Category Archives: Windows

I’m back on ZDNet

I find myself pretty busy now with writing, both for private clients and for publications. I’m back on ZDNet and trying to write as much as I can there. I believe this is actually my 4th time writing for them, going back to when they were started and I was a Ziff-Davis employee.

Here are my first few columns:

At the enterprise level IAM and SAML mitigate the password problem. Out on the civilian Internet our best attempts, mainly OAuth and OpenID, have fallen short. Passwords are a problem that will be with us for a long time.

Why Windows Phone isn’t dead to me

Finally Microsoft has provided a way to unify endpoint management of mobile devices and Windows desktops, but it’s doomed to many years of impracticality.


Windows Phone or BlackBerry?

WP-BBI am such a rebel! No iPhone or Android for me. My next phone will be either Windows Phone or – yes, really – BlackBerry. Help me decide.

For about two years I’ve been running a Samsung Galaxy S4, a real top of the line phone when I got it. Before that for a couple years I had an iPhone 4S.

There has to be something better than this. And there is, although it comes with many of the inconveniences of the road less traveled.

I have had a BlackBerry as my main phone, probably 6 or 7 years ago. It had a lot going for it, but access to the Internet was not one of them. My next phone was a 1st generation Motorola Droid, partly because it had a physical keyboard. They keyboard was trash and I ended up not using it.

I’ve played with Windows Phones many times and the other day I bought a $50 Nokia 635 on Amazon and put my SIM in it. This is an excellent phone for an el-cheapo. Its only significant weakness is that there is no front-facing camera and the rear-facing one is very weak. Overall, I’m liking the experience.

But I’ve been following what BlackBerry has been doing for the last few years and they’ve done a lot of great stuff. I’ve used their BB10-generation phones and they’re truly innovative, particularly in an enterprise environment.

To help myself decide, I am putting together lists of advantages and disadvantages of each platform. Since I’ve taken it as axiomatic that I won’t be getting an Android or iOS phone, these are mostly advantages and disadvantages of Windows Phone and BlackBerry relative to each other.

Both BlackBerry and Windows Phones (at least the Nokias) have built-in FM radios, with the earbud cord acting as the antenna. This is such a simple and useful benefit, but Apple and (I believe) most of the Android handset companies leave it out, perhaps to drive users to online music and radio services.

Windows Phone



  • A statement
  • Really nice UI
  • A lot of apps I need – Outlook, OneNote
  • Swype-like
  • More hardware options
  • Shared profile with Win desktop
  • Nokia phones have great cameras


  • An even bigger statement
  • Phone button- easiest to just take out of your pocket and make a call
  • The keyboard
  • Excellent predictive type-ahead
  • Many Android apps

Yes, pulling out a Windows Phone inspires some quizzical looks mixed with some snickers, but I’m not just another iSheep. The BlackBerry in particular would look crazy, especially once people heard that it wasn’t forced on me by my employer.

There is one extremely valuable feature of BlackBerrys that no other phone has: the phone button. If you want to pull the phone out of your pocket/purse/whatever and make a phone call, with a BlackBerry it’s a quick and simple process. With any other phone you’ve got a few taps ahead of you. This is probably the feature which most beckons me to the BlackBerry, more even than the keyboard.

The user interface for the BlackBerry is pretty much the same icon grid that Android ripped off from the iPhone. Windows Phone is different and, I think it’s much easier to find what you want than on the others. The Live Tiles are sometimes useful, but I don’t want to make too much of them.

Windows Phone



  • Lots of important apps not supported
  • Limited hardware options
  • Universal apps might lead to greater section in the future
  • Lots of important apps not supported
    • Amazon Android apps mitigates this some, but not entirely
  • Extremely limited hardware options

The App Gap: This is the famous problem from which both platforms suffer. BlackBerry probably has fewer native apps and less momentum for them, but it also supports Android apps from the Amazon app store. (The fact that it supports these apps is yet another reason for nobody to write native BB apps, but overall it was a good move for BB to do this.)

In my research, the biggest personal app gap is in banking. I’m a Bank of America customer and use their app for check deposits. BofA used to have a Windows Phone app, but recently dropped support for it. This has me thinking about moving the one major bank that still supports Windows Phone, Wells Fargo. Technically, on BlackBerry I should be able to use the Android Bank of America app from the Amazon store, but the reviews make it clear that the check deposit feature doesn’t work on BlackBerry.

My main email is on Office 365. BlackBerry has excellent PIM features: email, calendar, contacts, etc., and I don’t expect any other platform to do better. In fact, Windows Phone is good at this, but a bit confusing, and it has seemed over the last couple years that Microsoft is more concerned with the user experience of their apps on iOS and Android than on Windows Phone.

But I do use Microsoft OneNote a lot. Obviously it’s available on Windows Phone and works well, but not on BlackBerry, not even through the Amazon store. There are a few 3rd party OneNote hacks, but I won’t be bothering with them.

Looking at the future it’s a reasonable possibility, although by no means a sure thing, that universal Windows application architecture will lead to more choice in the Windows app space. Probably not for a while though, and probably Microsoft is mostly thinking of enterprises.

When they think of the BlackBerry, most people think of the keyboard, and I do miss the physical keyboard. With BB10 they also added excellent predictive type-ahead software (you “flick” the right word up to the screen). The more I think of it, I have to say that the advantage has diminished because of Swype and the Swype-like keyboard on Windows Phone. I’m probably at least as fast on it as I am on a physical BB keyboard.

So this all seems to add up to Windows Phone getting the decision. Please tell me if I’m making a mistake!

Time to Drop Dropbox?

Nothing has changed the way I use computers in the last few years more than Dropbox. The ability to get at my files from anywhere has made a huge difference. But it’s the cloud – not Dropbox specifically – that has made the difference. Any cloud storage service that also supported all the platforms I need would do as well… wouldn’t it?

There are a few biggies in the market, but Dropbox is the biggest, best-known name. My opinion is that they got this good reputation for a simple reason: They have the best software. I’ve tried a bunch of these services in the past: Box, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive. There are others, like SugarSync, but I’ve never paid much attention to them.

About a year ago I gave Box and Google Drive serious attempts. I thought Box’s software was awful. Google Drive was OK as was SkyDrive, but at the time Dropbox seemed the best deal because the software was drop-dead simple and many of the people I was working with already used it. I have a 200GB Dropbox account, the subscription for which expires in October, so I thought I would re-evaluate things.

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The Curator: Why Microsoft is forcing us on to modern apps

I’ve been struggling for a good year now with Microsoft’s decision to push users as hard as they are pushing them to use the new, modern user interface, what was once code-named Metro. Even in Windows 8.1, a.k.a. Windows Blue, it is the primary user interface. Why is Microsoft forcing us to use the new modern UI?

“Forcing” is perhaps too strong a word I suppose (although it’s a good one for a headline). You can continue to use conventional Windows programs – hell, even text-mode console programs – and keep using a conventional keyboard/mouse computer, but they’re all legacy now, at least for programs with significant user interface.

Moreover, and Microsoft’s protestations notwithstanding, Windows 8 is far less usable on a conventional computer without a touch display. You need to get used to a few gestures and then things are not as bad, but they are still markedly inferior to Windows 7, particularly in desktop mode.

Why would Microsoft make the old interface so undesirable? In order to make the new one desirable. Why? There are a lot of reasons for that, but one very big one is security.

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Security and the “If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it” Mentality

(Originally posted Thursday, June 27, 2013)
“Why should have to replace a computer that’s working even if it’s 10 years old?” 
That’s not me speaking, it’s a relative whose identity I’ll protect (not that he would really care). There’s a foundation of solid logic behind this argument, at least at first glance. The things I bought this computer for 10 years ago are things I do with it still, and it works. So why should I change it? It’s possible – not likely, but possible – that this argument makes sense. But only if you’re cut off from the world.

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Microsoft Finally Listened To Me (Ha Ha)

(Originally posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013)

Today it occurred to me that an idea I had long ago, that I wrote about many times and nagged Microsoft to implement, that they refused to do for reasons which I understood but did not sympathize with, well they have done it in Windows 8. But not because of anything I said.

My idea, the first incarnation of which I first wrote about for eWEEK in 2007, was that Microsoft should open up Windows Update to 3rd parties to offer updates. The obvious candidates were programs like Adobe Acrobat and Flash which were emerging at the time as major malware platforms. (I’m pretty sure I had this idea much earlier, maybe 2005, but didn’t write about it till this column.)

Microsoft politely declined to respond to my suggestions. Off the record people told me that they couldn’t accept the liability of distributing other people’s updates. There’s something to this, and so I modified it in a later column (which I can’t find at the moment), that what Microsoft should open up is just interfaces to Windows Update: They don’t need to host anyone else’s updates, they just need to allow programs to register at install time with the system to pull updates from a location at the ISV using Windows Installer protocols. In this way, if users are set up to use Windows Update, they will at the same time update, through the ISV, all applications registered with it.

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Desktop Users – You’re On Your Own

(Originally posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013)

Ed Bott’s column this morning does a good job of explaining how, with Windows 8.1 (Blue), Microsoft is going hard-core for the tablet market. What he doesn’t go on to say, and what is the unfortunate corollary, is that they are actively using Windows 8/8.1 to drive users off of non-touch systems on to touch-enabled systems.

With Windows 8, Microsoft redefines tablets as PCs, with their tablets having the benefits of PCs (keyboard, mouse, printing, corporate network access, etc.). Keyboard and mouse maybe there on your tablet/PC, but they aren’t your main interface to the OS – touch is.

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Did Microsoft Make WebGL Secure? How?

(Originally posted Friday, June 07, 2013)

​Microsoft has dropped strong clues, without saying it explicitly, that, Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 8.1 (Blue) will support WebGL, a DirectX-like standard for fast gaming on the web. The biggest clue was this video they posted on Vine.

Others have found direct evidence in leaked builds.

It’s not hard to see why they would want to support WebGL. Everyone else does. They spelled out the reasons they haven’t so far in a Security, Research and Defense blog post 2 years ago.

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