Category: Microsoft

Etrawler Ltd owner of Car Trawler and Argus Carhire.com could learn a lot from Easycar!

Takedown notice

The letter wants me to remove a comment by a user calling himself Timmythedog on my post about issues I had with car rental company Easycar.

The comment says:

You need to pick and choose – we’ve never had a problem with Easy Car but be aware of Argus Car hire and their supplier National Car Hire. Despite them promising that they ’search the net for the cheapest prices so you don’t have to’ we had an appaling experience with them and National Car Hire at Carcassonne Airport at Christmas 06/07 and they are not recommended!

In summary they downgraded our car without notice from a c class (Focus/Astra) to a Citroen C1 – as four adults with cases and bags we couldn’t fit in the car – it was Dec. 27 and we had no travel alternatives. We had to duplicate trips to get eveyone to our destination with significant inconvenience and cost. We were cautioned by the police for overloading the car on the one occasion that we squeezed everyone in. Our holiday was ruined as we couldn’t really use the car and since then they have refused to refund us the cost of the car (which also had no rear wiper – when we went back to the office to point this out it was closed).

They couldn’t care less, do not man their phones as stated 364 days a year (we couldn’t get them in head office on Dec 27 to see what we could do) and Hertz was cheaper at their own admission. We have tried to speak to Greg Turley – Argus MD but he refuses to return our calls. In conclusion Argus and National overbook, you run the risk of a ruined holiday and neither could care less. Do not use them – they are appalling.

This seems like fair comment to me by someone expressing their opinion after having had a poor customer experience. Etrawler haven’t yet realised, it seems, that people can have negative opinions about your products and services – and worse – they tell others! We can’t have that now, can we?

Etrawler ltd could learn a lot from Easycar – they didn’t issue a takedown notice on my post. Instead their rep Jean Marie came back to my post time and again to tirelessly answer comments by other people who had problems with Easycar’s service. As a consequence my opinion of Easycar (and I suspect many who read Jean Marie’s responses) was completely turned around.

If the Internet has taught us anything it is that companies need to put the consumer in the center of their thinking. Not their brand.

I wonder if I’ll receive a takedown notice for this post now as well.

Worldwide Telescope launches half-baked!

Microsoft launched their much-hyped WorldWide Telescope this morning.

The application has a lot of promise as an educational tool, in that it can make astronomy fun and engaging.

First off, there is no Mac version. Boo! For this reason alone, I should have just walked away. But I didn’t because it promised so much and I quite enjoy astronomy.

I checked out the system requirements (bearing in mind how optimistic Microsoft are on these typically – did you ever try to run XP on 64mb RAM? Ha!).

On the System Requirements page it told me I needed a 2.2GHz Mac to run WorldWide Telescope if I wanted to do so on XP or Vista (recommended) via Bootcamp (no mention of Parallels or VMWare. Given that my Mac is 2.16 GHz, and hasn’t BootCamp setup (I use Parallels), I gave up on that option.

Worldwide Telescope system requirements

I then went about installing it on my Vaio. The installation went ok (although I wasn’t made aware until half-way through that I’d have to install Direct X).

When I launched it on the Viao though, the first obvious problem was that you can’t choose Ireland as an option to set as your location. What a crock! Seriously. The country options go Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy. WTF? People in countries like Yemen, Uzbekistan, Lomé, Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, North Korea and Myanmar, for instance have no problem setting their location. But no Ireland option. What did we do to annoy Microsoft Research?

The second issue was even more annoying though. The application wouldn’t run on the Vaio. It crashed the display driver.
WorldWide Telescope Error

This is, unfortunately, typical Microsoft software behaviour. Launch bloated, Windows only, error-prone software with the minimum of QA or testing. Let the unsuspecting public be your free testing department and hopefully get the software right by the third revision.

It is no wonder so many people are afraid of computers when the software released by the world’s largest manufacturer is so prone to crash.

Live Maps Bird's Eye now includes (some) Irish towns

Via Clare Dillon the Virtual Earth blog and Martha Rotter on Twitter I spotted that Microsoft’s Live Maps now includes images of Cork, Galway, Carlow, Limerick, Navan & Wexford – cool!

The Bird’s Eye button becomes active when you are over an area that Microsoft has detailed aerial imagery of.

The image below is of Cork City Hall. You can rotate and zoom to see it from other angles and sizes! Way cool.

Live Maps Bird's Eye view of Cork City Hall

According to Clare’s blog post, Dublin will be up soon as well.

Get off your high horse Ed!

There was a big bruhaha on the intertubes over the weekend when Apple ran its software update on Windows and offered the Safari 3.1 browser download as the default selected option.

Now I am not for a second condoning this kind of behaviour. I believe opt-in is the only way to do optional updates, especially when you are adding applications to a users machine.

However, I had to laugh when I saw Ed Bott get all up on his high horse about this. Ed is a Microsoft guy so it was all the more hilarious that he try to grab the moral highground here. In his post he said:

I think Apple is dead wrong in the way it’s gone about using its iPod monopoly to expand its share in another market. Ironically, an excellent model for how this update program should work already exists. It’s called Windows Update, and it embodies all the principles that Apple should follow… The right way to do it involves these four principles

* Opt-in is the only way. The update process should be completely opt-in. The option to deliver software should never be preselected for the user.
* Offer full disclosure. The software company has a responsibility to fully disclose what its software does, and the customer should make the opt-in decision only after being given complete details about how the update process works.
* Offer updates only. Updates should be just that. They should apply only to software that the customer has already chosen to install.
* Don’t mix updates. Updates that are not critical should be delivered through a separate mechanism.

They are good principles, I have no argument with them however Ed offers these principles up as if Microsoft lived by them! Ed, you are dreaming. Microsoft are just as guilty of breaching these principles as Apple. I don’t use Microsoft software much but the last time I tried to update Windows Live Writer my default search engine was changed to Live Search, and I had to opt out or I would have had Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live OneCare installed on my laptop.

Pot kettle black Ed.

Vista SP1 To cause more problems than it cures?

Microsoft have published a list of programs which it says will be broken by Vista SP1 according to a story on News.com.

The applications listed are not the only ones which will be broken it seems and Microsoft is advising anyone who encounters problems to:

first restart their PC and, if they still encounter problems, to install a newer version of the program or contact the software vendor

It is pretty amazing that SP1, which is supposed to be a ‘fix’, will likely cause as many problems as it solves.

I’d hate to be working in the call centre of a Vista software vendor the day after SP1 ships – all hands on deck, I reckon.

Microsoft embracing 'Open' – can a leopard change its spots?

In a surprise announcement yesterday, Microsoft vowed to increase the openness of its key products!

Yes this is still February, April 1st is several weeks away yet!

So what did Microsoft say in this release? Well,

Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities

Several times in the last few years I have advocated for Microsoft to Open Source Windows and Internet Explorer and while this announcement doesn’t go that far, it does seem to be a step in the right direction.

According to Microsoft’s CEO-in-waiting and current Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie

“Customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions,” said Ozzie. “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”

The Microsoft products this refers to are Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products.

The full documentation of the Interoperability Principles can be found on the Microsoft Interoperability site.

Apart from any great desire on Microsoft’s part to start playing nice with all the other kids on the block, a big driver for this move is Microsoft’s need to fulfill the obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

“As we said immediately after the CFI decision last September, Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in full compliance with European law,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel. “Through the initiatives we are announcing, we are taking responsibility for implementing the principles in the interoperability portion of the CFI decision across all of Microsoft’s high-volume products. We will take additional steps in the coming weeks to address the remaining portion of the CFI decision, and we are committed to providing full information to the European Commission so it can evaluate all of these steps.”

Things do look good when you hear Bill Hilf (Microsoft’s general manager of Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy) saying things like:

Long-term success for Microsoft depends on our ability to deliver a platform that is open, flexible, and provides customers and developers with choice. These choices include Microsoft and open source technologies working together, and this will continue to be the case in the future. By increasing the openness of high volume products across APIs, protocols, and standards, we can continue to provide the platform that offers developers and businesses, including those based on open-source technologies, the broadest range of opportunities to innovate, deliver value, and create seamless experiences for end users.

Although the announcement makes specific mention of Windows Vista, I am not sure if it includes Internet Explorer. Given Opera CTO HÃ¥kon Wium Lie‘s recent valid criticisms of Internet Explorer, it would obviously be good for everyone if Microsoft reversed course on Internet Explorer, took some of Lie’s advice and included it in this initiative.

Microsoft gives development software free to (some) students

Microsoft announced a program called DreamSpark recently. DreamSpark is a program to give over $2,000 worth of Microsoft development software to students free!

The free software available to students includes:

  • Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition
  • Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition
  • XNA Game Studio 2.0
  • 12-month free membership in the XNA Creators Club
  • Expression Studio, which includes Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design and Expression Media
  • SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition
  • Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition
  • Sql Server Developer Edition
  • Virtual PC 2007
  • Visual Basic 2005
  • Visual C++ 2005
  • Visual C# 2005
  • Visual J# 2005 and
  • Visual Web Developer 2005

This is a clever ploy by Microsoft to get students used to full-featured, integrated, rich IDEs at an early age, however, I think they need to make this program available at an even earlier age.

By the time most programmers to-be enroll in a university they have already selected their favourite development platform and the free development tools available to pre-university students are the very Free and Open Source development environments that Microsoft are trying to kill off with this initiative.

For now, DreamSpark is being rolled out in 11 countries (United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium).

Anyone from Microsoft Ireland care to comment on when DreamSpark will be available in here?

Yahoo! indirectly upping the cost of acquisition for Microsoft?

Microsoft made an offer of $44.6bn for Yahoo! recently which Yahoo! rejected saying it “substantially undervalues” the company (personally I think it waaaaay overvalued Yahoo! and Microsoft caught a lucky break that the offer was spurned).

The New York Times is reporting today though that Microsoft are determined to follow through on this.

However, both the New York Times and News.com have published a story today that Yahoo! have offered golden parachute to all its remaining employees (it terminated around 1,000 of its 14,000 employees in the last week).

According to the News.com report, the package:

will kick into effect should that employee lose his job within two years after a new owner takes over, should she get terminated without cause, or if the employee decides it’s time to leave for “good reason.”

…The golden parachute also includes health and dental coverage for the length of employees’ severance awards, as well as reimbursement of outplacement services up to two years, or a maximum of $15,000, depending on job title

In any significant merger there are necessarily layoffs (particularly of people with similar job functions) – this seems like a cynical ploy on Yahoo!s part to up the price indirectly for Microsoft while grabbing some goodwill headlines at the same time.

Microsoft Wireless Laser Keyboard 6000 not very wireless!

I bought a Microsoft Wireless Laser Keyboard 6000 V2.0 a few weeks back because I needed an ergonomic keyboard (was suffering from an RSI) and went wireless to avoid cable clutter.

However, I have had lots of issues with the reception on the wireless devices. They report poor signal quality when 2-3 centimeters apart!

Low signal quality?

How hard can it be to get a keyboard and mouse working wirelessly? Apple have been doing this properly for ages. Of course Apple use Bluetooth instead of some bloody proprietary wired dongle which doesn’t work, takes up a USB port and adds a large cable to your desktop!

If only Apple did an ergonomic keyboard…

I was bemused then to note today that Microsoft are bringing out the Wireless Laser Keyboard 7000. It has a glass border around the keyboard to maintain the Vista Aero branding.

I only hope they remember to get the wireless part functioning this time!

My interview published on Channel 9

When I was in Barcelona for TechEd last year Charles Torre did a video interview with me. We had a wide ranging chat about data centre energy efficiency strategies, blogs/blogging and the Death Star!

Charles emailed me last night to let me know that the interview has now been published on Channel 9 (Channel 9 is a very high trafficked online forum where videos are posted and discussions on those videos take place).

It has already been viewed over 600 times!

The player is SilverLight and doesn’t appear to work on the Mac for some reason but there is a link to a .wmv version of the video so you can download and watch locally.