I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
When I run into technical issues, itâs the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apartâs old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then thereâs the human dishonesty that drove Googleâs failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
This still fits into those categories, as Microsoftâs engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
However, Cortana has done the following.
Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given itâs an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.
Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.
Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.
Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by âplayâ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.
Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.
Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasnât offline because I was doing stuff online.
Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.
Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.
Day 8. Cortana hears me say âHey, Cortana,â but then just goes to âThinkingâ for minutes on end. It might display, âSomethingâs not right. Try again in a little bit,â after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am âoffline,â which is amazing that Iâm posting to this blog right now.
The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
Iâll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as âsolutionsâ. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.
PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though âThinkingâ still came up for a few seconds on the first go. Day 11, worked without intervention (amazing!). Day 12, see day 7 (evening).âJY
Cortana gives completely the wrong address for me. I wonder if the resident of 39A Aparima Avenue is getting identified as the home of a lot of Windows 10 users.
Thereâs not an awful lot that Cortana can tell you. Most enquiries wind up on Bing, and sheâs only really good for the weather and exchange rates (as I have discovered so far). There are a few fun questions you can throw at her, asking if sheâs better than Siri, or whether if sheâs met Bill Gates, but generally, but weâre far from Knight Rider or replicant technology here. A New Zealand accent presents no problems. One thing she gets very wrong is my location, which is allegedly 39A Aparima Avenue in Miramar. Iâm not sure how she arrived at that address, as I donât live there and I donât believe I know the person who does.
Itâs not too unpleasant to look at although the mobile-specific features can get a bit annoying. The menus feel too large overall, because itâs all designed from a mobile-first standpoint, while the biggest gripe from me comes with the typography.
Microsoft has ruined ClearType here in its attempt to make something for mobile first, and most type looks very poor on screen. Fortunately, a Japanese website still hosts the MacType plug-in, which brings the font display closer to what we experience on Mac OS X. It even goes beyond what we were used to in Windows 7, which had been Microsoftâs best use of its ClearType technology to date.
After installing MacType, ITC Legacy Serif looks far more like it does in print.
You can alter the fonts through the Registry Editor, and I set about getting rid of Arial as always. Windows 10 doesnât like you removing a system font, so the trick is to replace it with something else called Arial, then remove the original from HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts.
Windows 10 removes your ability to change the icon and menu fonts, and they now have to be changed in the registry, too, at HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics, and very carefully.
After tinkering with those, the display began looking like what I was familiar with, otherwise there was a bit too much Segoe on screen.
There have so far been no program incompatibilities. As upgrades go, it hasnât been too bad, and I havenât been stuck here forever downloading updates. Apple still gets higher marks for its OS upgrade processes (when they work) but given how much data I have on my main Windows machine, and how different each PC is, Microsoft has done a good job. Iâm glad the system waited till now, and delivered me a relatively bug-free transition. Software upgrading is one area where I don’t mind not being first.
With the mouse being the culprit on my main computer causing mouse and keyboard to be unresponsive in Windows 7(Iâve still no idea when Windows 10 arrives and Microsoft has been no help at all), I decided to shop for a new one again. The failed mouse was one I bought in 2012, which also made it the most short-lived. Made by Logitech, I had expected better. It replaced a 2002 Microsoft mouse which was my daily unit, and that had failed around 2013. Another Logitech, a few years older, was already giving up the ghost when plugged into the office Mac, and I transferred that to an old Windows machine that we use very irregularly for testing. It was fine there, but the fact it only works on Windows (and Linux, as I later found out) meant that itâs faulty in some way.
One thing I did know, although mice fail in my care less easily than keyboards, is that quality was important. Some months ago, Corporate Consumables advertised old-style Microsoft mice for NZ$12. Considering that type isnât made today, I assume it was old stock they were trying to get rid of. It was the most comfortable I had used last decade, but it appeared that the NZ$12 sale was successful: there were none left.
I headed again to Atech Computers on Wakefield Street, as Matthew had always looked after me and knew I could be fussy. He sold me a Lenovo mouse (above), which he believed would have better quality than the Logitechs, and let me try it out. It was fine at the shopâit was more sizeable than the Logitechâbut after prolonged use I discovered it wasnât wide enough. My ring and little fingers were dragging on the mouse pad, but since there was nothing technically wrong with it, it wouldnât be right to return it. Lesson learned for NZ$30: itâs not just the length, width is important, too. That Lenovo is now plugged into the Linux PC and the older Logitech put aside for now. I might wind up giving it away knowing that itâs not in the best condition, having given away quite a few recycled PCs of late from both myself and a friend when she got new gear for her office.
Corporate Consumables had let me see a dead-stock Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 on my earlier visit and I decided I would give that a go. Armed with the Lenovo, I went to the Wellington office to compare the two and the width was, indeed, right. It was a bit closer to the 2002 model I had. It was narrower, but the sculpted design meant I had somewhere to rest my ring finger, within the body of the mouse. Although manufactured in 2005, it was still in its packaging and Corporate sold it to me at a very low price.
I donât mind that it left the factory a decade ago, if, roughly, the newer the mouse, the shorter the life. A 10-year-old mouse might last me another decade or so. A few years back, I bought a Microtek Scanmaker 5800 to replace a faulty 5700: although it was obsolete and I bought dead stock, it was at about a third of the price of what it was when brand-new last decade, and it plugged into my system without any software alteration. As long as a gadget delivers the quality I wantâand the 5800 gave better results than a newer scanner with a plastic lens, for exampleâthen I donât really mind that that particular model isnât the latest thing. Even the office printer was in a box for about five or six years before it replaced something we bought in 2003 that had gone kaput.
Have mice changed that much between 2005 and 2015? Not really: they do the same thing, more or less, and the old ones might be better made. Iâm perfectly happy with bringing something forth into October 2015 that isnât a De Lorean DMC-12 with a Mr Fusion on the back.
Last week was an interesting one for computer bugs. Apple took 42 attempts to install the latest Itunes update on one Mac (and that was the good one that normally presents no issues with updates), but, to its credit, once it was done there were no further problems. Windows, however, gave me a few headaches and Iâm recording the solutions here for others who might have the same, since what Iâve read online doesnât always apply.
The old laptop was freezing every time I used Firefox. God help us, I even downloaded Chrome when I was in the Philippines, since it was the only browser compatible with YouTube, to which I had to upload a few videos for work. (Internet Explorer kept producing an error, with YouTube saying I had to get the latest version, and Microsoft saying I had the latest version.) And no, I didnât accidentally turn on my search history since the dates donât even correspond, and I was using another account.
Fix: remove Avast. The bug had been plaguing that work machine for a few weeks and I had an inkling it was Avast. One of the team had accidentally allowed an Avast 30-day trial to proceed, which was the root of the problems. It was roughly at this time the issues began. I had downgraded back to the standard one, but things were so irreparably damaged that the only solution was removal altogether. That laptop is back to AVG, although Microsoft Security Essentials is recommended to me.
My main desktop computer, which is running Windows 7 (since Microsoft has been completely silent on how to upgrade to Windows 10, with the advisory box giving me no clues other than I am in the queue), began freezing me out earlier this week. Twice at night the keyboard and mouse became unresponsive, although the computer itself had not hung: things were happening in the background normally. I had to do a hard reset twice that night, and had a painless day for the subsequent day, but then the bug recurred around 10 times on Friday.
In the meantime, should this happen, putting the computer to sleep works, which, like most bugs, seems to be the opposite of the advice you get. I was still able to access the computer via VNC on Android, and control it through there. Putting the PC to sleep (discovered entirely by accident) and then awakening it worked in getting keyboard and mouse control back.
You begin suspecting certain things.
Keyboard and mouse faulty? You would hope not, since I spent NZ$160 on the former, though it is under warranty. On two occasions I heard a USB disconnect sound. However, both were checked and appear to be fine. I altered some USB sleep settings, but they made no difference (and were put back to default).
Hacked? Actually, yes. I run TightVNC, and there were repeated hacking attempts from IP addresses in the US, the Netherlands and Colombia of late. These were added to the firewall and the TightVNC program updated to the latest version. The Event Viewer had picked these up.
But the bug persisted and even became more regular.
Was it to do with the Windows Error Reporting service? I had not signed up, and it was switched off, but I still went into the Task Manager and disabled the associated tasks. No joy, nothing changed.
One person wrote that they experienced this error after downloading the Intel update driver utility, which I had done so, too, after Microsoft advised that I had Intel issues and was unable to upgrade to Windows 10. That was in August, but it was close enough to the September bugâand I had been away, after allâthat it was a possibility. I removed it, but, the bug continued.
I did the usual disk checks and verified the hard drive.
What finally worked? Removing everything by Apple with the exception of QuickTime. It turns out that not only was the Itunes update problematic on a Mac, it could freeze you out on Windows. That meant removing every updater, Itunes, any Apple utilities connecting you to portable devices, and an Apple service called Bonjour (which had generated a lot of errors in the Event Viewer). Till Apple sorts itself out with Itunes, thatâs the thing you should avoid. Although having used it for the first time in many, many years, only to be told that what I wanted to buy was not available to New Zealanders (who, incidentally, could have watched the same programme for free from the copyright ownerâs website), Iâm not entirely sure why anyone would. At this rate, I wonât be using it again in a hurry, at least not for another few years till someone asks, âCan I download Itunes on to your computer?â
Postscript: A few days after writing this post, which included a trouble-free day, the problem recurred, and this time, there was nothing in Event Viewer at all. After even more investigation, it turns out that in Windows, a faulty mouse can knock out your keyboard. Go figure. Of course, that could lead to a full post about mice.âJY
Quartz reckons Google Plus is going to be stripped for parts: it’s going the way of Google Wave and Google Buzz. I was consistent from the start about Google Plus, unlike a good part of the tech press, which drank the Google Kool-Aid and talked about how it would be a Facebook-killer.
The logic was never there to begin with. If Google organized the internet, and Facebook organized your friends, then what on earth was Google Plus for?
I have an account and I even like the user interface, despite my misgivings about Google.
But I never saw a real purpose for it. Mine tends to be used to post warnings about Google, because I enjoy irony. On occasion it didn’t even work.
I have friends who are Plus fans, because they have built up decent followings and have, I presume, more intimate discussions on there than one would have on Facebook, which, if you are like me, has friends from all walks of life. Personally, I prefer seeing different viewpoints so I can learn about how others thinkâI’m seldom dismissive of thoughts that disagree with my own unless that person has proved to waste my time with content-less drivel on too many occasionsâso I never really had a need to build up a new bunch of folks who might share a narrower range of interests with me.
However, for me, my Google Plus activity never even exceeded my Myspace activity. And these days, Myspace is in the crapper again, introducing a YouTube player that plays songs that have no relationship to the ones you choose. It has ceased to be a viable platform despite a very good interface and music library at the time of its second coming. After epic fails on the part of Myspace to play the correct music, I gave up on it, and I haven’t been back for a long time.
Google Plus never did a thing for me, and now I see from the Quartz article that Google is changing its narrative again.
âFor us, Google Plus was always two things, a stream and a social layer. The stream has a passionate community of users, but the second goal was larger for us. Weâre at a point where things like photos and communications are very important, weâre reorganizing around that. Hangouts will still exist,’ said Android boss Sundar Pichai.
Apparently it was meant to be a “social layer” from the start. You could argue that this isn’t entirely inaccurate, if you read Google’s launch blog post about Plus. However, there’s every sign it was meant to be a Facebook rival, and that’s what the tech press took from Google at the time. It was even called ‘Googbook’ internally. It was just like Microsoft Internet Explorer, trying to take on Netscape. Except Internet Explorer actually did much better in getting market share.
The failure of Plusâsure, I could be premature, because Quartz‘s article is careful not to make this a dead certâcements Gordon Kelly’s view that Google and Microsoft have swapped places to some extent. Microsoft is acting like an upstart, while Google is defending old businesses, resting on its laurels. Kelly also says:
Googleâs pillars of ads and search have become its Windows and Office. Both are being chipped away by more targeted advertising within social media and the compartmentalisation of an apps-based world. Your details and desires are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram more than in your Google search requests and we increasingly go to specific apps (eg weather) rather than web searching for it.
The knock-on effect: Adsense is declining and Googleâs search market share is currently at its lowest point in seven years. Like Microsoft had done with Windows and Office, Google understandably still tightly holds onto the duo as its primary revenue pillars but the future implies only further slow decline with no obvious escape route.
Furthermore Google appears to be making another old Microsoft error: deprioritizing mobile.
The rest of the article makes a good read. If Facebook is becoming a thing of the past, and Google is rethinking Plus, then the latter half of the decade could be very interesting in terms of what new websites might take up our time.
I’ve gone into the reasons I support ânet neutrality elsewhere, but it was nice to hear about this on the wireless:
even though we still don’t know the specifics, as the FCC has kept this to itself for now. (We do know that Google has written a letter to the FCC, and that ‘an entire core part of the document was removed with respect to broadband subscriber access service,’ according to dissenting commissioner Ajit Pai.)
While I knew Comcast had spent tens of crore lobbying against ânet neutrality, the rest may surprise you. According to SumofUs.org (emphasis added):
Just six months ago, we were facing staggering odds. Big corporations like US cable TV giant Comcast had spent more than $750 million lobbying for a corporate-controlled Internet. Google, the biggest lobby in the industry, was refusing to speak up. The FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former Big Cable lobbyist, was hostile to Net Neutrality.
You’d think that Google would want to keep its squeaky-clean good-guy image up, but not speaking up seems to support Julian Assange’s allegations that the firm is a âprivatized NSAâ, becoming increasingly militarized. Gordon Kelly in Forbes goes so far as saying that Microsoft and Google have swapped places, with Google now the old-school establishment firm trying to defend the good old days.
This highlights even more the importance to keep the ânet neutral, away from some of these larger firms whose mandate is, at best, uncertain and, at worst, unethical. When you think about innovations, including some of the websites we use today regularly, many were started by the little guy, and I’d like to see more of what independent minds come up with. (Facebook was one; Duck Duck Go was another.) Keeping the internet neutral in the US for all playersâand that includes New Zealanders selling their wares thereâis a good thing.
And if you needed a reminder, here is perhaps the most widely seen argument for ânet neutrality of them all in 2014:
During the six hours wasted with Ubuntu today (13 would no longer upgrade, so I removed it and decided to start afresh with 14âbig mistake, since it would not let me use the same hard drive), I had to open up my five-year-old Windows Vista laptop and upgrade my Firefox. After all, what were the odds that Mozilla would cock up its flagship browser on two OSs? After all, it’s fine on Mac OS X and Linux.
As it turns out, pretty high. Just as in Windows 7, Firefox for Windows Vista displays no text. And unlike Windows 7, which was solved by switching on hardware acceleration, Windows Vista proved a bit of a bugger to fix.
During the months where I was trouble-shooting, and after my last post, one of the more knowledgeable Mozilla volunteers admitted that there is a fault with the Cairo rendering engine in Firefox: ‘This means that (at least in your case) the issue is most likely specific to the cairo drawing backend. Good to know, thanks.’
It is still definitely related to the 2011 bug I filed where PostScript Type 1 fonts were incompatible with Firefox due to something breaking that time.
Firefox for Windows Vista’s bug, as far as I can make out, is down to Type 1 fonts being incompatible with the browser, even though they are compatible with nearly everything else on the OS. This is slightly different from the Windows 7 fault, as I still have PostScript Type 1 fonts on that computer, but Firefox simply ignores those when specified in a stylesheet in favour of what it can load under hardware acceleration (usually the default).
Despite my updating some of the system fonts that were particular to my Vista set-up to OpenType (which Firefox might have trouble with sometimes, too), that did not fix it. Firefox requires you to delete fonts off your system.
On some websites, including Facebook, Helvetica is specified before Arial in stylesheets. If your Helvetica (not Neue Helvetica) is PostScript Type 1âand it probably would be on a Windows machineâFirefox will detect it, and return blank spaces.
This is still a daft state of affairs with Cairo. Here’s how (to my very basic layman’s mind, and obviously to the minds of everyone at Adobe and a bunch of other places) how a program should deal with fonts:
* Is it installed on the system? Yes.
* Use it.
Firefox seems to adopt this approach:
* Is it installed on the system? Yes.
* Let’s ignore the ones our programmers dislike in favour of the ones our programmers like, which would only be certain TrueType fonts, and to heck with the people who have licensed other fonts and installed them in good faith. Let’s punish anyone who decided to carry over older software. Let’s also fail selected OpenType fonts such as the italics in Source Sans Pro for no apparent reason. [PS.: If the first font family is incompatible, let’s display nothing. On a stylesheet, if one does not work, we won’t load the second one, but we will try to load the system font even if that is incompatible, too.]
When it comes to stylesheets, neither OS makes much sense. Normally a program would go through each font specified, and display in the first one available. I don’t understand the rationale but Firefox will skip the ones in the stylesheet even when installed, even when compatible, and opt for system fonts or those specified as defaults in the program.
All of this is counter-intuitive, and if it weren’t for what must be my OCD, I’d never have found out, and have given up to use another browser.
Not that IE11 is much good:
I’m sure this is familiar to anyone who has done web development. Lucire has a new home page and the tests show:
Firefox on Mac, Windows, Ubuntu: OK
Chromium on Windows: OK
IE9 and IE10: OK
Safari on Mac OS X, Iphone and Ipad: OK
Dolphin on Android: OK
A really old version of Seamonkey we had at the office: OK
IE8 on Windows XP: not OK
All the roman text is showing as bold, and as usual this is not a bug that I can find reported (I even looked on Google). I have found bugs about italics showing instead of romans caused by installation issues, which don’t apply here as we are using webfonts. There is another common bug about faux bolds and italics, but I’m having the opposite problem: a true bold showing up where romans should (and bold italic instead of italic).
Annoyingly, this bug may have been with us for over a monthâwhen we changed our body type.
Given that IE8 was never a good browser to begin with, and anyone who cared about their surfing experiences would not have touched it, it makes me wonder if we should invest any more time trying to get things to work. It does mean that just under a tenth of our readers (or is it just over a fifth? Depends who you want to believe) won’t be able to experience our website the way we intended. I realize older IEs are more commonplace in China but our readership this year in the Middle Kingdom had dipped.
The good news, in some ways, is Microsoft’s announcement that it will cease support for the venerable XP platform in 2014. If trends continue based on the first set of stats, the well obsolete IE8 should dip below the five per cent mark this coming year.
It’s a toss-up between leaving it and fixing it, given that we don’t know why IE8 is misinterpreting the linked fonts (theory: are the character sets of the roman and italic too large for it to handle?). If we knew, then fixing things would be a no-brainer. (Clues are welcome!)