Microsoft should split Windows into two separate OSes

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This is Windows 8′s Metro mode. It literally doesn’t have windows anymore.

Microsoft is trying to walk back some of the polarizing aspects of Windows 8 with updates to the OS, but the real issue is the fundamental mistake of trying to make one OS that can run on traditional desktops and laptops, while also running on tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft needs to split Windows into two separate OSes. Windows 9 should look and feel like Windows 7 with new features and refinements. Forget Windows 8 and 8.1 entirely.

The Metro mode (the entire look on Windows smartphones) should be spun off into its own OS without the Windows name. It doesn’t have to be called Metro, but Microsoft needs to come up with a fresh name for its mobile OS.

I use Windows 8 every day at work. It’s not that bad as some would have you believe, but I like it less than Windows 7. Shouldn’t every release be more enjoyable and better? I consider Windows 7 to be the best version of Windows ever. It has a pretty clean windowing UI, it’s stable and secure and generally just works.

Windows 7 is an OS that really appeals to Microsoft’s core audience. Why mess with it?

I have my Windows 8 machine set to boot straight to desktop mode, and I have the start menu back; so it’s pretty similar to using Windows 7. But every now and then you accidentally open up an app or file in Metro mode, and it’s a really disorienting experience when one of my monitors is in metro mode and the other is in desktop mode. It really is one of the worst and most inexcusable computing experiences you can have today.

The core issue of Windows 8 is that it tries to merge two pretty good UI concepts together, and in the process makes both worse. I like Metro as a tablet and phone UI. I like the Windows 7 UI for desktop computing. It’s when you have to use Metro on a desktop or Windows 7 windowing on a tablet that it all goes to hell.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

Microsoft has a new CEO. He doesn’t have to save face like Steve Ballmer might have tried to. He can simply say that Windows 8 was a mistake , and we’re going in a different direction.

The time is now to end this failed experiment to create one OS to rule them all.  Make Windows 9 the best traditional Windows it can be. Aim it at businesses and people who want to use the same OS they use at work at home. Focus on networking and cloud support (integrate OneDrive even further into the OS as a major selling point), improving multithreaded support (make it easier for developers to harness 4-12 and more core computers) and improving the file system.

The UI concepts of Windows 7 are pretty good. You can iterate on the UI and add new features like Apple does with OS X, but there is no reason to get away from windowing for desktop computing. It’s a conceptual model that works well, particularly for power users and work that benefits from multiple-monitors and multitasking.

Microsoft should then spin off Metro into its own OS without the Windows name, while still using the Windows kernel. This is what Apple does with iOS, and it works very well. Apple executives have recently come out and said that merging iOS and OS X into one OS would be a waste of time.

The needs of a user vary drastically by context. When someone is trying to edit two spreadsheets side by side his needs are very different then when they are trying to get directions while walking around a city. There is no reason to believe that tablets will replace laptops, so why not an OS that assumes that?

I use OS X at home, and think Mavericks is what Microsoft should be aiming for, not Windows 8. Mavericks is the best desktop OS I’ve ever used, and, while I really like iOS, I wouldn’t want to use iOS on my desktop computer.

Apple has shown Microsoft the path forward. Make the best desktop OS with windows you can. Make the best mobile OS without windows you can.

It’s that simple.

Get The Incredibles in HD for free

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We’re big fans of streaming video and getting away from physical media, so we couldn’t let you pass this up.

If you connect a Disney Movies Anywhere account to an iTunes account, Disney will give you The Incredibles for free. Download the app on your iPhone or iPad, sign up for an account and then hit the connect to iTunes button. That’s it.

You’ll have access to The Incredibles forever to stream or download onto a variety of devices. Speaking of which, who wants a DVD copy of The Incredibles?

Episode 99: Netflix v. Verizon

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Does your Netflix video quality look terrible? You’re not alone.

We discuss Netflix’s recent trouble with ISPs such as Verizon and Comcast. No matter how expensive of a plan you were paying for, Netflix was slow and looked bad. Because that’s how the ISPs role.

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Episode 98: Tim Armstrong is a distressed human being (and gentrification in the Bay Area)

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We kick off the show talking about AOL — from digital prophets (that man you see above) to its CEO Tim Armstrong blaming “distressed babies” for the need to roll out a terrible new 401(k) plan).

But we actually spend the majority of the show talking about reinvestment, gentrification, tech companies and the Bay Area (particularly San Francisco). There is a lot all sides in this could do to make this situation better from more housing stock to tech companies that are more invested in the communities they are headquartered in.

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A look back at The Facebook in 2004

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It’s always interesting to see what people thought of technology when it first launched. Here is a New York Times take on the site back when it was still known as The Facebook:

LIKE many addictions, it begins innocently enough. A tentative experiment here, a repeat visit there. Before too long, only the strong survive.

“At the beginning of the year you had people checking every five minutes to see if they had any new friends,” said Isabel Wilkinson, a Princeton University freshman from New York City. “I like to think it’s subsided a little, but it’s still heinous in terms of procrastination or wasting time. Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I went on for a half-hour or 45 minutes.”

I joined Facebook in 2004, and it would remain exclusive and college-only for several years to come. It was incredibly addictive. The exclusivity didn’t hurt either, and it was a really different experience when it was just a bunch of college kids making friends and sharing stories.

In many ways, Facebook is even more addictive than ever. It’s a testament to the staying power of the site and the additional work that has gone into the site that people still find it addictive 10 years later. Ten years is a long time in Web years.

Yes, Facebook users are aging, but the site is growing up with us. Where we used to share drunken stories and try to check out people of the opposite sex, we now connect with family all over the country and stay in touch with our college friends.

It’s hard to describe what Facebook was like when it first started if you weren’t there, but it took off like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. Most people don’t get Twitter at first. Everyone got Facebook the moment they saw it.

Within days of it coming to Lehigh, almost all of my friends were on it. Everyone just had to have it. It made my last two years of college a lot more memorable.

When Facebook first launched, it was a lot wilder. It was just college kids, and there was no way for outsiders to see what we were doing. You could also see what classes people were in and even where they were checking into Facebook from.

If you met someone at a party at night, you just had to check them out on Facebook when you got back to your dorm and friend them. When I look back at the messages we exchanged back in the early years, they really crack me up. Now everyone is scared of employers seeing what they do on Facebook, but before those issues cropped up, it was kind of like hanging out in a pub.

The magic of Facebook now is that it allows adults to stay in touch with each other when they move around the country. I get why that appeals less to teens, but Facebook was built for Zuckerberg and his friends when they were in college and now they are all grown up.

There is demand, however, for a new Facebook — an exclusive social network just for college kids. I don’t know if that will ever happen again, but it was a blast. I’m sorry kids today won’t get that experience, and that privacy is one reason many might be flocking to Snapchat.

The Facebook of today is not a great tool for irresponsible high school and college kids. On the other hand, when they graduate from college and really start their lives, they’ll really like what Facebook has become. It’s an indispensable tool in my life.

I only see my nieces and nephews a few times a year, but thanks to Facebook, I get to see lots of photos and videos. I can quickly say high to one of my high school or college friends and see what they are up to. It helps make the distance seem smaller.

A look back at 10 years of using Facebook

Facebook is celebrating its 10th anniversary today, and perhaps the coolest thing for users is the Look back tool that creates a short video of your history on Facebook. I joined in 2004, so I have a lot of stuff to go through. Some of my earlier photos aren’t showing up for whatever reason (permissions maybe?), but it’s fascinating. I got a bit choked up.

In these photos you can see my life unfold. There are photos from senior prom (posted to FB a bit later), my wedding day, the day I announced my baby and more. It’s really quite magical. Facebook should make more of these tools available all the time. Why wait for a corporate anniversary to do something truly amazing like this?

If I were Facebook, I’d make this tool available all the time and work on creating other tools like it. This is something that no other, especially newer, social network can compete with.

Maybe Facebook should worry less about being Twitter or this or that and worry about being Facebook. No other social network can match this kind of experience.

Why I am so happy that I chose Flickr over Instagram for my photo of the day project

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Day 52. Hailey hanging out with her grandmother in the morning. I snapped this while drinking my morning cup of coffee. This was shot wide open on my Canon EOS M and 22mm lens combo. It was shot at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/100 and 1600 ISO.

This post originated on my blog, The Journalism Iconoclast.

If you want to learn to be a better photographer, skip Instagram and head over to Flickr.

Forget the filters. Skip the smartphone.

If you want to become a better photographer, even when you use filters and smartphones, dedicate a week, a month or even a year to carrying around a dedicated camera everyday and capture everything interesting that you see. And promise yourself that you’ll never use filters as a crutch.

(Here are all of my photo of the day photos and here is my feed with them plus b-sides.)

A filter can give a photo a mood or a certain feeling (many, if not most, movies are color graded to give a movie a particular mood, but it’s much more subtle than your typical Instagram filter). When filters, however, are used as crutches to make poorly shot and conceived photos look more interesting, they do nothing to make you a better photographer.

I am about a fifth of the way through my photo of the day project. I have carried a dedicated camera with me almost everywhere. I am a much better photographer today than I was a few months ago. And I am someone who has taken photos professionally in a vaerity of situations (but not as a main job). There is a big difference, however, between covering a specific event and attempting to capture a photo worth sharing for 365 straight days.

A b-side photo that didn't quite make the photo of the day cut.

A b-side photo that didn’t quite make the photo of the day cut. I shot this with the Nikon D40 and the 35mm prime lens. It was shot at f2.8, a shutter speed of 1/320 and 200 ISO.

When I began to think about this project and the amount of time and energy I would spend on it, I wanted to focus on creating and sharing photos that would be worthy of printing and hanging on my apartment walls (I’m creating a collage with all 365 photos in order). I also wanted to create photos worth sharing on their photographic merits to strangers.  Some of my photos of the day may not have ultimately met this bar, and I have a few regrets, but by and large I’m sharing much better photos on Flickr than I was on Instagram.

I think there is a real possibility that many people will one day regret filtering all of their photos. A lot of Instagram filters intentionally make photos looked dated and aged. Are we going to look back a decade or two from now and wonder why everyone intentionally made their photos look old and aged? I hope people are keeping original copies of all of these photos they are sharing on Instagram.

One of the primary goals of a photo of the day project is to make one a better photographer. If that is your goal, you owe it to yourself to focus on online communities (DP Review is a great place to be too) that can help improve your photography. I also share my photos to Facebook, where I get the most feedback, but the compression and resizing that Facebook applies to photos makes it less than ideal as the only place for this project.

What makes Flickr so much better than Instagram for learning photography? It’s a site dedicated to the art and practice of photography and is filled with people who are good at photography that you can learn from. Following people and looking at their photos is a great way to learn to become a better photographer and to get impression for different kinds of shot to attempt. I have started following a bunch of new people on Flickr for inspiration, and one of the best features of Flickr is the ability to see a photo’s EXIF data (data embedded in every digital photo about how it was shot).

If you see a photo you like on Flickr, take a peak at the EXIF data and see which camera and lens it was shot with. Also look at the aperture and shutter speed. You might be wondering how someone was able to shoot a photo in such low light without a flash. A quick peak at a photos’s EXIF data might reveal that the photo was shot on a large DSLR sensor at an aperture of 1.8 (which lets a ton of light in for low-light shots).

Part of what makes a photo of the day project a strong learning tool is that if you force yourself to publish a photo each day, you’ll regret every bad photo you publish. And the only way I get a bad photo is if I don’t try to get a good one. Some days I’m tired and lazy or maybe just traveling a lot in the car, and those are usually the not-so-good photos of the day.

To make a photo pop on Flickr and get people to view it and share it, you need to focus on lighting, composition, depth of field and all those things that make  for good photography (and even simple things like a clean lens, which is an even bigger issue with smartphone photography).

I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 for the better camera, thinking it would be good to have for this project. But early on I realized that if I wanted to improve all of my photography, I needed to concentrate on taking purposeful photos. The iPhone 5 and similar smartphones are good at capturing quick photos, and any camera is better than no camera. It is impossible to take a good photo of something that you don’t even take a photo of. But there is so little manual control on smartphones that you really limit the kinds of photos you can take.

Photos with shallow depth of field are difficult to do on mobile. Photos in low light are difficult to do on mobile. Photos where you intentionally want some motion blur are hard to do on mobile.

This project is making me a better mobile photographer, but it is also making me a better photographer with any camera. Your composition, lighting and shot selection (what to shoot and which ones to keep) will improve over the course of a photo of the day project.

There are other considerations to keep in mind with Flickr. It doesn’t compress your photos, and you can store full resolution versions on the site. Flickr is essentially a free photo backup solution that has social features and a community around it. Instagram shrinks and compresses photos. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks.

Because Flickr doesn’t compress photos and most users don’t use filters, a photo has to stand out as its naked truth on Flickr. My Flickr news feed is a sea of memorable photos from photographers all over the world. To stand out in that crowd, I need to have photos that are memorable too. Many of the photographers on Flickr are simply better than me and use more expensive equipment, but trying to capture photos that stand up against their work makes me work harder.

I've spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutter speed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

This isn’t to denigrate Instagram, which has successfully brought photography to lots of new users. It has made mobile photography more popular and interesting, and I cannot deny that mobile photography will be the dominant form of photography moving forward.

But when I looked at the overly compressed photos with more care put into filter selection than composition, I began to be turned off by Instagram. A good photo is about capturing a moment, an experience, a feeling. Too many of the photos I see shared by my friends on Instagram (and then reshared on Facebook and Twitter) are about the filters and trying to make a photo into something it isn’t.

Some of the filters absolutely baffle me, seemingly serving no other purpose than to make a photo look bad. There even has been a backlash against filters on Instagram, with the #nofilter hashtag becoming popular. Part of that movement is that people are saying look at this photo on its merit and not on how it interacted with a filter.

I was an early Instagram user and was guilty of many of these transgressions. Over time I began to use less and less filters. When Instagram first came out, Flickr was dying. It wasn’t worth most people’s times.

But the Flickr of mid-2013 is worth your time. It too has a great mobile app. The new design for Flickr looks great, presents photos beautifully and creates memorable photostreams of users to get lost in. The ability to store 1 terabyte of uncompressed, full resolution images is incredibly valuable.

If you’re looking for a community of people sharing mobile photos, Instagram is a great place to be. If you want to embark on a journey to learn to be a stronger photographer, I highly suggest Flickr and a dedicated camera instead.

You can find all of my photos on Flickr, including the ones that didn’t make it into this project.

 

Episode 97: Mac OS El Camino (30 years of the Macintosh)

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We discuss 30 years of the Macintosh and what the Macintosh has meant to computing and  to us.

We also discuss if iOS and OS X will eventually become one OS. The Mac is stronger than ever today, and you can see a lot of the original Macintosh in today’s Macs. But will the 50th-year celebration still show that same linage?

Will the Mac be around in 20 years? Would we be where we are today if Apple had gone under in the 90s?

We also start off the show with a discussion about Google Glass and sex.

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Episode 96: Dr. V, Grantland and Caleb Hannan

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We spend the entire episode discussing Caleb Hannan’s article Dr. V’s Magical Putter and the controversy surrounding it and how journalists should write about and cover transgendered people.

Does Grantland and ESPN (the parent company of Grantland) bare culpability for a transgender person committing suicide for fear of being outed?

This should become a journalism school case study that all students learn about. Neither of us encountered a story and some of the issues raised here during our educations.

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Thoughts on nytimes.com redesign

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The new nytimes.com website is not the kind of design I would give a news website, but it is a big step forward for the news organization.

I’ve waited a few weeks to do a critique of the new nytimes.com design because I wanted to give it some time to sink in and really spend several hours with it. Additional time spent with the new design has made my opinion of the site more favorable. The site is universally better than the one it replaces and is better than most websites from traditional news orgs. 

I’ve come to appreciate some of the design choices more with time, although there are still some things that should be changed. It’s a cleaner, smarter website, but it at times tries to mimic print too much and still doesn’t embrace good design enough.

Below are some of my thoughts on what I like about the new design and some things that I think could be tightened up. I didn’t do a usability study with live users like I’ve done with other news sites, nor did I run tests to check for accessibility (this may come in the future). Below are my impressions based on my expertise, but additional studies and testing would be advisable before making big changes.

What I like

  • Small headers — There is no reason to push your content half way down the page with a huge header and navigation system. I particularly like how article pages get a smaller logo than the homepage. This let’s users get into actual nytimes.com quicker and makes pages feel more about content and less about a corporate brand. One issue with a huge header and navigation system is that it can raise your bounce rate because it takes users longer to figure out what is going on.  Remember, the vast majority of visitors to news websites come in via search engines and social media referrals. These users more likely have less of an idea of what they are about to get into then someone who has navigated to an article from a homepage of a news website. Even a few moments of confusion is enough to cause a user to X out of your webpage.
  • No more side navigation — The main navigation system has been moved to the top of the site from the left-hand side. This allows for the homepage, article pages and section pages to be more dynamic and allows for many more article page template optins. It gives more pixels to what really matters on a website. It also puts the navigation in the same place on desktop, tablet and mobile, which a side navigation cannot do (navigation really needs to be at the top on mobile to be usable for users). The only reason to have a left-hand navigation is if you’re doing a dynamic news river with real stories with compelling headlines. Having a side navigation with links such as news, sports, opinion, etc. is a waste of space and should be immediately redone.
  • Cleaner article pages — For all that is going on on nytimes.com article pages, they are surprisingly clean. There is text, images, video, graphics, related links, additional stories to read, comments, etc. Despite this, the site feels clean and airy. This is good. The New York Times was smart with how it paced different design features on article pages. Some websites try to cram everything below on article page or in a right-hand column. The new nytimes.com starts at the very top and works its way down to the bottom. The much smaller header and navigation on article pages also really helps here too. The pacing of website features and story content feels very natural.
  • More entry points to additional content — Getting a reader onto an article page is not enough; most users will leave your website after reading an article if they aren’t presented with interesting articles to read next. You need to present users with additional stories to read and photos and videos to view. The new nytimes.com does a fantastic job of presenting lots of different entry points for users, while not making article pages feel cluttered and cheap. The top of every article has editor’s picks stories. The bottom has top news, additional stories from the section you’re reading and the most emailed stories.  Sections such as news, sports, health, business and opinion are not entry points. Actual stories with compelling headlines are. The nytimes.com redesign does a good job of presenting lots of additional options without bedazzling the page in cruft that detracts from the user experience. It’s a fine line to walk, but the nytimes.com redesign does it as well as anyone.

What needs improvement

  • Why aren’t photos and graphics bigger? — In general, I don’t get why news orgs insist on putting small photos and graphics into article pages. There is no real use case for this, and this seems like a print anachronism that page designers insist on bringing over to the Web. Big photos and graphics look better and are easier to understand. The worst is when an image is placed into a story at a small size and can’t be enlarged and because of that you have no idea what’s going on. There is no use case for that. There will never be a use case for a news organization showing photos and graphics that are indecipherable. The nytimes.com redesign usually lets you make photos and graphics bigger but not always. I don’t know why the behavior isn’t consistent, but it should be. This is particularly and issue for charts that have small type and keys on them.
  • Text needs to be bigger —  News orgs have a big issue with small text. I have to assume that designers think it looks better, but it’s hard to read, and if you make something hard to read, people often won’t read it. Reading is a fundamental thing that users do on news websites. Text should be big, feature a high quality font (particularly for HiDPI displays) and have a good contrast. The new nytimes.com has bigger text, but it could still be 25-50 percent bigger. There are two reasons for this: A) bigger text is easier on older and tired eyes and B) bigger text is more enjoable for everyone to read, making it more likely that people stay on your text-heavy site longer. People used to claim that people don’t like to read as much on the Web, and because of this, writing on the Web should be shorter. This is false. The issue is that Web text is often small, poor contrast, with low-quality fonts. Of course people don’t enjoy reading that. Part of this had to do with display technology and we had to make certain affordances for poor, low resolution display technology, but HiDPI displays (what Apple calls Retina) are taking over the market. They make text look as good as printed text. A good display will certainly encourage users to read more, but Web designers still have to do their part with high quality typography. Last year I wrote how Retina/HiDPI displays will reduce eyestrain and should lead to more reading. It lays out why this new display technology, which most mobile devices have and increasingly laptops have, is making Web reading easier (my phone, tablet and laptop all feature a HiDPI display, and I love reading on them). This is also allowing for higher quality, print-caliber fonts, which also make reading more enjoyable. Medium does the best job I’ve seen of using typography for Web writing. It’s just an enjoyable reading experience for years. That’s what all news orgs should want. Traditional news orgs are some of the best producers of the written word in the world. They need to start making the written word more enjoyable to consume on the Web.
  • Not enough nods to what users like — One of my favorite new navigation features is trending topics, where underneath the main navigation is a set of topics that are getting the most traffic on the website. I’m not surprised The New York Times wouldn’t hand over navigational control to the crowd, but it’s still a missed opportunity. Users like to know what other users find compelling. Topics, as opposed to stories, are a good way to let people delve into bigger issues too (there isn’t just one New Jersey bridge scandal story, for instance).
  • The homepage is bland and forgettable — It is true that design time should be spent on article pages and not on homepages and section fronts, as the majority of traffic comes to individual article pages, but the cluttered and boring homepage design for the new nytimes.com is still disappointing. It still features small photos. It still features small headlines. It still has trouble driving a users eye to a main story or any story for that matter. The New York Times can get away with this for tradition’s sake, but almost every other news organization can’t. It’s not just that it looks too print-like, it’s also that it doesn’t even function well. Frankly, everything kind of just blends together on the NYT homepage, making it hard to pick out anything to read. I rarely find myself going to the nytimes.com homepage anymore, partly because it’s such a frustrating user interface for discovery. Instead, I find almost every nytimes.com story from social referrals.
  • Having trouble viewing mobile website — On my laptop, I can view mobile.nytimes.com and see the new homepage on mobile. On my phone it takes me to the desktop homepage. This is a bug that should be easy enough to fix, but it does need to be fixed. The desktop homepage is virtually unusable on mobile.