Monday, 12 November 2012

My Week With Windows 8: Conclusion

My 'Week working exclusively with Windows 8' to give it a second chance (as suggested by journalist Tim Anderson) is over. Actually it was over a few days ago but I've been struggling with getting this 'summary' blog post together.

So what's the verdict?

I wrote a blog post summarising my findings over the weekend.

I then rewrote it several times to try and make it less ranty, and less obsessed with all the nit-picky problems I found that were more to do with my main apps than the operating system itself.

I re-edited it again to avoid sounding like a broken record on the subject of where Microsoft is headed and how badly it's handled the Windows 8 launch. After all, it's not like I haven't done that particular subject to death over the last 18 months ;-)

Then I decided that trying to get this 'Windows 8 summary' into a well-rounded 'honest' blog post was just turning into a HUGE time sink.

So, the bottom line is this: Tim was kinda right - Windows 8 is a lot better than I thought it was going to be.

I had problems, but all my desktop apps run fine on it after a couple of support calls were made and in one very particular case a quick fix obtained.

More interestingly, I actually love the 'modern apps' stuff that's plumbed in, even if the poor APIs underneath mean that even the apps that initially look great (MetroTwit and Evernote I'm talking about you!) and almost had me enthusiastically shouting 'The emperor's wearing clothes after all' turned out to be highly varnished turds that just aren't of sufficient quality for day-to-day usage.

I'm sure that with time, service packs and new APIs things will improve.

In the meantime Windows 8 isn't the car crash that Vista was so far as ordinary users are likely to be concerned. You just need to spend a couple of hours learning the new way of working (ALT + F4 is my new best friend, the Windows key on its own the other!) so that you can get back to the trusty Windows desktop environment you're used to with Windows 7. So if you're feeling brave, just avoid buying any ARM tablets or 'modern style apps' for that tablet until they've ironed out all the nightmare issues around the poor APIs and buggy controls and go for it.

I'm NOT going for it. But for mostly arbitrary reasons around the usage of Windows Key + M being taken away for no good reason (I use that combination a lot!) and not liking the 'thin barrier' the new 'modern app' Start Page puts in my way. Well that and the fact no client or potential client has ever expressed any interest in running Windows 8 and I'm a firm believer in developing on the platform you're going to be deploying to.

At the time of writing I have one outstanding problem (a big one) where I can't create a home network (Windows 8 wants a password from a PC that was running a beta and has since been repaved and refuses to offer any kind of new 'Create a new HomeGroup' option instead) but otherwise the operating system seems pretty solid. Even using it with just mouse and keyboard.

I can see consumers really getting to like 'modern apps' and 'live tiles' as demonstrated with the pre-installed apps (the biggest disappointment here is that none of the apps in the app store seem to support live tiles or contracts when they should). I can see those same users then realising they'd like the same experience on their phone.

This can only be good news for the uptake on the third attempt at launching Microsoft's phone operating system, assuming the retail chain forces Windows 8 onto consumers via the 'new PC purchase' route (although a quick visit to computer stores doesn't indicate that this is actually happening, with most stores I checked still selling only PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled - what's that about??!)

Dilbert on Microsoft the weekend after the Surface RT tablet launched

Those expecting the usual long rant and disappointed not to find one might want to check out this video 'The Microsoft Roadmap' from last week's Oredev conference instead.

If you don't have time to watch an hour long video summarising the last five years of Microsoft I hope the speaker (Scott Barnes) doesn't mind me summarising the whole thing with his closing line "The takeaway is you've been part of an experiment for the last five years".

As a footnote to this post, I made a similar comment in a tweet some months back. A relatively high profile contractor/community member working for an investment bank replied that my tweets were always 'too negative' and that he was perfectly happy with the current Microsoft situation. Although he's an MVP and so has to pay the 'public shill' tax of being publicly positive about everything to do with Microsoft, in private he's always been as 'negative' as I am about Microsoft, so his public tweet surprised me, and I couldn't resist asking him if his clients who had now wasted millions on a 'dead man walking' technology were equally happy and loved putting a 'positive spin' on things instead of being 'too negative' at their wasted millions.

The reply of 'I've earnt good money, and continue to do so. What's the problem?' probably says all that needs to be said about the average contractor/consultant, their sense of responsibility for those who've followed their advice and paid them big sums of money, and the Microsoft software industry as a whole.

That being said, it's probably true to say I'm jaundiced where the investment banking industry and Microsoft are concerned. A couple of weeks ago I lost a potential 'big bucks' client through pointing out that 'No, actually you CAN'T just take your big enterprise Silverlight app built on MVVM and various frameworks and 'just recompile it' to run as a Windows 8 XAML/C# application. The interviewer visibly sulked throughout the remaining 40 minutes of the 'tell us what you've done' interview (pointing out his incompetence in front of a colleague probably wasn't one of my best moves!)

Oh well, if nothing else it's good to see so many of those in the investment banking industry have learnt from the big crash of the last few years and can now justify those big salaries and big decisions </sarcasm>

We reap what we sow I guess, and whilst carping on about how dreadful most of this stuff is isn't helping me win friends and influence at a certain Redmond-based software company or within its rewards-based 'community', I can at least satisfy myself with the fact that I'm not the business owner paying for all this incredible incompetence and greed!

If you're a business owner who wants software built by someone serving YOUR best interests rather than their own, feel free to drop me an email! I haz references - lots of them :-)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Week With Windows 8. Day Zero: Dell XPS One Review

This is the second of several 'resource' reviews that will be appearing as part of my Week with Windows 8 series of blog posts.

Background Information

My Current Hardware

I've looked at Windows 8 twice before now - first in its 'Build 2011 release' beta form around this time last year, and then again when the Consumer Preview was issued, which I think was about six months later. For those early releases I didn't want to screw up my main laptop, so I used an HP DV-2 netbook. I had regretted buying this PC within weeks of getting it - an impulse purchase made just before a trip to the States for a Microsoft conference when I wanted something small and portable to take. It was small and pretty, but was seriously overpriced (just under £700, at a time when most other netbooks were more like £300-£400). I paid that high price because it was one of the few netbooks available with 4GB memory at the time I got it, which made it potentially usable for running Visual Studio. Also HP had announced they would be releasing an optional Blu-ray player for it. I work away from home a lot during the week and like to be able to take new Blu-ray movies with me to watch so this seemed ideal. HP totally reneged on the promises they used to get the sale (no Blu-ray drive was ever released) and to add insult to injury the 64-bit AMD Athlon Neo chip is dog slow, the battery life was terrible (2 hours at best), and when connected to an external 'touch' HD monitor I'd purchased specifically to test Windows 8 I discovered the graphics card can't go high enough resolution-wise to make the touch screen in any way usable.

By the way, this was the PC that made me scoff at all the Microsoft echo chamber iPad nay-sayers when it was first announced because as I said at the time: I used my iPad more in the first two weeks I had it than I'd used this more expensive 'netbook' in a year!

Initially Windows 8 looked like a way to make this slow hardware a useful bit of kit again, but the lack of touch support and the horrible user experience of endlessly being thrown between the 'Metro' interface and the desktop interface killed both it and any interest in Windows 8 for me. Windows 8 DID make it slightly more usable than Windows 7 had done in a couple of ways: startup was MUCH faster, and overall performance seemed slightly better. But the hardware was still a dog and the software and inability to find things killed my productivity rate. Most independent reviewers have pointed out that Windows 8 has a 'steep learning curve', and in my experience most end users just want their new PCs to work out the box like their old one did.

Dell XPS 17 laptop with 42

At the start of the year I bought a Dell XPS 17 (pictured above), maxed out to 16GB memory, with 256GB solid state drive and all the extra's (digital TV card, Blu-ray player, backlit keyboard, 3D screen etc). I love this PC and it's by far the best I've ever owned. It oozes quality. Ideally I'd have gone for a MacBook Pro, but that was limited to 8GB memory, had no Blu-ray player and would have cost over £1000 more so I had to pass on that. I don't regret it in any way. The only thing I'd change is maybe ordering the non-3D option. Not that the 3D option isn't great with Blu-ray, but that the screen is artificially boosted in brightness to make the most of 3D and I prefer to work with a properly color-calibrated monitor (the XPS 17 can be calibrated but then 3D would become pretty much unwatchable, and I found the calibration process a confusing mess - a Windows issue rather than a Dell one).

I've only had one problem with the XPS 17. After moving house the 'i' key started playing up - it would 'stick' or randomly repeat. With terror in my heart I had to contact Dell Support. They are a very different company from the one I dealt with 10 years ago. The support call was all dealt with in about 5 minutes, and the next day an engineer arrived at my home and fitted a brand new keyboard at no cost and with minimum fuss. Dell get a lot of bad press but I'm VERY happy with the service I received on the laptop.

The XPS 17 is my main work machine. There is no way I want to 'break' that work machine with Windows 8. The whole point of taking up Tim Anderson's challenge to exclusively use Windows 8 for a week is to see if I really can cope with having to live with my workhorse PC running Windows 8. There are some horror stories about people installing Windows 8, hating it and finding it impossible to go back to Windows 7, so there was no way I was going to risk my 'bread and butter' work horse on this one week challenge. I needed to get a new PC.

Why Did I Choose the Dell XPS All-in-one

I didn't want another laptop. I have my 'large' Dell XPS 17 'workhorse' laptop PC, my 'test' HP netbook laptop if I really do just want something more portable, and an iPad3 with the Logitech keyboard cover for when I'm away from home. My main home office is already cramped with these PCS (and secondary monitors) a Mac Mini, two HP Proliant servers and a ridiculously large HP Colour LaserJet. I've been meaning to replace a desktop machine that went to the recycling dump for the last 3 years but somehow never got round to it, and the trouble is my office is already 'full' and I don't want anything 'ugly' in my main lounge/dining area which is where the new PC would have to go. An all-in-one PC that looked 'sexy' seemed like a good idea.

Googling Windows 8 PCs the Dell XPS One kept coming up in the results list. HP make an all-in-one but were out of the running just because of my recent experiences with them: don't buy from a company you don't trust! Reviews for the Dell All-in-one were universally enthusiastic, describing it time and time again as being 'great value for money'. It even included a Blu-ray player as standard!

Even better, the day I decided this was probably the new desktop PC I should buy I saw a tweet from Quidco (the discount scheme company), offering an 11% discount (for 2 days only) on the advertised online price for any Dell XPS PC, with an additional 15% cashback from Quidco 30 days after purchase. Wow! This brought the price down to not much over a grand. The XPS One was already getting rave reviews on pricing that assumed it would sell for about £1500, and here was an opportunity to save an additional 26% if I acted quickly.

I acted quickly!

The big worry with the XPS One was that it would be in high demand, since there seemed to be so few other PCs around boasting Windows 8. When I ordered my XPS 17 laptop earlier this year there was a 'build' time of several weeks and a week before the advertised delviery date I was told there would be an additional 2 week delay (until I got on the phone to cancel the order, when it miraculously reverted to its originally promised delivery date!) At this week's Build Conference Steve Ballmer boasted that demand for Windows 8 PCs was '20% higher than expected' - a figure he later explained as having been supplied by Dixons in the UK. It seems odd to me that a big US corporation would use a UK-exclusive retail chain to show high demand for a product rather than a big US chain, and to be brutally honest I think what Ballmer said was total spin and the use of Dixons was cynical and deliberate. If Dixons could see what was coming and set 'expected' demand way lower than is usual for a new Windows release then it would make sense to quote their figures rather than anybody elses! My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when I ordered the Dell XPS One only to be told its delivery date would be THE NEXT DAY!!! In the event UPS let me down and it was a day late, but nevertheless two days for a new Dell PC is unprecedented in my book. Especially for a machine where 'demand is 20% higher than expected'!

There is ONE big disadvantage to ordering the Dell XPS One that's available today: There is only one configuration available, despite the fact all the published reviews are based on a second, higher-specced configuration. The unit currently available has just 6GB memory and uses an Intel i5 processor. The reviews I found appear to all be based on an 8GB model with an i7 processor, and in fact Ballmer showed the Dell One at the Build conference keynote with the 'i7' badge proudly displayed on the video title bar - more 'spin' for a machine that he claimed was 'available today' but isn't. If you go to the Dell web site the i7 model is listed but there is no 'Customise' button for that option and the 'Purchase' button is greyed out and unclickable. One review indicates that Dell have stated the i7 processor model won't be shipping until December so presumably they're having some teething problems with it. I wasn't prepared to wait until December as I have some down time right now that I can't guarantee I'll have in December. Hence the lower-specced model.


The first thing that needs to be said is the packaging used to ship the Dell XPS One is not good. I would be surprised if Dell don't find they're getting damaged returns because of the weak packaging. The shipped package weighs 24kg and is encased in cardboard that is easily bent or torn. Four plastic "bolts" are used to try and keep the bottom cardboard section holding the bulk of the weight to the top section, with a single 2" band of sellotape added as backup. In my case one of the plastic "bolts" was missing and the others were lose with the cardboard around them crushed and bent. This meant that the top half of the box had a good 5 to 6 inches of height movement and you could feel the PC shaking about inside as you carried the box, which just added to the box damage.

Dell XPS One Packaging - not strong enough for what's inside!

Stripping off the outer packaging, youa re faced with a polysteirine cage which again I felt was insufficient for the weight of the unit enclosed within.

Dell XPS One Packaging - Outer Cover Removed

Aside from the PC itself there are two cardboard boxes. One contains the small keyboard and mouse with two AAA batteries for the keyboard and two AA batteries for the mouse, and diagrams showing how to fit the batteries printed inside the box lid. The other contains a disc of drivers and utilities, presumably just in case you decide to reinstall Windows 8 from scratch using a disc that isn't supplied with the PC, a safety sheet and an 8 page colour pamphlet 'Getting Started' that basically tells you what to do to turn on the PC and gives you some links to get to grips with Windows 8. Two pages give an annotated diagram of the top side and various plug sockets to familarise you with where the microphone, camera (which comes with a handy flip cover switch), power button and various plug sockets (HDMI, USB etc) are.

Dell XPS One - Packaging Contents

Initial Impressions

The PC itself is heavy but manageable. It feels solid. Unlike other Dell Touch monitors it can't be laid completely flat, which is a weakness for a touch monitor, but the angle of rotation is otherwise quite generous. The resolution of 2560x1440 is stunning and the display is bright and colourful.

The keyboard is small - not cheap and nasty but not exactly exuding luxury either. However it's certainly better than the God-awful Apple wireless keyboard that is not only smaller but has horrible 'chiclet' keys. The mouse is extremely basic but does its job. Both keyboard and mouse are wireless and 'just work' when tiny switches that turn them on are used.

The power switch for the PC is, rather oddly, placed on the right hand side of the unit rather than the front. I found this to be a pain when adjusting the monitor angle - twice I accidentally shut down the PC when all I wanted to do was change the monitor angle. It's far too easy to hit the button by accident. There is a one inch bevel around the main display area and then a further dead inch of plastic at the bottom of the display. I don't understand why the Power button wasn't placed here where it wouldn't be so prone to accidental exposure.

I'm working in a very quiet environment and am aware of the system's fan running as soon as the unit is powered on. It's not loud (certainly much quieter than the fan on my Dell XPS 17 laptop) but I am aware of it in the background, where I'm not aware of the fans on my 65" Panasonic plasma TV next to it and which has received some criticisms for being 'too noisy'.

The supplied Cyberlink DVD/Blu-ray player software works well. The drive itself is on the thin right-hand side of the monitor. The software requires you to set a Region Code (which can be changed up to five times before being locked) and then modifies the screen resolution to fit the 1920x1080 (1080p) standard. Remember that the native resolution of this monitor is ordinarily higher than HD! I thought the audio was more than acceptable for a unit of this size. I own a couple of Dell ST2220 21.5" touch screen monitors and for the price they're fantastic displays, but the audio on them is terrible - a gnat would struggle to hear the audio even at maximum volume. The XPS One is MUCH better.

On top of the unit is a simple slider switch to cover the in-built webcam. When you buy the XPS One as part of the customisation process you'll be offered a Logitech HD webcam as an available accessory. Shame on Dell for offering an accessory you don't need! Oddly the delivery time on the Logitech webcam is 4 weeks as opposed to the 2 days for the '20% higher than expected demand' Windows 8 PC! Like I said, I'm finding the whole 'demand for Windows 8 PCs is 20% higher than expected' very hard to swallow!

The specs of this 'entry level' all in one (the only one available at the time of writing) include a 32GB Intel SRT SSD, a 1TB SATA 7200 rpm hard drive, 6GB 1600Hz DD3 memory, a Blu-Ray/DVD combo drive (Blu-Ray is read only, DVD is read/write), a 2GB NVIDIA Geforce GT 640M graphics card and Dell 1703 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth v4.0+LE wireless. There is no TV card. Software includes the 64-bit version of Windows 8 and a copy of Cyber Link's Power DVD BD to enable DVD and Blu-ray movies to be played as the in-built Windows DVD player included in Windows 7 has been removed from Windows 8.

Dell XPS One - The All-in-One

Initial Windows 8 Set-Up

On power on you are asked to set the language and keyboard, which annoyingly default to US, despite this being a UK-shipped unit with UK keyboard. You are then asked to select a colour scheme (a single colour which defaults to yellow - pretty pointless since you have no idea at this stage what this single colour will actually affect but fortunately it is easy to change later via the Metro 'Settings' charm). I didn't have a wired connection in my lounge, which is where I want my All-In-One to sit, but the next setup screen correctly identified my wireless network with a strong signal, as well as several others in the area and it was a very simple case to select the network, enter my network password and move on. The next screen offered an 'Express Setup' or 'Custom Setup' for what essentially looked like a bunch of privacy settings. Those which would be set by selecting 'Express Setup' were listed and I went with this option. I was then prompted for my email address to set up my Microsoft account. I'd already done this when playing with the beta version and consumer preview on my netbook, and this is where the magic started to happen. I was asked to confirm my email address and previously entered phone number and then the Windows Start screen appeared with a very obvious live tile that switched between photos of some of my friends and a group of strangers. Very scary! How did that happen?

Dell XPS One - Live Tile with friend photos

I say 'scary' because most of the pictures were marked with a small LinkedIn logo! I hadn't explicitly said 'Use my Linked In contacts' but the software had found them and was displaying them the first time I logged in.

One other thing that impressed me, but also confused me, was the Weather app. This defaulted to London, so I clicked on the application and it asked if I wanted to share location information and I said 'yes' at which point it automatically switched me to Bursledon, the Southampton suburb/village where I live. This impressed me because my iPad and iPhone which have 3G connectivity as well as router connectivity always show my location on Facebook posts as "Sholing" which is quite some way from here. I have no idea why the two different ecosystems (Apple and Microsoft) should show different locations and I would have expected the Apple devices which have 3G connectivity, which the PC doesn't have, to have been more accurate.

Confirming the new PC's authority

One of the nice touches to the account registration process was that I got an automatic SMS text message on my phone asking me to confirm that I wanted this new PC to be trusted with my Windows account, giving me a URL to visit and a confirmation code to enter. Entering the code confirms that the PC is now fully trusted.

Dell XPS One - Account Confirmation

However after I'd done this an email also arrived asking me to click on a link to confirm the PC was trusted. This actually gave an error, presumably because the SMS phone message had already done what was needed. I think the registration process should probably have asked me if I wanted to use my email address OR phone number to confirm the account rather than use both, which would have avoided confusion.

Dell XPS One - Double Confirmation Error


I haven't done extensive tests on performance but the PC feels slick and fast. Start-up time for Windows from a cold power-up is currently about 15 seconds which is very nice if you're used to Windows 7, Vista or XP startup times. The interface feels fast and fluid, and the multi-touch screen supports up to 10 points of articulation and seems responsive. So far as the disk space is concerned I'm not sure why the SSD isn't showing unless it's somehow RAIDed in with the SATA hard drive. All that shows up in File Explorer is a single C drive (together with the DVD/BD drive) listed as having 885GB of 918GB free after the 'important' Windows Updates available as of 1st November 2012 were downloaded and run. I know figures for hard drives get rounded up using some nasty 'let's pretend 1000 bytes is really 1024 bytes' algorithm but I'm still struggling to understand how 1TB plus 32GB can equate to 918GB!

Dead In The Water

So Windows 8 installed and was activated with my account details in less than 15 minutes. All seemed good. Unfortunately I then left the PC for 10 minutes ... and returned to find it powered off.

Powering it on again just sat on the Dell startup logo. Powering off the device and leaving it a few minutes made no difference. Suddenly I had a dead paperweight whose only job was to display the Dell logo. And I hadn't installed a single bit of software or even a hardware driver of my own!

Fortunately Dell Support proved as good this time as they had been the last time I had to use them. My call was promptly answered (no 'Please hold due to unexpected demand' nonsense here!) but it took the best part of 90 minutes to get the PC working again, and it's still not clear what the problem is/was or whether it might recur again. Dell firmly pointed the finger at Windows 8, trying to imply that once activated Windows 8 applied updates and these could cause a temporary glitch in the BIOS setting for SATA. However watching the remote debugging session where by flipping the BIOS SATA setting from its default 'RAID' setting (presumably needed to present the 32GB SSD drive and the 1TB hard disk as a single C drive?) to each of the other two settings after numerous frownie "something went wrong" Windows 8 screens the engineer was able to get Windows 8 desktop up and running and apply six important Windows updates via the usual Control Panel 'Windows Updates' window. However the Windows Updates screen clearly showed no updates had yet been applied, with the last time update was run showing as 'never' so the Dell engineer explanation, repeated several times, didn't hold water. When I pointed this out I got an explanation that 'Windows 8 is very new software. It's less than a week old. There are problems with it'. Wow!

I started this exercise cynical about how robust the new O.S. was, minimised risk by ordering a new PC with the software preinstalled and here I was with a 'dead in the water' piece of kit and the hardware manufacturer was insisting it was because of the software. Not good! To pre-empt the 'It must be Dell's hardware or drivers that are broken' in any comments to this post I can only repeat the answer the Dell engineer gave me: 'Everything is working fine now, so it's not the hardware'. I have no idea why faffing around with the BIOS SATA settings (which finally had to be reset to their original RAID setting) and putting a few Windows updates on should have fixed a 'dead in the water' PC. But it gives me little confidence in the underlying O.S. Buying a new PC was supposed to avoid exactly this sort of problem, and it makes me VERY wary of attempting to upgrade my workhorse laptop PC.

Someone Moved The Cheese

With Windows 8 finally up and running I had a little play and was reminded of what I'd hated about the O.S. when playing with the early beta's. I wanted to check the display resolution. I right clicked on the desktop which works in Windows 7. In Windows 8, regardless of whether you're in Metro mode or desktop mode, that doesn't do what it normally does. There's no Start button to get to Control Panel and if I wend my way to it using the 'Charms' in the Metro interface I get what looks like a drastically cut down version with no option telling me the resolution anywhere to be found. I'm sure this is just part of the 'steep learning curve' that will get resolved when I read some guides, but it's symtomatic of why I think Joe Public will get frustrated and ranty with it. The only thing keeping many from moving to Apple Mac is the new learning curve. Now that learning curve is just as bad if they want to stay on Windows but run the most current version.

Getting Started Videos

On the Metro desktop there is a tile for 'Getting Started with Windows 8 on Your Dell', with videos for touch (confusingly showing a tablet rather than this All In One PC) and for mouse and keyboard. These are cartoony videos and just a minute or two long and are almost content free. They basically say "swipe from one of the sides of the screen" or "touch one of the corners of the screen with your mouse" and not much else! The idea that you would be 'good to go' after viewing these videos is beyond laughable, and reminds me of this joke about computer documentation:

Windows documentation (joke)

Final Verdict on the Dell XPS One

Although this post is headed 'Review of the Dell XPS One With Windows 8', I don't feel it's safe to give a final verdict at this stage. The poor packaging and the fact that the machine died before I had the chance to do anything other than register my account and connect to my wireless network gives me great cause for concern, although touch wood it seems to restart just fine at the moment. The 'auto-sleep' mode is very unpredictable. Sometimes I leave the PC for 10 minutes and return to find it in 'sleep' mode where a simple press of a key on the keyboard brings it back to life, other times I leave it for an hour and it's still all lit-up and displaying live tiles on the Start screen. I hate inconsistent and unpredictable behaviour!

More importantly, a new user should not have to phone Support and spend the best part of 2 hours trying to revive the machine within 10 minutes of starting it up, and it's unclear at this stage whether the problem's the hardware (the Dell XPS One) or the software (Windows 8). I'll try and give a final verdict on the PC itself at the end of my 'Week with Windows 8' but for now the jury's definitely out.

Verdict on Windows 8 at the end of 'Day 0'

I think Windows 8 is going to be a frustrating exercise for most who will try and use it without proper support resources. Tomorrow is officially my first 'exclusive' day with Windows 8, although I suspect I'm going to be hopping back to my workhorse laptop for mail, Twitter and Facebook until I'm more comfortable with finding my way around the O.S. and have got all my basic software installed under Windows 8 which will more likely be on Day 2.

I'll be using the PC Pro Ultimate Guide to Windows 8 to try and get over these frustrations and initial hurdles of working out precisely what's moved where. If the PC Pro Guide doesn't give me enough confidence to get on and install all my core applications I'll move on to the 800 page (really?!! To explain just how to use the O.S.? Wow!) Windows 8 Step-by-Step book I've purchased from Microsoft Press.

Expect an update 'Week with Windows 8: Day One' blog post tomorrow!

Update (One Week Later)

Having lived with the Dell XPS One for over a week now, using it (almost) exclusively I thought I should add a post script to the above review

Firstly the machine has had no reboot problems since the initial one and has performed flawlessly. That's the good news.

The bad news is that 32 GB SSD. A Dell engineer confirmed that this is not accessible for user data or programs, which is why it doesn't show in Explorer. He claimed that it is used 'for caching' and that this makes the performance of the machine much better. That may be true, but nothing on the web site advertising the product and not one of the reviews mentioned the fact that this 32GB SSD is not in any way directly accessible by the end user. They all imply you're getting a PC with two drives - one, the traditional 'rusty' type, the other an SSD. I think that is misleading if not downright lying!

I should also add that although I love the high resolution of the screen and the 10 touch points seem to work well MOST of the time, there is discoloration in all four corners of the monitor and along two edges where on white backgrounds (which are used heavily throughout Metro) the 'dark blue/black' tinge is extremly distracting. This is not a set-up I'd recommend for someone wanting to do good colour work. It's reminiscent of the old CRT monitors and the problem you'd get if you put a pair of speakers or something with a strong magnet near them, and in this day and age is not really acceptable. For a so-called competitor to the Apple Mac all-in-one this is a glaring weakness in the product.

Those quibbles aside, I'm generally happy with the All-in-One. At the price I paid for it (with the various quidco discounts) it's good value for money. At the full recommended price I'm not as enthusiastic as the other traditional print reviewers have been. The price implies luxury. The actual product falls just a little short of that promise.

Update (Two Weeks Later)

On trying to run the Windows Phone 8 emulator inside Visual Studio 2012 I got a message saying I needed to 'purchase additional Windows 8 features' in order to be able to run the emulator, and advised I would have to pay £49.99, which subsequently turned out to be £58 once some VAT had been added (no I can't make it add up either, given UK VAT is 20%). This is nothing short of a rip-off given that I can buy a full copy of Windows 8 Pro from BT Business Direct for £42, or from Amazon for £49. It seems Dell have cut corners in the version of Windows installed and short of doing a complete reinstall using an existing license key (the update dialog insists on payment BEFORE offering you the chance to enter an 'upgrade' license key) I'm forced to pay through the nose if I want to do Windows Phone 8 Development. To say I am not best pleased to discover this late surcharge is putting it mildly. Another cost to factor into your likely purchase costs!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Review: Windows: The Official Magazine Launch Issue

This is the first of several 'resource' reviews that will be appearing as part of my Week with Windows 8 series of blog posts. The week will officially kick off as soon as my new Dell hardware gets delivered (Dell say today, but....)

Background Information

The Week of Windows 8 Challenge

As a (recently disillusioned) developer in the Microsoft world I've been unimpressed with what I've seen of Windows 8 and have not not wanted to waste any time on something I perceive to be 'another Windows Vista - but worse!'. However I've accepted a challenge from journalist Tim Anderson to try Windows 8 EXCLUSIVELY for a week and give it a second chance. I'm not going to be using it in terms of developing specifically for the platform (that would require more time and a bigger learning curve), but in terms of switching to using it as the main Operating System for my day-to-day work.

I'm interested in approaching it as I think most of my application end users would rather than with my 'developer' hat on. After all if end users don't get a good experience then they'll likely migrate elsewhere (or avoid migrating altogether) and there won't be any clients for Windows 8 specific development anyway.

Windows: The Official magazine - Launch issue front cover

Why 'Windows: The Offical Magazine?'

I think Google/Bing and blogs have become a waste of time for learning new mainstream stuff like this. It seems like the only people who blog are those who like working at the 'bleeding edge', and experience has taught me that you google stuff like 'Windows 8' and end up with a bunch of outdated and inaccurate information based on early preview releases where the author has forgotten to point out that it was based on an early preview rather than what actually ended up shipping.

By the time a product goes 'RTM' the bleeding edge crowd have moved on to the latest alpha or beta product so nobody's blogging about the stuff people actually use day to day. For the man in the street the usual recourse is to pick up a 'starter' publication like this (with a cover promoting 'Windows 8 is here') or two of the other titles I hope to review before my week's up: The PC Pro Ultimate Guide to Windows which is a 'fat magazine' format available at many newsagents, and Windows 8 Step-by-Step a Microsoft Press book which I had to order from Amazon because for the first time I can remember local book stores don't seem to be selling Windows 8 books, at least if the large Waterstones in Southampton City Centre is typical. This is disappointing because several titles are already available.

To be honest, I would have preferred to have started with the PC Pro guide, but it doesn't seem right to review that until I can compare it with a typical book offering, and I'm still waiting on Amazon to deliver the Step-by-Step book. Windows: The Official Magazine is easier to review whilst I'm waiting for my new hardware to arrive because it's a 'standalone' product and the first issue of a monthly magazine that will be focussed entirely on Windows 8. The magazine title might lead you to believe it also covers Windows 7 and earlier releases, but it doesn't, if this first issue is anything to go by.

Full Disclosure

I have some 'prior history' with this publication (or more accurately, its predecessor, since this seems mainly to be a relaunch of the old Windows magazine, timed to coincide with the public launch of Windows 8).

A few years ago when I was 'between contracts' Craig Murphy forwarded me a request from Future Publishing for a reader to go to their offices in Bath to do a review comparison of four consumer video cameras. As the 'go to' guy for London-based user group video with some time on his hands Craig thought I might be interested. There was no money available, just expenses - ie the train fare and lunch. I never got the train fare because it took Future Publishing over a week to get the admin sorted to send me the tickets which arrived the day after they needed me on site. Promises to refund the money I had paid for the tickets never materialised despite several emails promising it would get sorted. I was kept waiting an hour in reception for reasons that were never really made clear and when I finally got access to the magazine's offices (actually an open plan area hosting many different Future Publishing magazines) at midday it turned out that one of the cameras for review had been 'lost' and they'd forgotten to actually charge the batteries for one of the others, so we had to wait until after lunch to start the 'full day' review. Lunch was a sandwich from the local Marks and Spencers so that was a bit disappointing too. An hour spent mostly posing with different cameras just outside the company offices with a freelance photographer who had to cope with endless rain, meant that I had about half an hour to sum up my findings and declare a 'winner' despite not having time to seriously analyse any of the footage I'd managed to get with the three cameras or to read through the user manuals that came with the cameras.

After that experience I started to understand why reviews in magazines rarely seem to reflect reality, and Future Publishing titles in particular are infamous for being 'thin' on editorial content (although their Total Film magazine is excellent, being the exception which proves the rule). I got the impression on my visit that most Future Magazine titles in the building effectively employed three or four school leavers on very low salaries who spent their working day surfing the web for content, with one of the computer gaming titles being an exception in that they had a big plasma TV where games were noisily being played all day!

There is a funny postscript to this 'full disclosure' backstory. When I recounted my experience to a friend at the BBC she shook her head. 'We used to have to deal with them for some of our magazines years ago. The outfit down at Bath, yes? They were terrible and shambolic. Always have been. I'm amazed they're still around to be honest'

Suffice to say, my expectations going in were set to 'low'.

Target Audience

To be fair, I'm not the target audience. This is a magazine for the casual buyer looking for something to read on a flight or train ride. The emphasis is on being a light, easy read. The launch issue seems to be aimed at people looking to buy a new PC as it proudly boasts '33 pages of new gear', with the main splash being 'Windows 8 is here'.

What do you get for the money?

£5 gets you 116 very nicely designed glossy pages with an overall 'Metro' theme that reflects the look and feel of Windows 8 itself. 21 of these pages are adverts.

The advert breakdown is interesting in that 7 of the pages are 'Get More Out of Life' adverts encouraging you to subscribe to the magazine in different formats (digital, Zinio, paper trial subscription etc), whilst another 4 are for sister publications (T3, Nikon Photo, PC Gamer and an Xmas special offer on all Future Publishing titles). There are no big double-spread ads from the big PC makers here, with Dell just taking out a single page ad for the AlienWare X51. There are ads from FastHosts, Tesco (buy your Windows 8 retail box from us) and HMV (vote for our awards). The low advert page count comes despite the 'official magazine' tag which suggests to me the title will struggle to survive long term unless Microsoft are subsidising it to some extent.

Most of the reviews are just a few sentences and even when the hardware reviews get a full page or two the detail is extremely lacking. Most two page reviews are of the 'double-spread photo with just a small paragraph of type' variety. This makes the magazine look attractive and professional, but mean that it comes across more like a brochure than a proper magazine. I doubt it would take anybody more than half an hour at most to read the entire editorial content, and frankly it's hard to distinguish between the editorial and bland advertising copy. Look at the screenshot below and judge for yourself if this is a one page article about tech style and design or a paid for ad by Nokia (the page shown is the complete 'article').

Glorious Technicolor - Is it editorial or an advert? Hard to tell!

Diving into the 'reviews' there's little to see here other than a very crude basic feature list. None of the laptop reviews, for example, mention the screen resolution and there's an inconsistency of style (other than general vagueness) and quality of appraisal across the reviews! This is fluffy light brochure-ware rather than real editorial, despite the presence of a 'Verdict' box on each of the main laptop reviews. I found it hard to match up the verdicts, separated out with a star rating and a one-sentence summary, with the associated written main review. All of the PCs bar one get four out of five star verdicts, with many getting no real criticism at all! And yet the one five star review that appears criticises the unit (you'll have to go buy the mag to find out which unit it is) for its high price compared to its competition, before going on to complain about how it shows up fingerprints, has a 'dated design' and a 'cramped design and bulkier tablet'. Go figure!

Aside from the main reviews there are a lot of Windows 'introduction' articles along the lines of 'Here's a Metro screen overview', 'Here's a two page summary of the gestures you can use' etc which will be useful to those new to Windows 8. A three-page overview of the Bing Weather app is also of interest, if only for the fact it manages to make so little go such a long way. The longest article is '10 Ways to Become an overnight wine expert' which in truth could have been written for any smart phone or PC, or even no PC at all since it focusses on books as well as web sites.

Final Verdict

I'm not the intended audience, but I can't help feeling that for the asking price there isn't a big audience out there for this. It feels like a very glossy brochure advertising the Windows 8 ecosystem that should be given out at Windows launch events rather than something you should buy at a news-stand. I appreciate that home users want a general purpose magazine, but if I compare this to an equivalent like Mac Format from the same publisher, that magazine has much better editorial despite the 'lightness of touch' mandate, and is sufficiently interesting each month to make me subscribe to it. I can't say the same for this, although clearly it's very early days for Windows 8 and the 'new' magazine itself. For me, although I liked the slick, professional design and layout, the title lived down to my low expectations. If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket and a long journey ahead or a bit of time to kill, by all means pick it up and make up your own mind, but if you want to get to learn something useful about Windows 8 my advice would be to save your money for one of the other titles I'll be reviewing later this week.

Windows: The Official Magazine subscription form

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Build 2012, Stockholm Syndrome and (upcoming!) A Week of Windows 8

Microsoft's annual developer conference Build (formerly PDC aka Professional Developers Conference) kicks off today.

Stockholm Syndrome

One Year On

It's a year since I posted about waking up and seeing the light, and not falling for the Windows 8 hype.

I announced, in a 'Reboot' blog entry, that I'd decided to focus my learning efforts elsewhere after more than 15 years as a developer dedicated exclusively to Microsoft technologies, most recently Silverlight.

Looking back, the truth is that when I wrote that blog post, after 15 years of endless unpaid hours outside of those I was paid to work for clients, spent learning and working on Microsoft rushed-to-market 'tactical' products in a world where the term 'legacy' is used to describe anything that's 3 months old, I was burnt out. Wiped out. Depressed.

Totally burnt out!

I won't say anymore on that subject but suggest you go Google 'Scott Hanselman' and 'burn out' for more on how prevalent this is in our industry. I would just add (as ever) to be a little careful with taking on board everything that you read there. There's something kind of ironic about someone complaining about the false 'drama' people create in our industry, while simultaneously tweeting endless snippy comments about products made by a rival company to the one that pays your salary!

So, it's a year since I promised to post about my 'reboot' experiences with iOS and HTML5 here. It's a promise I didn't keep because shortly after making those blog posts (in some all-too-familiar serious unpaid 'down time but work time' between Silverlight-based contracts) I started an intensive six month contract at a software start-up that needed Silverlight expertise to finish a demo product that was going to get the startup's first potential customer to sign on the dotted line (alas, for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with what was developed, still not signed at the time of writing, a full year later :-( )

We all know what start-ups are like: spare time to study and blog is never there because resources are limited and fires have to be put out on ridiculously short timescales in the name of survival. That last Silverlight contract was an exhillerating, if ultimately futile, six months of 'work' where I had a good time and learned to fall in love with my day job again. Good people. Fun work. Work that felt real instead of being yet another pointless vanity project or prototype for some big, bureucratic enterprise whose big chief had mandated the use of a very specific technology without doing even the most basic checks around that technology or how they could deliver the demands of his business (Silverlight on an iPad - yeah of course that works!)

Sadly, six months in, the startup realised the error of their ways in having selected Silverlight as the technology on which to base their vision (it's not like I hadn't told them at my interview!) and decided to go the route I'd told myself (and you) I would take six months earlier: adopting an HTML5 and iOS-based approach to client-side development (whilst sticking with Microsoft on the server side).

In truth, the iOS development path and learning curve has not been as easy as I had hoped. Not that iOS is bad - just that it's different. It's like being a toddler all over again because most of the training material has to walk you through complicated IDEs and software that you don't understand through lack of familiarity. IDEs and software that typically have already moved on from when the 'just do this without understanding it for now' training material was produced. As a toddler you have none of the usual tricks available to get you out of the lack of understanding and mess you find yourself in. I found myself hitting one brick wall after another and in a world of 'agile' where the word documentation is a nasty word to be sneered at, it's only forums that have gotten me out of some really tough scrapes. Plus I'm in my mid-50s now. Enthusiasm and the best will in the world aside, learning new stuff just isn't as easy as it was when I started out in this industry in the late 70s (as an IBM CICS mainframe programmer!)

More on that particular 'reboot' topic another day! In the meantime bills have to be paid and money earnt. Which can be tough when all you really have to sell that the market's interested in is a CV boasting of your existing Microsoft expertise. After all, we can't ALL just go and join Telerik ;-) Even the 'living on borrowed time' Microsoft option means having to keep your mouth shut when some naive Stockholm Syndrome sufferer at a big bank tells you at interview for a new contract that a complex Silverlight 4 enterprise application can simply be recompiled to run under Windows 8 as a C# XAML application. Obviously, where this particular scenario is concerned, I failed at the 'keeping my mouth shut' part, which is why I'm at home writing this blog post instead of earning silly money at a big plush office in Canary Wharf!

One year on from my long series of ranty posts about the fakeness of all the 'rah! rah! rah!' Build 2011 nonsense from the usual suspects (MVPs and those desperate to brown-nose Microsoft to ensure their MVP renewals or lucrative 'partnership' deals), it seems apt to do a quick review of the technologies that got over-hyped at the Build conference this time last year, if only so that people (including me!) don't fall for the same tricks this year.

Let's have a look at the current state of play, shall we?!...

Microsoft 'Truth at Build' Scorecard

Silverlight 5


Last year was the beginning of the end and the recognition (finally) from the 'Microsoft echo chamber' aka 'circle jerk' aka 'community' crowd that maybe those saying Silverlight was a 'dead man walking' had been right all along. In fact the launch around Build time was so low key nobody really noticed.

One year on nobody even mentions Silverlight any more, except to make bad jokes about Microsoft's new tablet supporting its main rival (Flash) but not its own product having originally used the Flash weaknesses to explain why it was killing off Silverlight on Windows 8, the RT variant. Kudos to Microsoft - this shows the power of announcing you have a 'new release' (Silverlight 5) at the eye of the backlash storm, even if you don't have anybody actually working on it when the press start to move in with those 'They're killing it off and have screwed you all' scare stories. It still makes those who pointed out what was happening at the time 'haters' though, right?! (all together now: 'Yeah. Haters! Burn them. Burn them. They turned me into a cynic' (It's OK. I'm inflammable ;-))

Windows Phone

Two years ago this was going to kill the iPhone and Android phones etc. A year on it had failed miserably with pitiful sales and lack of any kind of consumer awareness. But this time last year there was nothing to worry about because after a year of incompetence and zero sales Nokia were announcing their sexy new Lumia 800 phones and it was going to trash all the competition and have all the marketing Microsoft couldn't be arsed to do the year before behind it which would make everybody see the light. A real iOS and Android killer at last. Hoorah! (echo to rapidly diminishing fade: Rah! Rah!) The usual echo chamber devotees happily ignored all the basics (like the fact the new hardware spec was a good two years behind what the competitors were currently offering), and promoted it as proof there was still life left (and a migration path for developers) in that old dead horse, Silverlight upon which Windows Phone 7 was based. Hoorah! Ignore the haters. Developers! Developers! Developers! Say no to negativity and cynicism! Hoorah!

One year on, those phones are already obsolete. Not that they were much cop in the first place, having suffered a whole ton of problems around rushed design and release and terrible battery life. With Windows Phone 8 announced just a few months after their release, and offically launched yesterday, it became clear that the new 'version' of the phone operating system requires completely new hardware with no upgrade path for those who bought into the lies. I'm sorry, but I refuse to call it 'marketing' any more - it's lies and deception, pure and simple, and was and always has been deliberate on Microsoft's part. Microsoft don't care how much time and money their 'customers' waste on development of 'tactical' solutions whilst they lumber from one strategic and PR marketing disaster to another. Why should they? They're not the ones paying the cost! In a repeat of the Silverlight 5 'let's stop the bad press by making an announcement about a new release for those who bought into this Windows 7 Silverlight-based development crap and are now angry' story Microsoft attempted to placate angry developers and the media with the 'We have a new release for those who believed what we said a few months ago and committed to the hardware story: Windows Phone 7.8'.

This 'new release' (snort!) promised some enhancements to the now 'dead in the water' Windows Phone 7 software and hardware. So there's no need to panic folks. Please ignore those 'haters' pointing out it's the same old smoke and mirrors always pulled out of the hat when the company gets caught in a boatful of spin. By the time the reality hits they'll have forgotten what we promised.

At yesterday's launch of 'the new Windows Phone' not a single mention was made of Windows Phone 7.8. Was anybody surprised? Really? My guess is that the intern who gave up working on Blend for Silverlight 5 and left it in 'Preview Release' mode for a year is the guy who's now been assigned to do that Windows 7.8 stuff, assuming there's anyone at all doing it now that the smoke screen appears to have done its job! Too cynical? Let's wait and see!

In the meantime Nokia have announced their shiny new Windows Phone 8 hardware in the form of the Lumia 920, and in a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome the usual suspects spent weeks after the initial announcement shouting about how this kills Apple's iPhone and Google's Android phones before any devices are even on sale. Honestly, life in the Microsoft developer world feels like a continual re-run of Groundhog day! All that needs pointing out here is that Nokia were so confident in this new hardware that they used professional Red camera gear to shoot video that they then pretended originated from their phone, and did something similar with their still photo's too. But heh, if you're suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome that constitutes being a member of Microsoft 'community' now what does that matter? Ignore history, make a wisecrack about how a fifth row of icons on a phone is hardly 'innovation' and maybe nobody will notice, eh? More cash/MVP awards/special favours please Microsoft. Job done. I'm earning a great living here.

Early reports have indicated that there is little to no mention of Windows Phone 8 sessions at the Build conference that kicks off today. Surely they haven't given up on it already?!!

Microsoft's Surface Tablet

Ah yes, the 'iPad killer'. It lets you run Office! Hoorah! 'Microsoft gets its mojo back with slick hardware and killer apps'. Hoorah! (Rah! Rah!)

Except there aren't many apps and the hardware performance is almost universally being described as 'laggy'. Over the weekend my Twitter stream has been chock-full of UK Stockholm Syndrome sufferers complaining that the ordering process has been a disaster and nobody in the UK knows when they'll get their new toys. These are people who got excited even before the battery life and pricing (the same price as an iPad - for something that has no apps and is clearly an early beta product? You're joking, right?!) were revealed so I have little sympathy.

But over the weekend the first reviews appeared and guess what?! The performance sucks! It's described in review after review as 'laggy'. Even the Stockholm Syndrome sufferes are complaining that video and audio stutter. Nobody's quite sure if it's the hardware or rushed-to-market Windows 8 software. Can't be the software because Microsoft have decades of experience with that, right?!

But at least it's got Office!

Ah yes, Office ... and in partcular Word. The product that had one MVP publicly blogging (isn't negative blogging about Microsoft products a sackable offence for an MVP?) about returning his Surface tablet because the words he tried to type were taking several seconds before they appeared on screen, with video attached to the blog post to prove it. It's subsequently been claimed that it was the MVP's fault because he foolishly hadn't worked out a last minute (as in 'the day the hardware went on sale') hard-to-find update that wasn't automatically loaded was needed to paper over the cracks of this early beta release. Oh dear! The Microsoft software update facility sure doesn't sound like 'iPad killer' functionality to me. Does it to you?

The Surface is the same 'iPad killer' design that forgets most of us are right-handed not left-handed, has a power connection lead that is a nightmare to fit, and a 'home' button that can't be reached with your thumbs because the tablet's too long.

But it's 'amazing', 'awesome' and 'superbly designed' according to... Steve Ballmer and Steve Sinofsky. So that's alright then. My carping aside, it's sold out so I doubt they care. Is now a good time to point out that the phrase 'sold out' is completely meaningless without any figures indicating how many units were actually made (Heh! I want to know how many Stockholm Syndrome sufferers there are out there in the world ;-))

Windows 8

Ah. The biggie. The one that really needs to make up for all the disasters since Apple first introduced the iPhone and started on its path that has changed the entire industry. My views on Windows 8 are well known: I think it's a Frankenstein's monster of an operating system. Two competing, completely disparate, operating systems trying to pretend they're one and marry desktop and tablet worlds, continually throwing you from one world to the next, seemingly at random: a complete nightmare that I've advised any and all friends and family to studiously avoid. I'm not prepared to deal with all the 'Help' falllout phone calls!

Windows 8 has officially launched now as a product you can buy. The reviews have been mixed but not terrible. They are certainly no worse than the Vista reviews were at the time of its release (funny how history's rewritten that launch as a failure when in fact it was heralded as a good release at the time, before real users got hold of it and started to express their opinions).

Not that you'd notice it's been officially released. I went into my local Waterstones on the day of release. In previous Windows launches there's been big stands promoting the new books to cover the new operating system. On Friday: nothing. The titles are there (on Amazon) but the stores know nobody's rushing to buy them so aren't stocking them.

The harsh reality is that nobody cares! Nobody (if my friends and family are typical) even knows. Aside from a 'launch' on the BBC flaghship 6 o'clock news which essentially pointed out that Microsoft had screwed up for the last 5 years, there's been none of the usual brouha in the mainstream press. Oh dear! Just bear that in mind as you attend this year's Build conference and get the usual lies - sorry I mean marketing spin - about how there are hundreds of millions of PCs out there running this stuff waiting for you to pour hours, days, weeks into development to make a pile of cash (the same pile of cash you were promised for your Windows Phone 7 development?).

The truth is it's only Stockholm Syndrome sufferers who've rushed to buy and install Windows 8. It turns out that most of Joe Public aren't as stupid as the average Microsoft developer after all. Who knew?!

OK, the above is pretty harsh, but entirely born out by the facts, and if nothing else this post is an attempt to say to all my fellow Stockholm Syndrome sufferers "when Microsoft talk about 'haters' and negativity and cynicism at this year's Build Conference (as they undoubtedly will), just try looking at the facts and reality of the last few years" before swallowing total bullshit as fact! Remember what Microsoft have said at each previous conference or launch event of the last few years and then compare it to the reality of what actually happened!

OK. I'll Try and be more objective

I do have one nagging doubt about what I've written above about Windows 8

A couple of people that I really admire and respect (and really it is only a couple - how sad a statment is that on the current state of Microsoft 'community'?!) seem to like Windows 8.

They tell me that it's a good quality product, albeit a flawed one, and one that needs time invested in it to prove itself.

One of those people is journalist Tim Anderson. Tim is one of those few journalists who doesn't give in to PR and spin and 'tells it like it is'.

And he's a Windows 8 fan (also a Windows Phone fan too - yikes! Actually I would be too if it were out of beta and the hardware were a lot better)

Earlier this week on Twitter Tim challenged me to 'try Windows 8 exclusively for a week' before I rushed to dismiss it. There was a hidden implication that I would be convinced of the error of my ways if I spent a week using the O.S. all day every day instead of 'evaluating' it in isolation.

Needless to say, I'm sceptical, but the tagline on this blog is 'Brutal but honest' and whilst I doubt anybody reading this would question the veractiy of the first part of that tagline, many inside and outside Microsoft are publicly questioning the last part, like I have some weird sort of vested interest in Microsoft failing, when actually the opposite is true.

The Windows 8 development story alone has me shouting 'alpha product, missing APIs, a world of pain and 2 years of hell until Windows 9 fixes things when it will be too late because the competition will have moved the goalposts even further'. And that's before we even get into the Application Store story.

But in truth, the developer story is kind of irrelvant where Windows 8 and Microsoft survival is concerned.

It's the 'end user' story that will make or break Microsoft.

I respect Tim enough to question my early dismissal of Windows 8, based on a few days playing with the preview and looking at the Windows RT APIs, reading between the lines on endless blog posts and tweets from those dealing with the pain as part of their 'partnership' agreement with Microsoft on which they're totally reliant, and over a decade of specialising in Microsoft technologies.

I owe it to myself and others to take up Tim's challenge and see if I am being as objective as I think I am, instead of succumbing to rage about five years of what I see as deliberate lies, deciet and utter incompetence from Microsoft. It is possible that I'm dismissing it unfairly, based solely on my previous experience with Microsoft and limited Windows 8 exposure.

At the weekend (when the Build rah! rah! rah! conference nonsense is over) I will dedicate a week to using 'Windows 8 exclusively' to see if Tim's right and I'm wrong. I'm accepting his challenge!

I'll give Windows 8 a fighting chance by doing so on hardware that's preconfigured to show the best of Windows 8 (a Dell XPS One which, by common consent, is currently the best Windows 8 offering out there, with a big touch monitor, very high resolution, a beefy CPU and plenty of RAM). And I'll post here on my experience at the end of it, if not daily on how I'm getting on.

Dell XPS One - a Touch screen All-in-one PC that is supplied with Windows 8

Stay tuned!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Good Stuff #2: Pluralsight Training

Pluralsight screen offering screenshot

A Phone Call From A Friend

In September last year - around the time I launched this blog with a series of posts around the Windows 8 announcements at the Microsoft Build conference - a programming community friend who had worked with me on some presentations to the Silverlight UK User Group and who runs his own training business got in touch with me.

He'd been so impressed with the 'presentation' style and content of the Daily Report material I was producing around Windows 8 he contacted me with a suggestion that maybe we could work together to launch a new subscription-based online training venture oriented around Microsoft technologies.

His on-site business was struggling, and it was clear to him, as it had always been to me, that online training was the future. On the surface it seemed like a timely offer - I was looking for work after a disasterous experience in Switzerland, emigrating for a job that was supposed to last for 2 years but crashed and burned after just 3 months.

I think he was quite surprised when I laughed and said we didn't have a hope of succeeding, and I wasn't interested!

The bulk of my 'negative' arguments against doing something was that there was no way we could possibly hope to compete with a company already excelling in that area. A company that already had a huge back catalogue of excellent courses. A company that was already in partnership with Microsoft and heavily involved with the Microsoft community. A company that had access to people at the highest level to such an extent that excellent new online training courses were being added on an almost weekly basis.

That company was, of course Plurasight, and in the 9 months since we had that conversation they've just got better and better!

How could a couple of guys, already working full time as freelancers in order to pay the bills and put food on the table, possibly hope to compete?

Some Lessons Learnt From A Job as a Full Time Instructor

A few years ago I'd set up a new company, RIA View Mirror (I thought it was a clever name for a company focussed on online training of the 'I show you, now you do it' variety, but admittedly it works better when spoken!) specifically to do what the friend who called me last year was suggesting. It didn't take me long to realise what an impossible task I'd set myself.

I de-registered the company last year!

In a former life (as a mainframe systems programmer, specialising in the IBM CICS TP monitoring system), I'd spent two years working as a full-time instructor for Amdahl's Education Services, having transitioned within the company from a role as a Marketing Systems Engineer (MSE). What I'd liked about my job as an MSE was the technical work and presentation/mentoring work, often to new, extremely sceptical, potential customers. What I hadn't liked about the job, which was essentially to be a 'techie' who supported a mainframe salesman, was I had a couple of large customers where the job mostly seemed to involve schmoozing in the pub listening to managers who seemed oblivious (contemptuous even) of the strengths of the developers and engineers they had working for them. I've never suffered fools gladly, and there seemed to be quite a few fools who'd elevated to the position of 'key purchase decision maker'. Unfortunately I've never been very good at pretending to be best buddies with people I don't have much respect for.

Moving to Education for two years seemed like a good move - embracing the strengths of the MSE role I'd mostly enjoyed, whilst removing the parts of the job I hadn't enjoyed. Win-win!

In those two years as a full-time instructor I mainly taught courses written by other people. These courses were typically delivered just a few days before I had to deliver them because they were purchased from the American parent company, who in turn had commissioned an external third party to write them. We only got the material when we knew we had enough people booked to justify going ahead, and decisions on this always ran very close to the wire.

Delivery of these courses mostly relied on my ability to improvise and fill out what was often weak, dull 'read the slide out loud' material where the length of the course in days was based on the assumption that they were being delivered at an American location near Disney World that could get away with late starts and very early finishes and a lot more coffee breaks than we Brits are used to. When I questioned the amount of material vs the length of the course with an American colleague teaching the same material he explained that the material was thin because course attendees weren't the ones paying for the courses (their bosses were) and in the States the philosophy was much more one of 'give the employee a course as a reward for good work because we can't commit to a salary increase', rather than a requirement for new training per se. Most attendees, my American colleague assured me, just want a good time away from the office, which is easy when DisneyWorld and sunny weather is on your doorstep, but not so easy when you're stuck out at Heathrow with typical British rainy weather and the expectations are rather different!

I survived two years of delivering those courses, partly by telling lots of anecdotes based around more than 10 years of 'real world' experience in a system that hadn't changed much over the years, but mostly by smiling a lot and basically doing a theatrical 'smoke and mirrors' stand-up act that diverted attention from the poor course content and instead screamed 'Like me! Like me!' at the captive audience.
It was an approach that seemed to work. The ratings were invariably excellent, even when I myself knew that the course I'd delivered was sub-par, bordering on poor. In fact my biggest problem was persuading my boss to let me rewrite any of the courses since the student critique marks were skewing much higher than other curriculum delivered by my colleagues.

My worst week as an instructor came when I had to deliver a 'new' 5-day course to a group of people that had already had exactly the same course a few weeks earlier - the course writer had just seen fit to give the exact same material two different titles (one titled 'for programmers' the other titled 'design') and not seen fit to explain this until the material arrived a couple of days before I was due to deliver it! I guess it says something for my ability to 'rewrite on the fly' that the attendee critiques for the second 'repeat' version of the course actually came in slightly higher than the first time (and had already been excellent) but it was definitely the longest week of my life!

I did eventually get permission to write a new, rather basic, 2-day introduction course replacement from scratch. I had a week to do it, but in reality took 2 weeks of crazy long days and weekends to write it to the quality I thought was required. The course was different from others in our curriculum in that in the days of overhead projectors it used full-colour acetate 'foils' (Who remembers Corel Draw in the days when the software alone justified the purchase of a CD-ROM drive?!) that mainly consisted of diagrams and pictures, instead of never-ending streams of black and white words on an acetate, and it comprised an additional course manual: an instructor's manual that gave details of those 'ad hoc' white board anecdote 'real world' scenarios I would typically deliver to pad out the old course material. This way the students got some quality reference material in the form of a student manual, while we held back some good stuff and had enough added value to encourage their colleagues to actually pay out to attend the course rather than just photocopy the student manual previous attendees might have received.

The initial feedback on the course from other instructors around the world was phenomenal. They loved the new material and I received nothing but praise for the 'dramatic improvement in quality' over the previous version of the course that had been written by an outside party.

I couldn't wait to personally deliver the course and see the course ratings go through the roof!

When I did deliver the course, the student feedback was very good - but actually turned out to be slightly lower than the previous, poor version of the course had been!

It taught me a valuable lesson about training: quality of the actual material delivered and the course content is actually not what's important. What's more important is that people feel they had a good time and enjoyed themselves.

When delivering the first version of the course, I was on an adrenaline-fuelled mission to hide the 'smoke and mirrors' of the poor course material. When delivering the much improved version of the course I thought the material would carry itself and its brilliance would be automatically recognised. I was probably more relaxed and less frenetic as a result. The improvement in quality was recognised by my peers - but not by the students themselves.

These days I rarely pay for onsite training. Invariably when I do I find it extremely poor value for money, presumably because instructors face the same issues I did when I was an instructor: poor material delivered just days before it has to be delivered, insufficient time to prepare, with an audience who for the most part have no idea how much money this training is costing their employer and a 'rating' process that has to be completed long before they can possibly know if what they were taught was correct or not. And, to be quite frank, the vast majority of instructors I've seen don't have the experience to 'fill out' the material with real world experience and 'off the cuff' examples the way I was able to when teaching was my full-time job and I had 10 years of experience to back it up.

Why Online Training Is Even More Difficult

Online training is a very different proposition from onsite training. The material can be viewed and reviewed multiple times in great detail.

If I thought it was tough writing a two day course to be delivered in person to a room full of 20 people, it's a whole different ball game writing material that can be scrutinised multiple times by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people.

Writing good online material is a time-consuming, and prohibitively expensive proposition unless you can cash in on the whole 'Me! Me! Me!' 'rock star' culture where good people will produce good material for free (or as near to free as makes no difference) just for the recognition it gets them. I don't have the contacts, or willpower, to try that 'cash in' approach, even assuming it can be made to work.

Which is why I laughed at the idea my friend had that we could simply produce a mass of courses that people would pay good money for, when we had a competitor who already had many courses, that were, from what I'd seen, top notch. The only way I could see us being able to compete was perhaps on quality of the presentation collateral itself. I felt this could be improved in two areas: the slides themselves: where most Pluralsight training courses comprise slides of the tedious Powerpoint 'read the bullet-point out aloud' format that seem to dominate the whole of the Microsoft ecosphere; and by providing a transcript of the video material because nobody has time to go and revisit a 40 hour video course a few months later when they're trying to remember what they thought they'd learnt.

On balance, with such slim potential advantages, I told my friend that there was no way we could compete with Pluralsight.

Why We Couldn't Have Competed with Pluralsight

Collateral issues aside (which they've since improved - eg they now provide transcripts for many of their courses), there was no way a new startup without significant venture capital funding could possibly compete with a company that had such high quality offerings, and at such a ridiculously low price, and with such high visibility in the world of Microsoft community through their partnership deals and user group sponsorships. It would be like Microsoft and Windows 8 trying to play catch up with Apple and the iPad. Much too little, much too late.

When I first looked at Pluralsight training a few years ago, I recall that the premium membership that included downloadable exercise code cost between 2000 and 3000 UKP a year, and the company had a much smaller range of courses than they have today. We could maybe have competed with them back then.

Why Pluralsight is a bargain

But today, could we compete with them? No way! Here's why:

  • They have a plethora of 'rock star' instructors, seemingly recruited through their innate ability (unlike Microsoft with their MVP program) to weed out the poseurs from those who really know their stuff and how to teach it.
  • They produce new courses on a seemingly endless basis (weekly!)
  • Their customer support is superlative, and it's not the 'lip service' that you get from other organisations (After I tweeted about a bad experience with Microsoft online training for WPF a couple of years ago I was mobbed by Microsoft employees wanting to help. Impressive, you might think. So I spent a weekend putting together a detailed critique of why the material was so bad and not 'fit for purpose'. Six months later I still hadn't had any feedback, and when I pointed out that 'support' appeard to be just 'lip service' was told 'The course was done by an outside partner - they haven't responded' which says all you need to know about what Microsoft understand about customer service vs what Pluralsight understand by it. Needless to say when I had some problems with iPad offline downloading of some courses, the Pluralsight approach was VERY different from Microsoft's and they dealt with the problem quickly and efficiently. They made me feel that I wasn't 'whinging' but had genuinely helped them and were thankful for raising the issue).
  • They offer their entire online training catalogue at a price point that means it's a complete steal. About 300 UKP a year for far more training than you could possibly hope to consume. It's a bargain, trust me on this!
  • Their material is individually optimised for all the different bits of hardware that are out there. PC, you'd expect, but you want to run offline with an iPad or iPhone or an Android device? They can deal with that too.
The price vs value of what's offered is so ridiculous that if I were in the recruitment business I would seriously question hiring a freelance contractor who was too mean to pay for a year's subscription.
Yes, the company's offering is that good, and the only real problem with Pluralsight is that there just aren't enough hours in the day to consume everything they make available to their subscribers.

OK, so is there any alternative to Pluralsight?

If you're interested in Microsoft technlogy-focussed training, I'd say if there is I haven't found it. Pluralsight is a company that doesn't sit on its laurels and say 'We're the best'. Its seemingly one that continually asks itself 'How can we improve this?' and then actions the answers it receives. Whenever I've contacted support I've always had a timely response, usually followed by a fix that shows my issue has been taken seriously and dealt with as a matter of urgency. That's impressive!

In some areas, notably the more 'open source' areas around basic HTML, CSS and jQuery, there are some better online courses out there (I'll be covering a company specialising in the Adobe space in next blog post later this week). I recently took advantage of the Code School 'free weekend' where it was clear their material was far less dry and more involving, including interactive testing at the end of each course module to make sure you'd fully absorbed the material presented. But the number of courses offered is infinitely smaller for a fee that is essentially the same, and the focus is a LOT narrower than that of Pluralsight.

Some Specific Course Recommendations

I should probably wrap up this 'way too long' post with some specific courses that for me have been highlights of the whole Pluralsight curriculum.

When learning LINQ I must have purchased every available book on the subject. I found almost all of them dry and uninvolving, clearly written by people who weren't natural teachers. To be brutally honest I didn't really 'get' LINQ (I'm old with a failing memory, sue me!) Pluralsight's course on the same subject from Scott Allen was like a breath of fresh air compared to these books. So many light bulbs lit up I became a strong advocate overnight. I can't recommend his course highly enough. I was so impressed with it I wasted weekends transcribing it so I had a handy reference guide I could use - it was that good!

Pluralsight screen offering screenshot

More recently I've completed Billy Hollis' 'User Experience' course and Shawn Wildermuth's 'LESS and SASS for CSS' courses. Both are solid courses, aimed squarely at the Microsoft developer, which are fun, involving and for me also included several 'lightbulb' moments. They more than warrant the time spent on taking them and the cost of a Pluralsight subscription.
Yesterday I started on Scott Allen's 'Mobile jQuery' course, and the introduction alone did more to enthuse me than any number of books and long, dull blog posts on the same subject. It's another course written by someone with a deep undersanding of the technology, who knows how to condense and compress it into the essentials for developers who are time-pressed and struggling to stay up-to-date.

Bottom line: If you're a professional developer working in the Microsoft ecosystem, you really owe it to yourself to take out a Pluralsight subscription. There really is no excuse for not doing so!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Good Stuff #1: TemplateMonster

Template Monster blog screenshot

A few years ago when I was first starting out with Microsoft's Silverlight technology, good examples (other than tedious 'hello world' drag and drop demo-like nonsense which was at a very superficial level) was very hard to find.

Silverlight, to me, was about two things: "writing .NET code that could run in the browser" but, perhaps more importantly, about "adding 'the sexy' to user interfaces".

The problem was that it was very hard to find well documented 'sexy' examples where full source code was available.

In my search for good quality design-oriented examples I discovered the wonderful who, even as recently as last week, were continuing to produce interesting Silverlight designs for typical industry marketing web sites.

If you're a developer who doesn't 'get' design (but knows he needs it to 'sell' his product) is a GREAT resource. And no, I don't just mean for 'dead man walking' Silverlight.

It's also a brilliant resource for learning the latest HTML5, JavaScript and jQuery tips and tricks. It appears to offer a 'best practice' set of framework code that designers who've worked with this stuff day-in, day-out have put together - at least if the few samples I've purchased are typical.

In theory, the site is there to provide templates or starter packs for web sites for different industry market sectors: "templates" that for the most part are intended to be used 'as is' or can be customised for an additional fee. But for developers they're a great way of finding great animation effects and cool new user experience designs. Designs that are clearly documented and include all source code, even down to the original layered Photoshop files for all icons and photos used. For the asking price of around 60 USD they're a steal - as a starter for your own web sites, or as a training vehicle for the newer web technologies!

If Silverlight is a 'dead man walking' you may wonder why I'm enthusing about TemplateMonster templates now. The thing is don't just do Silverlight. They do HTML5 and what they call 'animated JavaScript' sites (as well as Facebook, Wordpress, Drupal, Flash and a whole host of templates for other stuff too).

They provide beautiful creations that are there for you to use as a starting point to learn the new technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 and responsive designs, for a very acceptable price.

The pricing model can appear a little strange for newcomers. You basically pay around USD60 for the source code for a given template that you purchase under a 'non exclusive' deal. This 'non exclusive' deal means others can purchase the same template at the same price. Or you can pay a lot more (typically around USD3000 - USD4000) to say 'I want this to be my new industry sector website. Don't sell it to anyone else.'

Just one warning if you decide to purchase. The company has recently taken to automatically adding the 'customise with my logo' option at around USD50 when you decide to purchase a template so don't get caught out like I did and end up paying double what you need to. Make sure you untick that option before purchase if you know how to edit HTML (and if you don't I'm not sure why you're reading this blog post!) otherwise you're going to end up paying double the price you thought you were going to pay.

As a learning resource for some of the coolest effects, animations and designs around I think the USD60 asking price for each template is a good deal, with most incorporating cool but subtle animation and sound effects for things like menu navigation, page transitions and other animated tricks.

If you sign up for the daily newsletter you get a daily email with the latest additions (typically there are 12 to 15 new templates a day!) and an extra 5% discount for that day's deals on top.

More importantly you get sent links to interesting blog post articles geared towards web designers that don't get posted elsewhere. For example this recent blog post on 'Painless techniques to implement CSS3 Latest Tricks' is a 'Must Read', comprising 30 of the best tutorials on sensational CSS3 effects that I've seen.

Customer support is excellent and if, like me, you're somewhat artistically challenged, a TemplateMonster template can make a great starting point for a sexy 'fast and fluid' new web site that makes it look like you have great design skills on top of your development skills too. Use new images and text in the existing source code and add new pages to the basic hierarchy you've given and people will never know your site was sourced from one of these templates. I strongly recommend checking the company out.

And yes, the new Fast and Fluid company web site which at the moment is an embarrassingly poor placeholder web site, is going to be replaced very soon - based on a sexy 'fast and fluid' design from the folks at I'll post the details here when it's launched after I've integrated it into ASP.NET MVC 4.

Template Monster blog screenshot

Apology: I've only just discovered there were a bunch of replies (five) to my 'Reboot!' blog post from last week. Replies here are moderated to avoid spam (NOT to censure!) so apologies to those who took the time and trouble to make a comment that it's taken me so long to publish your comment. I'm trying to sort out why the auto-comment emails are not getting through. Thanks for your patience.

Microsoft Windows 8 TechDay

Walking home from Microsoft's Windows 8 TechDays event, held in London last Friday, in the glorious sunshine (I left an hour before the end) I was thinking about how I could best blog about it without going into my 'default position' of posting yet another rant which attempted to explain the importance of learning the very basics around good presentation.

You'd think by now that Microsoft staff would not need a grandmother to tell them how to suck eggs. After all, it's not like Microsoft's own Scott Hanselman hasn't tweeted several times over the weekend about the availability of his own excellent The Art of Speaking video course that is available, and was made availble free over the weekend through a 'free pass' offer from training company TekPub.

A developer launch event like this ('the biggest changes since we introduced Windows') is about the importance of invigorating your audience. It's about doing the basic prep work and understanding and knowing the slide deck you're about to present. It's about enthusing your audience to do the work needed to get ready for launch. It's about NOT boring everyone to death by just reading each slide or web site SDK sample out aloud.

Sadly, this event was not about any of these things, and was, as a result, a big fail on Microsoft's part.

I wish I could say I was surprised. But I've been to enough of these things now to know better. I really shouldn't have wasted the day in attending.

On the walk home I had decided it was probably best to just ignore the event and do my 'Sunday morning blog post' as the first in a kickoff to a quick series of short, sharp blog posts about stuff that I really CAN get excited about (that will appear later today :-)). The usual post-Microsoft event 'Brutal but honest' moans get rather monotonous for readers (especially Microsoft employees) and this writer after a while. And, after all, if Microsoft were going to change they'd have done so long before now. It's not like I haven't been carping on about the same basic 'easy to fix' things for months, years, even decades now!

But then I saw Microsoft re-tweet a tweet from one attendee (one out of over a hundred) saying this was the 'best Microsoft event' he'd been to.

To say I was staggered is an understatement. It was, of course, like red rag to a bull. So please accept my apologies if you're one of those readers waiting for a world of 'non-Microsoft' positivity blog posts from me: You'll have to wait just a few more hours yet.

Presumably the attendee who thought this was the 'best' presentation event had only been to one other Microsoft event (one that was even worse than this)? Either that or he is in a job he hates so much that any day out of the office that he still gets paid for is a good thing and he wanted his bosses to see his tweet so he could get another day out the next time another similar event rolls along? But to see Microsoft staff re-tweeting it as if it were fact and this had been a great event... I thought 'How can people delude themselves so much? Or is it perhaps that I am the one deluding myself at thinking how boring, dull, completely ineffectual and extremely amateur this event was?' A quick conversation with the Development Director at my current main client and a couple of other developers indicated, (phew!) that it was not me who was the one being self-delusional.

Yes, I know it really is time for me to move on and blog about stuff that fills me with enthusiasm rather than the endless 'Meh!' that is Microsoft Mediocrity in all its many shapes and forms. Mediocrity that these days it seems to me is there in every nook, cranny and fibre of the company's being. But, sorry folks, I'm afraid that 'best Microsoft presentation' tweet presented as if it were fact to the outside world means I couldn't resist one last quick post to 'correct' false impressions being given to those that weren't actually at the event.

You can blame this entire blog post on that one ridiculous re-tweet!

By the way, as an aside on the subject of Microsoft = Mediocrity, they say a picture speaks a thousand words so here's a picture of an otherwise impressive big video display promoting Windows Phone that was in the foyer area where all the event attendees congregated for coffee.

Microsoft counterfeit software problem on their big exhibition stand
(What the picture doesn't show is the 'Windows has not been activated' warning also appearing at the bottom of the massive display)

OK. So your job is to launch Windows 8 to the developer community and get them excited. I've worked in marketing for a computer company before. Windows 8 is not a hard sell if you concentrate on the positive, and ignore all the negative (mainly Metro vs Desktop schizophrenia and lack of quality control) We all know presenting to developers as an audience can be tough, but for the love of God at least make SOME effort when you've asked over a hundred people to take a day off work to learn about the 'biggest changes since we launched Windows'.

Putting your best, most respected, 'rock star' speaker on at the beginning (instead of the end so people can leave on a high note) and then just giving him the very basic overview stuff to cover is a nonsense. Use him for what he's best at - the detailed stuff that developers are interested in and need to be told about. Get him to cover the difficult stuff in the way audiences are used to, with clarity, comprehension and understanding. Don't waste him on the stuff an intern with a day's experience could do.

To follow that with a developer who has been given a set of designer-oriented slides intended for a different audience and which he seemingly hasn't had time to look at beforehand, and have him simply try and read the very few words on them out aloud as he progresses, because he doesn't really 'get' this funny UX stuff so can't speak passionately about it is just insulting your audience and wasting their time.

To follow that with a 'proper' developer presentation that started off so well but clearly had to be delivered when only the first third had been written added insult to injury, especially when the speaker suddenly realised he didn't have a clue what slides were coming next and had to start complaining he'd missed lunch as if that somehow explained the total confusion and endless audience yawns that inevitably resulted after what had been a good start. If I give a presentation to six people I make sure I know my slide deck and I rehearse. To not do so with an audience of over a hundred at what should be a major launch event is beyond being amateur - it's insulting!

But next up was the real clincher - the one that made me so angry (actually I'm at a point now where I just laughed, this sort of thing is so commonplace with Microsoft stuff) I left at the next break, an hour before the end of the event. The audience got an example that actually made me silently go "Yes! I was SO right to get out of this client-side crap from Microsoft and look elsewhere to a world of far less pain. A world where I can take some pride in what I do and not have to continually face end-client incredulity'....

The presenter complained that a new Windows 8 input textbox control (used on the Windows 8 SDK demo site, which was being used for demonstration purposes) kept moving the cursor away from where he was actually typing. There was no visual indication of where the text he was trying to input would appear. The mouse was consistently several characters away from where he was typing. He was trying to correct a typo and it was like trying to play a complicated maze game whilst drunk.

The presenter explained that he found this 'mouse isn't where I'm typing' behaviour 'annoying'! To which the ONLY intelligent response can be 'YOU find it annoying, and yet you expect your developer audience of millions to take this s***, use it in real world apps and have happy customers at the end?!?! WTF is in that Kool-Aid you're drinking?'. FFS. This is TOTALLY unacceptable. Just fix the f***ing thing already! How hard can it be? IT'S A SIMPLE TEXTBOX CONTROL!'.

I swear to God you couldn't make this stuff up! I kept pinching myself, expecting to wake up and find it all a bizarre, horrible dream. But no. No tweets about how nasty the control is and it MUST be fixed before release. No comment at all on how broken it is. Instead I see Microsoft re-tweeting a message from one attendee saying it was the best Microsoft event he'd attended.

Forgive my language - but this is un-f***ing-believable.

Look, I know it's nice to get a cool t-shirt for free. And the 'brown bag' lunch provided (also free) was nice too. And there were some nice attendee raffle prizes. But you (or, more likely, your boss) just lost a day's pay on this lazy, medicocre nonsense. What value did you really get out of it? Events like this should not be about the 'free stuff' - that's just the trimmings. From Microsoft's point of view the event should have been about invigorating their existing and potential new customers. It should certainly not have been about having so many of them complaining about how 'boring' the event was or leaving early, as so many seemed to be doing at the time when I left (early).

In fairness, I'm not sure what the Microsoft UK problem is - whether it's people who've been too long in the same job getting lazy, or just people stretched too thin because they're having too much to do without proper support or resources. It may be a problem where their feedback about quality (that shockingly bad textbox example) is ignored because of the American 'not invented here' syndrome. But I am pretty sure it will be the last Microsoft event I attend. Life's too short to put up with such mediocre s*** that would be so easy to fix, but which Microsoft over and over and over again have so frequently proved they're incapable of fixing. That 'best Microsoft presentation' tweet nonsense suggests that not only are the UK arm of the company incapable of fixing the problem, their way of dealing with it is just to deny it exists. Which is really, really sad and depressing.

(Good Stuff #1 will be posted later today to counteract all the negativity that Microsoft just seem to generate these days).