I read an interesting post on The Verge today: The Lost Secrets of WebOS. For those not familiar with WebOS, it was Palm’s last gasp before HP finally killed it. The article makes a brief mention of upcoming LG TVs that will run WebOS before launching into an interesting discussion of the software’s history.

I was a heavy Palm user back in the day, and it’s interesting to realize that the whole Palm ecosystem is virtually extinct. Hardware, software, accessories, app stores (before today’s current app store model came into existence) – all gone.

That actually makes me think of some housecleaning I did a few weeks ago. It was time to go through my password app and clear out those old usernames and passwords I no longer use. Of course there were logins for a number of Palm-related apps and services that don’t exist anymore. There was an online game from a major entertainment company, a library service from a major content provider, and even services such as Gowalla and Meebo. Of course the last one made me think about all the services that Google has developed or acquired and then terminated.

When the (conservative) housecleaning was complete, I had deleted over 40 usernames. I could probably delete at least that many more without much effort. For me it was an interesting reminder of the rise and fall of tech services. Ars Technica has an interesting and somewhat related article: Ars deathwatch 2014: Companies on the edge of relevance.

OneNote for Mac

Posted: December 18, 2013 in Mac, smartphone
Tags: ,

I finally feel like my Mac computing experience is almost complete. I was a Mac fan for many years. When I started grad school many years ago, the need to easily exchange files with professors and classmates took precendence over any OS preferences, and I switched to a Windows computer. I bought a Macbook Pro a few years ago, and back in the fall I replaced it with a Macbook Air. For the most part my experience with the Mac has been a good one, but there was always one thing missing: Microsoft OneNote.

Ever since my first experience with OneNote on a convertible Windows tablet I’ve really liked the product. I’ve only recently (February 2013) gotten back into using it heavily, but in that time I’ve used it extensively. I’ve written two articles in OneNote. I’ve planned three trips. I’ve taken notes in coutless meetings, but all of that work was done either in OneNote on a Windows computer or using Outline+ onPad. Finally after literally years of waiting, the folks behind Outline+ have brought their product to the Mac with a functional editor.

I like it. A lot. As I’m getting started, the basic functionality is there. I’m typing and editing. I’m opening existing notebooks. I’m creating new notebooks and saving them to the cloud. All of that is great, but perhaps most importantly, the LOOK is there. It does seem strange to be talking about the look of a product as the most important thing, but the look is actually very important to me. I really like the way OneNote 2007 and 2010 look. I really hate the way OneNote 2013 looks. Yes, I know that hate is a strong word, but it’s an appropriate word. I really hate the way the Office 2013 apps look, and as far as that goes – SharePoint Foundation 2013 as well.

But Outline on the Mac . . . ah, now there’s an interface. It’s sleek and refined, and it’s close enough to the 2010 Microsoft OneNote interface that I actually ENJOY using it – just like it was the real thing.

I’ve written before about trying other OneNote wannabes, and for my personal preferences, this is the closest replica out there. It’s not perfect yet, and it’s still a little rough around the edges, BUT IT WORKS!

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and the Gorillized folks have come through for me. Thanks for the app!

Bad Updates and Bad PR

Posted: August 6, 2013 in software, tech support

I have a particular app on a mobile device that I use heavily in the course of my daily work, and I’ve used a version of this app for over a decade. I originally discovered it when I was using Palm-based devices, and it has worked well for me over the years. In fact, I like the app so well that I didn’t switch over to my current mobile platform until this specific app was available.

Unfortunately, the developers are suffering the effects of a buggy update that has had a number of obviously unexpected side effects:
1) Some users have lost data.
2) For some users the app simply stops working after the update.
3) After updating, some users are being prompted to make in-app purchases for functionality they’ve already paid for.

All in all it seems to be a pretty bad update. From the numbers of people who are having problems, questions are coming up about how thoroughly this update was tested before it was rolled out. If you can believe the flamers on the company’s support forums and in app store reviews, the company will likely have no customers left after this debacle. Of course many of those reviews are highly over-reactive and unfair, but in a way the company is inviting such vehement criticism due to a simple lack of communication.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about this whole problem is that the company is doing nothing publicly to reassure their customers. No damage control. Nothing.

Many of the forum posts are simply going unanswered. The ones that are answered get a stock reply inquiring about OS versions and suggesting that the customers open a support ticket.

I actually tried that approach. Shortly after discovering update-related problems, I opened a support ticket. Over 24 hours later, I’ve received nothing but an autoreply. I’ve done a lot of fiddling with the app, and I’ve added some information that I think might be helpful, but as far as I can tell, no one from the company has even looked at this ticket.

To add insult to injury, I wrote a forum post that could have helped at least some of the people struggling with update problems, but it disappeared into the ether. I submitted it on the company’s website, and it simply never showed up. It was almost as if someone didn’t want to see any solutions showing up on the website.

The developers are probably struggling to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, but in the meantime their customers are left in the dark. A simple post on their forum outlining the known issues and what they are doing to rectify them would at least let people know that SOMETHING is happening. But the company is strangely silent. Surely they must realize that this whole experience is damaging their brand. At the very least, the extremely critical reviews are likely costing them sales.

At the moment I’m fairly calm. My app is working, albeit with problems. I haven’t lost data. I can carry on with my work. And I still have time to move to a new solution if that proves necessary.

For my fellow fans of this app, you have my complete sympathy. It could easily have been my device that lost data.

For the company who has yet to acknowledge a widespread problem, we, your customers, are still out here. We’d like to hear from you. Good or bad, at least talk to us and let us know what’s going on.

No one wants to have a project blow up like this, but you can tell a lot about an organization by the way they take ownership of problems (or not) and how quickly and clearly communicate a repair strategy.

Frankenputer

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

Someone from Archives came to me recently with an interesting problem. They had received a collection with some born-digital material, and amongst that material were a number of 5.25″ floppy disks. Archives of course wanted to know if we had something that would read those disks.

You know how you never need something until you get rid of it? Well up until about a month and a half ago, we had something that would read those disks.

Over a year ago when the reference department personnel moved to new offices, they decided to surplus an old computer that had been stored in a closet for over a decade. We wrote up a surplus form and sent it through to Property Control, and then the computer went to sit in another closet for a year. Finally about a month and a half ago, Property Control came to collect the old computer and send it off to the computer graveyard, so we finally got rid of it.

And then Archives needed that drive.

Fortunately one of the IT units on campus still had a functioning drive that they loaned us, so I went to work. I found an old computer that we could use and connected the drive. In the end I wound up disconnecting the 3.5″ floppy drive, the DVD burner, and the Zip drive (yes – it was old enough that it had a Zip drive) to provide a connection on the motherboard for the older drive, but at last it was done.

The computer recognized the drive, but it identified it as a 3.5″ drive. Finally – after bullying the BIOS a bit – the computer agreed that it had a 5.25″ drive, but I wasn’t convinced that it was really convinced.

Oddly, although we no longer had any 5.25″ drives around the library, we did have some blank disks sitting around. Formatting took much longer than I remembered. So long, in fact, that I was pretty sure that something had gone wrong. Seriously – I’ve formatted terabyte hard drives in less time that it took to format that floppy. It finally worked though, and I was able to write and read data to/from the drive. We tested it today using some of the real data from Archives, and it looks like it’s going to work for them. I felt the urge to shout “It’s Alive” in my best horror movie mad scientist voice, but I restrained myself.

Until last week I had never seen a Windows XP computer with a 5.25″ floppy drive.

Given the time of year, somehow putting together a Frankenputer seems oddly appropriate. But now that I’ve done it, I’m wondering how far I can push it. Just how many old, odd, and outdated devices can I connect and get working on a Frankenputer?

Of course, the person from Archives did tell me today that they have another collection with some 8″ floppies . . .

Several months ago I wrote about how I solved a wireless printing problem with my HP LaserJet P1102W. One tiny little change to the settings made all the difference in the world.

Recently I returned home from vacation to find that – once again – it wouldn’t print. I started by taking a look at the list of devices connected to my home network. Sure enough, the P1102W was missing. This time though, I suspected that it didn’t have anything to do with the channel on the wireless access point. My hunch was that some other device had grabbed the printer’s IP address.

All of the devices on my home network are using dynamically assigned IP addresses rather than static addresses. (However, I may rethink that after this latest issue.) My theory was that the printer had been off for over a week, so its IP address hadn’t been active on the network. Perhaps when we returned, one of the other devices leased the printer’s address. When we returned from vacation, we brought with us two iPhones, two iPads, one iPod, and one laptop.

For this issue it turned out to be a fairly easy fix. I turned off WiFi on the iPads and phones, and sure enough the printer popped up on the network again. When I re-enabled WiFi on the other devices, they leased new addresses and everything was back to normal. That made me start thinking about how many devices we have on the home network, and once I totaled them up, I was a little surprised.

2 iPhones
2 iPads
1 iPod
3 laptops
1 desktop
1 Wii
1 X-box
1 DVD player

That’s twelve devices on the home network. I realized that we had a lot of gadgets sitting around, but it was interesting to see how many network connected devices we have.

Well . . . interesting until they all start talking to each other and take over the world.

Clear for iPhone

Posted: February 1, 2012 in iOS, iphone
Tags: ,

Last week a came across an announcement for a new product: Clear for iPhone. From the video it appears that Clear is essentially a to-do list, but it has a very clean, minimalist interface that makes very clever use of gesture-based navigation. It caught my interest immediately, and I’m looking forward to the release of this app.

It’s already getting some buzz around the ‘net:

Ars Technica

Cult of Mac

MobileBurn

TUAW

However, as much as I’d like to take this app for a test drive, something on the company’s website really took me off guard:

It’s that whole “like” on Facebook thing. I understand that Facebook is a cheap and easy way to get some advertising. It’s a good way to do some grass roots marketing. It’s also a good way to communicate with potential customers.

The thing I don’t get is why they want me to “like” it already. There’s really nothing to like except a product announcement and a promo video. The product itself isn’t actually available yet. I WANT to like their product, and I hope I do, but I find this request for “likes” a little premature – it’s akin to asking me if I like . . . well . . . pretty much anything before you’ve let me try it. How do I know?

From watching the video, the UI is going to be pretty cool. But let me at least try it before you ask me to like it.

Where did my tech support go?

Posted: January 31, 2012 in software, tech support
Tags: ,

With the incredible growth of the iOS app store, I’ve occasionally had a need for tech support for some of the apps I use. Increasingly though, I’m finding that the quality of tech support for some iOS apps falls between ineffective and non-existent. When you stop to think about it, this can be interesting, disconcerting, annoying, and understandable – take your pick.

 

Interesting – I find it interesting, because if people want to roll out a new software product, I’d think that they also want to provide support. Good products with good support usually translate into happy users. Happy users recommend the product to their friends, and that translates into even more happy users. So when companies have bad or no tech support, it sends the message that they want to make the initial sale, and they don’t care if it breaks after you buy it.

 

Disconcerting – It’s disconcerting as well, because when I find a product I really like, I tend to use it a lot. I want to know that the company is going to be able to take the product successfully through future OS upgrades. I’d also like to know that they’re still working on the thing. After all, if they’re just going to abandon the product (and ultimately me), I want to know that as well so I can find another product that does have some support.

 

Annoying – When you find a “good” or even “okay” product, it can take a little time to get it to do what you want, integrate it into your workflow, and find the little ways to get the most out of it. When you can’t figure something out or when something just plain doesn’t work, you want to be able to get an answer from someone.

 

Understandable – Finally, the lack of good tech support is understandable. A lot of apps are free. Many cost only 99 cents. If you’re not see much (or any) return on your work, there isn’t a lot of incentive to provide support beyond that of personal satisfaction and knowing that you’ve done a good job. Additionally, many apps are rolled out by individuals rather than companies. Often software development could be just a hobby or a sideline. With other responsibilities, perhaps tech support just isn’t one of them.

 

If my bad experience with tech support had just been a one-off, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write about it, but increasingly I’m finding this to be the rule rather than the exception. I’ve found bad tech support on apps ranging from free to $15, from almost unknown developers to well-known companies with far greater resources.

 

As I said, the quality really varies. At worst, an e-mail to technical support just floats off into the ether never to be heard from again. The next step up comes from companies who helpfully provide an immediate auto reply but never actually follow up on the problem. Then there are those who actually reply, solicit a lot of technical details from you, and then do nothing with your feedback. There are developer who do painstaking testing, replicate the problem, but tell you that unfortunately there is nothing they can do about it. And then there are those who promise that it will be fixed in the next release.

 

And somewhere out there at the far end of the spectrum, there are those developers who see the problem and either help you fix it or roll out a timely update that addresses the issue.

 

Unfortunately, those developers are few and far between – at least in my experience. When I first started working with software, there was a lot more tech support. It wasn’t always good, but – given enough time – they usually got the problem solved. And at least they knew how to return a phone call or an e-mail message.