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Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

When podcasts go mainstream

19 Apr 2014

Car radio - DaveTavres.comIf you have a car, you have a radio. If you have a radio, you probably listen to music, talk radio, news and/or sports. By the mid-1960s, radios were standard equipment in new cars. Today, it’s almost standard to have a USB or other MP3 player connection – or at least a auxiliary input jack to plug other devices into your car’s sound system. What’s missing though is the digital end-to-end solution that terrestrial radio provides. By that I mean that you turn on your car radio and you get sound, pretty much everywhere there are roads. The end user (the driver) doesn’t need to do anything but turn a knob (or push it to turn it on.)

In 1930, the first commercially available car radio was installed. Since then, in-car record players were installed, tube-less (transistor) radios made the scene, 8-track tape players were the rage, then regular cassette tapes, Highway Hi-Fi - DaveTavres.com“premium” auto-sound, then in 1985 the first factory-installed in-dash CD player came spinning into history. Each brought their own new technology – but the radio was still the backbone of them all. Regardless of how many tapes or CDs you had (which all required storage space, and the ability to store/hide them from the sun and would-be thieves), you still had a fairly limited selection of ‘personalized’ audio. Even changing the radio station only got you so far – you had to listen to what some program director of a station or DJ thought you’d like to listen to between 6-10am and 5-8pm. With the introduction of TiVo in 1999, much like the telephone, the world changed.

TiVo Series 1 - DaveTavres.comTiVo made it possible for TV viewers to easily record dozens of shows digitally on a VCR-like box and play them back anytime they wanted, effectively creating a personalized TV station. That’s it – life was changed. Personally, I credit Troy Shaw for showing me his TiVo in ‘99 and I was hooked. Not too many years after that came the iPod, the Zune and the Diamond Rio MP3 players – mobile audio devices that let people listen to thousands of different songs anytime, anywhere. The iPod is what saved Apple its obscure reality. So where’s the digital innovation foMicrosoft's "Auto PC" - DaveTavres.comr the other HUGE part of people’s lives? That is, the car. In 1999 MP3Car.com came along, with the idea of a hard-drive that lived in your car, storing your entire music collection and was playable through your existing car stereo. In 1998 Microsoft even sold the “Auto PC” – but it was too far AUX jack - DaveTavres.comahead of its time.

By the mid-2000s, that AUX jack was introduced, which is good and all, but the vast majority of people don’t use it. Ever. First of all, it’s not “convenient” to plug in your device every time you get in your car. Second, it still requires that you pull out a device every time you get in your car. So why not update the car radio? Well, that’s what Google is doing. FINALLY!

Android Auto - DaveTavres.comGoogle’s “Open Automotive Alliance” is moving forward with “Android Auto” – presumed to be the next wave of car audio.

There are many makers who have converted Nexus and iPad tablets to be in-car entertainment systems, but they hacked together for many parts, using custom ROMs and stereotypical geek ingenuity. It lets the geek-driver wirelessly connect to their phone to get real-time traffic and directions from Google maps, access to your entire music collection via Google Music, as well as Pandora, YouTube, Rdio and anything else you normally use on your phone – but right on the dashboard of your car!

So, how does this relate to podcasts?! (FINALLY!) Yeah – it all does tie together.

Once you have “smart radio” in your car, when you pull the car into the garage or anywhere the car can hit a wi-fi signal – including your phone – the “smart radio” will start downloading the latest episodes of your favorite podcasts… and the most recent playlist you created on your laptop… and the songs you just uploaded to the cloud. Which means that you’re the ‘program director’ now. Just a few taps of the touch screen and you can play Michael Bublé, then jump over to your “Road Trip Playlist” or listen to the latest story on Freakonomics Radio, NPR’s Planet Money or Peculiar Podcast on your drive to work.

Once this kind of “smart radio” functionality is ubiquitous – just as smart phones are now – Podcasts WILL replace terrestrial radio. And considering that most radio stations today stream over the internet, even live news broadcasts and up-to-the-minute traffic reports can be streamed right to your dashboard via your phone (or some kind of Wi-Max technology.)

As of this writing, Google says you’ll see the first ‘Android Car Stereo’ by the end of 2014. But that’s likely just on higher-end car models and not as stand-alone decks you can buy and install in your 2011 Jetta. Be on the lookout – it’s one of the next big things to come…

Google Nexus 7 In-dash - DaveTavres.com

 
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Posted in Automotive, Business, Microsoft, Software, Technology

 

Microsoft Stores – Have some stock!

27 Apr 2013

best-buy[1]Home-Depot-Black-Friday-2012[1]If you’re Home Depot or Best Buy, I can understand running out of stock on items. It happens. Businesses can only carry so much debt when ordering products from suppliers. It’s understandable that Best Buy might only have 50 iPad 2’s in stock at a given store. Home Depot could run out of 3/4 in. HD Maple Plywood, as they only order it once every 6 months and don’t sell much of it.

Let’s look at the Apple Store. Sure, Apple only makes and sells about 50 products, which includes everything from desktop computers, laptops, phones, viewing devices, software, mice, keyboards and other little 157186-apple-silver-apple-logo[1]accessories. Most of those items sell like hotcakes. Apple junkies know they can go to any Apple Store and get the product they want – Apple makes the products. Sure, they run out of stock too, but you can be sure they won’t be out of stock long. Apple wants to SELL PRODUCT. Before they had stores, they relied on retailers – until they realized they could make even more money by selling it themselves (and helping people upgrade.)

microsoft-store-logo-600x250[1]Now, let’s look at Microsoft. Specifically, Microsoft’s attempt at competing with Apple on the retail front – the “Microsoft Store”. Microsoft has been far more successful for much longer than Apple. Microsoft has released thousands of products since 1975. They came late to the retail game though and it looks like they still can’t compete. The first Microsoft Store opened in 2009 to sell THEIR products. Yes, they sell OEM hardware that runs Microsoft software, but they have plenty of other items that they make on their own; computers, tablets, phones, gaming systems, mice and keyboards, webcams, headsets and of course, software.

Considering the items that Microsoft sells, there are few that are really expensive to manufacture. Most of their branded items are peripherals; plastic (and thin metal) with small circuit boards that are likely made overseas in mass quantities. So why then, can’t Microsoft keep their own items in stock… at THEIR stores?

I’ve been looking for a new mouse. I have LOVED Microsoft’s mice through the years, but I’m down to my last one and it’s starting to fail. I’ve been studying the new models that Microsoft makes. There are a lot! So after reading reviews, watching videos and asking some questions online, it has come down to three. As it turns out, they are the three that are the most expensive. The “Touch”, the “Explorer Touch” and the “Arc Touch” – I’ve also thought about the “Wedge Touch”. Ranging from $50 to $80!

MicrosoftTouchMouseMicrosoftWedgeTouchMouseMicrosoftExplorerTouchMouse

A mouse is a significant piece of equipment to a computer geek like me. I use it a lot. I count on it for ease of use, control and the features it brings that allow me to work faster. I tend to be more of a keyboard guy, but I love my five-button Laser Mouse 6000. I use all the buttons. No, I’m not a gamer. I have buttons mapped for different shortcuts and I use them very efficiently. I understand that I’m odd – most people probably don’t give mice much of a second thought. I do.

Well, I’m not going to order an $80 mouse online just to find out I don’t like it. I want to go to the Microsoft Store and use it first. Make sure it fits my hand and feels good. I guess people buy shoes online, but I don’t want to have $80 to $150 in mice being returned each time I’m ‘trying’ out a mouse. I’m lazy, just like most people, and I’m likely to just leave the mouse in the closet and never return it. So, I’ve picked several mice made by Microsoft. Best Buy doesn’t have them in stock in the stores. Fry’s doesn’t either. Neither does Radio Shack, Sony Style Target, Walmart or OfficeMax. As it turns out, the Microsoft Store doesn’t have them either! That doesn’t mean the story near ME doesn’t have them… that means they haven’t had them in stock for MONTHS at ANY store in all of Southern California! What?!?!

Keep in mind, these are not old models. These are CURRENT products. Go to Microsoft Store’s “Mice” section of their website… *3* of the four mice I wanted to see in person at the store are at the top of the “Mice” section. These are the products Microsoft “wants” to sell? But they haven’t had them in stock at their retail stores for a long time.

What can be learned from this? Does Microsoft care about their customers? Do they understand how a retail location works? Do they not have the products because they’re going to abandon them like other products, but haven’t told customers yet? (ZuneKinSurface?) Are they really trying to stay in business?

ZuneMicrosoftKinMicrosoftSurface

 
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Posted in Business, Customer Service, Distribution, Hardware, Marketing, Microsoft, Websites

 

Mobile phone apps and security

11 Apr 2012

People love their smartphones these days… and with good reason. They can be amazing tools for business and fun distractions from the mundane parts of life – like standing in line at the post office or waiting to be picked up from the airport. There’s a problem though. Those fun and handy apps can be setting you up for embarrassment, failure or good ol’ fashioned identity theft.

Live Free or Die HardIf you saw the movie “Live Free or Die Hard”, you’ll recall the premise that one bad guy who sold software to large companies and government agencies had a back door entrance into those same secure systems – allowing him to take control of everything from street lights to phone systems to fire alarms. Yes, that idea is somewhat far-fetched, but that’s because [most] large corporations and government offices pour over software to insure that it’s safe to run in their systems AND that it doesn’t allow for hackers to get in and access private data. But… what if they did that on a smaller, but huge scale? Like… mobile phone users?

Mobile phone game cradleMillions of people install and play Angry Birds, but it would be a good guess that 99% of those people did NOT look at the security and permissions needed to enjoy that game. Angry Birds is not one to worry about, but there are PLENTY of others you SHOULD worry about! Today, everyone and their dog now publishes mobile applications. Some let you fake-burn ants with a digital magnifying glass, others record your voice and change it to sound like a chipmunk and some let you track your weight loss or scan barcodes to lookup prices. Simple, fun or useful tools – at least, we hope so. Some apps that are probably installed on your phone right now have access to your address book, emails, photos and text messages – and can very easily download that data to a server in any country in the world. Hopefully they aren’t using it to send spam, or worse… (Remember when Paris Hilton’s phone got hacked? That was just the beginning.)

Motorolla Triumph - AndroidI recently got a new phone that was better than my ancient one, and I happily started installing apps that I couldn’t run before. This new phone included a flash for the main camera which, as many people are aware, makes a great flashlight when you’re fumbling to get your key in the doorknob or looking for that piece that fell under the couch. The problem is this – WHY does an app that just needs to turn on the light, need access to your precise GPS location? WHY would it need full internet access? WHY would it need the ability to read and write to your memory card or see the phone numbers of incoming/outgoing phone calls?! I am NOT exaggerating! I refused to install at least 8 different flashlight apps because they wanted access to do waaay more with my phone than just turning on the light!

There are NUMEROUS apps out there that ask for these permissions and more, that people just don’t pay attention to when installing that ‘fun game that everyone loves.’ Don’t be fooled – just because it’s available on the the iTunes App Store or Android Marketplace does NOT mean it’s trustworthy! And NO, just because an application has over 2 MILLION downloads also does not mean it’s safe! However, there are plenty of apps that ask for lots of permissions – but they offer more than just a silly game – they’re useful, they can be a great resource and some even come from reputable companies.

Trust - Honor - Honesty - Liberty - Rights

The take-away from this is – beware. You wouldn’t hand your phone (or phonebook) to a stranger at Disneyland while you went on a wet ride – so why are you doing it when you install applications without learning more about them (or the company/person who wrote them)?

 
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Posted in Business, Distribution, Email, Microsoft, Phones, Software, Technology

 

System Restore – use it.

04 Feb 2012

When "System Restore" was added to Windows XP, it changed the life of a lot of computer geeks – and their clients. The ability to ‘roll-back’ a computer to a point in time prior to a virus/malware or just a bad install of a piece of software made for a MUCH easier and quicker solution than reformatting a hard drive.

Windows System RestoreSystem Restore works 98% of the time. The other 2% is left to those really nasty viruses that have figured out how to corrupt or remove the restore points, and to those users who (for an unknown reason) have turned it off. I can’t express my LOVE for this tool over the many other tools I use in my daily life as a computer geek.

Here’s a classic scenario: Jim calls me and says "I clicked on something and now whenever I try opening a file, a website loads telling me I need to install their anti-virus software. WHAT DO I DO?!"

  • If you’re using Windows XP (WHY are you STILL using Windows XP?!), you click START / Programs / Accessories / System Tools / System Restore.
  • If you’re using Windows 7, you click the START button and just type "System Restore", then click on the program. Or, if you HAVE to click through the menus, click START / All Programs / Accessories / System Tools / System Restore.

Once the program starts, just read the instructions and follow the recommended steps. This solution works best when something has JUST happened on your computer and you need to take a step back. If things have been wrong for a while, you probably need to call me… (www.Tavres.com – reasonable hourly rate, nice guy and a good geek.)

 
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Posted in Microsoft, Software, Technology

 

Goodbye Internet Explorer

02 Jan 2012

Internet Explorer 4My first job at Microsoft was working on Internet Explorer 4. Prior to that I had done technical support at Spry for their "Internet In A Box" product (before CompuServe bought them). Back then I used a flavor of the Mosaic browser (as did most everyone) and was pretty happy.

Netscrape NavigatorIE4 was a dramatic change – and I say that as someone who was an expert at the time. It was faster, had more features and was an amazing piece of software. Since 1996 I have tried all of the major browsers when browsing the web for my personal use, and as a software test engineer, I used all of the browsers for the various products and websites I worked on. I even fondly remember the battle between IE and Netscape Navigator. It wasn’t much of a battle, as Netscape was just old and clunky.

FirefoxFast forward several years and I was one of those geeks who held firmly to Microsoft’s mouse as they released IE5, IE6, IE7 and IE8. By IE8 I felt like they had really perfected the browser. There were lots of great features, it was quick enough and integrated really well into how I used the computer and the web. Then Firefox made the scene. It was faster when loading most web pages and was a big hit among a lot of people – but I held firm to my IE roots and was committed to sticking with it. That is, until Internet Explorer 9.

Internet Explorer 9As IE9 rolled out, touting that it was more standards compliant (which I liked) and was the next great browser, I held off on installing it, as I still did a lot of basic web development work and wanted to make sure all the sites I built worked correctly on the browser with the largest market share. Finally, a few months ago, I installed IE9. It was a sad day for me, as I watched years of commitment start to falter. Microsoft had built bloat-ware. Yes, it worked, but it was unbearably slow. I also didn’t like a few other small changes to shortcuts that had been part of IE for years.

Google ChromeFor over 15 years Internet Explorer was my default web browser when double-clicking on a URL… then, in late November 2011, I clicked that button that says "Make Google Chrome my default browser". It was the end of an era. It honestly makes me sad, but what are my options? More and more websites are focused on supporting Chrome and Firefox. IE9 is incredibly slow when opening new tabs… or just opening for that matter. It frustrates that dragging a shortcut to the desktop creates a "Pinned Site Shortcut", rather than a simple (and easy to edit) URL shortcut.

Then, I see this article: "As many as 220 Million users abandoned Internet Explorer in December". I can’t believe I’m so predictable. I’m not one of the millions of iZombies who blindly follow and buy any (and every) new Apple product or who drinks the nobama Kool-Aid, but here, I became one of the MILLIONS of people to finally droped Internet Explorer.

As many as 220 Million users abandoned Internet Explorer in DecemberAs many as 220 Million users abandoned Internet Explorer in December

For the past month+, I’ve been enjoying the speed and tools in Chrome. It will be interesting to see what the browser numbers look like at the end of 2012.

Internet Explorer 4

 
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Posted in Business, Microsoft, Software, Technology, Websites