Are Microsoft loosing their way with user experience?

Over the past few months there has been a fair bit in the industry press about Apple and Microsoft apparently loosing their respective grasps on the market.

Apple has been (from what it appears) struggling to get a new product into the market, and is instead just refreshing existing lines.

Microsoft is slipping in its game too - the latest gaff has to be the way it's handled Windows 8.1. The recent U-turn about not releasing the RTM version to the development and sys admin community was welcome, but it is a disagreeable find to discover that you can not do a straight upgrade of Windows 8 to 8.1. Instead it enforces a clean install, while offering you the ability to save your files. According to all the recent MSDN coverage (literally in the last 24 hrs or so), the "release" version will support this, but I have to ask why Microsoft decided to release essentially an incomplete version?

Historically the whole idea of RTM or Gold copies were that these were the images that were sent for physical manufacture. These days things still follow this pattern, but now companies such as Microsoft tend to "tweak" things before they are actually released - in theory to provide a better quality product, but in this case you have to wonder. Releasing an incomplete, inferior product a month before the General Availability is annoying, and down right disruptive to the development community. Microsoft's attitude? It doesn't matter. You shouldn't be using this release for anything except testing, so why can't you build a new machine. 

Has the development industry lost track of what should happen for release cycles? Are we now expecting too much, too quickly from software companies?

Or have the big boys (Apple and Microsoft for example) started to loose their way with handling user experience?

Good Customer Service - customer no longer always right?

I'm sure it wasn't that long ago that companies treated customers with respect - and went by the saying "The Customer is Always Right". 

Well it doesn't seem that this is the case any more after a few different retail experiences - I can see why people are starting to do everything online if they are anything to go by.

My most recent "poor" experience is with one of the largest technology companies on the high street. Apple.

I purchased a high end (as in top of the line but one) Macbook Pro Retina 15 online. And had the machine for a week. All was well.
Then it developed a hardware fault. After discussing it with a technical support representative, it was decided that the best course of action was to swap the machine in-store due to the fact it was so new, developed a fault, and that returning it via courier was going to be awkward (my current situation with my son means I'm not home much ... and never during the week at working hours!). And so a 110 mile round trip the Apple store began.
The Apple store in question, Newcastle Metro Centre, didn't have my exact model in stock - but had the marginally newer one, with its grand total of 0.1Ghz faster CPU.
But because I had purchase the machine online they were unable to swap it for this newer SKU. Nor were they able to take it in to return it to Apple for repair on my behalf. All they could do was to "attempt to repair it in-store". Note the word attempt in there. Not overly spectacular considering the cost of the machine in the first place, nor what the technical support rep said, or the fact that Apple seem to make a deal of saying they offer "excellent customer service". Perhaps they do, if you purchase in store - it seems that if this had been the case the machine would have been swapped no questions asked. 

So how do Apple justify this difference between in store and online? They trade as different companies. One for Apple Retail, and one for Apple online - so why do they get away with trading under the same brand? It all seems like it is intended to just confuse members of the public, and I have to admit I did find it confusing - they are the first company that I've come across that have this disparate split between online vs retail.

Developers ... why do we insist on build vs buy?

I've recently been in this situation a couple of times - looking at either writing something myself to solve a problem, or purchase a product off the shelf to either integrate or run alongside my package.

The first time, when the project was something that I am solely involved in, I decided to go down the "do it yourself" route. This was more optimal for me as simply there was no time constraint, and no specific (immediate) financial cost to me putting in "just enough" functionality.

However just today I saw the other situation. A development team whereby they are looking to spend significant time on building functionality they could easily purchase pre-built from a third party vendor. And in this case, it would work out EXACTLY the same price as the estimated hours -- and this doesn't even include any "fudge factor", maintenance or the never ending tweaks that would be needed. And yet as developers we tend to do this so often - instead of realising that it is not always the best way, we push forward and insist that we can come up with something better.

Perhaps it is time that we stepped back and realised that it might actually not be a good idea to write this complete stack of support tools, and instead look to see what is there already? After all, we do purchase SQL Server and Windows Server ... or perhaps we should write our own replacements for these too ...

Fundraising for Yorkhill Childrens Hospital in Glasgow

Back in November my son was born with a Congenital Heart Disease called Fallots Tetralogy. Within 24 hrs of his birth, he was rushed to Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow and stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a week - and made excellent progress with the amazing staff there. Originally the prognosis was good - after numerous hospital appointments, his first surgery was scheduled for February - and Christmas approached.

Two weeks before Christmas, Toby started getting exceptionally unsettled, and started having 'tet' spells (lack of oxygen causing agitation and black outs) and we had to rush to the local hospital. Immediately he was transferred back to Yorkhill Hospital - exactly a month after being discharged home the last time. His surgery was brought forward. On Christmas Eve, at 08:30, he went down for open heart surgery to correct a number of defects with his heart: to close a large hole in his heart, to insert a pulmonary value and to rebuild his pulmonary artery tree. The heart surgery was an amazing success, and although further complications have developed Toby continues to make unbelievable progress and will soon be home and no-one would know the difference. There are further surgeries in the future, but the largest hurdles have been overcome - and it is in no small part to the outstanding excellence of the staff at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital.

Back at Christmas, while all this was going on, my brother (Mike) and I discussed how we could go about fund raising for the Yorkhill charity. And he has come up with one of the most audacious challenges yet. Eight hardy souls from Ghekko in Macclesfield have stepped up and are going to take part in the Total Warrior event in The Lake District this August.

 

I have to admit, I'm fairly surprised that my brother has not come up with something involving motorbikes, but, lets give the Ghekko team some support and raise money for a great cause.

 

The JustGiving page can be found here.

A Samsung Android 4.1.2 update oddity

The Mrs' Samsung Note 2 had an update from Android 4.1.1 to 4.1.2 delivered the other day. And all hell broke loose.

Wifi stopped working. The Mrs was not amused.

After a lot of faffing around, and debating whether to flash the phone back to 4.1.1 using Odin, I stumbled across a rather strange pattern with this particular problem - it was only hot spots that the phone had been used on previously that had stopped working ...

Renaming our home WiFi hotspot got it working again, but I have to question what is getting stored, even without adding her Google or Samsung accounts back onto the phone after flashing it and a factory reset ...  seems something is lurking somewhere ...

Congenital Heart Defects

I've been quiet for a while - things have been rather mental in the last couple of months.

On the 12th November, our little boy was born. Unfortunately there were problems. He was born with a congenital heart defect - Tetralogy of Fallot. We were initially advised of some of the complications back on the 20 week scan, but we were never told just how bad things could get. All we were told was that there would be a surgery or two, but we were not prepared for just how rapidly things could progress.

Immediately after he was born, he was admitted to Yorkhill Childrens Hospital where he remained in the Neonatal unit for four days. After that he was transferred back to our local hospital.

We finally go him home when he was seven days old ... and what a few days we had. Nothing at all prepares you for being a parent.

Things were going great, we had a few checkups with the doctors, and nothing too untoward was happening.

Until early December. He had an exceptionally bad tet spell (basically a significant, prolonged drop in O2 saturation) - this resulted in us rushing him into hospital in a pretty bad shape on the 15th December. On the 16th, he was back up at Yorkhill. Finally, after much waiting, being mucked around, and generally getting stressed, he has his surgery on the 24th December. Not a great Christmas Eve I have to say, but his open heart surgery was successful and he had a (near) full repair (for now). This comprises of a new pulmonary valve, a complete rework of his pulmonary artery, and a VSD (major hole in the heart) closed.

Things were going great (well, as well as they could after our son having major surgery!), but then we had a blow. Complications. Problems with routing of his arteries had caused pressure on his windpipe - causing them to collapse. Even though they had been moved, the damage had been caused. A tracheostomy was performed, and he was put on a ventilator to deliver constant air pressure - ensuring he could breath.

And that was the state of things. We have finally managed to get him moved to a childrens hospital slightly nearer home, but things are still a struggle. My partner and I are having to under go training on how to change a tracheostomy, look after a ventilator, and ultimately, relearn how to look after our son. Things are tough enough, but ultimately not helped by random members of staff in the hospital making life far more awkward than they need to be.

 

Nothing prepares you for having a child with a condition such as this. Equally nothing prepares you for being in a hospital specialising in the care for children.

New software ... again

Moved the blog onto new software tonight ... this blog is now running on a (slightly tweaked) version of BlogEngine.NET :)

Surface RT - Useragent

Just for those that are interested, the Surface RT user agent is: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 10.0; Windows NT 6.2; ARM; Trident/6.0; Touch)   I really do like the fact this device has full Internet Explorer.

Surface RT - First Impressions

It's been a few days since my Microsoft Surface RT arrived (late, I have to add - it turned up on Thursday - past the original agreed delivery date of the 26th, and outside of the window that Microsoft Support claimed later on - the 26th through to the 30th). 

I guess that Microsoft just can't run a pre-order like they used to!

Some obligatory box shots:  

Pro's:

USB Support - you can (literally) plug in virtually anything - even a USB Keyboard for typing things such as this blog post ...

Excellent screen - it's incredibly clear, brightness is perfect, and the touch interface is amazingly responsive. Windows 8 really does come into it's own.

Good battery life - I've not had any issues at all getting a full day's usage out of the Surface.

Office on the go - I love the fact that I have the full versions of office available at my finger tips. The usual superb device detection that you get in Windows 8 - the RT picked up my wireless HP printer and set it up without any fuss. Printing from a tablet is a strange experience. The fact that you can actually be productive on a tablet is priceless.

Internet Explorer. This might sound strange, but I find it a blessing to have Internet Explorer on the tablet. Most websites function fine in desktop Internet Explorer - then you go and try them on Safari on an iPad (and what an experience some of them can be). Not so on the RT. They just seem to work.

Con's:

Would have been nice if the kickstand was adjustable - minor thing, but would have been handy.

Incapable / confusing to know what will run on the RT version; although I'm not struggling with this, I'm a software developer, so I really should know the bitness differences on processors. However, I truly understand how a normal consumer might get confused. Especially when everything just gets referred to as Windows.

Feels 'chunky' - especially when you first get your hands on it. The widescreen form factor feels off compared to an iPad, but you soon get used to it.

Non-standard charger. I totally understand that Microsoft wanted to have a quick charging device, but having something that can not charge off a PC or a standard micro usb charger (which can actually deliver the same 2A that the Microsoft one does ...) is annoying. Another device I have to buy a 2nd for to leave in the office.

Lack of apps. We still haven't seen any apps appear for things like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ etc. I guess it is just time, but without a larger app eco system, and more of the big names stepping in, things will be slow.

No manual. I was a little amazed that Microsoft was shipping a Windows 8 touch device with no manual - and no guided introduction covering all the gestures that the interface used. I would think that if I was coming to Windows 8 from no background in using it, I would be lost, confused and probably very frustrated.  

 

The more I'm using the RT, the more useful I find it - even though I opted to get the base 32GB model, without the Touch Cover, I'm still finding it is changing the way I'm working. No longer do I have to leave the laptop on just in case I need to answer an email - I can quickly rattle one off on the RT without much thought.  

I was originally planning on getting a Pro as well as the RT (development is nice enough to mean I can have lots of Gadgets!) but I'm not so sure. Partly because I actually think I will be able to do almost everything I want on this one, simple, device, but also as I am truly disappointed with the way that Microsoft handled the pre-orders on the RT. However - when I now compare the Surface RT to my partners iPad 2, I would opt for the Surface every time. Unless of course you want to just play games ... (but saying that, Microsoft has some pretty amazing offers appearing on the Surface for that too!)

Its Surface shipping day!

The big day has come. The Microsoft surface is now available but will the preorders arrive today as promised. Who knows. MicrosoftStore on twitter are confident that all will be well, but with so many people not having received shipping details and orders still showing as processing it really will be pot luck. Perhaps we are hard done to here in the UK - we don't even have a Microsoft store. If only Microsoft used a decent online store and was honest with information about orders!!