Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’


The religiosity of the superbrands

10.02.2014


Another friend asked the Windows laptop v. Macbook question on her Facebook today.
   You can predict what happens next. The cult came by. As with the last time a friend asked the same question.
   The cult always comes and proclaims the superiority of the Apple Macintosh. And it is a blinding proclamation, of messianic proportions, where one must behold the perfection and divinity of said technology. There is always one person who posts multiple times in an effort to convert you—bit like how one religion’s missionaries do those ten visits in an effort to get you to join. I think they might operate on a similar counting system.
   As someone who uses Mac, Windows and Linux regularly (Mac and Windows daily, Ubuntu twice weekly) and usually enters into the conversation with ‘At the end of the day, it’s just a computer,’ I find it unsettling.
   How unsettling?
   Basically, as unsettling as my atheist friends would find someone imposing religion on them. Their stance usually is: hey, good on you if it works for you. If it makes you a better person, great. But I’d rather you not preach about it to me.
   The proclamations are usually so one-sided that they leave holes for attack. ‘They are better’ is not really good evidence, and ‘a six-year-old machine can still run the latest OS’ is only dependent on the RAM. The existence of Windows crapware and a clogged-up registry are more the function of the user rather than the platform. I also level a lot of the blame on Windows’ clunkiness on Microsoft Office: I don’t use it, and I am happier for it. (In fact, Office may be the worst thing to happen to the more Windows OSs, as they let down what I regard as a pretty stable platform.)
   I don’t dislike the Mac ecosystem. I use it daily, though the hard grunt I’ll do on my Windows 7 machine. I love the way the Mac handles graphics and sound. Without speccing up my Windows machine, I wouldn’t have the same quality. Apple’s handling of type is better than Microsoft’s Cleartype, in my opinion.
   I like how the platforms now communicate readily with each other.
   But I have problems with the wifi dropping out on a Mac, though this happens less often after Mavericks came out. However, it’s on the Mac forums as one of those unsolved issues that’s been going on for four years without a resolution. InDesign, at least for us, crashes more often on Mac than on Windows. (Your mileage may vary.) Some programs update more easily on Windows—take my 79-year-old Dad, who would prefer clicking ‘Update’ when a new Flash arrives more than downloading a DMG file, opening it, and dragging an icon to the Applications. It’s harder to learn this stuff when you are nearly 80. And don’t get me started on the IBM PC Jr-style children’s keyboards. They sucked in the 1980s and there’s not much reason they don’t suck today. (I replace the Imac chiclet keyboards with after-market ones, though of course that’s not a realistic option if you are getting a Macbook.)
   Sure, these are minor issues. For each one of these I can name you Windows drawbacks, too, not least how the tech can date if you don’t buy expensively enough to begin with, and how you can still find innovations on an older Mac that Microsoft simply hasn’t caught up with. And even with some of the newer monitor-and-computer desktop units out there, none of them are as neatly designed and beautifully modernist as an Imac.
   The biggest problem I have with the Mac world is this. As I told my friend: ‘Any time I post about Windows going wrong, the Mac cult always surfaces and cries, “You should buy a Mac!” as though they were stalking my social networks. Any time I post about Macs going wrong … the cult hides away. You see, you are shattering the illusion that the machines are perfect.’ It’s been like this for years.
   It is and it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t sway me when I use the technology. But it’s hard for me, or anyone who sees through the fact that these are just computers, to want to be associated with that behaviour.
   The more level-headed Mac users—a few have helped me on social networks when I raise an issue, though they are far fewer than the ‘Buy a Mac!’ crowd—probably don’t want to be seen to be part of some élite, either.
   I should be more tolerant of this given my qualifications in branding. Good on Apple for creating such fervour. This is held up to us as something we should achieve with our own brands, with the traditional agencies usually naming Apple at number one. Kevin Roberts and Saatchi used to go on about ‘lovemarks’. It’s great that people see a bunch of bits as something so personal, so emotionally involved. Google is in the same boat—go to the forums and tell the senior support people there that their by-the-book, Google-is-right, you-must-be-doing-something-wrong answer is incorrect. You will simply be ignored, because it doesn’t fit into their world and their belief system.
   In both cases, I wonder if there is such a thing as overbranding: where consumers love something so much that it goes beyond comprehension, into the creepy stage. Some might call these ‘superbrands’, but there is an uncomfortable element of religiosity to it. I’m not so sure whether this is the function of branding—and we thus come back to what we wrote at the Medinge Group in 2003, where we proposed in Beyond Branding that brands really centred around humanism, integrity and transparency.
   I don’t recall anything about fervour.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, marketing, technology, typography, USA | 3 Comments »


Sounds familiar? Works on all browsers, except for IE8

29.12.2013

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 month—when 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!)

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Posted in business, design, internet, media, New Zealand, technology, typography | 2 Comments »


I’m not the only one who has a problem with Internet Explorer

21.06.2012

I realize software crashes can happen to anyone at any time, even Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky, when demonstrating the new Microsoft Surface tablets in front of an audience in Los Angeles.
   However, it does remind me of the year where Internet Explorer 9 would not work on any of our computers. The question must be asked: if one of Microsoft’s own bosses can’t get Internet Explorer to work, what hope do the rest of us have?

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Posted in humour, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Testing the browsers: which has the best typography?

23.02.2012

Con Carlyon inspired this post today. He’s kept an eye on the best browser and forwarded me a test from TechCrunch where Firefox, Chrome, IE9 and Opera 11 are pitted against one another. The victors are Firefox and Chrome.
   My needs are quite different from most people. For starters, the number-one criterion for me on any browser is decent typography. Firefox has been, at least since v. 3, the most typographically aware browser, picking up the correct typefaces from stylesheets, and providing access to all installed fonts on a system through its menu.
   I had done these tests before, but I thought it was about time I revisited the main four browsers and their typographic capability. These were all done on the same machine, and the full screen shots are available if anyone wants to see them. Firefox and IE9 were already on my system but were checked to be current and up to date. Chrome and Opera were downloaded today (February 23, 2012).
   This is not a test about Java or overall speed, just typography. But I would have to give the speed crown to Chrome—bearing in mind that my Firefox is full of extensions and add-ons.

The Lucire home page
Not the latest HTML, but there is a fairly standard stylesheet. Here is how the four browsers performed.

Firefox 10.0.2
Firefox
I am used to this, so I don’t see anything unusual. Firefox is my browser of choice (though I have since tried Waterfox 64-bit, and noticed no speed difference). It picks up the web font (Fiduci, in the headline), kerns (see We in Week) and the text font, Dante, is installed on this machine. It’s the first type family specified in the stylesheet.
   Kerning: 1. Font fidelity: 1.

Chrome
Chrome
Not much difference on the left-hand side. However, Chrome fails to pick up Dante, even though it’s installed. It’s opted for Monotype Garamond for the body text. It’s the eighth typeface family specified in the stylesheet—an unusual choice. At least two of the other typeface families preceding Garamond are installed on this machine.
   Kerning: 1. Font fidelity: 0.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
IE9
Awful. IE9’s bugs have already been documented on this blog, and it is very limited on which fonts it allows you to access in its menu (TTFs only). There is no kerning, and Monotype Garamond, again, has been chosen as the text font. There were some even less attractive choices on the home page that I didn’t take a screen shot of.
   Kerning: 0. Font fidelity: 0.

Opera 11.63
Opera
Interestingly, Fiduci is picked up for the headlines and Dante for the text. But a bug that Firefox had back in v. 2 in 2006, and which I filed with the makers of Opera in 2010, remains present. Opera fails to display characters above ASCII 128 properly, and when it hits a ligature, it will change the following characters to a different typeface, in this case, Times. No kerning, either.
   Kerning: 0. Font fidelity: 0·5.

A Lucire news page
Much the same comments apply from the above, but it gave me confirmation of each browser’s issues.

Firefox 10.0.2
Firefox
The first choices in each CSS spec are picked up.

Chrome
Chrome
Instead of the Lucire typeface in the central column, Chrome specifies Verdana, the sixth typeface family for the spec.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
IE9
Same as Chrome, except without the kerning.

Opera 11.63
Opera
Correct typefaces, but for the changing fonts in the middle of the line.

Conclusion
If I really didn’t care about type—and most people don’t—I would have a hard time choosing between Chrome and Firefox. On this test alone, Chrome was the fastest—but I suspect a Firefox without add-ons would be comparable. But once you factor in type, Chrome makes some very odd decisions, as does IE9, about which fonts it chooses from the installed base. It doesn’t, consistently, pick the first one—and previous versions did.
   Interestingly, Chrome now displays Facebook in Verdana. When I first encountered it, it displayed Facebook in our in-house Lucire 1, which we had programmed to substitute for Arial on our older machines.
   So somewhere along the line, someone changed the way Chrome picked fonts, but having something installed is no longer a guarantee it will even show up on Google’s browser. That can’t be good for corporate environments where companies have paid a site- or company-wide licence to have the correct fonts installed. But I’m glad Chrome now uses the kerning pair data in fonts, and that’s made a positive difference to legibility.
   IE9 is simply terrible. It made the same wrong calls as Chrome, but, to make things worse, it won’t even use the kerning data. Of the four tested, it comes dead last.
   Opera is not far ahead, mind, at least based on the arbitrary point scale I assigned above. While it picks up the correct typefaces, some might think its irritating habit of changing fonts mid-line to be more annoying. It could well be, as this does nothing for reading. Imagine every quotation mark and every word with a ligature changing—for no apparent reason. As mentioned, this bug was in Firefox in 2006, and Opera knows about it, but evidently Opera users are not displeased with the glitch and it remains unfixed.
   Typographically, Firefox 10.0.2 is the victor—and that’s no surprise. When I discovered bugs in Firefox 4, I was met with professional developers on the forums who actually understood type and the niceties behind the OpenType spec. Those are details some professional typeface designers don’t know. It looks I won’t be changing browsers any time soon.

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Posted in internet, technology, typography, USA | 6 Comments »


Looks like the Microsoft man was wrong about this, too

11.02.2012

Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer

A final postscript on my IE9 blank-window bug, again solved, as so many technological matters are here, by not following the advice of a self-proclaimed “expert”.
   Hayton at the McAfee forums—which seem to be populated with polite people—mentioned the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer earlier today. This checks for what updates are missing, etc.
   As I was told that my missing Windows 7 updates were a direct cause of my ‘injudicious’ use of System Restore by the man from Microsoft—who then proceeded to say that the only way to fix my blank-window issue was to format my hard drive—I wanted to confirm that he was wrong about everything.
   You see, he was wrong about the cause of the bug. He missed the basic fact that before my System Restore, IE9 was already not working. And I suspected he was wrong about the updates, since they should have occurred before the System Restore.
   This is what you get with some of these experts: they’re never right.
   And lo and behold, what did I discover?
   Just as I expected: Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer reported that all my updates were up to date and I wasn’t missing a thing.
   Lesson: believe polite people. Disbelieve snarky people. Especially if they tell you to format your hard drive.

Speaking of experts, Conrad Johnston found gold today for our Font Police site. In Whitby, there are some Experts in property—that’s right, with a capital E. If you’ve been to our Font Police site before, you’ve never seen anything this bad yet. One façade, countless offences—it’s the funniest one we’ve ever had.

Finally, here’s a Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 thread that’s even weirder, as one user finds that the browser is incompatible with Helvetica and Neue Helvetica. Mine works with these families, but it looks like the only way William La Martin got his IE9 going was to delete them.
   Based on recent experience, the IE developers at Microsoft really have a problem with handling fonts.

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Posted in internet, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


History has already shown us the better way, so why ape an outmoded market leader?

05.02.2012

A friend had his Gmail hacked, and, much like an Atlantic article I read in the print edition a few months ago, the hackers deleted his entire mailbox. Google says these hacks only happen a few thousand times daily.
   I’m concerned for him because he has to deal with the Google forums, and we all know how unhelpful and obstructive they can be.
   I’ve never trusted Gmail, or any web-based email system, “on the cloud”. I’ve always kept POP3 archives and the worst thing that might happen is that some of the older CDs and DVDs might be less reliable. But this event actually brings to mind something else that has concerned me about my method: the email client.
   I’ve used Eudora since the 1990s. I started with v. 1.2, and for years, my standard client was 4.3. I happily paid for a licence to get the pro version, and used 4.3 till it no longer worked with the settings on our server. That meant I stayed with one email client from 1999 to 2008. I was then forced to upgrade to 7.1, and I have used that since.
   Qualcomm no longer makes Eudora, and for the last half-decade or so, there have been various “Eudorized” versions of Mozilla Thunderbird. That won’t fly with me, because my demand is actually very simple, but it is going completely unmet: I want an email program that has a vertically tiled inbox and outbox. For the majority of my working life, I have used this method as a to-do list of sorts, and I can see at a glance who I have to deal with.
   The sad thing is that the three-window interface has become a standard for email programs, but this does not work for me. I don’t want an email program that syncs with calendars or creates automatic Dropbox links. I just want one that works, where I can have filters and multiple accounts, and where I can have inbox and outbox side by side. This should be, I thought, a relatively simple request, especially as Eudora was, at one point, considerably more popular than it is today.

Eudora window
Above: Eudora 7.1, with an inbox on the left and an outbox on the right. Does anyone else make an email program that does this?

This is the story of many industries, where inferior norms become the standard. As I typed this, Preston Tucker came to mind: a pioneer who created a safe, fast and aerodynamic car with fuel injection, decades before Detroit could manage the same. But the big players won out and Tucker died a broken man. Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, made do with the same old junk till they were forced to innovate and use ideas that Tucker wanted to mainstream in the 1950s. Similarly, I laugh when people talk about the novelty of hybrids, when you consider how prevalent dual-fuel natural gas–petrol cars were in New Zealand 30 years ago.
   In the tech world, I happily used—and still use—WordPerfect. Why? It works. And it still works considerably better than its competition. Even a 20-year-old version will blow modern word processors away in terms of sheer functionality and ease of use, assuming you could install it. The latest versions are buggier because of the small user base and the absence of Unicode compatibility. But I persevere with it because, at the end of the day, these programs are tools, and I get my work done far more quickly with WordPerfect. I might be the one person on the planet who does not know how to use Word.
   I can’t get my head around Word. With WordPerfect, if I set margins and font, it stays that way till I tell it otherwise. Word and its later competitors have a habit of needing styles set, and try to be too clever for their own good. It might tab paragraphs automatically—even when you don’t want it to. It might change margins and fonts on me because it can. And Word’s footnote and endnote creation is still light years behind what WordPerfect could do in 1991.
   But Word is the standard because Microsoft gave it away in the 1990s. When OpenOffice and Libre Office came out, it aped the standard, right down to the crazy way it handled styles. Why? By all means, create versions which would ease the transition, but if you’re to adopt any method, why not start with the best? Word, for years, had WordPerfect transitional settings, to steal customers from the market leader. Before Word became a freebie, friends who I converted to WordPerfect were still thanking me profusely for making their lives easier. It would seem logical for these open-source programs to go with a better underlying technology.
   I have subbed with Word, and regularly do, because most of our team write using it. By the end of the piece I will have noticed the original writer adopt three styles, because Word has done it that way. My editing will have caused another three or more stylistic changes. It is a mess by the time I save it, with my only solace being that no member of the public ever sees it in that state.
   When I open a Word file in WordPerfect, which is what I have to do now with the DOCX format, I see all the superfiuous code (through Reveal Codes—for Dreamweaver users, it’s not unlike HTML source) and it answers precisely why the program lacks any logic. Styles upon styles upon styles. Even Dreamweaver users who have ever had to deal with a Word-created HTML file post-Word 2000 know exactly what I mean. Word is an ineficient program, in every respect of the adjective.

WordPerfect window
Above: This is about as simple a document as you can get and the first I found with public information: one set only in Courier, 14 pt. WordPerfect shows that Word, on which the document was originally prepared, has still inserted Times New Roman font-change codes on every blank line—for no reason whatsoever. This is one of the reasons I dislike Microsoft Word. Had the document been prepared on WordPerfect, every incidence of the Times New Roman code would not have been present.

   I don’t know much about programming, but it seems, from every article I have read about these open suites, the new programs are playing the anti-Tucker game, mostly unconsciously, since the developers I have met are usually generous idealists. Let’s stick with this less productive, less logical method of word processing, because that is where the market is. But with fonts and more complex layouts now what people need, I would have thought that the methods employed by old computerized typesetting machines—which used codes similar to WordPerfect—would have been a more logical start for a word processing program.
   This isn’t an ad for WordPerfect. I simply ask for utility and logic. It doesn’t have to have WordPerfect code. It just needs to be a word processor that does what I tell it to do. Set font, stays in that font. Set margins, stays with those margins. Is this too big an ask? Wouldn’t this save time, which is the whole idea of technology? Why should we become slaves to software, when we created it to be our slave?
   Email clients, then, I find, follow much the same pattern. When I chose Eudora, I have a vague recollection that the New Zealand competitor, Pegasus, was structured in much the same way. The tiled inbox and outbox was a norm, and it worked. People rejoiced.
   Then, Microsoft decided it would adopt the present three-window standard in Outlook, and it gave away Outlook. I resisted it from the get-go: who wants to click just to see their outbox? Isn’t that an extra step? Why can’t I see my lists of emails at a glance? For someone who gets several hundred messages a day, I need to see more than ten. I would rather see 25 or more. And my outbox would have action items, things I had promised people I would do. So I stuck with Eudora.
   It’s not about being in Luddite position. It is going back to basics and saying: what would improve people’s workflow? Forcing them to click to see something or just showing it? (Twitter UI designers, take note.) Is the three-window convention the best way to use that on-screen real estate?
   It seems that Thunderbird, the open-source rival, again missed an opportunity by using an inferior convention as its base. By all means, ape Outlook, to ease a transition. But give the public—you are, after all, on the 11th version now—a chance to move the windows as we see fit. Computers are powerful enough now so it must be possible. It was in the 1990s.
   Let those who love the three-window convention stick with it, but let the rest of us move those windows to our heart’s content, and make life as easy as possible.
   The aim, therefore, is to gather as much success in the next decade before these programs become obsolete, by which time I should either have (a) hired extra folks to take care of these tasks exclusively or (b) pushed for these features in the open-source programmes.

Therefore, making leaps ahead is a good thing, but will people do it? This is always the gamble with predicting future needs: will we go so far that we still miss the boat? We fired but the missile landed in front of her bow.
   But I’m not even talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. I’m talking about existing methods, things that have been around for ages, waiting to be rediscovered. Resizing and detaching windows is a standard feature in so many programs. All it takes is being able to grab this stuff from history—a lesson that could well apply to organization memory as well. History has already told us, when the playing field was level, which methods were superior, and what people opted for when confronted with having to spend their own money on software. Before their giveaway periods, the choices were never Word or Outlook.
   The open-source movement, in my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it for creating a new round of office efficiency.

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Posted in business, design, internet, leadership, technology, typography | 9 Comments »


The revenge of Arial

03.02.2012

Go away Arial

To think, if I actually followed the advice of the Microsoft expert, I would still have a non-functioning Internet Explorer 9 that displayed blank pages. Rule no. 1: when it comes to computing, never follow the advice of a self-righteous expert. An everyday user who found out things the hard way, sure. An expert who has kept an open mind and wants to dig with you, you can probably trust. But an out-of-the-box certified expert who believes in the superiority of a product as though it were a cult, probably not. No more than you should believe members of cults.
   IE9 has never worked on the first installation of any computer I own. But, earlier this week, it worked on my Vista laptop, after blank screens since March 2011. This was curious to me, since the blank screen problem is fairly common on the ’net, just that Microsoft refuses to acknowledge its existence. If the standard replies do not work, the solution is to format your hard drive.
   That already shed doubt on the Microsoft “expert” advice I had, beyond the arguments I made in my last blog post. Obviously, for Vista, Microsoft knew there was a problem and fixed it between March 2011 and February 2012. It only took them 11 months.
   As a failing IE9 also takes out Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee Internet Security, by showing blank screens on those, too, it’s a pretty serious matter.
   Microsoft’s “expert” had told me that my use (or any use?) of System Restore was ‘injudicious’, when with hindsight it appears to have been the most sensible thing I could have done, given that IE9 also took out Firefox on first installation on this machine. This so-called standard installation had had effects far beyond the norm, and had I removed only IE9 the “proper” way, there was no guarantee that Firefox would have returned to normal.
   Yesterday, I ventured on to my laptop to see if McAfee would run. Sure enough, it displayed. But also interestingly, it displayed in Arial Narrow—a font family I know we did not have.
   Microsoft had included Arial Narrow in one of its updates and that was the one key to allowing IE9 to function.
   People who know me, and have heard my speeches, know that the first thing I do, after installing updates and anti-virus, is see to the ugly default fonts. We have numerous licences for Helvetica, and since Arial was designed to supplant a superior design, we install Helvetica. We remove the font substitute line in the Windows registry. And we delete Arial.
   This has been the practice for years, certainly since Windows XP, and we ensure every Mac we use remains Arial-free, too.
   It has never presented a problem at any level.
   Till now.
   Windows 7 doesn’t like Arial being deleted, but I programmed in the usual font substitutes, took out ‘Helvetica=Arial’ (in typographic terms, this is like saying ‘Grace Kelly=Katie Price’) and ensured the four main Arial fonts could not be found by the system on start-up.
   Of course, every program in the world works with these settings. Except IE9 and anything that uses IE9 to render its pages.
   I still doggedly refuse to have Arial on any of our computers because of its poor design. This would be like having Prince William marry Britney Spears and ensuring her future position as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britney and Northern Ireland. There are just some things that aren’t done.
   So we found a version of Helvetica, one that had been superseded that was not being used on any machine, and renamed it. We saved each of the four variants as an OTF, an OpenType, PostScript-flavoured font. And it worked.


Above: IE9 doesn’t actually need Arial. It just likes knowing it’s there. This is called “security blanket programming”.

   Here’s the great irony. IE9 is still one of the worst browsers typographically, even worse than Opera 11. Even though Windows Vista and 7 support PostScript, TrueType and OpenType fonts natively, IE9 doesn’t show anything but TTFs in its font menus (left). Short of linking your own fonts—and it messes up there as well—the only ones that will ever display are the TTFs you have installed. On the actual pages, a lot of fonts that you know are installed on your machine won’t show in IE9. If you bought licences, too bad.
   Therefore, Arial is actually not needed by IE9: it just likes knowing it’s there, as a security blanket.
   I think this illogical state of affairs shows how poor the product remains. Those who are less typographically inclined might not care, and look at things like speed (frankly, I see little difference—and if anything, it seems slower than Firefox), but since every other program on the planet works quite happily without Arial, my opinion is that Microsoft messed up. IE9 noticeably slows down Photoshop and a few other programs, which begs the question: beyond making sure your Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee work, why bother?
   Fellow computer users: don’t format your hard drive. Only a quitter would do that.

Liberation Sans
On a related note, Steve Matteson’s Liberation Sans (above) shows how it should be done. Steve was faced with the same brief—make a sans serif with the same metrics as Helvetica—and designed something quite beautiful that came as an Ubuntu 10 default. It’s very well hinted, too. You can download it here.

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Posted in design, humour, internet, technology, typography | 5 Comments »


Microsoft: if IE9 displays blank pages, it’s your own fault, so format your hard drive

30.01.2012

You’ve got to hand it to some folks for discovering words in their “word-a-day” calendars and they feel compelled to use it.
   If you go to Microsoft Answers, there are dozens of people wondering why their Internet Explorer 9s don’t display anything. So, I decided to report the bug I have had since March, and which I have found exists again in Windows 7 on a brand-new machine.
   Here’s the dialogue with Microsoft:

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/ie/forum/ie9-windows_7/internet-explorer-9-only-displays-blank-pages-on/3c844c46-3b22-4530-abc4-6e22f6ed2a6f

   Injudicious isn’t the right word here. But he gets a real kick out of using it.
   There are some very basic things the chap missed. (1) Before any System Restores were done, the product didn’t work. And they don’t work on two out of two machines here, one of which has never had a Restore. (2) If those security patches were released mid-December and mid-January, they should have been among the updates done the first time, before the System Restore. (3) The essential advice here seems to be: how dare you use a feature that we supplied. You should never use it.
   Once he seized upon that and a rival product, that was it. We here at Microsoft are perfect. You should not use anyone else’s products. Bing is better than Google.
   And there’s the usual power-trip of needing to have the last word even when the customer has said he wishes to end the dialogue. I see he has discovered italics now, too.
   The strategy is to blame the customer, but, if you hunt around the web, this is a major fault with Internet Explorer 9—which explains, as usual, why the other browsers are getting larger and larger shares. Microsoft’s failure to acknowledge it means that folks will simply abandon a browser that, certainly before this latest version, is widely regarded as poor. I haven’t used it regularly since v. 5, when it had a noticeable advantage over Netscape.
   I don’t actually use IE in any case. But McAfee uses it for its HTML-based displays, and one Windows Gadget I use also employs it. The latter always will, but I can’t see the former remaining in this situation if already some people are reporting that they cannot see their McAfee anti-virus program.
   I decided to end the conversation because the issues being raised were irrelevant, he was dodging all the real questions about a faulty product, and there’s no point in telling someone where he messed up if the whole aim is to be unhelpful. Go through the Microsoft forums and there’s not one tech in any position who can go beyond the routine: it’s either deliver the stock answers, or play the blame game.
   Bit like Google, then.
   At the end of the day, it’s not even a product I use. Otherwise, as in the above link, I’d be quite prepared to fight on for half a year.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 12 Comments »


Thoughts from a thoroughly modern machine

25.01.2012

After I got back from India, my desktop computer went into meltdown. This was Nigel Dunn’s old machine, which I took over after he went to Australia, and it gave me excellent service for over two years.
   I wasn’t prepared to go and buy a brand-new machine, but having made the plunge, I’m glad I did. The installation went rather well and the only major problem was Wubi and Ubuntu, which, sadly, did not do what was promised. The installer failed, the boot sequence either revealed Linux code or a deep purple screen, and the time I spent downloading a few programs to sample was wasted (not to mention the two hours of trying to get Ubuntu to work). Shame: on principle, I really wanted to like it.
   Funnily enough, everything on the Microsoft end went quite well apart from Internet Explorer 9 (the same error I reported last year), which then seemed to have taken out Firefox 9 with the same error (solved by changing the compatibility mode to Windows XP). Eudora 7.1 had some funny changes and would not load this morning without fiddling with the shortcut, Windows 7 forgot to show me the hidden files despite my changing the setting thrice, and there were some other tiny issues not worth mentioning. But, I am operating in 64-bit land with a lot of RAM, DDR5s on the graphics’ card, and more computing power than I could have imagined when, in 1984, my father brought home a Commodore 64, disk drive, printer and monitor, having paid around NZ$100 more than I did on Tuesday.

I could have gone out and bought the computer last week, after the old machine died. But there’s the whole thing about New Year. The focus was family time, preparing food and pigging out for New Year’s Eve (January 22 this time around), and New Year’s Day is definitely not one for popping out and spending money.
   Which brings me to my next thought about how immigrant communities always keep traditions alive. You do have to wonder whether it’s still as big a deal “back home”: I was in Hong Kong briefly en route back to Wellington, and you didn’t really feel New Year in the air. There was the odd decoration here and there, but not what you’d imagine.
   It’s the Big Fat Greek Wedding syndrome: when the film was shown in Greece, many Greeks found it insulting, portraying their culture as behind the times and anachronistic, while they had moved on back in the old country. The reality was a lot more European, the complainants noted.
   And you see the same thing with the Chinese community. People who would never have given a toss about the traditions in the old country suddenly making them out to be sacrosanct in the new one. Maybe it’s motivated by a desire to transmit a sense of self to the next generation: in a multicultural society, you would hope that youngsters have the chance to pick and choose from the best traditions from both their heritage and their new nation, and carry them forward.

Windows XP VM

A retro note: I love Fontographer 3.5. So I put it on a virtual machine running XP. Fun times, courtesy of Conrad Johnston, who told me about Oracle VM Virtual Box.
   I also found a great viewer, XnView, to replace the very ancient ACDSee 3.1 that I had been using as a de facto file manager. (Subsequent versions were bloatware; XnView is freeware and does nearly the same thing.) I’ve ticked almost all the boxes when it comes to software.
   Because of the thoroughly modern set-up, I haven’t been able to put in a 3½-inch floppy as threatened on Twitter. Fontographer was transferred on to a USB stick, though I have yet to play with it properly inside the virtual machine. Both the Windows 7 and virtual machines are, in typical fashion, Arial-free.
   Although I have seen VMs before, I am still getting a buzz out of the computer-within-a-computer phenomenon.

To those who expected me to Tweet doom and gloom from my computing experience last night, I’m sorry I disappointed you. My posts about technology, whether written on this blog or on Twitter, are not to do with some belief in a computing industry conspiracy, as someone thought. The reason: to show that even this oh-so-logical profession is as human as the next. Never, ever feel daunted because of someone’s profession: we are all human, and we are all fallible. Sometimes I like reminding all of us of that: in fact, the more self-righteous the mob, the more I seem to enjoy bringing them down to a more realistic level, where the rest of us live. We’re all a lot more equal in intellect than some would like to think, and that assessment goes right to the top of the political world.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, technology, typography | 7 Comments »


Internet Explorer 9 can’t even display Microsoft’s own page

26.03.2011

After this issue with Microsoft Internet Explorer 9, I went to the McAfee forums to record it so others knew.
   The McAfee volunteers and tech support guys have, in the last while, been fantastic. There’s one volunteer there, Peter, who’s always been right. So I would be foolish to ignore their advice.
   You can read the thread for yourself but after following these registry-cleaning suggestions, I downloaded IE9 again.
   Result: the same. IE9 doesn’t display anything. Pages are either all black or all white.
   It’s even more worrying when you realize Internet Explorer cannot display its own page at Microsoft:

   That’s two out of two fails. It’s official: IE9 is the worst browser on the market and an absolute waste of time.
   Not that I would have ever used it—it was more intellectual curiosity to see how it compared to Firefox 4, Chromium and Opera. Conclusion: it doesn’t.

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Posted in internet, technology, Wellington | 7 Comments »