WORCESTER WINDOWS

An old building is defined by its windows, their shape, condition and placement. This tenement in Worcester was probably a classic in its day. Now, it’s tired and needs a major facelift, yet the windows with their copper flashing intrigued me.

Windows-06

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Daily Prompt: Luxurious – Sunny, bright, warm

96-Luxurious-NK--036To me, this bright room, full of sunshine and warm colors with windows everywhere is the ultimate luxury … especially in the winter when the world tends to be cold and grey.

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages – COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.

Try Windows 8.1? I think not.

I’ve given this thought. I reviewed the video from Microsoft. I read the FAQ. I’ve read the articles in ZDNet and anything else that seems to have detailed information. I watched the video a second time. I read the email you sent me and looked at the poll results. I still can’t find any advantage for me in using — or even testing – Windows 8.1.

I  don’t have a machine appropriate for testing anyhow. If I install it on a little notebook, the inadequacy of the machine would so limit what I could test I’m not sure I would learn anything meaningful. I couldn’t use such a little machine to run any important applications. I don’t even know if Chrome will run on 8.1. The information in the FAQ was vague.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2

Installing and testing would steal time from other projects to which I’m already committed. Others things take priority. If I could install it on one of my real working computers and use it for regular stuff I do … no, I don’t think so. I’ve heard rumors. Ugly rumors. I’m not willing to risk my computers … or waste my time. In the end, I’m merely curious about the system. And that isn’t enough motivation.

Windows 8 does not appear to be a work-oriented operating system. I’m a work-oriented user. The Dell XPS tablet I gave my son runs RT and that’s fine. RT was designed for a tablet and it does well in that environment.

But what’s in it for me? A bunch of apps I don’t need and won’t use? I have no interest in or need for basic photo editing apps. I don’t need simplified anything. I’m way past grade school versions of real tools I’ve been using for years.

Who does Windows 8.1 target? Not me. You? Anyone out there?

I understand what Microsoft is selling. The problem? I don’t want or need it. It’s not a business environment. My wish list for a new operating system is for more and better business tools. Easily organized, searchable databases for graphics, photos, and documents. Tools to help me quickly locate files on huge hard drives. A better media player for audio.

I want an improved email client and a versatile calendar application I can share on a network. And I don’t want to lease or even buy it. I want it to be part of the operating system. I want dependable, easy access to the Internet and in particular, this website. I don’t like Internet Explorer. I hate being prevented from going where I want because my browser is a wimp. I’m not 12 and I don’t need to be protected from myself.

Microsoft urgently needs folks like me to test drive this operating system. They need core users — like me — to work with it, accept it, and enthusiastically endorse it. To talk it up on the Internet. To vouch for it to friends and co-workers.

Instead, we are the people most reluctant to try it and unless something dramatically changes are least likely to adopt it in the forseeable future.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

Does Windows 8.1 work? Probably with a lot of bugs. Eventually Microsoft will fix it. They usually do, though not nearly fast enough. Two very basic questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why should I switch to a new operating system that’s anti-intuitive, ill-suited to my needs, and requires I relearn basic computer tasks?
  2. What advantages does Windows 8.1 offer that might motivate me to use it?

The answers are “no reason” and “none.”

Two words: Why bother?

I have read every article, watched all the videos, played with my son’s RT tablet and I cannot see anything tempting — for my purposes.

Maybe in the future Microsoft will do something to change my mind. But far as I can tell, they don’t know I exist. Or don’t care. One way or the other, they’ve chosen to ignore me and everyone like me, effectively disenfranchising the whole class of business users. That’s a crazy choice for a corporation which depends on business clients. Mind blowing and well … dumb.

Does this mean that there’s no merit in this operating system? I’m sure it has value to someone, but it doesn’t have any to me, at least none I can find. And I’ve really looked. I want to want it. I want to like it.

Sorry, Microsoft. Not happening for me.

 

To try Windows 8.1 or not … THAT is the question!

I got an email from Microsoft asking me if I would like to try the new Windows 8.1. It came out in Beta today. I am not, as you probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, thrilled about Windows 8. I like Windows 7 and can’t see a single reason why Microsoft can’t support both a standard interface operating system — Windows 7 — plus their new tablet operating system, Windows 8. They have supported more than one operating system before and are doing it now. Why not let us — their customers — have an operating system with which we are comfortable and familiar? Why force us to relearn everything when we don’t (a) want to, and/or (b) don’t need to.

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I work on my computer. I process photographs. I blog. I edit. I write. I design. I don’t see what I have to gain from Windows 8. It seems to be aimed at stuff in which I have no interest.

But here’s the dilemma. I’m not the kind of reviewer who writes about products she hasn’t used. I wouldn’t put Windows 8.1 on any of the three computers on which I depend, but I have an entirely functional, if emaciated 10-inch Dell notebook. It doesn’t have much horsepower. But, it has a full Windows 7 operating system and it works. There’s nothing wrong with it except it was never powerful enough to do anything except light surfing and email.

Maybe I could install Windows 8.1 and use it for testing? It has a 1.7 GH board, just 1 GB of RAM, but a 320 GB hard drive, so it is a real, if slow, computer. I don’t use it any more so it’s just sitting in a bag getting old. What do you think? Should I give it a trial and see if there’s anything in Windows 8.1 I might like?

A Nifty 10″ Tablet: The XPS 10 is a sweet machine

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning … the darkest hours before the dawn … I ordered a Dell XPS 10 tablet that runs on Windows RT. Windows RT is not Windows 8, though they certainly belong to the same family. Kissing cousins. RT was designed as an operating system for a tablet. It does not let you install any standard PC software anymore than an iPad lets you install standard Mac software. It is a nifty tablet.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

Immediately after I bought it, I went to the Dell website and read some dreadful reviews. Mostly I discovered people bought it expecting it to replace their laptop. They were disappointed. It is not a replacement for your laptop. When all was said and done, I knew it wouldn’t satisfy my mobile computing requirements, not because it is a bad piece of hardware or a bad operating system. It’s simply not what I need.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

So, I bought the Inspiron 14Z which only cost a little bit more and arranged to return the XPS 10 when it arrived. As it turned out, the day it arrived — the day before yesterday — Dell was upgrading their systems, so I had to wait.

Today, I called Dell, explained I wanted to return the XPS 10 because I didn’t believe it was right for me. He offered  me a $50 discount. I hesitated, then said, “No,” because I have already ordered another computer. I mean, how many computers do I need, really?

He offered me $100 discount, which also meant a refund of some of the sales tax … bringing the whole thing in for under $400. I had ordered a pretty high-end configuration, including the keyboard which doubles the battery life to 18 hours, and the 64 GB flash memory. And it came with Office RT installed … everything except Outlook.

“Maybe,” he said, “Your husband would enjoy it?”

I gave that some thought, but he really doesn’t need it. On the other hand, I have a son. I told Owen about the tablet. He could try it. If he didn’t like it, there would be no problem returning it.

The Configuration

  • XPS 10 Tablet - Windows RT
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz DC processor with 64GB Flash Storage, WiFi Only
  • XPS 10 Mobile Keyboard Dock – US English
  • 10.1″ HD Display (1366×768) with capacitive multi-touch
  • Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT

I handed him the box, he opened it and set it up. It asked questions, Owen answered them. The email started working immediately. It took 5 minutes to figure out how to use the home screen, get into desktop mode, set up the weather and the maps (it has a fast GPS).

The keyboard has a great feel. It locks securely in place with a satisfying click. With keyboard attached, it becomes a small, well-built laptop. The keyboard is heavy enough to hold the XPS 10 upright so you can watch movies or videos hands free. The keyboard is 92% of full size, large enough for email and whatever documents you may want to create on it. If you have huge hands, well … you know who you are. For most of us, the keyboard is fine. The screen is bright and responsive, the speakers work.

And off he went to work, taking the XPS 10 with him.

By the time he got home, it was obvious that the only way that tablet was going back to Dell was if I pried it from his cold dead hands. He was in love.

What’s are the problems?

The cyber world has not embraced this tablet even though the XPS 10 is a great little machine. After using it, I think I understand the issues, the reasons people are not flocking to it, nor “taking” to any of the new Windows operating systems.

(1) Most people have no idea how to use them.

(2) Microsoft has failed to explain the capabilities and limitations of the operating systems. There’s a black hole of ignorance being filled with rumor, innuendo, and lies.

(3) Microsoft has done a terrible marketing job. Instead of reassuring customers, they adopted an antagonistic big brother attitude.

If you’ve heard this song before, feel free to join in the chorus. Touchscreen technology is not new. It has its place, but under the best circumstances, touchscreens become insensitive through use. Big, little, no matter how it’s made, touchscreens have a lifespan much shorter than non-touchscreens. If you get a few good years out of a touchscreen, you’re doing well. Not everyone wants to replace their equipment every two or three years. It’s not merely inconvenient. It’s costly.

Touchscreens are inappropriate and hard to use in a vertical position. Terribly hard on wrists and shoulders.

Fingers are not precision devices. The cheapest mouse, trackball, or stylus is more accurate and versatile. Not to mention easier to use.  Touchscreens in an office environment? Why? What advantage does it offer? Telephones? Okay, but I preferred the keyboard on the Blackberry. I hate my iPhone.

Cameras? I would prefer buttons and dials. When I’m shooting in cold weather I can barely feel my fingers much less hit tiny little points on a 3 inch LCD.

Tablets? Ah. The sweet spot. And the Dell XPS 10 is a fine example of how good it is when you marry two well matched technologies.

Customers have unrealistic expectations and are doomed to disappointment

After spending years trying to convince us — unsuccessfully — to believe that tablets (any tablet, take your pick, it doesn’t matter) will replace other computers, it isn’t true. Tablets are great for some things, useless for others. They are — not to put too fine a point on it — good for what they are good for, but that’s far from everything.

The propaganda that we don’t need our “big” computers and can do it all using a tablet  convinced many (most?) people to buy tablets expecting they would be using  it to do everything they used to do on bigger more powerful machines. If their primary computer activities are internet surfing, emailing, taking snap shots, Skype, playing music, listening to audiobooks or reading ebooks, it could be true. For the rest of us? Not really. It is a nice complement to bigger equipment, but not a replacement.

Last — far away from least 

Hire some technical writers to produce documentation so everyone can look stuff up.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, we don’t want to call customer service to find out how to change the background on the screen. Make manuals as friendly as an average “Dummies” book and folks will use them. No manual for either new Windows OS is (thank you Benjamin Franklin, wherever you are) penny wise and pound foolish. There are professionals who know how to write this kind of stuff. I’m one of them. We work cheap. Hire us.

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Would it have killed Microsoft to include a manual for the operating system? Acquainting people with how (and why!) it works before they bought it would have saved a lot of negative feedback because RT works beautifully on a tablet. I wouldn’t want it on my desktop or laptop, but on the XPS 10? It’s great.

So, what can (and can’t) you do with this tablet?

You cannot install standard PC software on Windows RT. You can’t use a wired router. It only works on WiFi or 3G if you ordered it.

You can’t store all your files, but there’s cloud storage available. It has two USB 2.0 ports and a slot to install a mini SD card. You can access other computers and download music and other stuff. There’s a Kindle reader application. Netflix runs on it. Music sounds pretty good, as do voices.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

My son could not figure out how to change the background and asked why they don’t include documentation? The Billion Dollar Question. They have a couple of booklets and probably somewhere on the system, a manual. I wouldn’t be optimistic about how useful the manual is. Most of them are generated by software, not written by the likes of me.

I bet most problems people have with the operating system(s) and tablet is not having instructions on how to use it and not understanding what they bought. I found it easy to figure out, but I have a tablet and I’m computer savvy.

What you can do on the Dell XPS 10

  • Email
  • Surfing the net
  • Playing music
  • Skype
  • Netflix and other movies
  • Take pictures
  • Play games (lightweight)
  • Light photo editing
  • Listen to audiobooks.

If you are a photographer, don’t expect to do serious editing. You can view your pictures, crop them, fix them up a little. You’ll have to save the heavy processing until you get to your other computer.

Dell’s XPS 10 comes with MS Office RT installed. You can do most office tasks, smooth as silk. I wish I had a legitimate excuse to get one for me, now that I’ve given it to Owen, but I don’t need it. For me it would be a toy. For Owen, it will take care of most of his computing needs. We occupy different places in the cyber world.

I am an old dog, but I can still learn a few new tricks. I apologize, Microsoft. It’s a sweet operating system and Dell has made a smooth, functional tablet with superb battery life and a fine keyboard. You can even attach a mouse if you want.

I like it. The XPS 10 is a sweet little machine. I can tell from the gleam in my son’s eyes and the way he keep saying “Cool!!”

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