June 2009

Living in the “Hooray!” Zone

by Joey deVilla on June 24, 2009

Yes, the demands and schedule of my job as Sith Lord at Microsoft have kept me quite busy, but it doesn’t matter because I live in the “Hooray!” zone, as shown in the Venn diagram below:

Venn diagram showing the "Hooray" zone as the intersection of "What we do well", "What we want to do" and "What we can be paid to do"

For more information, see the LifeHacker article titled The Road to Happiness in Your Work Lies in the Hooray! Zone.

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Movie theatre with the Silverlight logo projected on the screen

The covers will be coming off our next generation of user experience tools and technologies on July 9th. That’s when Microsoft will be unveiling Silverlight 3, which gives you the all the goodness of RIA (Rich Internet Application, although you can use Silverlight to make desktop apps as well) with out the PITA (Pain In The Anterior regions).

To help promote Silverlight 3, we and our pals at ObjectSharp will be co-hosting Silverlight on the Silver Screen live at the Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West, at John Street) in Toronto on the morning of Thursday, July 9th from 9:00 a.m. till noon (and yes, the event is free). The ObjectSharpies are early adopters of SIlverlight and have forgotten more about it than most people will ever learn. As seasoned pros, they’ll share their stories and wisdom about the next-gen version of Silverlight, as well as associated tech such as Expression Blend, SketchFlow and the touch technologies in Windows 7.

Joining them will be my friends from the DPE team, who’ll be there to talk about the opportunities offered by Microsoft’s “UX3” platform – they’re a great way for your development team and business to stand out in the crowd and give your customers a great user experience.

And yes, the accordion might make an appearance.

As I said earlier, the event is free and takes place on the morning of Thursday, July 9th. All you have to do to attend is register at the Silverlight on the Silver Screen page!

Movie poster-style banner for "Silverlight on the Silver Screen"

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Yes, I Think Outlook Needs to be Fixed

by Joey deVilla on June 24, 2009

Microsoft logo with Evil Monkey from "Family Guy"This would be a very good time to remind you, the Gentle Reader, that Global Nerdy is my personal tech blog and that the opinions expressed within are mine and mine alone. They are not necessarily those of my employer, Microsoft Canada, nor its parent company, Microsoft Corporation, nor or any other Sith Lords, Stormtroopers, Family Guy monkeys or any other agents of evil in the employ of said organization.

You’ve probably heard the buzz in TechCrunch: Here’s how a properly-coded HTML email, where HTML is used for content and CSS is used for presentation, appears in the version of Outlook that came with Office 2000:

HTML email as rendered in the 2000 version of Microsoft Outlook. Nice.

And here’s the same HTML email, with the same properly-formatted HTML, as rendered by the current version, Outlook 2007. It uses Word as the rendering engine, and Word will be the rendering engine for the upcoming Outlook 2010:

HTML email as rendered in the 2007 (and eventually 2010) version of Microsoft Outlook. Broken.

I understand why the empire wants Word-Outlook interoperability, which is why Word was chosen to be the HTML rendering engine for Outlook. But Word’s HTML renderer isn’t standards-compliant, which is why Outlook renders HTML in such a janky way. Outlook relies on old tricks such as using HTML tables for layout and other non-recommended ways of building web pages. IE8 plays by the rules, why doesn’t Outlook?

In my opinion, this is wrong. It runs counter to the spirit of interoperability, the embrace of open source and the following of standards that has accompanied the “sea change” within Microsoft (and it’s this sea change that help solidify my decision to join the company). I believe that it is in both Microsoft’s and the industry’s best interests for The Empire to be more standards-compliant.

(Besides, I just came back from presenting at a “Building Accessible Web Sites” conference where I told the audience to write compliant HTML. Damn right I’m going to push for everyone – Microsoft included – to do just that!)

That’s why I’m encouraging you to sign the Twitter petition to fix Outlook’s HTML rendering at FixOutlook.org. Outlook 2010, along with the other parts of Office 2010, is in beta right now, and Microsoft is soliciting opinions. This is the time – tell them to fix Outlook!

Home page of the "Fix Outlook" site

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Netbooks, R.I.P.

by Joey deVilla on June 24, 2009

netbooks_ripAnother guy who shares my belief that netbooks are a transitional category that will eventually get absorbed into what we consider to be notebook computer is Engadget’s Michael Gartenberg, who wrote in a recent post titled Netbooks, R.I.P.. Like me, he believes that netbooks are not a whole new category of computing device, but the smallest, cheapest end of the spectrum of devices we call “personal computers”:

While some perceive the netbook as a new product category — a class of device that’s never existed — I would have to beg to differ. A netbook is merely a laptop with the pivotal axis based on price first and foremost. In other words, "how much computer can I build for $300-500?" (which is about the average selling price of most netbooks).

Like me, he also believes that the kind of computer you can build on a netbook budget is encroaching on the territory owned by computers we consider to be in the “laptop” category:

At the end of 2007 a netbook (or laptop you could build for about $300-$500) had about a 7-inch screen, a tiny keyboard, about 4GB of storage, half a gig of RAM and no Windows OS (that Windows thing adds to price). Purists argued that the max screen size for a netbook was 7-inches. Fast forward to today: that same price point will deliver you a 10-inch screen or so, a gig of RAM and perhaps 160GB of storage. It also gets you a copy of Windows for the most part. By year’s end, we’ll see vendors offering 12-inch screens, full keyboards, and 300GB of storage. And they’ll be called netbooks. But that doesn’t matter, does it?

And once more, like me, he believes that between the mobile phone and laptop, there exists the “Zone of Suck”:

The cellphone and laptop represent the core part of a user’s mobile experience. With most consumers willing to carry two devices total, there’s not a lot of room for ‘tweener devices.

My hope is to eventually see the gap between phone and laptop vanish; where phone portability and laptop power meet and “phone” and “laptop” are just different aspects of the same device. I’d like to see the day when it’s a mobile phone when used on its own, but a laptop or even desktop when you plug it into a docking station with a keyboard and monitor. Now that’s a whole new category of machine, with a whole new category of uses.

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Happy Birthday, Alan “Big Gay Al” Turing!

by Joey deVilla on June 23, 2009

Photo: Alan Turing

Alan Turing is the man. He developed the concept of the Turing Machine, which helped helped solidify the concepts of the algorithm and computability, came up with the Turing Test, broke German WWII ciphers, worked on one of the earliest true computers and has earned a place as one of the Giants of Computer Science. He’s been honoured with a computer language named after him (although he’d be appalled at the language itself).

Alan was gay at a time when being so was considered to be a mental disease and acting so was a crime. His career ended when he was outed and was convicted for gross indecency. He was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration; he chose the latter. Not long afterward, he was found dead at his home, apparently from suicide.

For his work, which created that field that is my work, my hobby and my passion, I’d like to wish Alan Turing – whom I call “Big Gay Al” as a nickname of endearment – a happy birthday. I salute him with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

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Like I Said, Netbooks Suck

by Joey deVilla on June 23, 2009

Netbooks are just like Burger King apple pies

My article from a couple of weeks ago, Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck, got a lot of reactions from both the “You’re right!” and “You’re dead wrong!” camps (the article on Global Nerdy got a fair number of comments, but the same article on the Accordion Guy blog got a hundred comments).

Here’s some evidence to back my theory that netbooks are like Burger King apple pies – that is, they look like laptops, but don’t offer the same capabilities, leading to disappointment: a report from NPD Group, a market research company titled NPD Finds Consumer Confusion about Netbooks Continues.

Some highlights from the report:

  • 60% of the people interviewed by NPD who purchased a netbook instead of a notebook thought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks.
  • 58% who bought a netbook instead of a notebook said they were “very satisfied” with their purchase, compared to 70% who planned on buying a notebook from the get-go.
  • In the 18- to 24- year old group, the group that many commenters said would embrace netbooks, 65% said they bought their netbooks expecting better performance; only 27% said that netbook performance exceeded their expectations.
  • Portability is a big selling point for netbooks and a point that many commenters brought up, but 60% of the people surveyed said that they never even took their netbooks out of the house.

It’s just as I said: the form factor of netbooks – they look like laptops, but smaller – sets up people for disappointment in the same way that Burger King’s apple pies did. They looked like homemade apple pies, but didn’t taste like them.

The Real Point of Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck

When I first wrote Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck, my intent was to post it in the official Microsoft Canada Developer blog, Canadian Developer Connection. I didn’t want the legal department on my back, which is why I referred to Burger King and McDonald’s as “Monarch Burger” and “Jester Burger”, respectively.

I feel that there’s a little too much excitement about netbooks at Microsoft. I think that part of it stems from the old company mantra, “a computer on every desktop and in every home”. The PC is the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, and the closer that a device is to the PC, the more Microsoft “gets” it. I feel that Microsoft sees the netbook as an exciting new space, where I see them as smaller, less powerful laptops. I think that eventually, as technology catches up, netbooks will simply be considered “computers” – just on the small end of the PC size spectrum, and that Microsoft should treat them as such.

The article is also an open letter to Microsoft stating my concern that netbooks are a dangerous red herring distracting us from where the real potential in mobile computing is: the smartphone. It’s an area where Microsoft had an early lead and dropped the ball. It’s an area where I feel that Microsoft is showing a lack of vision, from Steve Ballmer’s ill-considered dismissal of the iPhone (“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”) to Windows Mobile 6, which feels as though it was half-assedly slapped together by PDA designers frozen in an iceberg in 2000.

I think I’ll close with the graphic that summarized Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck:

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LinkedIn Profiles: More Honest Than Resumes

by Joey deVilla on June 23, 2009

Black and white photo of a late 50s/early 60s-era polygraph exam

LinkedIn logoHere’s an interesting bit of information for those of you who are reviewing prospective hires: people are more honest on their LinkedIn profiles than they are on their resumes. That’s what LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman said at the Social Recruiting Summit held last week at Google.

It’s understood that people “pad” their resumes. A sizeable portion of the interview process seems to be devoted to determining if the candidate is as good as his or her resume says he or she is. I’ve been in interviews where a prospective employer had a member of the development team to sit in and act as a “bullshit detector”; I’ve also done the same duty when working at companies that were interviewing prospective developers.

I think that Kris “The HR Capitalist” Dunn’s theory about why LinkedIn profiles are more honest is spot-on:

…if you’re truly looking for "what’s up" with a candidate, you need to rely on the LinkedIn profile.  Why is that true?  Because there’s a community of co-workers, friends and past colleagues that always have access to the LinkedIn profile, and there’s no such community with constant visibility to a random resume the candidate sends in, and you have no means to circulate the resume to that type of community to fact check.

Simply put: it’s harder to lie when you’re in front of a group of colleagues who might call you on it.

Kris also talks about how many candidates don’t include the “5 – 6 bullet points that you;re usually used to seeing on the resume” on their LinkedIn profiles. This isn’t the case with me: when I got laid off from my last job back in September, I rewrote my resume completely, starting with my LinkedIn profile, after which I simply pasted the LinkedIn information into a Word document and gave it a little formatting. This approach killed two birds with one stone, affording me more time to concentrate on my (thankfully short – 17 days from my last official day at b5media to my first official day at Microsoft) job search.

I don’t know if it applies in other fields, but in the tech sector, I think that LinkedIn profiles are resumes and that you should based your resume off your LinkedIn profile rather than the other way around. Yes, the social networking aspect of LinkedIn means that you can’t pad your resume as much, but it also means that prospective employers can trust that your credentials are genuine.

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