray to boot to the other OS when I wanted and some official HFS+ read support on the Windows OS. I was excited.

10.8.3 dropped yesterday… finally. I hastily ran out to pick it up, install it and launch the Boot Camp utility to download Windows Support. The first irritant was the notice that it would no longer download to a folder of my choice. Now they enforce you to download the WindowsSupport files to a USB disk or MS-DOS FAT drive. Whatevs. I hooked up a USB disk. About midway through the download, it stopped and said, “Oh, hey, by the way… this Mac will only support Windows 7. You okay with that?”

Uhm. Hell no, I’m not okay with that.

I’m not sure if there actually is a component in this Mac that lacks a Windows 8 driver or Apple is just being lazy. I suspect it’s the latter, since a lot of these drivers are stock on Windows 8 or they download when you install the it anyway (one of the nicer new features of Windows 8 – the driver download stuff actually works).

Over on MacRumors I found a forum post that linked out to a support article. Looks like I’m “officially” SOL. However, there’s a way to download the Windows Support drivers without having to go through Boot Camp, which I just did. I’m going to see if I can force feed them to the Mac’s Windows 8 install. We’ll see how far I get. I would prefer to install the drivers individually and just install components that need the drivers. There aren’t many. Mainly, I just want that HFS+ and Boot Camp app support.

The Realtek and NVidia drivers are already out there. That’s why I suspect Apple is being lazy.

If you’re curious, check back later for the results.

UPDATE: It mostly works, but there is some driver in there that makes Windows 8 mad. It bombs with a KERNEL_SECURITY_CHECK_FAILURE. I suspect an “sfc /scannow” will fix that, but I will have to try that later.