Microsoft, Apple, T-Mobile…They take a lot and give little

win10mobileT-Mobile.  The Un-Carrier.  This company, led by it’s uncool CEO, John Legere, claims to be different.  And, in a few regards, that is true.  They led the march to do away with subsidies and contracts.  Getting rid of the contracts was a good thing.  However, the replacement plans by T-Mobile and the others leave little to be desired.  This company also bills itself as having a fast, reliable network.  That’s debatable. In the Richmond, Virginia area, anyway, they are spotty—despite having PINK all over the area map.  Speeds are so-so.  They also advertise the binge-on program where you can consume all of the video streaming, from a select few services, and won’t affect your data or speed. What they fail to say is that you need specific plans to qualify.  Lastly, the ‘Get Thanked Tuesdays’ promotion only applies to certain customers—i.e. those who have Android or iOS devices and those not on prepaid plans. If you have a Windows Phone/Mobile, Blackberry or other device or you have those and are on a pre paid plan, you are out of luck. No thanks on Tuesdays or any other day.  (To be fair, they did try  to make up for it by giving me a credit, free pizza and, in last Tuesday’s event, they texted me the codes—but did not mention I had to use them right away. My fault there, though, it is in the rules.)  The no hoops, hurdles and strings mantra does not apply if you use anything but iOS or Android.

Apple.  Another company that loves to dump on its customers. But, Apple, at least, makes you feel good about getting dumped on. Hell, it’s a PRIVILAGE.  This company has, for the most part, products that, if from any other company, would put you to sleep. But, they slap that stupid logo on them, charge a mint and invite you into these sterile, wood and glass stores, and attempt to make you feel like you OWE them a purchase.  What’s really odd…and lame…is the uniforms the employees wear…..JEANS and BLUE T-SHIRTS.  What the hell is that?  You want me to pay two grand for a computer, I’m in what is supposed to look like a high-end store, and the person who is assisting me is dressed as if he or she was playing kick ball on a school lunch break? Seriously?  And what’s up with that stupid watch?

Microsoft. OH MY LORD.  This company makes it damn near impossible to like.  Everything I have liked, from the Zune to Windows Mobile 10 to Windows 10 itself, has had features removed, been crippled in some way or out right cancelled. I don’t’ need to say anything about Zune…its dead and so is my 30gb player. So, I’ll move on…to Windows Mobile 10. Now, a few years ago, MS bought Nokia’s phone business.  And promptly drove it into the ground.  They released Windows Mobile 10 by gutting many of the nice features of Windows Phone 8, including stability, reliability and many, many features like the hubs.  Now, the company says they are removing features because no one uses them, like FM Radio and the Kids Corner.  Guess what? I DO! This is the same reason they removed Media Center from Desktop Windows. Guess what? I used that too.  Now, Microsoft is further limiting another of its once great products: OneDrive.  They lured you in with tons of free online storage, then cut it all out but 5gb (like Apple) but you could still do a lot. Now, that is being limited as well. You cannot use it to share files a lot or share large files. I guess they are getting hammered for bandwidth. I don’t care, they opened the door and invited us in, now they want to boot us out after an hour.  Why should I bother at all?  They did this with remote sharing as well.  They killed off a terrific photography tool, photosynth.  Their OneCare was great, they killed it.  Windows Mobile has the potential to still be great, even with all of the neutering but, it, too, will languish. That’s what this company does best.

Honorable Mention: GOOGLE. Man, I could rant for days, but I’m not.  Suffice it to say that I will likely be forced to use Android again. I don’t like Android, but my distaste for iOS is worse than my dislike of Android.  One last thing, Google is far worse than Microsoft when it comes to product support and growth. Just look at the Google dead product grave yard.

This may sound like sour grapes, and to some extent, it is.  I’ve been burned a lot by these and other companies.  However, the problems stated here affect more than just myself. In the case of Apple, the deception costs real money.  In the case of Microsoft, it’s not only money, but a lot of frustration as well.  This company needs to stop its practice of introducing things, getting you hooked and then either taking them away or severely handicapping them.  It has really made me re-think my whole Microsoft affinity. 

So, what great Android phones are out there?  I need a good, non-Apple replacement for my Zune too.  My Zune HD is starting to have problems and I don’t know how much longer Windows will run the Zune software.  I want a dedicated MP3 player, I don’t like using my phone for media.  Lastly, what online storage solutions are out there that are low cost or free and are unfettered? 

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T-Mobile, the un-carrier, is just like the others

5055w_front_back-groupRegular readers of this blog know I am a Windows Mobile user and, dare I say, fan.  I am on my third Windows Mobile phone now (Two Nokia’s and one Alcatel-Onetouch) Two of the phones I used on T-Mobile and one on Verizon.  My experience with Verizon was, I thought, the pits.  This company cares nothing about any of its users except for those using Apple products. Android and other devices are treated like second rate citizens.

So, after getting fed up with Verizon’s treatment of the Windows Mobile devices, I decided to buy into John Legere’s statements about the un-carrier, T-Mobile. Now, I had used them while on Sprint.  I got a Nokia Lumia 521 to see if I would even like Windows Phone (as it was called then) and, if I did, perhaps I would switch us over to them. Well, the Icon was released on Verizon and that was the phone I wanted anyway. So, once my Sprint contract was up, I went to Verizon.  That was prior to realizing just how poorly they treat their customers and what they thought of anything other than Apple. I should have known when the salesperson laughed when I asked about the Windows stuff.

When my Icon got to the point where it was only staying charged for a few hours, I decided to jump to T-Mobile, they had just gotten the Alcatel Onetouch Fierce XL with Windows 10.  Not a terrific phone, but it was more up to date and fairly cheap, $140 US. So, I switched.

After a few days, I realize the coverage really isn’t that great.  Then I got an email inviting me to use a couple of apps to make the experience better. Guess what? Those apps were for iOS and Android. Guess how many apps they have for Windows Mobile? TWO.  The account app, which is just a wrapper for the mobile ‘My T-Mobile’ site and the TV app.  Thanks, t-mobile.

Then, because I selected the 3gb Simply Prepaid plan, I discover I am not eligible for the Binge On feature they so heavily promote. Now I feel like I’ve been mislead.

Then, Mr. Legere want’s to ‘thank’ everyone for using T-Mobile. Great.  I go to participate only to hit road block after road block.  There’s no app for the Windows or Blackberry devices, so you are directed to a crappy web site. I go there, only to be told I am in-eligible because…get this…I am PREPAID.  I have to use the APP for that. Buuuut….there’s no app for my device.  Seriously? So, I take to Twitter. Bitterly complaining, even whining about it.  At that point, I wasn’t so much interested in free stuff (though that is always a good thing, right?) but was more upset over the misleading ads, tweets and bs from T-Mobile about this and everything else. It was, as they say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I got some nice responses from T-Mobile’s Twitter response team. They even gave me free Pizza from Domino’s, which my family thoroughly enjoyed.  I was told the ‘problem’ was fixed, I’d be able to participate.

So…it’s T-Mobile Tuesday again and I try. And get the same ineligible message I got the first time. So, back to Twitter.  Direct Message, then tweeted it.  I got a response:

“I care about you and want to make sure you can properly get thanked for being a T-Mobile customer.  Currently prepaid can only play on the app versions.  I know this is never fun hearing when you have a device that this does not work with.  I care about you and we love having you as a customer.  I have offset your account with a $40 credit as a one time courtesy to show you that we truly value you as a customer. 

Your current plan does not have Binge On, but it does have Data maximizer: If you activated a Simply Prepaid plan on or after January 24, 2016, then you already have our Data Maximizer, a network enhancement that optimizes all detectable video streaming to DVD-quality (typically 480p or better). This feature is automatically enabled, allowing your high-speed data to last up to 3 times longer.  We do have Binge on available on our $65 North american prepaid plan that includes 6GB of web and I would be delighted to help change to that plan,  if that is something that you would like.
*NevinB”

So, while they gave me a forty dollar credit-thanks for that-I am told, bluntly, that I’m not good enough because of my device and plan selections, even though they had said ‘all customers’ and I was told specifically, that it was fixed. I was also told that prepaid or not, I should be able to use the web site.  Basically, they lied.

“Everything should be working now can you give Firefox another go and try Chrome for us as well? If it still fails can you provide us your version numbers for both browsers? We’ll keep working on this until you are a part of T-Mobile Tuesdays and get to join in on all the great merch! Additionally can we give you a call tomorrow and start setting things right? A time including your time zone would be greatly appreciated.  *KeithM”

Again, it isn’t about getting something for nothing. It’s being mislead and outright lied to…by the help desk staff, by the ads and by Mr. Legere himself.  So, like Sprint and Verizon, if you don’t get their expensive plan and phone, then you don’t matter.

As for the wrong platform, that’s just nonsense…Microsoft offers tools that takes iOS app source code and converts it UWP code. From what I understand, it is a rather straightforward process and does not take a lot of time.  There are several apps out in the Windows Mobile store that were developed this way…the latest Candy Crush Saga games were done this way as well as some banking and other non-gaming apps.

I did go back and look at the Binge On ad…buried in the very fine print, they do specify the plans it applies to…but the ads and Legere’s Tweets, imply otherwise.  Same for this current promotion.  Now I know that in any future promotion, I will be treated the same. Unless I buy an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S whatever and go on an expensive $65 a month plan.

No thanks.

AT and T, can you do better?

EDIT: After posting this, I get the following direct message from them:

Hey there George! We truly appreciate your business and want to make sure we are 100% on the same page moving forward. As a prepaid customer to take advantage of T-Mobile Tuesdays you must use the app versions. At the present time we only have Android and iOS apps. The great news is you can still participate in all of the fun over at https://t.co/pH3K6qyHYC You can view a list of the web requirements here: https://t.co/vgHFxiRCp3 Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns. We are here for you. *JasonY

In effect, they consider me a non-customer as that site is for some drawing for non-customers.  Nice.

It’s a feature: Family Safety’s Activity Report in Windows 10

Ever since Windows 10 was released to the general public, there has been a concerted effort to discredit the operating system and Microsoft. This release has been the target of those who believe that their privacy has been compromised and that Microsoft is collecting all it can on them.  While a few of the default settings should not have been set to be the default, there is nothing nefarious going on and the latest release of Windows is no more invasive than any previous release of Windows or the Mac OS for that matter. 

Now, these people have taken aim at one of the better features of WIndows for children: the Family Safety feature. 

win10famsafeSomeone discovered that a report is generated that contains things like web sites visited, applications used and how long and computer usage. The report is emailed to the parent or person who set up the family safety.

Sorry, people, this feature has been in family safety from day one. It was in Vista. It was in Windows 7 and both releases of Windows 8. Nothing new about it.

Yep, this report is integral to the feature. It does spy on the child, that is the point.  It lets the parent know what the child is doing and how long they are doing it.  I, for one, am glad it is there.  I’ve used this feature since the Vista days. Only, then, instead of emailing, it would pop up a notification in Windows that the report is ready. 

So, obviously, the people complaining about this feature have never used family safety and, likely, do not have children.

I do not see problem with this feature and have utilized it in the past and will do so again. I have two more children that I want to be safe on the Internet and whom I don’t want on the computer 24/7.  So, to those who oppose this feature, I say, go find something worthwhile to complain about, like the high price of cell service, gasoline or other such product.  Windows 10 is awesome, family safety is awesome.

Note:

Family Safety has changed with Windows 10 and will be doing a new write up on the feature at a later date.

Windows 10 and Privacy: what you need to know

Much has been said about the privacy – or, rather, lack of – in Windows 10. Well, don’t worry about it, it is much ado about nothing.  Most of what’s been written is FUD or a poor understanding of what you can do in Windows 10. 

There are a couple of features in Windows 10 that seem to be causing the confusion: Cortana’s ‘learning’ you and WiFi Sense.

First, Cortana.

This just amazes me.  People can accept Siri on an iPad or iPhone and think nothing of it.  Same for Google Now. Yet, put Cortana on the desktop and people freak out. Doesn’t make sense: Cortana is doing the same thing that Siri and Google Now do. It sits there, learning what you browse, remembers what you search and gets to ‘know’ you.  What do you think Siri does? Heck, going to Google.com for your searches is just as intrusive. Use gmail? Well, guess what…Google reads your messages, looking for keywords to serve up more ads.  Oh, and it is looking for things that might trigger legal action too.  Just ask the guy who got nailed for pornographic pictures in his mail.

Never fear, though…you can turn off Cortana if you are still reluctant to use the feature. Goto Settings, Privacy and tap/click Speech, inking and typing.  Here, you can click/tap ‘Stop getting to know me’ and that will stop Cortana from learning and monitoring what you do.  While in the Privacy settings, you might want to turn off the following: Camera, Location, Microphone and everything in General. You will, of course, kill most of the functionality of many applications, but you will protect the little bit of privacy you may have left.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Turning off most of the features I mention will render things like Bing search, Google search and even maps, useless. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING is OK.  On a desktop, with no touchscreen, there is no need to let Microsoft know how you write, so you can turn off that feature in Privacy->General. Also, you should turn off that bloody ‘Advertising ID’.  Finally, click the ‘Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info’ link and change those settings accordingly. Want personalized ads? then don’t do anything, but, if you don’t want ads about panty hose showing up your Facebook timeline because your wife searched for them, then turn this off.

WiFi Sense

WiFi Sense is a feature that debuted with Windows Phone 8.1.  It does a lot, but nothing very scary.  If on, it will fill in, with bogus stuff, those nag screens in public wifi hot spots. It can ‘click’ the I agree buttons on those pages.  It maintains a list of hot spots and can map them for you.

More importantly, however, it allows you to give friends access to your home network with out giving them the password.  They MUST be using Windows devices for it to work, it will NOT work with, say, an iPhone.  And, it does not ‘give’ anyone your password. Once they leave, their device no longer ‘knows’ about your network.

Still worried?

Go through the settings application.  You will want to look through the privacy settings. Many are on by default, some are off, like Cortana. You do not have to let it even start collecting your data.  Simply reply ‘no’ when asked. You are asked the first time you search for something in Windows.

Wifi Sense can be turned off and you will still be able to use hotspots, but will have to give your friends your password.  It is YOUR decision.

Windows 10 is no more a privacy problem for you than anything else and, at least, you can control how much or how little privacy you keep.  Unlike with Google.

Windows update, activation and 10: two major problems and a happy ending

As part of his graduation, we gave my oldest son a gaming computer. It’s nothing too fancy, a middle of the road gaming rig so he can play League of Legends with as little ‘lag’ as possible. The machine we got him, a CyberPower PC special from Best Buy, is no slouch: quad core, 3.7ghz processor, AMD/ATI R 6700 graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 2.2TB HDD.  Oh, it runs Windows 8.1.

Now, the computer came with a lesser graphics card, my son inherited the R 6700 (I think that’s the number) card and, ever since we put it in, it has caused several blue screens.  In all of the time I’ve run 8 or 8.1, I think I’ve had two such issues. Well, with the last blue screen, came an activation issue.

Windows did not think it was activated. 

Great.

So, I proceed to activate.  No go.  After several attempts, I discover the key is now invalid.  What?

A call to Microsoft resulted in finger pointing to CyberPower PC. The key is an OEM key and Microsoft refuses to help on them.  So, I call the OEM. As it was on a Saturday, they had limited hours and I had both limited patience and battery on my phone.  After 45 minutes on hold, my phone was losing juice and I lost patience. 

Remembering that I had a clean, legal copy of WIndows 8 PRO-with an unused key-I thought, well, I’ll just install 8, upgrade to 8.1 and put him on the Windows 10 track.  Simple.

It started out great, Windows 8 took 20 to 30 to install.  Upon the desktop setup, I proceed to the Windows Store to grab 8.1. No go. Have to update first.  How stupid is this? So, I goto Windows Update.  Boy, my friend Sam was right, this damn thing is broken. Sorry Sam. Over 150 updates awaited.  So, I told my son to keep an eye on it and my wife and I went out.

At some point, it appears the computer went to sleep.  DURING UPDATING.  My son lets me know.  Well, the interrupted update BROKE the update process!

Nothing I did fixed it.  It’s 11pm now and I’ve wasted the day-save the two hours I was with my wife-on this bloody computer. Not happy.

So, I recalled that one can go to Windows 10 directly from 7, 8 or 8.1. So, I went ahead and upgraded to the most current build of Windows 10.  The upgraded took about 45 minutes, but it worked like a charm.  We had to install Direct 3d/dx 9, but League of Legends worked and did not need to be reinstalled – which, itself, takes hours and hours and hours.

So far, with one exception, 10 has worked very well.  It did blue screen, but the error was really odd and had to do with sound. This computer has some odd hardware, so I am thinking it is a driver issue and I plan to check them all for compatibility.

This whole process was just a joke.  Windows Activation is the most assinine thing yet.  There is just no reason for Microsoft to continue with that mess. It does not stop those who want to steal it and just causes major headaches for those of who play by the rules.  And Windows Update? Holy hell.  What a major blemish that has become.

Microsoft, I implore you, do the right thing and ditch activation. Fix the update process.  And hire people who can CLEARLY speak the same bloody language as those who call your centers.

That is all.

My case against touch: struggling with touchscreens, it should not be this hard

Touchscreens have been around since the 1960’s, possibly earlier. Many schemes have been used, everything from the current overlay technology all the way back to the old light and photocell matrix and everything in between.  There are advantages to them all and many, many disadvantages.  The current flurry of technology employing touchscreens was sparked by the innovative iPhone from Apple. 

Steve Jobs despised the tried and true stylus. He famously said that we already have the best stylus: our fingers. Well, not so fast there, Mr. Jobs.

On large screen devices, like the full size iPad, my Asus Vivo Tab with Windows 8, and pretty much any device that is 8 inches or larger, your finger may work great. But, not so much on small screens.

I have found that it is not really the technology itself, but the user interface that is the real problem.  Especially with the bloody on screen keyboard. If a hardware keyboard fan ever needed a reason to bring back an actual keyboard, one needs to look no further that the iPhone. (Hot on its heels: Windows Phone 8).

The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is just awful. I constantly hit wrong keys. Now, some of it is my fault, most however, are not. When it isn’t being responsive, it’s just too damn small.  Which is really surprising since the best on screen keyboard I’ve ever used in a small form factor is that on the Zune HD. Both Apple and Microsoft should take a look at that one.  Funny, Microsoft designed it and promptly forgot it when doing the Windows Phone 8 OS.

Aside from too small or unresponsive, the predictive text is also a problem as is spell check/autocorrect. Now, these should be very useful features and, indeed, can be. BUT…when they screw up, they REALLY screw up.  Yes, you can disable them, but, why should you have to? They should just work and they should give you an easy way to maintain and add to the database. If they do, then there’s no easy way to find it.

At any rate, why can’t these companies come up with decent on screen keyboards? Ones that work. Ones that are not hard to use and that just work. You should not have to think about HOW to type while typing.

User Interfaces are another source of frustration.  For example, the antiquated Windows desktop is very difficult to use simply because its widgets are just too small for your fingers and designed to work with a mouse and not your finger.  On iOS, they did a much better job with the UI, however, the multifinger gestures do not always work the same. And, sometimes you swipe down, sometimes you swipe left to right to do the same thing. iPhones present a real challenge due to the screens size. I find it difficult to play some games on this device because of the size of the screen. Other apps, like the music player app, can be difficult to use, especially if you have larger fingers. I find myself constantly selecting the wrong thing simply because the icons are too small.

In this new world of touch, designers need to take a step back and actually use the stuff they put out, before they put it out.I suspect a number of things would be caught and corrected prior to release. I’m sure such products would dominate. 

Adafruit, USBTinyISP, Digital Signature and Windows 8: hoop jumping time

I do development work on a variety of PC’s in my home, Windows 7, Windows 8 and, yes, even on a Windows Vista laptop.  So far, it’s not been a problem. Oh, sure, my ancient copy of Visual Studio 2005 tells me it is not compatible with Windows 8, but ignore the warning and keep on going…no issues yet and I’ve been running it for awhile now.  However, drivers for things like USB programmers have not been an issue (well, OK, there was the one Radio Shack Serial to USB cable that Windows 8 hates) until now.

IMG_2603I go to setup one of my Windows 8 desktops with the Arduino IDE so I can do some work with the Adafruit Trinket. The IDE installs just fine. I make all of the changes that Adafruit says I need to make to the IDE so it can support the Trinket.  Everything is great…until I try to install USBTinyISP. It’s drivers are not digitally signed.  Windows 8 does not allow unsigned drivers.  Well, damn. So, off to the ‘net I go.

I BING ‘USBTinyISP and Windows 8’ and get this site, Next of Windows. Here, they have a short tutorial on how to enable the ability to install unsigned drivers. Now, I understand why Microsoft did this…it was designed to protect consumers and help ensure only good stuff gets on your computer.

Rather than retread what Next of Windows has already done, just go there and follow the instructions. There are a few restarts involved as you are accessing settings that are only mean to be accessed if your PC is having issues with Windows.

Now, while Microsoft may be partly to blame, I also wonder why Adafruit does not supply a signed driver or, at least, tell you how to install it under Windows 8. It is, after all, on the LEARNING System.

Once I got the driver installed, Arduino IDE was able to program the Trinket and all is well with the universe.

UPDATE: It seems that Adafruit DID, in fact, post instructions for installing on Windows 8. Apologies to Adafruit are in order [wipes egg from face.] Here’s the link to the page that actually says ‘Don’t forget, for Windows 8, you will have to turn off driver signing checking..’. I don’t know how I missed that.