If only IE could recover webpages after a computer crash

Sometimes my terrible HP 2000-363NR will have a system crash if I jerk the computer too fast in the process of moving it somewhere else. I usually use both Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 11.0.

When I restart my system, I notice Firefox consistently manages to remember what tabs I had before the system crashed and presents it to me and lets me even pick which tabs I would like to reload instead of just loading them all.

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IE9 on the other hand acts like I didn’t have any active tabs before the crash. I load IE9 after the crash, and it just goes to my homepage. Once in a blue moon, it will show some kind of prompt with something like: “Your browsing session appears to have crashed. Recover webpages? [Yes] or [No].” There’s no choice to load particular tabs or windows, and it won’t work for pinned IE9 sites. Plus this behavior isn’t consistent; 9 times out of 10 I get no chance to recover webpages.

So the IE team, please get a clue and have Internet Explorer consistently pick up wherever you left off, regardless of a system crash. If there is a crash, I should be able to either restore all tabs/windows, or selectively checkmark on a list the tabs/windows I’d like to restore. Thanks!

Will the Start Screen be Windows Gadgets all over again?

Remember when Windows Gadgets were introduced in Windows Vista? It was supposed to be the cool little widget engine for Windows that was meant to compete with the likes of the OS X Dashboard or Yahoo!’s Konfabulator. However, it rarely got any good major third party apps. In fact, the only good ones were primarily the ones that were built-in or developed by Microsoft. It was a major disappointment, but it also tended to chug on resources when not in view and it just never provided the functionality the most people cared for.

So will the new Start Screen suffer the same fate? After all, the Live Tiles are very similar to gadgets, and the Metro applications are much like widgets in fullscreen. Though given how you can’t ignore it, it might be something that Windows 8 users will grow used to or some ammunition for others to finally make the switch to a Mac.

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The big thing is the Metro design language. I love it the way it looks and works in some places (Zunes, Xbox dashboard, WP7) but sometimes it can be pretty bad (Microsoft.com website and perhaps Windows 8). Even on many pro-Microsoft sites, a lot of people are commenting their strong dislike with the way Microsoft did it.

I can somewhat agree that Microsoft didn’t do such a hot job with Metro in Windows 8. Here are some reasons I believe the Metro Start Screen might become a fail:

1. Inconsistency with WP7 tiles – The tiles are similar to Windows Phone 7, but they’re not exactly consistent in both colors and icon style. In WP7, you get to choose a default color theme, like red or blue or whatever. In Wind0ws 8, the color theme only appears for the background and may charm bar icons. All the built-in apps have completely different colors. Then the Music and Video tiles have icons that don’t appear to exist in WP7 tiles. Whole point of tiles on Win8 was unified consistency with other products, right? Microsoft, please be more consistent with the way icons and color theme options work for the tiles.

 2. Too many tiles – On Windows Phone 7, the Live Tiles or static tiles are nice and handy on a smaller screen. But on a desktop or laptop screen, so many tiles can be a bit more overwhelming. Sure, they can be somewhat grouped and such, but it can seem like a lot somehow. The ability to organize into folders or virtual folders would be useful. Also, why not make use of vertical scrolling? Maybe for hubs of tiles or something?

3. No hubs? – WP7 had ‘hubs’, you know, the area where related apps/shortcuts/content are all in one place? Yet Windows 8 appears to lack a Games hub, Office hub, Music + Videos, and a People hub. Everything is a separate tile with a separate interface. There’s no synergy for the most part. The photo app only allows some Facebook, SkyDrive and Flickr stuff. There really needs to be an emphasis on similar ‘hubs’ and more integration if Microsoft wants to connect the experiences across all products. Also, I would suggest that hubs are stacked in a vertical list, and tiles/content associated with a hub appear in a horizontal list. Use of scroll wheel could be used as a ‘semantic zoom’ and arrow keys or . What I’m described would look a lot like Windows Media Center without the gloss. Or maybe a horizontal list that splits up the hubs into tiers at the top similar to the Zune desktop software (like the top row will have the major hubs: Home, Games, Media, etc. and a row below that shows sections of the hub, like for Media, there’d be Music, Videos, Podcasts, etc.)

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4. “Start” at the very top – The word appears at the very top and seems to be rather useless. It’s pretty obvious that’s the new Start menu/screen, and if it’s meant to be an official way for novice users to identify this part of the interface, I’m quite sure there are other more practical ways of doing so. Please get rid of the “Start” word at the top and if must be replaced with something, make it feel like it fits better.

5. Design is too flat and staleAdding some drop shadows would really help give some depth to the tiles so it doesn’t feel like they’re stuck to the background and it looks nicer. Even a really small gradient could make the tiles more easier on the eyes, so you don’t have to shift from one solid color right into another one. The latest Xbox dashboard can have such shadows and some gradients why not Windows 8?

6. Lack of major apps – There’s a very small amount of ‘official’ apps from big-name companies that are available at the moment. Most of those apps are hardly noteworthy and barely do much. If Microsoft can’t get major companies on board, there will likely be few independent apps that will of high quality. People want to be able to access their favorite services, games, and such from the brands they trust most.

7. Needs more ‘contracts’  – There’s a limited amount of Contracts currently. If Microsoft could get more picker, search, and sharing contracts, it’d really help give some credence that the Start Screen can be very useful.

8. Apps might be too dumbed-down – On a smartphone, it might be somewhat acceptable, but we’re talking about a desktop environment. The Metro apps need to do a good job of balancing the needs of users with the simplicity that Metro aims for. I’m quite sure if developers try hard enough, they can give achieve both form and functionality.

I still have mixed feelings about the Start Screen. I hope that more customization, real use of hubs, making Metro more lovable, and getting major third-party developers involved will be key to whether the new Start Screen will be a hit or miss for Windows. Unlike the Windows Gadgets, the Start Screen isn’t something most people will be able to ignore unless they find some third-party solution, and it might make users love Windows more or push them to get a Mac. Hopefully, Microsoft will have it down by the time it’s finally released.

Microsoft Academic Search replaces Bing Academic

I just stumbled upon this recently while searching grants, but Microsoft has a ‘new’ replacement for Bing Academic. Well maybe it’s not so new, at least as of August 2011. No blogs that I follow (like LiveSide) seem to have picked up on it though, so I think it’s worth a mention. It’s called Microsoft Academic Search (Beta).

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Anyhow, it essentially does what Bing Academic did, and competes with Google Scholar. It’s currently in beta, but from my initial experience, it’s very nice to use and it kind of has the Bing style, but better to use and better looking. I wonder if/when they will integrate this with Bing.

As of right now, you can explore 38,835,103 publications, 19,159,670 authors, and 2,250 were updated last week. There’s a domain list of fifteen:

  • Agriculture Science
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Economics and Business
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Geosciences
  • Material Science
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine
  • Physics
  • Social Science

There’s special Visualization Features including:

  • Academic Map – Navigate geographically through organizations and authors in a specified domain
  • Organization Comparison – Juxtapose two organizations and compare their citation counts, keywords, top authors, and more.
  • Genealogy Graph – Display the advisor and advisee relationships of a particular researcher.
  • CFP Calendar – Search for conferences you may be interested in by domain, time and location.
  • Co-author graph – Display which researchers have the most collaboration with a particular author.
  • Paper Citation Graph – Discover which publications have cited a particular publication.
  • Domain Trend – Visualize the research trends in computer science through an interactive stacked area chart.
  • Co-author Path – Display how two researchers are connected via their co-authors.

There’s even a Windows Phone client. Here are some various screenshots of Microsoft Academic Search:

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Things to note after my quick glance:

  1. Mapping uses a combo of Bing Maps and Silverlight (can take a while to load)
  2. There was a glitch with the Organization Comparison; It would try to compare Yahoo Research Labs with whatever I had entered in on the opposing side. For a few searches.
  3. Checking out the Genaology Graph requires you to accept the terms, mainly because they say it might not be accurate or whatever.
  4. The Academic Map doesn’t have a legend. All the dots have varying sizes and colors so not sure if that means anything.

I’m not really an academic researcher at this point, but I could see myself using it and liking it. I’m really happy that Microsoft has created something like this, but they haven’t really pushed it out there. I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t just hit one of their search results link through Bing while finding grants. What do y’all think of Microsoft Academic Search?

Windows 8 CP: To touch or not to touch?

Disclaimer: I have not touched any build of Windows 8. Judgment is based on screenshots, videos, many articles on Windows 8 CP.

With the news of Windows 8 Consumer Preview finally passing, there’s been a lot of negative concerns about the upcoming version of Windows. Commenters and bloggers appear from what I’ve seen to have a mostly negative reaction towards Windows 8, in particular, the new Start screen and Metro design.

I am open to changes, I like the Metro design principles (implementation is another story), but there are some chief concerns I have with Windows 8 that I think everyone is hung up upon. Let’s address them:

1. Can the Start Screen’s design work well with all available input?

It wouldn’t be straying too far to consider that the Start Screen is heavily influenced by Microsoft’s belief in ensuring their OS is wanted for those tablets, laptops and and all-in-ones that come with touchscreens. From the consensus, it does indeed work very great with touch. However, does it work well with mouse and keyboards?

Mouse input has far greater reach in pinpointing small buttons. Touch isn’t. Touch needs enough room to avoid errors of bigger fingers. This generally requires bigger icons. Mouse users don’t care for having bigger icons, because it can generally mean having to move the cursor a greater distance, than it were if the icons were smaller. It also means less information is available at one glance, and you have to scroll around for more. Keyboards have it harder. Metro in the past (think Windows Media Center, 1st and 2nd gen Zune players) would work great with directional input (up, down, left, right), an enter key, and a back button on a keyboard. But being touch-friendly doesn’t confine it to that. Now elements can be placed in many areas, and keyboards may have to resort to using Tab to go around elements. Also, multi-touch gestures won’t work on keyboards period, and some mice or touchpads may not support it if an app requires it.

Voice input is still a mystery and not reported on anywhere I’ve seen. Only decent input on this piece is just a muse by this guy. Microsoft’s implementation for Metro in the Start Screen seems to favor touch, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The Zune software clients on Windows works very well with a mouse, and though I’ve never tried, I think it could also work well with touch as well.

2. Does Metro design mean a ‘dumbing down’ of applications?

The idea behind Metro is for simplicity, but simplicity can also mean getting rid of functions that could be handy. Comparing Windows 8’s Mail, People, and Calendar apps to those of Windows Live Mail, Contacts, and Calendar app, you can see a lot of features have been dropped down to only ones that are deemed essential. (It should be noted that these apps in Windows 8 have a big “App Preview” mark at the top of the apps, so maybe my mention isn’t something to consider too harshly). It appears the same with Music and Video too however. Hopefully Microsoft and developers can achieve a great balance in simplicity and functionality where functionality is still key, but simplicity is something that is attempted to be improved upon.

3. Should the Start Screen be a ‘screen’?

Proponents of Microsoft’s choice to make it a screen point out that it gives them far more viewing room to see more results and content, rather than confine it to a small space like Windows 7 and Vista’s Start Menu. They claim it doesn’t take any longer to search for something on the Start screen than you would on the Start menu, it’s just bigger. Metro apps should be full screen to utilize the most touch space.

On the other hand, detractors point out that searches may involve keywords from windows they currently are viewing but can no longer see thanks to Start being full-screen, full-screen is distracts away from what you’re working on. Plus a lot of results aren’t as good as having the best results show up in the first handful of items shown. Metro apps should be windows like desktop apps, and placed for easy access in the taskbar like how touch already works in Windows 7.

Search-wise, I’d have to agree with the detractors and prefer that searching does not require so much space, and the indexing will place the best results (maybe based on past history and such) towards the top in each category (maybe a left/right key toggle for different search categories?) and being able to type in keywords based on open documents by just a glance, without having to go in and out of full-screen Start. Metro apps though, I think could either way as far I cared. I can see the appeal of putting them full-screen to avoid having to see the cluttered taskbar, or I can see the appeal of just making it windowed and just easy to manage via the taskbar.

4. Does the use of both Metro and Aero in Windows 8 seem too unappealing?

On this issue, there seems to be a general consensus yes. Going past the obvious respect that not everyone likes Metro to begin with, a lot of people do not like how very clumsy and jarring it seems to transition from Aero on the desktop to Metro in the Start Screen. There are Metro elements in Windows 8’s more refined Aero, like simple sharp corners (rather than rounded ones), and title being centered (rather than left-aligned) to name some. But the glass look doesn’t seem to fit with Metro back-to-basics, and the chrome side and bottom edges continue to take up unnecessary pixel space. Scrollbars are still too ugly looking, the Ribbon UI doesn’t take any Metro hints, and desktop Control Panel and Explorer don’t have the Metro touch either. If anything, Microsoft should get some hints from this Sputnik8 on The Verge forums. I have minor qualms in some aspects of the shots, but overall, I feel it’s in tune with what a proper Windows 8 with a real Metro design should be like. 

5. Will game developers leverage the store to appeal to hard-core gamers?

Games demoed so far appear to be on the rather simple size, and touch friendly. Unfortunately, most hard-core PC games tend to rely heavily on the mouse and keyboard combo. Will developers even consider putting such games in the Windows Store? Even with the Xbox Live integration, there’s no indication whether the Start Screen will be attracting any hard-core games to it.

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Overall, I believe these are major issues regarding the GUI of Windows 8. Looks are important to users. Windows 7 had the Aero touch that everyone seems to have had no complaints about, but Windows 8 with the Metro touch is throwing a lot of haters out there. Microsoft should definitely take into consideration of whether they should make the Start Screen optional for end users, because the polls and comments don’t seem too happy. These are Microsoft’s most vocal users and these people may discourage their friends and family from Windows 8 on non-touch desktops and laptops.

What do you guys think?

Sneak peak at Bing’s new search results UI

Lately, several people have been capturing glimpses at the new Bing search results UI, and I have to say it’s pretty good. It’s very sporadic as to how often this look is showing up, but I’m guessing the Bing team wants to see what reactions there are before they roll it out. As of now, I’m no longer able to get it.

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New search (above) v. old search (below)

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Some interesting things to note:

1) Left pane is gone – This really helps simplifies the page and makes it less busy looking, but it does take out the “Search History” and “Narrow By Date” filter. “Related Searches” is moved to the right pane.

2) Bing logo is slightly altered – Instead of the text in the logo being blue, it’s now black. It’s also slightly smaller in size. I personally like it. The blue logo always seemed kind of tacky in my opinion, and making it smaller serves to simplify the page and put the focus on the search, not the logo.

3) More search results? – Maybe it’s an odd thing to note, but the new Bing finds 223 million results, while old Bing finds only 222 million results. Of course, most people never go past the first 10 results, but it’s interesting to note.

4) Simplified header – Thin strip across the top, probably relating to the daily image. The various search verticals are reduced to just Web, Images, Videos, News, and More. Facebook login is more prominent with profile image shown, where as in the old Bing, it isn’t. Bing Rewards not shown.

5) Altered search box – The actual search button is no longer orange, but white. In fact, it’s now a boxed out logo either, but right into the search bar with an almost complete line separating it as its own box. They’ve completely done away with the “suggested search headers” that used to appear under the search box. Now you just go with the consistent ones on the top of the page. Much better, as I feel it’s less redundant.

Of course this is probably not anything final. But I like how it looks in comparison to the old one, and I’d even consider it to have the Metro elements. Search results seem to be the focus of the page, and the other background elements are more subdued and less in the way. What do you y’all think?

Microsoft should make a dumbphone OS

Smartphones are all the rage these days, but what about the underestimated dumbphone market? By the way, when I say ‘dumbphone’ I’m referring to general cellphones that aren’t classified as ‘smartphones’. The quasi-official classification is really ‘feature phone’ but ‘dumbphone’ is becoming more common and distinguishes it better in my opinion.

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A lot of people won’t get on the smartphone market anytime soon. Price is a heavy factor. Devices themselves cost a lot, even when subsidized by 2-year contracts. Add on the required data plans too. The apps and games are very enticing, and you buy those too. Not to mention a protecting case and other accessories as well. So a smartphone can be a heavy investment.

Not everyone feels the need for a smartphone. It’s nice to have, sure. But is it necessary? Many people can get by perfectly well on a regular cellphone. They don’t feel compelled to switch after analyzing the benefits over the costs. Many people, like myself, can make do with a cheap dumbphone for basic phone & text functionality, and get by with a laptop/tablet on free WiFi for full Internet access, a dedicated portable media player, and a dedicated digital camera that all do their jobs better.

According to Nielsen, dumbphones still rule the market at 60% usage in the United States as of September 1, 2011. Yes, smartphone growth has been rapid, but is that a surprise when most dumbphones look pretty pathetic?

So why Microsoft? I like Microsoft software. Windows Phone is a very good smartphone OS, and I think if they could create a light version of it, it may take the dumbphone market by storm. Now you might point out that Microsoft’s brief history with the Kin in 2010 shows that Microsoft is incapable of producing a good dumbphone, or the market rejects a mid-level phone somewhere between a dumbphone and smartphone. I disagree. If you want to bother reading through my Kin assessment, here’s the link.

The gist is that the Kin wasn’t just a failure; it’s an important lesson about trying to change the dumbphone market with half-baked implementation, poor niche marketing, and missing necessities. Microsoft can learn from its mistakes and try again, having had the experience. I know I’m not an expert, but when many experts and critics are sharing the same view, I think that speaks for itself that some of the the stuff with the Kin could have been easily avoided with better development and ensuring the launch was at least a safe product rather than something that was bound to flop.

Getting into the dumbphone market is also a good idea, because it’s a starter phone for many people. Making the user experience and design similar to Windows Phone might encourage them to adopt Windows Phone as their smartphone when they’re ready. Or at least use more Microsoft services like Bing and Zune or Xbox. As well as in developing markets like Africa and Asia. Considering how Windows Phone runs well on lighter resources, perhaps they could accomplish something similar on even lesser hardware specs that dumbphones have.

Apps are something that dumbphone users will still want. Some might say having a smartphone OS and a dumbphone OS will mean ‘fragmentation’ for developers and users. I find that the market for both of them are completely different. Dumbphones will continue to have lower hardware specs to make them affordable, and thus any app will not reach the level of complexity as they would on a smartphone. It may be easier to code for a dumbphone OS as well, and hopefully MS could provide a very good SDK  so developers can make the most they can out of a dumbphone. Or there maybe a limited official app selection like Microsoft has had for the Zune players.

This dumbphone OS should be licensed to OEMs with fairly good minimum requirements to ensure the integrity of the OS would work well enough, but obviously the specs won’t match the ones required by Windows Phone. Microsoft can also take advantage of their strong partnership with Nokia to get the ball rolling.

In my next post, I’ll go in depth of what I’d think a basic dumphone OS from Microsoft would be like and look like.

Why the Microsoft Kin failed

I know this is rather late, but I though I had previous typed this up before, but couldn’t locate it on WordPress. So here it is.

The Kin failed because of poor research into what the market wanted, especially baseline features, and Verizon’s issues as well. Here’s a quick list of what killed the Kin:

  • Verizon – MS and Verizon had a break down prior to launch. Microsoft wanted it to be billed as a dumbphone with a low-cost data plan, But Verizon ended up labeling it as a ‘smartphone’ with an expensive smartphone data plan. Only during the 2nd revision did Verizon shift it to Microsoft’s want. When it was too late… Why didn’t they get T-Mobile, like their predecessor with the Sidekick/Hiptop?
  • The marketing – All their ads completely targeted to ‘hipsters’, which if any smart person could tell Microsoft, is a very niche group, super hard to please, and isn’t representative of most of America’s youth. It was a disaster.
  • Missing features, day one – Calculator and calendar came with the 2nd revision and update, but they weren’t there Day 1! I’ve used at least 2 dumbphones, and they had basic calendar support years ago and today. It wasn’t web connected, but it existed. Calculator? Come on. They were still gimpish during the 2nd revision. No IM clients for a phone billed as a social phone. Dumb. No spelling correction or predictive text input. No accessible expansion slots. GPS is only good for geocoding photos and local search, not for navigation. Apps? It’s a dumbphone, but it should have better built-in apps.
  • The ‘social’ was gimped – 15-minute delay in updating your Loop, unless you manually refresh or lock-unlock your phone. It’s like that because of “battery life” and “immature social networking APIs”. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea? Twitter was very gimped. It’s pretty much read only, reply, and tweet. And no IM clients. Or calendars.

Ignoring the above, the Kin did offer stuff over the regular dumphone:

  • Modern look – It was kinda smooth, the graphics looked better with the high-res screen, and the animations weren’t bad. It’s not choppy and ugly like most dumbphones you see out there.
  • The Spot – You could hold, drag, and drop items to a tiny circle that’s always on-screen, and click on the circle to organize and send to the friends or social networks you want.
  • The Loop – It’s the homepage, and it’s pretty much the same as Window Phone’s “People” hub.
  • The Kin Studio – A major winner as an idea to most people. All your photos, videos, text messages, contacts, and such can be backed up to the cloud, all accessible with unlimited storage for free. No dumbphone or smartphone has done that for free.
  • Decent cameras – 5MP standard-def video on Kin ONE and 8MP 720p video on Kin TWO is pretty good, especially for a dumbphone.

Basically, if Microsoft had marketed it better as an awesome dumbphone without the stupid hipster factor, and remembered that this was first and foremost a dumbphone, not a smartphone, they might have had a slight chance of success.

Dumbphones should NOT require an expensive data plan, nor should the features (meant for bigger data plans) be gimped to make cheaper data plans possible. User experience goes down a lot when the feature you use just doesn’t work good. If practically every dumbphone has certain features like a basic calendar and calculator, please include it. If you’re going to claim it’s a “social phone”, you better have like the best social networking features available, and multiple/integrated IM clients too, or you’re just lying. Even a Blackberry would be a better “social phone” with Blackberry Messenger, calendar, e-mail and all that. If it’s not doable, then don’t.

I think it’d be great if Microsoft could redo their dumbphone thing, and do it right. I think they should license the OS to other OEMs, like they do with Windows Phone, but with lighter hardware requirements of course. Redesign the OS to just make it a better dumbphone, without too much expensive extras.