In the November 3rd edition of The Seattle Times, I noticed a front-page story written by Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times titled “Trump’s angry rhetoric speaks to frustrated U.S. Veterans.” It cites that “… many veterans are turning to Donald Trump…” despite his obvious shortcomings.

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I would like to go on the record to say that I am not one of those veterans who supports Mr. Trump. That said, I am as frustrated as any. As pointed out in the article, some of us veterans are angry and frustrated by a government and President hamstrung by a Republican Congress. Yes, there are the wars—the endless wars. In my opinion, we’ve been sent to one war after another to defend “freedom” only to find we were dying to protect business interests in the region. That was true for Vietnam, and it’s true for the Mid-East. Yes, some veterans sincerely believe that if we had more resources in Vietnam we could have won. They also believe they were betrayed when President Obama pulled out the troops. I, for one, believe neither of these is true. I feel that no amount of force could resolve the corrupt system in Vietnam propped up by the French and then the US and its allies. I know for a fact it was President Bush signed a treaty to pull out our troops to protect them from criminal prosecution by the host countries. No, I do not believe that the strongest army is the best defense and that better intelligence (in all senses of the word) and skillful diplomacy can save more lives and more resources in the long run.

I also know that during these wars, in addition to the tens of thousands of American and allied troops, countless (more than a million) innocent people were wounded, killed, their homes leveled and their livelihoods destroyed. As additional “collateral damage,” the populations of those regions have learned to hate Americans and hopelessly inflame an already volatile region.

But veteran frustration is not just about needless wars. It’s not about how we were treated when we came home in the late ‘60s and early ’70s—we’re over that—or some of us are. It’s not about how our bodies were contaminated with Agent Orange, wracked with PTSD, depression, and suicide, and how the Veterans Administration was defunded so we could not be properly cared for. It’s not about that—not entirely.

Today, some lucky vets receive better care, but still VA hospitals and facilities are underfunded and the number of homeless vets sleeping under bridges is higher than ever. Despite renewed efforts the wait time to get care is indeed rising. “Non-VA care (the Veteran’s Choice Program)” is expanding, but struggling with long wait times and a still-learning staff. Efforts to address these problems, to reduce suicides, to get vets, healed, housed and fed are still being stymied by the Republican Congress. Ask your Congressman (on either side of the aisle) if he or she voted to fund these measures. And yet, some Trump supporters blame President Obama. Yes, vets still need mental and physical healthcare, and homes, and jobs. We don’t need “privatization”—for-profit companies taking over and adding another layer of bureaucracy and expense to an already over-taxed system. We don’t need politicians who march in the annual Veteran’s Day parade and return to Washington to continue to skimp on our pay, benefits and healthcare. We don’t need the DOD telling vets they need to repay reenlistment bonuses because someone screwed up.

Basically, I, and many vets are fed up, and we demand change—and now. I don’t speak for all veterans, but of the ones I know who aren’t sold on Donald Trump are fed up with political parties who would let businesses pay their way into influence—in Congress and in the White House. We’re tired of individuals who brag about not paying taxes, or companies who move their headquarters offshore to avoid paying their fair share. We’re tired of companies who pay their employees so little the government is forced to subsidize their workers with food stamps and other relief. We’re tired of “speaker’s fees”, golf trips, junkets and favors used to buy legislation—yes, we’re tired of corruption. We’re tired of paying billions for programs (military and otherwise) we as a nation don’t need (and the military often does not ask for), while ignoring the crumbling roads, bridges, water systems, networking, and modern power plants we desperately need—and the jobs they would create to make them and the country great again. We’re tired of poorly trained police, especially those forces infiltrated by hate groups and lack of federal oversight to reign them in. We’re tired of those who would inflame these hatreds for their own political gain and incite men to shoot police officers. We’re tired of businesses who walk away with a fine that barely affects their bottom line after polluting major waterways or filling the air with greenhouse gases which threatens the entire planet. We’re tired of the lack of regulators who keep our food, water and air clean and of cities who poison hundreds of thousands of people and go unpunished—and unabated. We’re tired of the lack of regulation on banks so as to prevent the last crash from reoccurring. We’re tired of bankers who rob the economy and ordinary citizens of trillions of dollars but spend not one day in jail. We’re tired of states who disenfranchise entire classes of voters and the political parties which help make this happen—on both sides. We’re tired of corporations whose power to influence elections and the media is in direct proportion to their wealth. We’re tired of broadcast networks owned by foreign billionaires who fill our screens with countless hours of misinformation, hate speech, and propaganda. We’re tired of for-profit (but tax-free) religious groups dictating our laws, writing our textbooks, and deciding what is taught to our kids in school. We’re tired of a for-profit healthcare system and its co-conspirator, the for-profit pharmaceutical industry, whose goals have become not to cure the sick, but to treat illnesses until the patient’s financial and personal resources have been exhausted. We’re tired of a Congress who spends millions trying to defeat a healthcare law which helps so many just to make political points—but without offering a solution to the problems it fixes. We’re tired of a foreign policy which makes us believe that we as a nation can solve the world’s problems (many of which we have created) with our own money and young people. We’re tired of government or religious-dictated legislation which tells us who we can love, how we can show intimacy, and when we can choose to end a pregnancy—not to mention how we express our sexuality. We’re tired of being told how or if we choose to pray, or how we show our respect for our God, the flag or the nation, or don’t. We’re tired of people being treated differently because of the color of their skin, or whether they came here from another country or a war-torn region—a region destroyed by our own self-interest and ignorance. We’re also tired of partisan enforcement of the laws by powerful individuals in the government who overlook those issues which would derail any normal Presidential candidate, while indicting an opponent by innuendo.

I think one reason veterans give to support Donald Trump is that they don’t want a political “insider,” someone who perpetuates a system of greed and corruption. I get it. Neither do I, but I sure don’t want someone like Donald Trump with his finger poised over the button. Donald Trump is not the solution—He is the embodiment of personal lust and greed. His entire life has been spent avoiding responsibility, duty to country, his wives and family, and to those who trust him—all things honorable men, and most of the veterans I know have fought and died for—since before 1776.

But I digress. This election is about choices. I agree that our for-profit political system has laid the seeds for another civil war—this time our own. I fear it’s for reasons that have more to do with business interests than making the country “great again.” I fear the dormant sentiments of white power and the American Civil War have been rekindled to keep a for-profit-at-any-cost regime in power. Under our very noses, history has been re-written to show the American Civil War was not a conflict among those who would abolish slavery, torture, and cruelty of an entire race of people, but a fight to win back the rights of states over a central government. Any student of history (written outside of certain southern states) knows historical documents do not support that contention, but therein lies the other issue—misinformation. Never in American history has a political party spent tens of millions of dollars vilifying an individual they feel might threaten their way of doing business—but finding nothing of substance. Yes, historians also know there have been propaganda campaigns like this before. In the mid-1930’s a certain political movement in Europe chose to enflame nationalism and point the finger at a selected religion, at “intellectuals” and “communists.” They were scapegoated for every ill that faced the country. The result was the most horrific mass-murder in history and the second World War. Years later, at the Nuremburg trials, when civilians were asked why they let this happen, the same people who wore the hats and armbands, cheered at the rallies, and turned in their neighbors to the secret police would say “…we had no idea. We didn’t know.” In our own country, the rights of individuals were trampled by a similar witch-hunt as McCarthy searched out Communists.

This is all happening again. Today. This week. And after the election, it won’t stop. Congress promises to stall the nomination of anyone to the SCOTUS or other judicial benches if Trump is not elected. No doubt, the Democrats will reciprocate—assuming Trump is not indicted before the inauguration. In addition, Donald Trump continues to sow the seeds of distrust, despair and hopelessness to the eager ears of men and women who would blindly follow another authoritarian figure—regardless of his ability to solve any of the dire problems he’s described. IMHO, if we wanted someone to sort out the budget, get people working again, figure out how to manage trade deals that benefit the country and all the other complex problems the President’s leadership will face, would you hire a man who has gone through twice the number of failed companies as he has failed marriages? Why would you trust a man who does not pay his contractors, hires the same workers he says are ruining the economy, or makes his own brand of shirts in the country he says is the source of our own economic failure? I agree the Presidency is about trust. Can we trust a man who molests women under his control—even teenage girls? Would you trust him in the same room as your daughter or wife? Would you trust a man who cheats for a living and brags about it? More importantly, would you trust a man who owes countless millions to the Russians who thinks nuclear weapons should be used in the Mideast?

Yes, we veterans are frustrated. Donald Trump is not the answer, and no, IMHO, Hillary Clinton is not an ideal candidate, but she will not lead the country into another war—at least we hope not. But is there an even more sinister reason Trump has been brought this close to the Presidency. Perhaps those who put him there, those who pull the strings have made it so because they sincerely believe he can be easily manipulated. Perhaps they feel his ignorance of foreign policy, of military and political intelligence, economics on a global scale, environmental issues, and even morality make him an ideal candidate which can be made their puppet. Perhaps this is why the Russians and the evangelicals have done everything they can to get him elected—and they’ve nearly succeeded.

So no, veterans should not vote for Donald Trump. In any case, we veterans also need to make sure the Senators and Congressmen who perpetuate this for-profit-at-any-cost system from returning to Washington. Consider that when Donald Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” he leaves off the last phrase: “For Donald Trump.”

Bill

Upgrade or Else?

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So my neighbor called in a panic (again). Late last night, her system had begun to talk to her, warning her that the only way to rescue it was to call an 800 number. Yeah, most (but not nearly all) of us know this is a scam—and a lame one at that.

But what if Windows itself throws up a dialog that says: “Okay, when do want to schedule your upgrade to Windows 10?” It’s like your wife asking “When do you want to visit my mother, today or tomorrow?”

No, upgrading to Windows 10 isn’t as bad as a visit to Kansas in the summer but many (many) of us are avoiding it. My neighbor heard Windows 10 is “simply awful.”

“Where did you hear that?” I ask.
”You said so.”
”What? When?”
”A couple of years ago. You were having a lot of trouble with it,” she says.
”That was then. That was before they made a dozen fixes and several major updates. It’s fine now.”

I made a mental note to never tell her anything. I went on to assure her that I was running Windows 10 on all of the systems which could support it. My wife’s system won’t—it’s an old Pentium system and she’s thrilled she does not have to upgrade.

“I like it the way it is.” she said. It’s one of her mantras.

But to the point. Notice that this dialog does not have a close button. You either schedule the update (and it won’t let you schedule it after your 89th birthday) or do it now. IMHO, this is arrogant. Again, Microsoft needs an “Opt Out” checkbox for those who know they can’t upgrade. Sometimes it’s in the middle of tax season, or just before finals or some other important task must be completed. Maybe it’s just too intimidating.

Since my neighbor was celebrating a birthday, I promised to upgraded her system for her. I set it up in my office and let it update—it took most of the day. After having clicked “Start the Upgrade Now” the system rebooted—and started nothing. I finally ended up installing from the Media Creation Tool. I’ve had to resort to this on several WinX installs for one reason or another. It just works.

One persistent problem I found during the update was black screens. While the hard disk light was flashing, the screen was black—for a long time (hours). It finally came back to life and started a giant countdown clock. Eventually, the system came back to life. It all worked. Her (precious) pictures were where she expected them to be (in the pictures folder), her icons and programs were all there. Chrome was still installed and still had her shortcuts. The tool bar looked just like it did before. It took me twenty minutes to show her Windows 10 would work pretty much like Windows 7.

“Thanks,” she said.
”You’re welcome. And don’t call me after six.”

 

 

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For those of you who have known me for any length of time know I’m not a Microsoft “booster.” I’m a consumer advocate. And yes, I have a great deal of experience with PCs. I’ve been building my own computers since the mid-‘70s and in the early days, even written my own operating systems.

This article discusses a topic near and dear to my heart—Windows 10 updates.

5-21-2016 8-21-06 AMToday, I came across a rather disturbing Facebook thread discussing Microsoft’s new push to get older systems converted to Windows 10. Now, before I get started, understand I’m on your side. I too have systems that simply can’t convert past Windows 7. One has an “old” Pentium 4 processor, the other is running Windows Media Center. All of my other desktops, laptops and notebooks are running Windows 10. And yes, I agree, Microsoft comes off as an arrogant prick when it tries to update your systems over your objections or late at night when you’re not watching. And yes, IMHO, they could have done a much better job with this rollout—but I’ll get to that later.

When Windows 8 first came out, it lived on one of my systems from about two days. IMHO, it sucked (that’s a technical term). I simply hated it and restored back to Windows 7 almost immediately. I never upgraded to Windows 8.1. I saw it as lipstick on a pig. As a result, I don’t recommend it.

When Windows 10 was released, I did far more research and liked what I saw. I worked slowly and after doing an image backup, converted my system very early in the WinX rollout. Yes, I had considerable trouble—having to revert my first attempt after only a week of trying to iron out “issues” (that’s what Microsoft calls bugs—it sounds better). However, after waiting another nine months, I gave Windows 10 another try and the system came up. Have I had troubles since? Sure. Let me explain why.

I first started working with Windows in 1986 when I joined Microsoft (I worked there for fourteen years). My first assignment was to help hardware companies (they call them “OEMs”) write device drivers for Windows version 1.0. These complex chunks of code are used to connect Windows to video cards, printers and peripherals of all kinds from keyboards to mice to scanners. They weren’t easy to write—even in the old days—they required a very highly skilled engineer and lots of testing. Today, given the heightened emphasis on security, device drivers are a lot more difficult to write, certify and be accepted by the new versions of Windows. And this assumes the company which owns the hardware is willing to write them. Why would they? Device drivers are generally “included” with the hardware. They come with the printer or video card and folded into the price you pay. If the company has to write a more complex (and safer) version of the driver (especially for an older model) there’s nothing in it for them but good customer service—perhaps you’ll come back to them for an updated printer or a new video card.

Sure, some hardware (systems) manufacturers like Dell, or HP write their own device drivers—but many just use those supplied by their vendors. But companies fail. This is a tough business and many, many hundreds of companies no longer exist—despite having functional hardware still in use all over the world. Therein lies a problem. How to get these old devices to be visible by newer versions of Windows. Well, the Microsoft engineers tried to make it easier by creating “generic” device interfaces which can (usually) interact with older hardware—and it works most of the time, with some notable exceptions as many people in the FB thread mentioned. But, for the most part, if your hardware is old, and the company that sold it is gone, your chance of using it with Windows 10 is slim.

One approach you might try with old hardware is virtualization. That’s implemented in Windows 10 as “HyperV.” Basically, it lets you create a Windows 7 (or XP or Linux) OS within Windows 10 and run your old hardware device drivers from there. This does not always work, but it might be worth a try.

As far as systems support, Microsoft is being hammered to beef up security. We all hear about worms, viruses and malware of every description—even “ransomware” which takes over your system until you pay a fee to get your data back. As a result, Microsoft has dramatically reduced the number of “misbehaving” device drivers, applications and other software it permits to run on your system. This means safer everything. It means your personal information is safer. Your banking and credit account information is more secure—even when you browse to sketchy sites—at least to a greater extent—Microsoft can’t prevent stupid. It turns out that Microsoft discovered Windows XP had some very dangerous flaws which exposed it to all manner of attack and easy access for hackers. Windows 7 is far safer and Windows 10 goes even further to protect you from those who would steal what you own. That’s why Microsoft wants you to install Windows 10—so they can protect you more easily.

Does this mean that Windows 10 is bulletproof? Hardly, but it’s far, far safer than Windows 98 or XP or even Windows 7.

So yes, some of you can’t install Windows 10. I understand that. Sometimes you simply didn’t wait long enough. Windows 10 setup gets into some strange states which make the system appear dead—with a black screen, but it’s still updating. It can take over a day sometimes. Yeah, that’s dumb and Microsoft should have done better, but it might come out of it like your kid in a coma after that bike accident. Based on the comments in the FB thread, some of you have actually given up and thrown away perfectly good systems as you have been unable to resurrect them after a blown Windows installation. That’s a shame. I support my choir, friends and family (I retired from the tech world in 2010) and while I’ve seen some blown installations, I’ve always been able to get the systems back to a functional state—or at least save the data. Yes, I know what I’m doing (mostly). Would you hold a funeral and bury one of your kids alive if you couldn’t get them to wake up? No, you would take them to the ER. Yes, it might cost some money or call in a favor from your brother-in-law to get your system back, but in most cases, your data and pictures and programs are still there waiting for you or the next person who finds your system in the trash—it just takes the right engineer to fix it.

So, if you don’t want to install Windows 10, and this assumes you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 (older versions are simply unsafe to use on the Internet), take the advice of Microsoft MVPs and install GWX Control Panel. This free utility will stop Windows Update from displaying the prompts to upgrade Windows 10 as well as disarm the Windows Updates which will try to update on it’s own. It does NOT disable the other Windows 7 updates which fix a litany of security issues and system problems.

I was told about GWX Control panel from my friends in the Microsoft MVP community. This organization is comprised of computer experts (okay, nerds) like me who donate their time to help Microsoft software users and developers all over the world. They are highly respected and a great resource.

And in closing… Microsoft is a basically good company. Yes, they’re interested in staying in business, but keeping you and your data safe is an integral part of their business model. They could care less about your data. Sure, all the browsers you use farm your posts and searches looking for ways to sell you stuff—that’s why they’re free. And the Windows 10 upgrade is free—until July 2016 when they start charging for it.

But what could Microsoft do better? First, it needs to back off, take a deep breath and understand people don’t like to have stuff (even good stuff) jammed down their throats. Microsoft needs to add a switch “No, don’t try to upgrade” and don’t flip it back—ever. If the consumer wants to upgrade, let them, but FIRST, check the system. As Windows 10 Update worked ten days ago, it spent many hours thrashing my wife’s Pentium 4 system before coming to the conclusion that she was running a Pentium 4—a processor incapable of running Windows 10. This is a brutally simple test that could have been done immediately and saved everyone a lot of time and grief. Ironically, after Windows 7 was (automatically) restored, it asked if she wanted to upgrade (again).

Next, Microsoft needs to be far more diligent in determining which devices are not compatible with Windows 10. Make sure the customer knows they can’t use their ten-year-old (or almost new) printer, video card or knife sharpener before it rips out the system’s brain and tries to replace it ever so gently—with a spoon.


Questions? Just ask.

What am I doing now that I retired from the tech community? I’m a publisher and novelist. Check out http://betav.com.

Have a safe day.

Bill

I was one of those that was irritated that Google (and the NSA) were snooping through my email and sending me ads based on the fact I was sending mail about camera lenses. But then again, I didn’t use the Gmail email client so I didn’t see the ads; I use Office’s Outlook—I always have and I’ve grown to trust it and understand it. I still do.

About 10 days ago, I forgot my basic mantra “If it’s working don’t fix it.” I was lured in by promises of… well, to quote Microsoft Outlook.Com’s own blog:

    • A fast, modern UI that shows you more of your email with less clutter
    • An address book that connects to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so all your contacts are in one place
    • Pictures from Facebook in messages from your friends, messaging that lets you chat with your friends on Facebook right from your Inbox
    • Great tools to help handle newsletters, deals and more
    • SkyDrive and Office built-in to make it easy to share and collaborate

It sounded appealing. And I was actually thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to have my Office Outlook contacts and calendars sync with Facebook and my iPhone and my laptop without having to use gSyncit (a third-party sync tool). Admittedly, I didn’t think that through. My Facebook friends are not the same as my business and personal contacts. And I was thinking the all-Microsoft solution one with Office Outlook on one end and Outlook.com on the other would better integrate with my Windows 8 OS. Perhaps I would give up my iPhone for a Windows 8 phone. Yea, pretty thin reasoning in hindsight. But I assumed that Microsoft would not lead me astray. I was wrong.

Converting my Custom Domain

So, since I have my own domain and email address, I was lead to a site that walked me through the process of setting up my MX and TXT records to point to the Outlook.com mail host and validating the configuration so Outlook.com ‘trusted’ my site. Totally understandable and while the process was a bit clunky, Peter Blackburn and I got it done in an hour or so. Too bad my site wasn’t really trusted.

Consider that Google also provides these custom MX and TXT records but also provides an easy to use step-by-step wizard to set them up. I’ve used it before and as we’ll see, I used it again just recently. Fortunately, I had been using the free version of Google’s custom domain service for years so when they started to charge for it, I was grandfathered in. To the rest of the world, creating a custom domain with Google means a $50/year fee.

This conversion went fairly smoothly, despite having to figure out some of the finer details as to priority and timeouts myself (with the help of Peter Blackburn, my IT guru). The one important fact that the blog post left off, there is no way to get your mail out of your Gmail account into Outlook.com but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Getting Connected

So in Office Outlook 2013 (OO13) I was not able to connect as many of the blogs described because I did NOT need the Office Outlook Connector. This (apparently) has been removed and replaced with a version of ActiveSync (EAS). This means that the server name you provide must be m.hotmail.com and not m.outlook.com. And that’s just the beginning. All-in-all many of the blogs are outdated and don’t apply to Office 2013 where a lot of things have changed.

Once connected with OO13, I discovered that three new calendars were born:

  • Birthdays
  • US Holidays
  • INETA (a speaker’s bureau I once belonged to)

Swell. Now my calendar (and my iPhone) were filled with birthdays for people I barely know and a litany of religious and national holidays. BUT my own calendar entries were nowhere to be found. Nothing I tried could get my OO13 calendar entries to sync with the Outlook.com calendar. I did notice that items added to the Outlook.com calendar appeared in OO13 (eventually) and on my iPhone which I had connected to Outlook.com without issue but not those items changed/added in OO13. They remained on my laptop.

I eventually (more blogs) found that if I changed the category of all of the OO13 calendar entries they would sync. This took hours to complete. So now I have my appointments in sync. But OO13 did not let me delete the birthdays or holidays—they were read-only. I eventually found that I had to do that in Outlook.com browser app. The disconnect here is that the “support” people on the forums did not know anything about Office Outlook (any version) or if they did, they didn’t know anything about Outlook.com (or so it seemed). 

I also discovered that (some of) these calendars can be removed in the Outlook.com interface but not in Office Outlook (any version)—but not all of them.

No Way to Import Mail From Custom Domains

Since I have a LOT of mail and archived historical data stored on Gmail, I needed to get that all imported into Outlook.com. The blogs said there were custom apps like TrueSwitch. Too bad it doesn’t work for custom domains like mine. My host “Betav.com” was not on the ‘recognized’ domains list despite being recognized by the MX and TXT records by Outlook.com and the world-wide DNS providers.

I was also lead to a number of blog posts that said you could simply drag your messages (in Office Outlook) from one folder to another. All you need to do is setup accounts for both the Outlook.com and Gmail hosts in Office Outlook and start dragging. Okay, I have about 45,000 messages in about 70 folders (about 1.3GB of mail) and I actually tried this (I thought I had 3 days to waste). Sadly, it didn’t work—at least not completely (okay, almost not at all). As far as I can tell, Office Outlook and/or Outlook.com got overwhelmed and while it might recreate the folders, it does not always copy the mail. And if the folders have any special characters like parenthesis, the process fails with an irrelevant (generic) error message. And it ONLY works if you are using an Office 2010 or 2007 that has the old (but functional) Hotmail Connector.

So I spent 3 days painstakingly copying folders from one account to another using an old Office 2010 system. Yes, some of the Gmail folders survived the trip so I had to go back and check one-by-one against the Outlook.com folders (using the IE interface) and repeat the process over and over again until they were all there. Thank the stars that I had backed up my Gmail account (Gmail backup) and was able to restore it totally as I accidentally “moved” instead of “copied” some of the folders.

Now that my mail was (mostly) in Outlook.com on my old Office 2010 laptop, I went over to my OO13 system. Was all of my mail there? Ah, no. Only a portion of the folders were synced—lots of empty folders. Swell. Again, no amount of pleading or syncing or slamming the system in the side with a board would get it to sync. I even left it running overnight. Yes, more folders seem to be populated, but it was like being on the end of a tight-string-and-two-cans broadband connection. At every step Outlook.com was painfully slow. My broadband connection? 25mb/25mb and the system is a i7 980x.

I started hunting around for another third-party solutions to import mail and found a few—none of them support Outlook.com. Roadblock.

Support? Ah, No.

At this point I started looking for help from Microsoft. I went to the MSDN developer blogs and was sent packing. Yea, I agree, it wasn’t a “development” issue. I was sent to Answers.Microsoft.com and bounced from one forum to another, but got mostly canned responses that didn’t help. I finally had someone ask for a private session, I sent some screenshots and my account details and apparently he “fixed” something. After that I noticed that at least 50 messages where missing and I was no longer able to connect to my account from OO13. I waited for 24 hours before giving up.

Junk Mail?

Some of the proponents of Outlook.com mention the ‘stellar’ junk mail handling in Outlook.com when compared to Gmail. I’ve worked with Gmail for a decade and I get about 2 false positives and 2 false negatives a month from messages that slip through Gmail’s spam/junk filters. I had about the same result in the week I tried Outlook.com. However in Outlook.com, there was no way to create a permanent filter to make sure that messages from specific clients were not thrown into the Junk mail folder.

What Really Works

So let’s go through the list of features that were promised and the reality of what was delivered.

  • A fast, modern UI that shows you more of your email with less clutter.

I agree that the Outlook.com is less cluttered. It’s less cluttered with necessary features. For example, in Gmail I can easily manage filters to move mail to folders based on content or sender’s email address. There are a several cool options for the filters as in “Never send to SPAM” or “skip the Inbox”—these were missing in the Outlook.com filters. And guess what? Even when a message was filtered to a folder, it still triggered the “New Mail” event. I did like Outlook.com’s list of folders but since I have about 70 of them, it’s pretty clunky when you have that many. I also didn’t like the fact that the OO13 rules were not kept in sync with the Outlook.com ‘rules’. Gmail also has a host of other options from the ability to customize the UI to managing visibly of folders (labels), to being able to assign an email message to more than one folder.

  • An address book that connects to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so all your contacts are in one place

This would be cool if it actually worked. As it is, my business calendars and contacts were contaminated with my acquaintances and friends in Facebook and LinkedIn. Synchronization of calendars and contacts only started to work when I reactivated my gSyncit application. 

  • Pictures from Facebook in messages from your friends, messaging that lets you chat with your friends on Facebook right from your Inbox

Ah, I’ve heard any number of reports of being unable to attach files of to email and how the cloud censors pictures someone thinks are offensive. I didn’t try any of this. I didn’t get that far.

  • Great tools to help handle newsletters, deals and more

I have no idea what this means.

  • SkyDrive and Office built-in to make it easy to share and collaborate

I have SkyDrive and Cloud (Apple) and Google’s Cloud Drive already. How is this an Outlook.com feature?

None of the Outlook.com features mean anything at all if the product is unreliable. I need mail to be up 99.999% of the time. In the one week that I used Outlook.com, it was down several times with “intermittent” failures and down completely for the last 36  hours—right up to the time I pulled the switch and changed back to Gmail.

In Summary

My advice to those who are thinking about Outlook.com as an alternative to Gmail? Think long and hard before doing so. You may hate Google for snooping in your mail, but what’s more important? Getting your mail quickly and making sure its available 7/24/365 or having another ad pop up trying to sell you a camera lens that you might really want in the first place? And no, I’m no longer considering the Windows 8 phone.

When my mom was making dinner, my brothers and I would stick our heads in the kitchen and ask if it was time to eat. My mother was what they used to call a “housewife” and she actually “cooked” stuff—not just assemble the parts out of a box. All too often she would tell us “It’s not soup yet,” when the food on the stove had not been sufficiently cooked. It might have smelled delicious and looked edible, but it took time to soften the beans and work the spicy flavors into the meat. She would know when it was ready, even if it took another hour to cook. We never starved. Her cooking was worth waiting for.

I’m afraid Windows 8 isn’t soup yet. I was as anxious as a hungry teen when it came to the official launch of Windows 8. I had heard so many stories about its marvels that I wanted to be one of the first to try it. No, I didn’t try the betas or “nearly ready” versions because I didn’t have the time to build up a separate system or a Hyper-V to host it. I’ve been working with pre-released software for too long to install it over a functioning OS. So I guess I must take part of the blame in Windows 8’s shortcomings.

As I said, I’ve been working with Windows for a long time—since Version 1 when it was delivered on floppies and ran as an application on top of DOS. That was in ‘86 when I first joined Microsoft and worked with the Windows Developer Liaison team. Windows has come a long way since then.

So what happened? Well, there’s a laundry-list of stuff that worked and didn’t work, but I’ll get to that. First consider that I know how complex operating systems can be. I’ve written new OSs, modified other company’s OSs and taught developers how to program to them. I’ve also installed early versions of every version of Windows since the early days—many, many times. Windows 8 is following the same pattern as all of the others. Too bad it seems more like Vista than Windows 3 or Windows 7.

If you don’t want to read the list of issues and just want my recommendation, here it is: Wait. Wait until SP1 comes out. By this time, the hardware and software companies that are still alive (they fall by the wayside faster than old runners in the Boston marathon) will have released updated Windows 8 drivers, application updates and patches so their stuff works. By that time Microsoft will have released Media Center and added a “What happened to my XXXX in Windows 7” help topic.

The Hardware

As a point of reference, my hardware platform is a i7 980x with 12GB of RAM, SSD drive and dual monitors being driven by a NVidia high-performance video card. The system profiles at 7.6 (it’s fast).

My references to the “unmetro” user interface address the copyright debacle caused by Microsoft’s inability to find a name that someone else isn’t using (again). Might I suggest “Google” before picking a name? I’ll just call it “UM” for reference sake.

Surprises and Disappointments

Here’s what I found (or didn’t find).

  • I have an MSDN license (thanks to the Microsoft MVP program) so I tried to access the site on August 15th—the first release date. Unfortunately, the site could not take the traffic and repeatedly crashed. The MSDN staff on the phone had no idea what was going on. Apparently, there were no Clouds in Redmond that day. I decided to get some lunch, and later in the day the site was working again. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing like success to bring a company (even as large as Microsoft) to its knees.
  • While I  waited, I did some research on the new versions. It looked like I wanted the “Enterprise” version. No, it’s not because I’m running a starship here, but it had some worthwhile features, and I hate it when you have invested months in an OS only to find that the feature you really need isn’t in that SKU.
  • I tried to upgrade my current Windows 7 Ultimate to Enterprise. Nope, no go. I hade to settle for the “Pro” version. Thankfully, this version was happy to overlay my existing Windows 7 system. And yes, I had done a full backup the previous day using Windows Backup. First mistake.
  • Once Win8 installed and settled down, I started getting lost in the new look and feel. The “unmetro” (UM) user interface (UI) was a big change. I discovered at once I had quick launch toolbars on both monitors. Not good. I use every bit of the second monitor for work. Icons and toolbars belong on the “primary” monitor. No work-around—minor irritation.
  • Discovering how to get the UM to work was helped by the (very brief) intro video. However, when clicking on the “Start” chicklet at the lower-left often triggered the application on the second row of the quick-launch toolbar. I’m not going to get started on the UI. I expect that I’ll get used to it in time. There are far more serious issues to discuss. And yes, I did discover a nice new Remote Desktop application. Intuitive, innovative and useful. But my gadgets were all gone—never to return. Not good.
  • I use this system for a variety of purposes. While my office apps still work, many of the others do not. These include my fingerprint reader, WinTV, Windows Media Center, my security camera apps, Camtasia Studio, SnagIt and Windows Backup. You can add about six gadgets to this list that I used heavily to give me real-time feedback on applications and OS performance. Strike 1. I use this system to record video from external cameras—none of which work with Windows 8.
  • Once the OS was installed, I immediately tried to get a “starting point” backup established. Unfortunately, there was no Windows Backup visible and no references to it in “Search”.  I did some research (on Google) and discovered it’s been replaced with new technology because “no one” was using Windows Backup. Isn’t that special. I’m someone, I use it. Silly me. I did find an old reference to “Windows 7 File Recovery”. And there it was. Dumb. So I didn’t want to overly my existing Win7 backup image so I told it to backup to a web server. After many (many) hours, (over a 1Ghz backbone to a dedicated file server), Windows 8 dropped the LAN. After repeated retries and resets, the only solution was to reboot and start over. Strike 2. I can’t have a system with an unstable LAN.
  • I also use “System Restore” to roll back the registry and other systems software when things go wrong as they invariably do in my work. There is no sign of this functionality. This is serious but I hope to work around it with other backup software.
  • I finally pulled the backup target drive and replaced it with a clean drive. I keep my backup drives on a USB3 drive carrier so they can be easily pulled for archival and emergencies. Unfortunately, the system would no longer boot without this drive in place. Strike 3. Saving critical boot information on external drives is unacceptable.
  • Throughout all of this I was constantly using Search to try to find out how to do stuff. Some of the time it helped by all too often it came up blank. “Gadgets” nothing. “Backup” nothing. Actually, that’s not true. “Backup” found an old copy of a Norton Ghost backup manual, but nothing from Microsoft. In frustration I typed “Help” and way down on the list was Microsoft’s help interface. Why isn’t Help and Support on the same top-level menu with Search? The problem we’re facing is the mountain of information, misinformation and rumor exposed by Bing and Google searches. Given the length of time Windows 8 has been in public beta, there is a landfill of articles out there—many of which are no longer applicable. This means that Microsoft needs to ensure that their system-resident help topics are the first point of information. And folks before you ship a product, expunge the “This stuff is preliminary” warnings. I was on the help team and it does not have to be this way.
  •  

    My Plans

    Because of these serious issues and the host of not-so-serious-issues that I’ve discovered just in the last 48 hours, I’m going to have to take the following steps:

    Restore my Windows 7 system if I can. If I can’t, I plan to do a clean install of Windows 7 on this system. It will take a week to do, but I can’t have an unreliable system that’s not ready for production. Sure, a year from now, I might try again. By then the video hardware and software companies will probably have sorted out their Windows 8 issues. Until then, I’ll be sticking with Windows 7. It’s too important to me. I expect it is for you too.

    I’m not a new author—far from it. I’ve written over a dozen books and contributed chapters to a handful of others. I’ve written more magazine and Internet articles than Justin Bieber’s hair stylists, and I’m not counting the documentation I pumped out for Microsoft. Except for my two novels, these were all ‘technical fiction’. You know, books written about Microsoft software for developers. One has to be pretty imaginative to write an easy-to-read book on the data access interfaces SQL Server and still keep the reader awake.

    Apparently, none of this experience helps get one recognized as a competent writer in the young adult world. That’s understandable—very few teens read Hitchhiker’s Guide to Visual Studio and SQL Server (7th Edition), and they wouldn’t get the jokes anyway. That’s fine. I know how to restart my career on a new path. I’ve had to do it many, many times over the last forty years. Anyone who’s worked in the personal computer industry also knows how to file for unemployment.

    So I had an idea for a novel. I wanted to tell a story about our turbulent times. I saw political corruption, corporations buying their own laws and media spigots to dump their propaganda on the public. I saw many social problems ignored or glossed over by the books impressionable teens were reading. I was convinced that our future leaders needed another 1984, Animal Farm or Alice In Wonderland. Ambitious? Of course. I expect that Don Quixote and I are cut from the same cloth.

    The Owl Wrangler POD Cover (just front)I spent about three years and a bunch of money on classes, books, editors and illustrators to create The Owl Wrangler. On the surface, it’s a young adult story about tiny forest elves. No taller than a pinecone, they live in the forests around the Northwest. They have parents, teachers and village elders that expect and demand quite a bit from them. They’re faced with many of the same hormonal and social pressures that my own kids faced when they were in their teens. But these elven teens are special. Many of them have fledgling magical powers that they’re just learning to wield.

    The result? Tepid sales but 99% 5-star reviews—but only 9 of them. I thought it was time to start marketing in earnest. I found a publisher that was “very interested”, but communicating with them is like standing in the back of a busy bar trying to get a drink on a Friday night. I’m still looking for a sincerely interested publisher. Sure, I’ve been racking up rejection letters, but my ego can only take so much rejection. I’m not as frail as George McFly, no experienced author is, but given the state of the publishing industry, does it make sense to keep prodding publishers that only want best sellers? One of the blog articles that clog up my browser like malware pop-ups, suggested that the only key to success for a new author was to write—and keep writing. So I did.

    Copy of Front Cover Cats EyesThe story continued with Guardians of the Sacred Seven. This took another couple of years, more classes, editors, copyeditors, conference fees and thousands of hours on Facebook, Twitter and countless blogs and reading similar fantasies. Two years later, volume two of The Owl Wrangler trilogy is done. I’m happy with it. Taking my own advice, I’m writing the third. Frankly, the characters are calling me now to come back and listen to their stories.

    Sure, I keep getting the occasional request to consult on SQL Server or Reporting Services projects, but I’m having too much fun. I’ll keep writing and until my arthritis locks up my hands entirely, I’ll keep doing so.

    Follow me on @vaughnwilliam or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/OwlWrangler.

     

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