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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Trey Ratcliff switches to Windows 10

Trey Ratcliff, professional photographer (via the aforementioned Stammy):

I converted to Apple over 5 years ago when it was clear to me Apple made the best products for creative professionals. I loved Apple and became a hardcore fanboy. I was all-in. Now, I’m switching back to PCs. The new line of MacBook Pros are not-that-awesome. Apple has always been a company that makes beautiful, well-designed products (and still does), but they’ve started to put an emphasis on sleek design form over professional function.

Switch to Mac and away from Mac within 5 years (which is a typical upgrade cycle for a normal person). Not good.

Paul Stamatiou switches to Windows 10

Paul Stamatiou, long, long-time online friend, designer at Twitter, and a hobbyist photographer:

I decided it was time to upgrade to something a bit more powerful. This time I decided to build a PC and switch to Windows 10 for my heavy computing tasks. Yes, I switched to Windows.

The shift of professionals needing to switch to Windows started 20 months ago or so. It is slow, gradual. And even with the iMac Pro shipping, I think Apple’s eye (perhaps purposefully) is off of the professional market and focused mainly on the consumer market. There are far more consumers to sell to than professionals to sell to. I think now this shift has extended beyond just the full-time professional to the hobbyist.

Here are his thoughts on Windows + Linux with WSL:

It is now possible to run a full Linux environment right inside Windows. This means you can install Ubuntu or another distro and get access to the same bash prompt you’d expect inside Ubuntu. It was this new Linux functionality (that I read about on Owen’s blog several times) that was partially responsible for my initial curiosity in Windows 10 and building a new PC. It meant I could also easily carry out my basic web developement tasks to maintain and publish to this site. For me that means a simple Ruby and Node development environment.

Most blog posts, other than those by MSFT, gloss over how WSL works. WSL isn’t a virtual machine or some odd clunky way of running Linux on a PC that also has Windows installed. WSL is Linux running with Windows. I think WSL alone will pull a huge portion of the web development industry towards Windows 10 over the next 3 to 5 years. PC design has also caught up to Apple in many price points and that alone may turn a developer in need of an upgrade to at least try a Windows PC at their local store. Especially if Apple keeps stumbling on OS upgrades or the PR surrounding their bugs.

Stammy adds:

I really can’t understate the magnitude of this.

If you’ve read my blog for a little while you know I’ve been beating this drum for a while. Just over a year, in fact. Apple is less focused on the professional market than they have been in over a decade, Microsoft is more focused on it than ever, and because of that it is picking up tons of programmers and designers. I don’t think Apple is blind to this, they may not even care at the moment, but I think they should. Because where the nerds go the masses follow.

What will your next development computer be? Will you even entertain the idea of moving to Windows 10? Why not?

E13: Switching to Windows 10 and the Surface Book, and pre-orders

Danny and I have a Saturday morning conversation about my purchase of the new Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base and switching from macOS to Windows 10.

Links:

Thanks to Danny for the early wakeup.

I edited this MP3 and published this post on Windows 10. Yay!

Download MP3

My checklist for setting up Windows 10

Once I had decided to switch from macOS to Windows 10 I knew that I would need to unlearn old tricks and learn some new ones. The oddest one that can only happen through brute force is to teach my pinky to do what my thumb used to.

On macOS the CMD button modifier is used for everything. CMD+C = copy, CMD+V = paste, CMD+Tab = switch applications, etc. On Windows 10 CNTRL is the modifier of choice for most but not all things. For instance, CNTRL+C = copy, CNTRL+V = paste… however, ALT+Tab = switch applications. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest hurdles left for switchers (at least those that rely on keyboard shortcuts like I do). The only way to get used to this switch, to force your muscles to unlearn the old ways, is to immerse yourself in the new environment and rely on the keyboard as heavily as possible until your brain makes the switch.

To that end I borrowed a Surface Pro for a few weeks prior to my new computer showing up and switched to it for most of my daily tasks. This way I had a head start on refactoring my muscle memory. It also afforded me time to experiment with how I would set up my work computer just the way I’d like.

While I relearned how to type, I created a checklist of sorts each time I made a change to the system or installed an app. I did this in hopes that it would dramatically reduce my set up time when the new computer arrived. Turns out, it did.

  • Install One Drive
    • Set up work and personal accounts
    • Create Desktop shortcut to OASIS folder
  • Pair Bluetooth devices
  • Turn on WSL (docs)
  • Turn off auto app updates in Store
  •  Customize taskbar
    • Change to Cortana button
    • Add Downloads Folder
  • Logitech MX Master 2S setup
    • Install Logitech Options software
    • Map buttons
      • Thumb button to Windows Task Viewer
      • Middle button to Snipping Tool – C:\Windows\System32\SnippingTool.exe
  • Install apps
    • 1Password
    • Quicklook (replicates macOS Quicklook feature)
    • Trello
    • 1clipboard
    • Spotify
    • Firefox
    • Twitter
    • LastPass
    • Slack
    • Microsoft Teams
    • Visual Studio Code
    • Visual Studio
    • Adobe Creative Suite
    • DropIt
  • Customize Apps
    • Set up work and personal email and calendar
    • Install Color for Firefox
    • Install Containers for Firefox
    • Install Hack font
    • Install Atom One Dark Theme for VS Code
    • Install Framer Syntax for VS Code
    • Adjust font size to 14px for VS Code
  • Miscellaneous tasks
    • Turn on Windows Insider Program
    • Install all Windows Insider updates
    • Install HEIF Image Support (for iPhone photos)
    • Delete all pinned Start Menu items
    • Turn on Windows Back up
    • Turn on Windows 10 Timeline view
    • Adjust Notifications for all apps in Settings
    • Add appropriate folders to Photos app
  • Notes
    • in Ubuntu, put files in /mnt/c/* so they can be accessed by Windows apps

I still have a few things to do, such as moving development database schemas. And I’m sure there will be a bunch of little things as I continue working (I’ll update this post). But having this checklist made setting up the new computer fairly painless and I was done in a few hours. I remember it taking a few days to get a work computer set up right. I think having so much of our “stuff” in the cloud these days has made this process a bit easier.

If you have any suggestions for Windows 10 I’ll gladly accept them in the comments.

My experience buying a Windows laptop

After 16+ years working, writing, playing, making, listening, watching on a Macintosh, I’m switching back to Windows. Within a few days from today I will no longer be a Mac user. In fact, the only Apple product I will be using regularly will be my 2014 iPad Air 2 which I plan to replace soon.

(I’m not the only one.)

This is a big deal for me. But not as big of a deal as it would have been if I had made this switch back to Windows a few years ago. A lot has changed. Windows 10 has gotten good. Hardware is arguably nearly as good. And so much of the software is either written cross-platform or runs on the cloud.

This decision to move back to Windows has been years in the making. In fact, it may be about 1 year later than it should have been. While I hope to find the time to write about why I believe it is a great time to switch from macOS to Windows (though, I’ve mentioned it several times here) this post is going to be focused on the experience of researching and buying a Windows computer.

Buying a Windows computer can be a draining task compared to buying a Mac.

Since 2002, when I fully switched from Windows to the Mac, I’ve purchased 9 Macintoshes for personal use, and several others for team members at work. Each time I purchased a new Mac it took me 15-20 minutes to make a decision on what I wanted to buy. Sixteen years of buying Macs has made me a bit lazy.

Deciding which Mac to buy is a fairly simple exercise. First, I would wait until Apple released brand-new models. Then, I would ask myself these questions:

  • What size screen do I want/need?
  • What is my budget?
  • What is the very best Mac I can buy with the screen size I want for the budget I have?

With the answers to these questions I was usually able to pick out the model I wanted within a few minutes, grab the box in the Apple Store or at Best Buy, and walk out.

So a few months ago when I sort of kind of knew for sure that I wanted to switch to Windows I began to look around at what my options were. What is it like to buy a Windows computer?

Due to the abundance of choice, purchasing a Windows computer is not as simple as buying a Mac. This fact is actually something I’ve criticized for years but is now something I see as an advantage. I used to say “I don’t want so much choice, just give me what I need. I like that Apple just gives me what I need.”

However, time has taught me that this is only good if Apple makes all the right choices for me. And for the last few years they haven’t been. They’ve probably been making the right choices for someone else (likely students, casual consumers, etc.) but not for me. What Apple are selling I no longer need.

I digress! Remember, the “why you should consider switching from Mac to Windows post” may come in the future. Back to buying.

Unless you walk into a Microsoft Store and purchase a Surface of your liking (the way I used to purchased Macs) this is what the buying experience is like.

You go to the web site’s of Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, HP (and others) and pore over all of the configurations they have available.

While you’re there you try to build up your vocabulary both for the manufacturer’s brand names (Lenovo has like three different YOGA type laptops and ten THINKPAD lines, etc.) and for the actual hardware that is inside these laptops. Each of them have their pluses and their minuses and differing options available.

For instance, and this is just one small example, as of this writing you cannot purchase an “ultrabook” sized laptop (13″) with a 4K screen, dedicated GPU, more than 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. You can purchase some combination of these things but you can’t get this exact thing (at least not via the manufacturer’s that I researched). The combinations can be overwhelming and all of the information about these computers is not in the same place.

One huge, huge resource for me was Lisa Gade and Mr. Mobile on YouTube. Both of these laptop reviewers have a style I enjoy. They get directly to the point, explain real world scenarios for their use, and also take the time to compare one laptop with another in head-to-head battles.

Tech reviewers on YouTube have some serious job security. Not only are they distilling a huge amount of information into a quick video – but they need to do it every single month as manufacturers make slight adjustments to their lineups. It has to be a full-time job just keeping all of this straight.

For a few days I was dead set on buying the Huawei Matebook Pro X. It has everything I want in a Windows PC and – coincidentally, looks exactly like a MacBook Pro. However, it appears it will take a few months to be able to buy one in the United States (thanks Verge). By that time I fully expect the models that are available today to be outdated so I decided I didn’t want to wait that long. Perhaps that will be my next computer in 3 or 4 years if they are still highly rated then.

I happily chose the Dell XPS 13” (Model 9370). Yes, I reconfigured mine with exactly what I needed so it will be a fe days before Dell gets it to me. According to all of the reviews I’ve seen it will work just fine for my needs. And I also plan on buying an external GPU (something I was considering doing for my MacBook Pro set up anyway) to give me a bit more oomph working within the Adobe Creative Suite (something I do far more at my current job than I did over the last few years).

Side note: I would not purchase a Windows computer through many retail outlets that I’ve been to. Best Buy, Target, Sam’s Club, Staples — all have meager selections. These retailers likely have better choices through their web sites but I would recommend buying PCs directly from the source. In fact, if you call the manufacturer you will get a better deal for the exact same hardware. I won’t tell you the deal that I got simply by calling our company’s Dell representative, but I can say it was very worth the phone call.

It took me a few weeks to decide on the Windows PC that I wanted. Now that I have a base knowledge of what is available, of the vocabulary, and now that I know what I’m looking for – it will likely take less time to make a decision next time.

I’ll let you know what I think of the Dell XPS when I get it.

This post was written on a borrowed Surface Pro on Windows 10 that I’ve been using for over two weeks and I’m very, very happy with my Windows 10 experience so far.

People are switching from Macs to Surface

Brian Hall at Microsoft:

More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before. Our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface, like this. It seems like a new review recommending Surface over MacBook comes out daily. This makes our team so proud, because it means we’re doing good work.

I see tweets every single day from known Mac users that picked up a Surface product. Just last night I saw Sebastian de With, a well-known designer and Mac user, tweet repeatedly about his Surface Studio. He seems to like it.

Apple fans, myself included, cannot ignore this. However, Apple may. As I’ve written, and said, their move away from the pro user seems intentional and may be a very good move for their bottom line.

Trying iOS, Android, and Windows

Fred Wilson:

I plan to go back to iOS when the next iPhone ships, and then back to Android six months after that. In this way, I can stay current on both operating systems and ecosystems which I think is useful in my business.

I wish I could do this again. For a time I was when we had a number of testing devices laying around. I’d pick one up and using it for a weekend here and there. During that time my eyes were opened to what was available on all platforms.

At that time Windows Phone stuck out to me as the winner over Android but iOS was still in the lead. I wrote:

Windows Phone is a much better competitor to iOS than Android currently is. It is clean, simple to use, vastly different than iOS (which is good since Android and iOS just bite off each other with each release), and really fun to play with. The problem? Official apps.

And official apps are still a problem on Windows. Windows Phone was great the way Mac OS was great for years. Microsoft just didn’t stick with it. They got beat. And now it seems like they are moving on.

It was expensive to have multiple new and up-to-date devices in service at the same time. I think our monthly bill was roughly $700 or so. Not cheap for a small business. I like Wilson’s approach a bit more. Switch between devices completely once a year or so. Perhaps I’ll find a way to do that too.

 

I’d love to see Windows Phone become the third horse in the smartphone OS race

Fred Wilson, on Android and iOS:

But I find myself rooting hard for Apple now. I sense the danger they are in and I don’t want either smartphone OS to be so dominant that we lose the level playing field we have now. It’s very important for startups, innovation, and an open mobile ecosystem for all.

It is true. Apple has been dominant for too long and in some ways Android is really beginning to creep on their turf. There are many layers to the smartphone market onion but I look at three things when I try to determine who is winning: market share, profit, number of official apps.

Each of these three categories are important and any single company can focus on any combination of the three and still be “winning” or at least competing. I think Apple has focused on design quality and number of official apps as their primary ways to maintain profitshare. And they earn the lion’s share of the money being earned in the smartphone market. I think Android has focused on low cost, “open” offerings to capture market share. And they’re obviously doing a great job at growing.

By capturing market share, as Wilson mentioned in his post, Android will now end up capturing the official applications it was missing out on before because Android is where the people are. Or, at least as many people or more than on iOS. Wilson posits that iOS and Android are near parity. I think he’s right. And I think we’re about to see a shift in perception in Android as more and more official apps are made either first or at the same time as they are for iOS. See: Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Imagine if Instagram was made today and made only for Android. Something like that could happen any day.

Because of my work I have an iPhone 5, a Samsung Galaxy S4, a Motorola Razr, and a Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone on my desk. The iPhone 5 has been my daily use phone since June 29, 2007. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is an amazing technical achievement – with the eye watching and all – but overall I am not in love with Android. Certainly not as much as my friend Paul. It is just too busy, too much going on, there always seems to be so much running. Android is far from simple. Not to mention that the manufacturers and telcos end up adding so much junk to the phone it can seem hard to navigate through. The S4 came with three browsers and four ways to buy music pre-installed! I realize this isn’t Android’s “fault” but as a consumer it is certainly confusing.

Regarding Windows Phone

Windows Phone OS

Windows Phone is probably not going to take off if they haven’t found a way to do it already. But can I just say this? Windows Phone is a much better competitor to iOS than Android currently is. It is clean, simple to use, vastly different than iOS (which is good since Android and iOS just bite off each other with each release), and really fun to play with. The problem? Official apps.

Most of the applications on Windows Phone are absolutely abysmal if they aren’t the official apps. The Instagram apps end up getting their photos deleted from Instagram because they use Private APIs. Not to mention that when compared to Instagram they’re terrible. The Dropbox apps, which aren’t official, are simply unusable. All of the official apps, however, such as Twitter, Spotify, and others are superior to their iOS counterparts in a number of ways. I love the Spotify app on Windows Phone.

As the smartphone market matures from people buying their first smartphone to people buying their second, third, and fourth smartphones people are going to come to expect the quality they find on iOS and now on Android. The official applications are, in general, amazingly well-made and work great. If someone gets a Windows Phone as their second or third smartphone they are simply going to think that the applications on it are poor.

I think Windows Phone “the OS” is great. But I think Windows Phone “the business” doesn’t have a focus. They aren’t focused on market share by offering amazingly cheap hardware. They aren’t focused on having the best official apps. And they aren’t focused on profit. I don’t know what Windows Phone stands for besides Microsoft simply having an OS in the mobile space. And I certainly don’t see enough ads for Windows Phone.

I wish Windows Phone had a better shot. I love the Lumia. If it had a few more official applications on it I’d switch to it from my iPhone 5 in a heartbeat. I haven’t tried the Lumia 1020 but if it is even better than the 920 I could see myself switching in spite of the application debacle. But I don’t know if Windows Phone has a chance. I don’t know what they should focus on to get to parity with Android and iOS and I don’t even know if there is room in the market – large as it may be – for a third horse.

I agree with Wilson that Android and iOS are near parity but I’d love to see Windows Phone become the third horse in the smartphone OS race.

Regarding Windows Vista and iPhone

My friend Matt, a fan of all things Apple and future switcher, owns a laptop. Actually it is a tablet-PC and has all of the latest hardware and software including a 64bit processor and gobs of RAM. Though my blood runs thick with Mac-cells, I know a good piece of hardware when I see it, and Matt’s laptop is top-of-the-line. There is only one problem; it came pre-installed with Windows Vista.

I’ve only got limited experience with Vista but from that limited experience I have drawn the opinion that if I were forced to use the Operating System full time I’d likely jump off of a bridge. This isn’t to say that I’m not willing to admit that in many ways Vista is vastly superior to its predecessors (like, say, in the security department) but I don’t even like the way that it does these few things better. You know what? We’ll get into this at a whole different time, b’okay?

So Matt has a great laptop that runs Vista. Fast forward to ‘the other day’ and Matt picked himself up a brand-new shiny iPhone. If you know Matt, and some of you reading this do, you’ll know that at this point Matt’s blood is practically boiling with excitement. He probably can’t shut his mouth for even a second and his hair has gone straight. This kid wanted an iPhone pretty badly.

Matt calls me: “Dude, I got an iPhone! Now what do I need to do? Just go home and plug it in right?” My reply: “Yeah. Everything should work man you just bought an Apple product. Go home. Make sure you have the latest version of iTunes and you should be all good.”

I think by now you realize where this is going. Matt installed the latest version of iTunes, plugged in his iPhone and received the following message: “iPhone not recognized in this version of iTunes.” This message is a bit of a misnomer but I’ll skip right to the part where I explain what is going on here.

During the iTunes installation Vista blocked the iPhone’s USB driver from being installed.

It is pretty much as simple as that. I don’t care if there are good or bad reasons for why this happens. And I don’t care whose fault it is because I’m blaming both Apple and Microsoft for not displaying an error message about how to fix the issue. But I think this sucks.

Oh, you know what sucks worse: If you are running Windows Vista 64bit you can not use iPhone. You will get this same error message mention above only you won’t be able to solve the issue like we did. It is merely a footnote on Apple’s Web site under minimum system requirements for iPhone. I am not sure if this is Apple dragging its feet on a 64bit driver for Windows or if this is something on Microsoft’s end.

So here is how you fix it in the 32bit version of Windows Vista; You need to turn off UAC, User Access Control, before you begin the iTunes installation. So if you’ve already installed iTunes, uninstall it using the same installer that you used to install iTunes, then turn off UAC by opening your Control Panel and searching for User Access Control in the top right hand search box. Install iTunes again, and voila!

I’m happy that there is a solution, and I’m not that bitter, it just took way too long to find the answer to this problem and I would love to see Apple or Microsoft handle this issue a little better. Having a better error message would go a long way I think.

Combine this UAC headache and the fact that we couldn’t activate iPhone for him until the next day and you see why we were frustrated.

My next story will be about Epson’s printers. Have you had any crappy tech experiences lately? Pingback this post if you have.

Colin Walker on choosing the best devices

Colin Walker nails how I’m making decisions on what hardware I’m purchasing:

I’m largely platform agnostic and have always been able to achieve what I wanted regardless of what device I was using. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t want to use the best tools for the task at hand.

I too am platform agnostic. See this post.

Colin mentions the reason I can be platform agnostic. It is because I can still do everything I want with nearly any software platform. Messaging? Work? Photo and video editing? Web? Publishing? I can do all of these regardless of platform.

It is why I currently have a Windows 10 laptop, the iPad Pro, and a Google Pixel. When I purchased these devices they were – in my opinion, and for my needs – the best hardware I could afford.

I plan to continue purchasing “the best tools for the task at hand”. This year it may be the iPhone 11 Pro or the Google Pixel 4. My laptop is still great and my iPad Pro is absolutely amazing.

In that 2018 post I wrote:

Going forward I’m going to continue to make a concerted effort to purchase products based on what they do, how they’re made, and what I need rather than the logo on the box.

I’m no longer tied to a specific company’s products and I’m very happy about that.

Supporting OS-level Dark Mode preference using only CSS

My blog’s theme is based on Davis by Anders Norén. I’ve been using it for a while, making small tweaks here and there for my images index and other things.

It has a dark theme built-in that I can toggle on and off. But it is an either/or type of thing. I can either have the dark theme on all the time or not.

Since updating to Android 10 I’ve been trying Dark Mode to see if I prefer it. So far it is a bit of a mess, because so many apps simply do not support it yet. Even Google’s own built-in Android apps have yet to fully embrace the OS-level preference. But I’m sure this will change with time.

For my personal blog I’ve long thought about adding a toggle or switch somewhere to allow someone to turn its dark theme on or off themselves. But, for whatever reason I just put it off so long that I never did it. But now, just after Android 10’s release on Pixel phones and on the cusp of iOS 13 being released, both major mobile OSes will soon have an OS-level preference for Dark Mode. I thought this would be a good time to support that preference.

It turns out that many of the latest browser versions have a media query, or CSS’s version of an IF statement, that will allow you to add support for it rather easily.

@media(prefers-color-scheme: dark) {
    /* Do Dark Mode things here */
}

Since Davis already had a .dark-mode body class I was able to take all of those selectors and move them into this media query. This way, if someone toggles that preference at the OS-level, they will automatically get my site’s dark theme. If they toggle it back the other way, my site will adjust. Simple.

I do not think I’m going to go through the trouble of adding a manual switch for viewers. That will end up being a legacy way of handling this in due time. I think people will either turn Dark Mode on or not and if they do they’ll get their preferred version. Even Windows 10 and macOS have these preferences now.

If you’re a Dark Mode person, I hope you like it.

Side note: Anders is spearheading the next official WordPress theme in its next release. If you look at his other themes you’ll see why.

Apple needs to replace the keyboard on all MacBooks this year

John Gruber:

Even if they ship a truly new, reliable keyboard this summer (which I think they will, because if they don’t, it means they’re in deep denial of a huge problem), how long will it take for that new keyboard to roll out across the entire MacBook line? Even if Apple is on the case, hard at work on a new keyboard, there are likely to be brand-new MacBooks in the lineup with the unreliable butterfly keyboards for at least another year.

As I wrote, I want to switch back to the Mac but only after they produce a laptop with an entirely new, reliable keyboard. I’ve seen the current keyboard in action and I think I would have pitched my laptop into the sea out of frustration if I had owned one.

John is likely right, it will take the better part of a year to replace all keyboards across the MacBook lines… but I think they should take the hit and roll them all out at once. It will likely cost them a few billion in lost inventory but I think it would be worth it to show everyone how seriously they want to fix this issue.

They won’t. John will be right. And I’ll be on Windows 10 well into 2020.

Teams that build products for multiple platforms (web, iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux) should consider switching their browsers/platform choice each year if possible. It can be eye opening.

Best of 2018

This year I’m taking a slightly more comprehensive approach to my “best of” list. I’ve taken a look at previous year’s lists: 2008, 2009, 2017 and comprised a slightly more complete set.

Again, this is only the things I came across this year and can remember. I don’t keep a list throughout the year but rather rely on my memory. If you think I missed something great please reach out.

Best Blog: Becky Hansmeyer

I’ve linked to Becky’s blog 6 times this year. Mostly related to her iOS app SnapThread (which I can’t even use because I’m no longer on iOS). She openly published her thoughts, trials, tribulations, and triumphs (and new children) throughout the year. The epitome of a personal blog.

Runners up: Waxy – Andy Baio is back at it and the internet is better for it. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio is also always good. It might as well be perpetually in this category.

Best Blog Redesign: Lynn Fisher

Each year Lynn Fisher shows off her talent to build responsive web designs in a fun way by redesigning her site/blog. Go ahead and resize your browser on her homepage. Very fun.

Best (new to me) Blog: Windows Central

Hear me out. This blog publishes tons of times per day. The web site is obnoxious with ads (very thankful for RSS!). Despite that, since switching to Windows 10 this year I have been thankful to have a resource like this to keep me up-to-date with all things Windows. It has proven very useful to learn a number of tips and tricks and to know what the latest features are in Windows.

Best place: Iceland

This past September we visited Iceland – and it was definitely the standout trip of our year. The landscape, the water, the horses, the northern lights – everything was amazing.

Runner up: our trip to Kentucky this year to travel along the Bourbon trail. See this post and this post.

Best book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I certainly laughed out loud more than once while reading this book. It was a fun read and is much better than any of the movies or series I’ve seen trying to adapt it to screen. Though I did enjoy Martin Freeman in one of the more recent movie adaptations.

Runners up: The Road by Cormac McCarthy – sad, but good read. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – what a story.

Best service: Spotify

Spotify continues to be one of the greatest services I’ve ever used. Eliza and I are on a family plan and we use the service every single day at home, on the go, at work. See also.

Best album: Hollywood Africans – Jon Batiste

This is a fun album. It wanders around a little but overall it is a solid album to put on while enjoying a Manhattan (one of my requisites for good music). I also enjoyed his interview with Terry Gross about the album.

Runners up: Free Yourself Up – Lake Street Dive, SYRE – Jaden Smith (don’t @ me).

Best movie: A Quiet Place

I am hoping to watch this one again soon. It isn’t particularly revolutionary or mind blowing – but the pacing, the acting, and the overall balance of the movie is really good. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Runner up: I just saw the new Spiderman and it is very refreshing. So glad they did something so different.

Best company: Microsoft

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead. Their Surface hardware, Windows 10, Azure cloud services, acquisition of Github, Open Source initiatives, and push into mobile through Android has really been something to watch. Don’t call it a comeback but really, this company is back. See also.

Best hardware: iPad Pro 12.9″

I haven’t had time to write a proper review of this device yet but I do plan to. This is easily my favorite iPad ever – and I really, really liked my iPad Air 2. One quick anecdote; Face ID is extremely fast and works in so many more circumstances than I thought possible.

Very close runner up: Google Home Mini. We now have 3 of these in our apartment (kitchen, living room, bathroom) and we use them every single day for playing music, starting Netflix or YouTube videos on our TV, viewing photos from past vacations, and setting reminders or alarms. I hope to utilize these even more this coming year but I’m delighted at the capabilities of a device you can get for $29 (when on sale and we even got 1 for free with our Spotify subscription).

Best desktop app: Firefox

The Mozilla Firefox team is killing it this year. This browser is my favorite ever on any device. I also use it on Android and iOS. And I’m glad too given recent news re: Edge and Chrome. A few features I cannot live without at this point: Containers, Sync, Pocket (which could work in any browser but is built right into Firefox).

Runners up: 1Password – Eliza and I moved everything into 1Password this year and we couldn’t be happier that we did. Should have done so a long time ago. Visual Studio Code – Still the best code editor on any platform and certainly the best free editor.

Best mobile app: Pocket Casts

I use this app twice a day on my commute to and from work. I never have any issues with it, and every decision made by the design team seems to be right in line with what I want from a podcast app. My feature wish list for this app is relatively short and I believe they are coming with a not-too-distant-future update.

Runner up: Waze this app has saved me hours of sitting in traffic just this year.

Best tool: Trello

I’ve been using Trello more this year than any year previous and I find it to be incredibly well made. I don’t think we’ve had a single moment of downtime the entire year and, although I’d like it to be slightly less expensive for our team of ~30 I feel it is a very useful tool.

I’ve also tried to fit it into my workflow for other things like replacing a previous year’s winner; Bullet Journal. I couldn’t get it to fit. So I now have a hybrid system of using my daily Bullet Journal with Calendar and Trello.

Runner up: OneDrive – I’ve been using OneDrive this year for so many things across all platforms. The utility rarely messes up (whereas Google’s is terrible) and the space is affordable.

Best utility: DropIt

I use this small Windows utility to move files from OneDrive to two backup hard drives and Google Photos from my phone, camera, drone, and Eliza’s phone. It is far, far from perfect but I have wrestled it into doing exactly what I need.

Runner up: Snip & Sketch on Windows 10. I have this app mapped to my Logitech MX Master 2S’s middle click to quickly take screenshots and mark them up. It is an indispensable part of my workflow now working with my team. I just middle click, drag a rectangle, and CNTRL + V into any app I’m using to show my team a screenshot. I probably use this 5 times a day on average.

Best podcast: Meat Eater

I hike a lot. And I like to photograph nature. Listening to Meat Eater, and watching their show on Netflix, has given me a lot of knowledge about how to approach animals, how to know where on the landscape I’m allowed to go, and tons of other tips.

I’m also going to pick up fishing again in 2019 as a result of listening to this podcast.

Best YouTube channel: Zimri Mayfield

This guy is killing it. Each week he produces a new episode in a number of series on design. He’s incredibly quirky and likely not to everyone’s taste but I’ve found his videos both entertaining and educational.

Runners up: Tom Scott – Every video is interesting and the topics are random yet somehow of the same ilk. Nerdwriter – fast, well edited, insightful.

I had a few other categories that I’ve now dropped off because the list got a bit long. So instead, I’m just going to finish off this post with a bunch of random links to things.

Random: @jvdoming, Gutenberg, Floods Part 1 & Part 2, Docker, Cobra Kai, Dark Sky, Micro.blog, Dialog, Cash app, Blue Planet II.

SubEthaEdit 5 – free, open

In the early 2000s, when I switched to the Mac from Windows (oh how times change), SubEthaEdit was an amazing leap in text editing. It allowed you to connect with other Macs to collaborate on the same document — something we take for granted these days.

Here is Dominik Wagner, one of the original authors and now maintainer of SubEthaEdit, on the inception of this particular feature:

Luckily one of us dug up an old Xerox Parc Paper that showed how latency free live collaboration can be done. At that time it fit perfectly with the newly released Bonjour technology to allow for networking without configuration between Macs. That was super exciting and we quickly got to a point where we could see this technology as viable and so we went on to build our application.

The latest version of SubEthaEdit is free and open source. It brings back a lot of memories seeing this.

My clipboard managers: 1Clipboard & Clip Stack

I use two clipboard managers currently.

On Windows 10 I use 1Clipboard:

A universal clipboard managing app that makes it easy to access your clipboard from anywhere on any device.

It says “any device” but I do not believe it has any mobile apps. Since I now use the Microsoft Launcher for Android I may end up switching if MSFT makes one manager between the two? That’d be nice.

On Android I’m using Clip Stack:

Clip Stack The easiest way to extend multi clipboard for Android.

It works great and I like that it is open source.

What I saw this week #52: July 13, 2018

More accurately, what I’ve seen somewhat lately.

I’ve been off my blogging game lately as I’m making the switch from Mac to Windows. So I’m busy moving photo libraries, installing apps and services, configuring options, and learning keyboard shortcuts.

Here are a few things I wish I had more time to write about, but do not.

  • Android P Beta 4 – Android P is looking like a very solid release of Android. I’m tempted to run these betas but I’ve been patient.
  • Firefox – I’ve switched to using Firefox full-time across all platforms. I’ve been doing so for a few months now and I’m loving it.
  • Firefox Containers & Firefox Color – Both of these are great “pilot” extensions. Oh, and I was wrong in 2017 when I thought “Containers” was the wrong word. It was the right word.
  • Wired on Surface Go – The Surface Go looks like a fantastic device at a fantastic price. The only thing I would change about it would be to include the keyboard. The Surface needs a keyboard because Windows 10’s tablet mode isn’t very good (yet?)
  • Magic Leap’s recent demo – I’ve been keeping my eye on many things MR (mixed reality) and Magic Leap is one of them. They are purposefully not showing off their technology. I haven’t figured out why yet. It could either be that it is impossible to show their tech in a video and you have to experience it to get the full effect, or it isn’t nearly as good as they lead on. I’m willing to bet the former only because of the enormous amount of capital they’ve raised. I hope their investors demanded a demo prior to investing.
  • MSFT Teams goes free – I use Teams every day at work. It isn’t very good. Especially when you compare it to Slack. Slack is very, very, very good. And Teams is hardly tolerable. Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do here. However, in a recent video Satya says he uses it every day so I hope it gets the attention it needs. Who would have thought that team chat would have been such a massive sector?
  • Digg’s v4 launch – Will Larson recounts the launch of Digg 4.0. Fairly brutal. But I can say that my experience launching things isn’t that far off from what he recounts. Launch days are incredible. Even if well planned.
  • B2B vs B2C – Justin Kan on the differences between the two markets. I agree with him. I love B2B. See also.

I hope within a few weeks I’ll be back to my normal publishing self. Until then…

Spent the day on Windows 10. Not bad and getting better with every release. Looking forward to fully switching soon.

Technology Dogmatism

Are you dogmatic about the companies you will buy technology from? Are you an Apple fanboi? Or, perhaps you’ll only run Windows and Apple sucks at everything because reasons.

I try not to be that guy. I try to look at the entire field of offerings in every category; hardware, software, cloud services, home entertainment and make purchases that reflect my needs and wants rather than be dogmatic.

Kellen Barranger, writing for droidlife:

iPhone owners, particularly the lifers, have always fascinated me. Not so much in a way that I’m confused at why they chose Apple’s latest phone, but that no matter what, they won’t even consider the other side or another phone that might be better in some ways. You know people like this.

I was starting to feel like one of these people. Whatever the next iPhone was I wanted it. Whatever the next Apple laptop was I wanted that. For many years I didn’t even give strong consideration to switching. But why?

Admittedly, part of it was brand loyalty. I do like Apple. Their attention to detail, their apparent focus on user privacy (though I’m sure this could be argued), their uncompromising focus on making premium products rather than bargain products. In other words, I like that they make high-priced well-made products. Because I don’t want to buy things simply based on price.

However, over the last decade Apple has gotten so big and so successful that they are starting to show some of the characteristics of being an insanely large organization trying to keep a juggernaut both afloat and moving forward. We saw it with Microsoft in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s. Their inability to let go of the past, and having bloated software that had no taste, led me away from them as a brand entirely. I feel Apple is now beginning to show these same signs. Bugs seem more rampant than I remember and I’ve been an Apple user (iOS and macOS X) for over 16 years. The quality of the design in software seems lower than before. But, the complexity and scale of their software and services is higher than ever before. Should I just let them off the hook because of that?

This is what led me to try Windows 10 in 2016 and to switch to Android here in 2018. Windows 10 is getting better, much better, with every single release. It is an excellent platform for web developers that now directly competes with macOS*. Android is a more mature platform than iOS at this point. Please read my review of Android 8.1 to see why I say that.

Switching platforms is not easy. But it is much easier than it has ever been. Data portability, which is better on Windows and Android than on Mac or iOS by far, makes it much more simple to switch. It took me only a few minutes to move all the data from my iPhone to my Google Pixel 2 XL. And within a few days I had every piece of software and service restored that I needed. Switching between macOS and Windows 10 is similar experience. You definitely need to relearn a few things (like keyboard shortcuts) but moving the data is no longer a real problem.

Going forward I’m going to continue to make a concerted effort to purchase products based on what they do, how they’re made, and what I need rather than the logo on the box.

* For me, Windows was never a contender to macOS for what I do without the Unix underpinnings. I simply need this stack. And I don’t want to use a VM or RDC. Now, with WSL Windows 10 is on the same footing with macOS.

A review of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 by a longtime iPhone user

After 10 years of using iOS as my primary mobile platform I’ve decided to give Android more than just a casual try. This post is my review both of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 as well as a few comparisons I’ve drawn between iOS and Android ecosystems. I’ve been an Apple fan for decades. But I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible and truly allow my feelings of day-to-day use dictate my review. I’ve owned the Pixel 2 XL for over a month so I’m hoping that my first reactions have subsided.

The Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this phone.

I’d been thinking about trying out an Android-powered phone for a few months but I think what pushed me over the edge was how many YouTubers rated the Pixel 2 so highly. Many tech reviewers have the privilege of getting their hands on dozens of phones. Which phone comes out on top (or very close) of most of their lists? The Pixel 2 XL.

I switched to the Pixel 2 XL from an iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 7 Plus was a great phone — easily my favorite camera system in an iPhone — but not as comfortable in the hand as the iPhone SE. For a sense of how much I liked the iPhone SE you can read what I wrote here.

By going from an iPhone 7 Plus to a Pixel 2 XL I upgraded the camera system in a number of ways. Front-facing portrait mode is far more important and useful in daily use than I could have imagined. I think Apple has missed an opportunity on the front-facing camera for years. It is likely used more often by younger people and yet the hardware and software driving the forward-facing camera is always superior on iPhones. With the Pixel 2 XL both cameras are fantastic and both offer the same software features.

Photo: A rather terrible photo of the Pixel 2 XL’s ambient display. Notice the icons.

The Pixel 2 XL has a few features that are not available on next-generation iPhones, namely; a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, squeezable sides, screen that wakes with a gentle double-tap, an ambient display with clock and gentle notifications, and “what’s playing” feature (showing you what music is currently playing) that is always on.

My phone is my primary camera. On hikes, walking downtown between meetings, or traveling – I like to be quick so I don’t miss any moments. With the iPhone 7 Plus I was like Bruce Lee with nunchucks. If I spotted a fleet-footed while on a hike I could likely capture it. After a few weeks with the Pixel 2 XL I’m beginning to feel my muscles learning the new gestures and maneuvers to get my groove back. One feature that makes this even better than iPhone 7 Plus is being able to double-tap the power button to invoke the camera app of my choice on the phone.

The Google Assistant is a primary feature of this phone. I’ve always wanted to try a different assistant than Siri but Apple simply does not allow you to do so on iOS. You can download the Google Assistant app but it is a neutered experience. iOS does not give third-party apps the control they need to be useful and there is no way to invoke the assistant easily.

On the Pixel 2 XL I have several ways to invoke the Google Assistant. I can squeeze the sides and nearly instantly I can begin making my request. I can say “OK Google” at any time and, again instantly make my request. And I do mean instant, unlike Siri, there is no pause needed between “OK Google” and my request. With Siri I need to wait for the “ding” sound. And lastly, I can long-press the home button to invoke the assistant.

The Google Assistant’s  results are much better than Siri. It gets my query correct the majority of the time. I don’t know what my success rate with Siri is but I would say it is less than 50%. I got so fed up with Siri that I only used it to ask for the weather each morning. With the Pixel 2 XL I’m using the Google Assistant multiple times per day. And, I use it for things that aren’t even possible on iOS like turning down my screen brightness, turning on or off my flashlight, taking a picture, etc.

I charge the Pixel 2 XL at night while I sleep and I routinely plug it in with greater than 50% battery life. I have changed no settings on the phone to extend the battery life. In fact, I’ve turned on the ambient display and “what’s playing” features which warn you that it will use more power. In my use, even with the “always on” features turned on, I have no issue at all with battery life. I also appreciate that it charges with USB-C. I can plug it directly into my MacBook Pro, no dongle.

To sum up, the Pixel 2 XL hardware is as good as the iPhone 7 Plus (and likely the 8) and has a better front-facing camera system, more options, and the squeeze feature.

Android 8.1

I bought the Pixel 2 XL within days of Android 8.1 shipping. Coming from 10 years of iOS, and the very limited number of user preferences it affords, using Android has been really fun. If I was a new user I could leave all the defaults as they are and be happy. However, I’ve enjoyed the number of options Android has.

One of the complaints about Apple I’ve heard the most is that they make too many choices for the user. My rebuttal to that has always been “Yes, but they make good choices”. However, two things have changed in recent years.

First, Apple is making worse choices. I know this is subjective but more and more I’m convinced that Apple’s choices are becoming more anti-competitive than they are user-focused. I can understand limiting some of the user preferences in iOS for the first few years to allow the platform to become rock solid, then slowly add more features and settings. But iOS is over 10 years old and there are a few options that Apple has, in my opinion, criminally omitted from iOS like being able to set default browser, email client, maps app, and assistant.

Second, the resources of these mobile devices are beginning to compete with the speed and storage of slim laptops. The devices beg to be used heavily, for work, and for play. I would say for many people their primary “computer” is their phone. So we are entering an era where it becomes a work horse for people. Steve Jobs thought we’d always have pickup trucks (desktops or laptops) while also owning cars (mobile devices). Well, I believe these mobile devices are beginning to become very pickup truck-like for many. And, let’s face it, a huge number of pick-up truck owners don’t even need them. They just like the look. This mean that the mobile OSes must also become work horses. And that means more options, better compatibility, and power user features.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I wanted to take back more control of my OS and Android allows me to do that. I can tweak Android in far more ways than I expected – even down to choosing a different launcher. Microsoft has one, there is another popular one called Lawnchair (cute name), and dozens of others. These change the device in both subtle and dramatic ways to become whatever the user needs. It makes so much sense. Imagine a launcher built specifically for young students?

To sum up, Android gives users far more control over their devices than iOS.

How Android is better than iOS

Photo: Notice how app folders appear directly below your tap, not in the center of the screen.

  • Powerful notifications – On the ambient display there is a subtle icon letting me know there is a notification for an app. In the status bar that icon is on the left-hand side. Pulling down gives me actionable, and “snoozable” items to deal with. You really need to play with it to understand. iOS’s notifications are clay tablets in comparison.
  • Do not disturb – I’ve found Android’s do not disturb preferences to be far more sane than iOS. Apps do not continue to beg me to turn on notifications. DND turns on when I go to bed, and turns off when I wake up. It turns on while I’m driving (something Android has had long before iOS). It can also be turned on by turning my volume down one click more than just “off”. It is a brilliant feature that is useful for theaters. Also, DND watches your calendar, if you’re “Busy” it turns on DND. At first I thought this would be overbearing, but in fact, it is incredibly thoughtful and sane.
  • An always available back button – iOS 7 brought a “back” button to the top left of the OS. But this is a terrible place for it. Android has an always available back button on the bottom left (bottom right on Samsung I think). It doesn’t just bring you back to the previous app but back in every context. It remembers exactly where you were last and takes you there. When I pick up my iPad I’m always reaching for this back button now.
  • App size – Android apps, and certainly updates, appear to be tiny when compared to their behemoth iOS siblings. Some daily use apps are less than 5Mb on Android. I’d love to take the time to do a true 1-to-1 comparison. My gut says the differences are substantial.
  • Device compatibility – I can plug my phone into my MacBook or Windows 10 PC and see the files on it. It almost seems absurd that Apple never created a similar sandbox approach like this to be able to store files or access files created on the device. This comes in very handy.
  • Home screen reachability – icons on your home screen can be placed anywhere you prefer. Naturally they are on the bottom of the screen because that is where your thumb rests. A feature that I’d bet will be in iOS 13 but that Apple stubbornly hasn’t brought to iOS yet.
  • Widgets – widgets aren’t for everyone. Some of them are poorly designed. But there are a few that are unobtrusive and simply make sense. In the screenshot of my home screen above you can see two in use – one for calendar and one for weather. But many apps ship with widgets that you can place on any home screen panel. I’ve seen others that have note taking apps on their own panel. They just swipe and start typing. It is pretty nice.
  • New app icons – When a new app is installed you can choose to have the icon be placed on your home screen or not. I’ve chosen for all apps to go into the app drawer and keep my home screen tidy. I love this option.
  • Folders open under your tap – This is a subtle thing. When I tap on a folder on my home screen it expands directly in place where the tap happened. It doesn’t open in the center of the screen. And, the app folder is only as big as it needs to be depending on the number of apps in it.
  • Split-screen apps – I’ve used this more than I thought I would. I’ve used it for note taking in certain circumstances but also for phone conferences. I can have my email open and my phone app open to type in the 8 digit pin that I received.

How iOS is better than Android

There are a few things that iOS clearly beats Android on and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out. Here are a few that I’ve found that I notice in day-to-day use.

  • Smooth scrolling – iOS really does scroll like butter. I don’t know what Apple does that Android engineers can’t (or don’t, or won’t) but the scrolling on Android isn’t nearly as buttery smooth as iOS. The gap has closed considerably in recent updates but there is still a long way to go.
  • Cursor movement and text selection – I wouldn’t say that iOS great at this, but it is better than Android for me so far. I also feel like this might be a muscle memory issue. I’d like to see Google bring some of iOS’s keyboard dragging features to Android. I’m getting better every day though.
  • Scroll to top – On any list in iOS (say, your contacts list) you can scroll to the top with a single tap on the status bar. Unless I’m missing something, and I’ve asked a few Android users, this simply doesn’t exist on Android. So if you scroll way, way down on your contacts list and you want to get back to the top you have to flick a million times like an animal. Please, if I’m missing something write in.
  • Safari’s Reading List feature – Even with Unmark (which I use daily) I still used Safari’s Reading List every day. Google has, inexplicably, added a “reading list” to Chrome for iOS but on no other platforms. Perhaps they did this to compete with Safari on mobile platforms but why not have it sync with desktop Chrome? Anyway, Google can quickly get on this please because I neeeeeed it.
  • Dictionary lookup – On iOS you can long press any word and get its definition. Because my vocabulary is as deep as a kiddy pool I use this feature a lot. I’ve installed a third-party app that does this on Android but it should be built-in.

So far I’m very happy with my choice to give Android a try. I’ll be using the Pixel 2 XL and Android for the rest of 2018  and plan to reassess where both platforms are at that point.

Prediction, lots of switchers this year. From iOS to Android. From macOS to Windows 10 w/ WSL.

Not because Apple is doing anything bad, necessarily, but because Google and Microsoft (and others) have caught up on hardware/software. Tighter race, w more options than ever.

Browser struggle

In the opening scene of It Might Get Loud, Jack White fashions himself an instrument from a single guitar string, a glass Coke bottle, a piece of wood, and a few nails. He goes on to describe how he appreciates an instrument that he has to physically struggle with in order to force it to perform. He also appreciates constraints while on stage. One of his bands, The White Stripes, limited their color palette for their brand and their music was all composed using a single guitar and a set of drums (though they did meander a bit from time-to-time for special occasions).

The constraints breed creativity. Much like an artist living within the bounds of their medium by forcing themselves to use their tools in ways not thought of before. Stretching, pulling, twisting.

For some odd reason I’m reminded of these constraints, this struggle, this art whenever I switch internet browsers.

To most people an internet browser isn’t something they choose to use. In fact, they use whatever comes on the device they own. If they switch to a new one it is because they were forced to or that they switched on accident.

To a web developer an internet browser is more than just the way we can view the web. It is one of the primary tools that helps us to build the web. So while just about any web browser should be fine to use for most people – a web developer like myself comes with a set of requirements above and beyond that of the common surfer.

While feature parity has settled into the browser market for the most part, there are extremely subtle yet key differences between them all. If I were forced to list all of the nuances between the browsers such as how they handle tabs, bookmarks, page rendering, etc. I’d be here for days.

Here are some very broad descriptions of the primary browsers:

Safari comes on pre-installed the Mac and seemingly puts the user’s privacy and attention at the forefront. It is seamlessly integrated on both desktop and mobile. It is also the most popular browser on mobile*.

Edge comes pre-installed on Windows 10 and isn’t available to me on desktop or mobile. While Microsoft has made enormous strides since ditching Internet Explorer I have no idea what edge Edge has. I haven’t seen huge claims made by them and I don’t know what the browser itself stands for. But, I’d wager that a large portion of Windows 10 users use that browser without even knowing it. So long as Edge works well and has enough features for Windows 10 users – most users won’t need to shop around for a new browser. Unfortunately, I cannot use it.

Chrome is the most popular browser in the world on the desktop. Mostly due to the popularity of Google Search, Google Docs, and Gmail. These three services have billions of monthly active users – each – and if you’re using any other browser except Chrome you’ll be “reminded” to download it. Also, Google has a few Chrome-only features that inevitably get people to make the switch. It is also pre-installed on many Android devices. It is very good and while I’d have a small list of asks on desktop my biggest request on mobile would be to be able to set it as my primary browser – unfortunately Apple doesn’t allow that**.

Firefox is open source and presumably cares the most about the open web. Its development is by far the most transparent of the browsers (though Apple, Google, and Microsoft do an excellent job of making their development fairly transparent) and just about anyone can contribute to the project. Firefox’s footprint in the market, however, is tiny in comparison to its competition. The latest releases seem to be leaps forward for Firefox.

There are more browsers; Opera, Brave, Tor, Konqueror, etc. but these are relatively small userbases*** and I’ve never used any of them for any length of time other than to see if they were usable.

Lately Apple is claiming that Safari is the fastest browser available. A claim each web browser maker claims with nearly each release of their software. It is sort of like having a few friends with similar dates of birth. Someone is always a few days older than the other for a few short days until everyone is the same age again. This is what it is like with speed and web browsers. One may be “the fastest” today but the other will catch up next week.

For the last few weeks I’ve been using Firefox and there are several small niggles that I have that prompted me to write, and rewrite and rewrite, this post. It is what reminded me of this struggle. This bending and twisting of metal and wood in order to get the browser to do what I need it to. I started out creating a list of things Firefox would need to do in order to have me as a user fulltime – some examples include allowing me to use my mouse’s features, enabling macOS dictionary lookup, being the default browser on iOS, etc. But then I backed off of that and realized it will always be a bit of a struggle. I’ll always switch back and forth between browsers. I’ll have a favorite. And that will change.

I’d bet Jack White has never found the perfect guitar. He has a favorite today and it may change tomorrow. Today I’m using Firefox. Tomorrow who knows? And that’s fine.

 

* Chrome has more installs on mobile, iOS has far more usage.

** Can someone please sue Apple over this already?

*** Opera seems to have a huge marketshare in mobile in places like India and Africa.

Google I/O 2017 wish list

I figured that since I wrote my Build 2017 wish list and the reviewed that list after the event, and that I plan on doing the same for WWDC this year, it would only be prudent to write down my wishes for Google I/O as well. At first when I sat down to write this list I could only think of one item:

  • Improve Google Accounts

I’ve always had issues with Google Accounts, particularly when using Google Hangouts (or whatever they’re called this week), but I must say this issue has somewhat improved lately. Likely because I’m primarily using one Google Account regularly now rather than three but I also think Google has made adjustments for those of us with personal and business Google Accounts.

However, after thinking a little harder, here are some things I was able to come up with that I’d like to see from Google this week.

  • Android. I have no idea if this possible, but I’d like to see Google flex some muscle and demand less fragmentation in their Android-versions across carriers, devices, etc. This fragmentation has been a huge headache, if not the single biggest reason Android apps can’t be “great”. Some would argue this and that is fine. But Apple’s biggest advantage in this area is that they can be relatively certain what hardware the OS will run on and as a result software developers can be fairly certain the OS will be up-to-date.
  • OK, Google. I’d like to see Google’s assistant have a much larger footprint, particularly on iOS. Again, another thing that may not be possible. I simply cannot use this service because none of my devices will run it natively. But for this week I’ve installed the Google app again on my iPhone to see how good the assistant is these days.
  • Material Design update. They been releasing updates to Material since it launched but I’d like to see something similar to what Microsoft announced at Build with Fluent. A way to tie in a much larger range of devices and perspectives (like Mixed Reality) would be well served in a design language.
  • Photos on Mac to Google Photos bridge. The linchpin on iOS/macOS for me personally is iCloud Photo Library. I have over 340GB stored there and it shows no sign of slowing down. Google Photos, though, has shown itself to be far superior in terms of visual search than Photos. However, Google Photos doesn’t allow me to have a private, local library since it doesn’t have an app for Mac or Windows. So I think I need to use both Photos on Mac and Google Photos on mobile. I would like to see them release a bridge for this. It would also make it easier to switch away from Apple products if I ever wanted to.
  • Google MR. Google has dabbled with mixed reality on several fronts. But I don’t think strapping a phone to our heads is a longterm solution – regardless of the fancy materials you use to do it. Similar to my wishes with Microsoft and HoloLens I’d like to see Google make a considerable investment in furthering a stand-alone MR device focused on business use.
  • Open-source Autonomous Driving. If anyone is going to open source their Autonomous Driving technology it might be Google. Since they have employees giving the information to their competitors anyway, perhaps they’ll be willing to push that source up onto Github and let the self-driving revolution really get into full swing. The money in this is going to be in licensing and support in the long run anyway. Think of it as the self-driving operating system.
  • The Death of AMP! I wish they’d just shoot this in the head. But, it appears they aren’t. I can’t see why this is good for the web.

I re-watched Google I/O 2016’s Keynote a bit yesterday. Hard to believe Home has only been around for far less than a year. Also, Sundar is hitting his stride around that time too (also the Alphabet split) so I’m guessing the productivity at Google is through the roof. So I expect a lot of great things this year from Google.

My Build wishlist

Microsoft’s Build conference starts on Wednesday. I’ve been watching this conference closely for the last three years.* Each year Microsoft has shown that they are a completely different company since Satya Nadella has become CEO. They actually make the things they show.

Over these same years they’ve improved upon Windows so-much-so that I have a hard time defending my choice to use Mac. They’ve made Surface hardware that is so good that people are switching from the Mac. And their developer apps and cloud services are incredibly good.

So I thought just prior to this year’s Keynote that I’d jot down my wishlist for this year. It is very short because I don’t use a ton of Microsoft services day-to-day.

  • Windows Phone. I’d like Microsoft to make a large commitment to bringing Windows Phone back. They’ve already made investments in the developer toolchain to allow app developers to use their own languages and frameworks and create iOS and Android applications. Windows Phone was so good it could easily be the third horse in the mobile OS race. (Also, a Surface Phone would be cool to see)
  • HoloLens. I’d like to see HoloLens be available to consumers at an affordable cost (say $500.00). HoloLens is one of the only AR packages out there that I think has the platform, services, and is a standalone unit that could be valuable to anyone from games to the enterprise.
  • Windows and/or Office Open Source. This is a big one and is a much, much longer term goal I think. However, I don’t think it is impossible. Microsoft has been embracing open source more and more. Windows being open could actually eliminate some of their woes rather than compound them. Running Windows as an open project would take a huge team but I think would be worth it in the long run and actually allow Windows to mature even quicker than it is now (which is two releases per year).
  • Band. I’d like to see Band make a comeback. I thought it was a great wearable platform that had a future but they’ve killed it. So in some way, perhaps under a new name (Surface Band?), I’d like to see it come back.

I have no idea if I’ll ever be a full time Windows user or not. My lock-in on Mac may last another decade or two and by then who knows if I’ll even own a computer as we think of them today. But I always want to see honest competition between two giants because that inevitably leads to better products for everyone involved.

Let’s see what happens on Wednesday.

* And I’d like to attend some year.

 

Update: Here is what actually happened.

What I saw this week #22: December 2, 2016

SwitchResX – A small preference pane for macOS to help you set more specific resolutions for your displays above and beyond what Apple provides by default.

NEPA.js – A new meetup in Scranton, PA for people that want to learn JavaScript.

Lion – A gorgeous photo by Sam Scrimshaw.

Italy, Boat, Wedding – My friend Matt D’Avella made a fun vlog-like video. Matt is one of the people behind the excellent Catalyst.

Open Sublime via Bash on Windows – A good tip for those Windows 10 users just getting used to having Bash native on their computers.

Casey Neistat sells Beme to CNN – He goes into the why in this video. My take? Beme needed a soft landing and using Casey was their surest bet to find a large enough acquirer.

BitBar – Take any constantly updating information (weather, stocks, timer) and put it in macOS menu bar.

Colossus Pixel Art – Jeremy Brown continues to kill it on Twitter with pixel art.

Lightsail – A new hosting platform from Amazon. Everything keeps getting easier and less expensive.

I hope a Windows 10 update is imminent because the new Surface Book with Performance Base is buggy buggy buggy when switching between tablet and desktop modes.

Removing the pro from Apple

John Gruber regarding Sal Soghoian being axed from Apple:

If they had simply fired him, that’d be one thing, but the fact that they’ve eliminated his position is another. This is shitty news. I find this to be a profoundly worrisome turn of events for the future of the Mac. I hope I’m wrong.

I noted this on Twitter without any comment. But I’m slowly seeing us pros being shown the door at Apple and Sal is just further evidence of this.

When Dan Kimbrough and I were at the Apple Store last week to look at the new MacBook Pro we were speaking to a retail store employee who, after hearing how we use computers said, “Oh, you are a ‘Pro User’“. He said it in such a way that made me think we weren’t welcome. Dan felt it too. He said so immediately as we were walking out the door.

My thinking is this; the consumer market is enormous compared to the pro market. Yes, there is a lot of money in Enterprise but Apple doesn’t consider themselves an Enterprise company. They slowly stopped chasing that dream long ago. Remember the X-Serve? Now, they are also slowly backing away from the pro market as well. Their entire business, for decades, was built on top of those that use Photoshop and Illustrator to do their work. Then, with their switch to a Unix-based OS, they picked up a ton of us that do programming for a living. But now they are removing ports and power in favor of small and thin. And they aren’t updating their beast of a computer either. And, to top of off, they eliminated a position at Apple that was arguably a very important part of why pro people could use macOS.

We keep asking Apple if they are going to leave the Mac behind. And they keep saying no. What we should be asking is if they are going to be leaving the professional users of the Mac behind.

This does not mean I think this is the wrong strategy for Apple. Apple is chasing revenue. They will sell more Macs to “normals” by making them as approachable, thin and light as possible. It just happens to not be the right strategy for me to continue using the Mac. So I’m making the jump to Windows 10. We’ll see if I’ve made the right decision in three years or so.

The Twitter grabbag

When I signed up to Twitter over 10 years ago the site was remarkably simple and easy to use. Back then using Twitter on mobile meant crafting SMS messages using particular syntaxes like “follow username” or “d username message”. It was a fantastically simple experience with huge implications on how we all communicate.

Today, there is no such thing as a unified Twitter experience. And all of the experiences are far from simple. Twitter on the web, or Twitter.com, feels pretty much the same across many desktop platforms. The issue I have with the web experience is that it is a pretty terrible way to use Twitter. The algorithmic main feed, the UI being shoved full of useless information, the confusing conversation layouts, all of these make Twitter.com not very fun to use. And the web experience on mobile is such a departure from the web site that I’d be surprised if anyone at all could use it. I’ve tried. A lot. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

On the Mac there are several excellent Twitter clients to get the most of our Twitter. I remember when Twitterrific debuted. It was amazing to have a running feed to bring all of my online friends right into my office. Today, on iOS, the Twitter applications are second-to-none. I’ve used nearly all Twitter clients for each platform and iOS is, hands down, the best way to experience Twitter both via the official apps and the best client of them all; Tweetbot.

Tweetbot is so far and away the best way to use Twitter it isn’t even funny. If you like Twitter at all and use Tweetbot  you know how much value it brings you. You’re able to keep up with what is going on, easily create and reply to tweets, and search for what people are saying about a given topic.

On Windows, which I’ve switched to using this weekend, the Twitter experience is so bad that I have no trouble figuring out why Twitter has a hard time growing. A few weeks ago I quipped that if anyone was forced to only use the official Twitter apps or web site that they’d likely not use Twitter at all. The same could definitely be said for people using Twitter on Windows 10.

When I’m in a group of people and I’m the only person that really uses Twitter – uses it every single day – I always used to wonder why. Why aren’t these people on Twitter? Why aren’t they getting as much value from it as I have? I don’t wonder that any longer. The experience is terrible. For anyone using Windows 10 or Android I’d bet they open Twitter from time-to-time (if they have an account at all) and then close it wondering why people use it at all.

Take this scenario as a for instance. Someone signs up to Twitter, they follow a few accounts like a celebrity or two, their favorite sports teams, a journalist or two, a politician or three, and maybe one or two friends that are using Twitter. All told they are at around 40 accounts. And I’d say this is likely the median for Twitter. They log into Twitter. The algorithm shows them 4 tweets they “missed while away”. And the rest of their main feed is a hodge podge of some recent tweets. They scroll down once or twice but not much else is interesting and they move on with their day.

If this was how I used Twitter then I could never get any value from it.

Contrast that with the Tweetbot experience. I open Tweetbot and I’m presented with my main feed from the point I left off from. I have 56 tweets that I missed since the last time I opened the app. And, just like my email, I quickly glance at each one – sometimes stopping to follow a link or look at a photo – before moving on. I won’t be “done” looking at Twitter until I’ve gotten through all of the tweets. Like being done with looking at my email. For some people this may seem overwhelming. They may ask “how can I keep up?” They hate having emails in their Inbox and so they hate having Unread Tweets. But for many this would produce a valuable use of Twitter. The more tweets people see the more chance they have of seeing something that interests them. Of course that is the purpose of Twitter’s main feed algorithm, but more is more in this context. Ask any user of Tweetbot and they will tell you that they get value from being on Twitter. Ask any user of the Twitter web site and I’d bet they only see 20% of the content shared on the site and could live without the service.

To make matters worse, using Twitter on different platforms results in having different features. On some platforms there are Moments. And Lists. On others, they simply aren’t there. Or they are so buried you would never use them. Some have video. Some do not. Some have GIFs. Some do not. And many of the experiences do not support Polls. And so you see tweets that seem out-of-place. On some clients there are keyboard shortcuts. On Windows 10, in the official app, there are none. This is baffling. These little inconsistencies means that different sets of users have wholly different experiences in using the platform. How in the world could Twitter craft that experience to make Twitter valuable to everyone that uses it when they have no idea what features are popular across all platforms? It is a mess. Honestly, I can’t think of a single service that is as popular as Twitter and is as much a mess. Pinterest, Facebook, Skype, Snapchat. All of these are fairly consistent across all platforms.

I still believe Twitter is on the ropes. I’m sad but I believe they have very little chance of survival unless something big happens. And my switching to Windows and realizing that I’d rather not use Twitter on Windows 10 (and, the recent exodus caused by the political fallout) really makes me think that Twitter’s end is closer than ever before.

A tablet and a notebook in one

John Gruber:

To me, an iPad in notebook mode — connected to a keyboard cover — is so much less nice than a real notebook. And the difference is more stark when compared to a great notebook, like these MacBook Pros. There are advantages to the tablet form factor, but no tablet will ever be as nice as a notebook as these MacBook Pros. I also prefer MacOS over iOS for, well, “doing work”. I think I’m more productive on a Mac than I am on an iPad. I can’t prove it, but even if I’m wrong, the fact that I feel like it’s true matters. I always feel slightly hamstrung working on an iPad. I never do on a Mac (at least once I’ve got it configured with all the apps and little shortcuts, scripts, and utilities I use).

I totally agree with John. An iPad does not feel as nice as a MacBook. I’ve owned both devices and used them both daily for years. And I, like him, feel much less productive on an iPad than on a notebook computer like the MacBook. I used my iPad for reading, watching videos, and doing light work-related tasks like note taking at a client meeting. But for real work I grabbed my MacBook and, preferably, connected it to a display.

But what if you could have both? What if you could have both a tablet and a notebook in one? And what if all of the work that you do on the notebook could be possible on the tablet? I’ll be writing much more about my experiences with the new Surface Book with Performance Base in the coming weeks (I have only had mine three days and I want to get a little more comfortable with it prior to a proper review) but I can say this – without hesitation – the Surface Book is the marriage of the iPad and the MacBook and I’m loving it.

I read John’s post with the Clipboard portion (read: the display) of the Surface Book and was compelled to write this post. So I docked the display on the keyboard and began typing. Not because I couldn’t have used the on-screen keyboard, but more because I’m much quicker with a full computer. I have all of my shortcuts and customizations. The small little things that make more far more productive.

And, let’s not forget the actual reason John gave for feeling “hamstrung” while using the iPad – it is the software. The operating system. With my new Surface Book I’m running Windows 10 in desktop mode when docked to the Performance Base and in tablet mode when detached from it. But, in both situations I have my data, my customization, my small tweaks, my multitasking capabilities, etc. It truly is the best of both worlds.

I’ve long written on this blog that I believe Microsoft’s vision of one operating system for both contexts is better than Apple’s two-OS approach. John disagrees with me on this. And I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer but there certainly is a preference. My preference is to keep my “power user” stuff at my fingertips for when I need them but to hide them when I don’t. The Surface Book does this.

I’m truly enjoying this device and I’m very much looking forward to sharing more about my switch back from the Mac to Windows 10. But for now I’m going to detach my display and get back to watching YouTube videos on my couch.

Recorded an audio bit with Danny this morning all about switching to Windows 10 and Surface Book. To be published tomorrow.