Oct 242013

Steve Ballmer was famous was saying stupid shit about Apple and then getting said shit reintroduced to him via enema. I think Ballmer was given such a hard time about a lot of the things he said because of his delivery (quasi-hysterically from a sweaty bald dude) combined with the message’s antithetical relationship with reality. When you’re a CEO, you’re supposed to have a little more poise, I guess.

One guy who isn’t expected to have poise is Microsoft’s current PR flack Frank X. Shaw. Shaw gets paid to puff up his company with every waking breath, and some of the stuff he does on Twitter – like when he pokes at Google’s hypocrisy – is actually pretty funny. As you can imagine, when he turns his eye towards Cupertino, I chuckle just a little less.

Shaw’s latest sign that Microsoft is absolutely shitting itself comes after Apple announced that it is giving its productivity suite, iWork, away for free with all new Apple devices. Frank hit the Official Microsoft Blog yesterday with a explanation of why the iWork announcement means nothing and how Microsoft is the only company capable of making an office suite. I think it might be ripe for a TMA takedown, but I do like Shaw. Let me consult Marty from True Romance on the matter.

Takedown it is!

I’m still over in Abu Dhabi, where the only thing hotter than the weather are the new Windows devices unveiled by Nokia this week.

I didn’t know Abu Dhabi was in Siberia! Man, my world geography blows.

I have to say, I’m really excited for a 1080p Lumia with a third column on my start screen so I can keep a close eye on more people, more news, more stuff.

Of course, even with the 720p display I’m using right now, I could easily spot some coverage today that needs to be corrected.

Watch now as I try to shoehorn the processor speeds of the 2 devices into an even more awkward segue!

Seems like the RDF (Reality Distortion Field) typically generated by an Apple event has extended beyond Cupertino.

Congratulations on being the one millionth writer to misuse the term. I love how Shaw uses the acronym and the proper name, in case any of his avid readers didn’t understand the shorthand.

So let me try to clear some things up.

Note: If you are the TL;DR type, let me cut to the chase. Surface and Surface 2 both include Office, the world’s most popular, most powerful productivity software for free and are priced below both the iPad 2 and iPad Air respectively. Making Apple’s decision to build the price of their less popular and less powerful iWork into their tablets not a very big (or very good) deal.

You mean I can get a Windows 8 machine in 2 versions that are both less expensive than either of the iPads Apple is selling? Wow, I guess that’s…not the truth behind what Shaw is saying, but if face value propositions were part of Microsoft’s stock and trade, they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re currently in. The truth is that the devices Shaw is peddling are those formerly known as “Surface RT” tablets, a affix they’ve since dropped (and I’ll be using throughout) for some unknown reason which may or may not have to do with the $900 million (.72 Motorolas) write-off that Microsoft served like a piping hot turd to its shareholders in July. You will note that throughout the piece, the Surface Pro product will not be mentioned once.

Since we launched the Surface line of tablets last year, one of the themes we’ve consistently used to talk about them is that they are a terrific blend of productivity and entertainment in one lightweight, affordable package. In fact, we’re confident that they offer the best combination of those capabilities available on the market today.

Neither the market nor the critics agree, but those are the kind of statements that get made by people paid to fluff for Microsoft. It must be like doing PR for Courtney Love. Poor guy.

That’s not an accident, it’s exactly what we set out to design. We saw too many people carrying two devices around (one for work and one for play) and dealing with the excess cost, weight and complexity that “dual carrying” entails. We believed that there was another, better way: A tablet built to offer great touch-based entertainment activities combined with a productivity powerhouse that helps people crank through the stuff they have to get done before they watch zombies or flick birds.

“N-n-n-nooo compromi-i-i-i-i-seeeeeeee!” – Steven Sinofsky, bounding towards the street after the launch of Windows 8 last year. C’mon Frank: use the c-word. I dare you to use that word.

That’s what Surface is. A single, simple, affordable device that helps you both lean in and kick back. Let’s be clear – helping folks kill time on a tablet is relatively easy. Give them books, music, videos and games, and they’ll figure out the rest. Pretty much all tablets do that.

“Lean in” like Sheryl Sandberg and “kick back” like all chill and shit. Work and play, dawg. You hear Facebook actually released its official app last week? Yup: only a year after we launched the original Surface RT – high five? Did I mention we also bundle Office?

But helping people be productive on a tablet is a little trickier. It takes an understanding of how people actually work, how they get things done, and how to best support the way they do things already.

The good news is that Microsoft understands how people work better than anyone else on the planet.

Absolute gold. That’s why when it comes to metrics that measure personal preference – like BYO devices or consumer electronics in general – all the profit is tilted to Cupertino (or somewhere in Ireland – zing!).

We created the personal computing revolution by giving people around the world a low-cost, powerful, easy-to-use device that helped them accomplish an unbelievable array of tasks. And together, Windows and Office ended up reaching every corner of the globe and powering every academic institution, industry and profession. Of course both Windows and Office are evolving all the time – to reflect the way people work today – more social, more mobile and connected through the cloud.

If that’s the way Shaw wants to remember the “personal computing revolution”, good on him. We all need one of those stories to really, really believe in – even if we suspect it isn’t true.

We literally wrote the book on getting things done.

“Monopolizing, Coasting and Failing: Our Legacy in Redmond” by B. Gates and S. Ballmer – now available on Amazon.

And that’s how we knew that Surface needed to include three things to help people do their best work:

1. The gold standard in productivity software – Office.

2. Faster and more precise input methods like keyboard/trackpad.

Sold separately!

3. The ability to use apps and documents side by side, allowing the comparisons, analysis and synthesis that happens frequently during content creation.

I needed a list of 3 things and what better way to round out the list than the minor feature headlining every one of our ads for Windows 8?

4. Windows 8.1 – Oops!

That’s what we delivered. And it’s why the Surface is the most productive tablet you can buy today. We also knew that it would make our competitors take notice. That as consumers got a taste of devices that could really help them get things done, they would see alternatives as being more limited.

That taste, as represented by the market’s adoption of the Surface Formerly Known as RT, was described as a combination of well bourbon and necrotic tissue.

And so it’s not surprising that we see other folks now talking about how much “work” you can get done on their devices. Adding watered down productivity apps. Bolting on aftermarket input devices. All in an effort to convince people that their entertainment devices are really work machines.

The “iPad Is a Consumption Only Device” trope! I missed you, dude! Nothing amps your credentials as a product representative more than using a mantra that has had the taste slapped out of its mouth so many times that it’s never used anymore. See if you can spot the layabout media consumers in this video:

iPad for serious work? Pffft. Please produce one instance of these apps on a Surface RT device, Frank.

In that spirit, Apple announced yesterday that they were dropping their fees on their “iWork” suite of apps. Now, since iWork has never gotten much traction,

There have been over 700 million iOS devices sold to date. The iWork Suite has been the best-selling productivity suite since its introduction 2 years ago. That math, despite the dismissive handwaving conducted by Microsoft’s PR hack, scares the living shit out of Redmond.

and was already priced like an afterthought, it’s hardly that surprising or significant a move. And it doesn’t change the fact that it’s much harder to get work done on a device that lacks precision input

Sold separately!

and a desktop for true side-by-side multitasking.

See any of our ads for details!

But you wouldn’t know that from reading some of the coverage I’ve read today. Perhaps attendees at Apple’s event were required to work on iOS devices that don’t allow them to have two windows open for side-by-side comparisons,

Third time’s a charm!

so let me help them out by highlighting the following facts:

• The Surface and Surface 2 are less expensive than the iPad 2 and iPad Air respectively, and yet offer more storage, both onboard and in the cloud.

You mean the Surface RT. And are you sure about that storage thing, Frank?

Screeny Shot Oct 24, 2013, 7.42.56 AM

• … come with full versions of Office 2013, including Outlook, not non-standard, non-cross-platform, imitation apps that can’t share docs with the rest of the world.

Jesus – that’s just a flat-out lie. Get some poise, Frank.

• … offer additional native productivity enhancing capabilities like kickstands,

To lean in or kick back…and carefully balance this awkward hardware albatross on your legs, as featured in no Surface RT advertising ever.

USB ports, SD card slots and multiple keyboard options.

Sold separately!

• … include interfaces for opening multiple windows, either side by side or layered to fit the way most people actually work.


So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don’t see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up.

Maybe it’s more like being PR guy for Paula Dean?

I think they, like others, are waking up to the fact that we’ve built a better solution for people everywhere, who are getting things done from anywhere, and who don’t have hard lines between their personal and professional lives. People who want a single, simple, affordable device with the power and flexibility to enhance and support their whole day. :)

And watch as the Surface RT 2 releases an avalanche of pent-up consumer demand for a sequel product whose most significant feature is a dropping of 2 letters in the product’s name, no doubt trying to rope in another 1% of sales to suckers who thought they were getting a full-featured Windows device for $50 less than an iPad. By the way, those devices exist in abundance; they’re just not made by Microsoft.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, they blew their chance to market a competitor to the iPad – spectacularly – when they decided to use the same insanely bifurcated approach to hardware (Surface RT and Surface Pro) that they used with the latest version of the operating system (Tile World and Desktop World). Microsoft is trying to distance itself from their “no compromise” nonsense that buried them in the tablet market to begin with by hiding the Windows layer and dropping the RT from the name. It isn’t going to fool anyone. Consumers have already voted on hardware and Microsoft lost. Big-time.

If Shaw wants to be helpful and get “real” productivity software into the hands of people snatching up non-Microsoft hardware, maybe he could encourage Redmond to release a version of Office for Mac that isn’t a steaming pile.

On second thought, never mind.

 Posted by at 11:21 am
Oct 232013

If you read the masthead (and you’d be surprised how many people don’t) you’ll see that I’m pretty pro-Apple. I actually like to think I’m more “pro-good consumer electronics”, most of which are produced by Apple. Apple also has a number of excellent software offerings. One that had made an impact on me early in its life cycle was Keynote, the software that allegedly grew from the tools Jobs himself used in Apple Keynote presentations. To give you an idea of how highly I value Keynote, it’s the only app in Apple’s iWork Suite that I will insist on using without compromise. Because Microsoft basically ruined the last 25 years of productivity software in the business world, its corporate zombies still insist that Word and Excel are the standard in the workplace and so I find myself having to default to those programs most of the time. But Keynote just stomps the balls off of PowerPoint so hard that I refuse to use such a vastly inferior product at all. If I’m doing a presentation for you, your options are a Keynote file or a PDF export.

I could go on in 3 separate posts about how fundamentally awesome Keynote is, and not just for presentations. I’ve made cover sheet templates that were 100 times better and much faster than anything I could do in Word; I’ve made checklists that stomp Excel’s finicky formatting bottlenecks. I’ve even created high-quality captioned illustrations. All this is possible because of how easily Keynote integrates text, images, tables and charts. It’s as powerful a page layout tool as it is a presentation creation tool. But don’t take my word for it.

Among the many, many things that Apple announced yesterday, they also introduced new versions of both its iLife and iWork suites. The latter has not received a major update since iWork 09. And with this update to iWork come the words I thought I’d never type.

I think Apple blew it with Keynote 6.

I know, I know. When I read stories of “pros” having to move from Final Cut Pro 7 to FCP X, I was among those of you who laughed at their guttural cries of anguish. “Stick to 7 or suck it up,” I said, probably aloud. And this may be what this is. But I’ll state my case and – well – I’ll either stick to Keynote 5 or suck it up.

Why You’d Want to Use Keynote 6

When you look at the feature list, there’s a few reasons to use the latest version of Keynote.  Depending on how you have your iOS 7 device set up, one of them is very compelling. And by that I mean you’ve already lost a major feature if you don’t use the latest versions of iWork on all your devices. If, like me, you have iOS 7 set to automatically update your apps in the background (and you didn’t have a sufficiently good reason not to – until now), you already have the latest version of Keynote for iOS. What that means is that if you use Keynote for iOS version 2.0 to open a Keynote file in iCloud that was created using an older versions of Keynote, and make any changes, this is what will greet you if you try to open the file again using Keynote 5:
We didn't explicitly say this would happen, did we? Oops.

We didn’t explicitly say this would happen, did we? Oops.

There’s an “Apple’s cloud services blow goats” joke in here somewhere, but that ground is already well-trampled. Suffice it to say that cattle penning a consumer into a software upgrade – even a free one – is very un-Apple if it breaks such a major piece of its compatibility with the prior version of the software. But because the software is from Apple, moving to the latest-and-greatest usually means you’re getting a better verion of what you have. Usually.

What the Fuck Did You Do With My Format Bar?

Users of iOS 7 will immediately recognize the similarities between Keynote 6 for Mac and Apple’s apps in iOS 7: a diminished use of gradients, shadows and a snappy primary color palette. Personally, the first thing I noticed was the absence of the Format Bar:

format bar

Thinking that maybe this was a setting in preferences I clicked back in 2010 or so, I went into settings and…nothing. Apple scrubbed the Format Bar. Maybe, I thought, I can get back some of those Format Bar settings by customizing the toolbar. I quick right-click on the toolbar provided no satisfaction: Apple removed the option to customize the toolbar.

I admit I was starting to get a little hot.


Apple has a pretty cool way of palletizing tools in iWork, and it’s actually a tool that persists through many Apple-made programs, which gives users a sense of familiarity across apps. It’s called the Inspector and its job is to offer a static set of tools that allow users to do everything from rotate a shape to edit a QuickTime event (yeah – I never used that one either). In Keynote, there are 10, all ending in “Inspector” if you mouse over them. From left to right they are: Document, Slide, Build, Text, Graphic, Metrics, Table, Chart, Hyperlink and QuickTime.

Possibly the most iconic presence in iWork: the Inspector

Possibly the most iconic presence in iWork: the Inspector

I’ll just get right to it: there is no Inspector in Keynote 6.

So what tool is powerful enough to replace not only the Format Bar, but the Inspector as well? Let me give you a hint: if you’ve used the latest version of Keynote on iOS, it will look familiar:

Left is Keynote for iOS; right is Keynote 6 for OS X

Left is Keynote for iOS; right is Keynote 6 for OS X

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: Apple nerfed its OS X version of Keynote to better-resemble its touchscreen cousin. The point at which I finally realized the detachable Inspector was gone for good was when I invoked the old “Opt-Cmd-I” and saw that it now hid/showed this new contextual sheet – the one that has replaced the venerable Inspector.

Now I was really hot.

Having had some time to think about what I really hate about the stripping of the Format Bar and the new iOS-style, contextual sheets in Keynote 6 replacing the Inspector, it boils to this: in Keynote 5, you knew where to click – always.

  • The Format Bar was the contextual tool for basic tasks. It would adapt depending on what you were doing: click on a text box, you could modify font, style, point, color, justification, spacing, etc.; click on an object and you could control fill, opacity and stroke of the border. The key to modifying 80% of your content is held in that slender bar.
  • The Inspector was the catch-all for any modification one needed. Under the Metrics Inspector, in addition to the tools in the Format Bar, you have your size, position and rotation functions. If you click a text box, rotation is grayed out, which was an action consistent across Inspector functions. If you couldn’t apply a function to a selection, it was grayed out, but it was always there – in the same place – all the time.

And if the “Contextual Inspector” was just disorienting depending on what you clicked, that’d be one thing. Some of the re-worked sheets are downright confusing. Check out what happens if you change the font in a text box – any text box:

An asterisk and an

An asterisk and an “Update” flag? Really, Apple?

Why is this changed marked in such a curious way, you might ask yourself? What you’re doing is potentially changing the style sheet for the document. If you click on “Update”, you’re actually updating the default style sheet. I don’t use style sheets much, but I’m sure many people do. If we were to poll users, I’m confident the stylesheetists would be in the vast minority of all users. Sticking a prompt to change the default font of the style sheet – when all I want is a goddamned text box – is fucking irritating. And don’t get me started on the 2 instances of the same word, “Style”, in the Contextual Inspector. It has both its own header tag and it’s a sub-heading under the “Text” header tag. Jesus Christ, Apple.

I don’t know if the designers for Keynote for OS X were inspired by Windows 8, but let me lay this out there for Apple: Keynote for OS X is not, nor should it try to mimic, Keynote for iOS. In terms of hours logged, I can guarantee that Keynote on the desktop has obliterated Keynote for iOS since its introduction. I’m not saying not to improve your iOS offering, what I’m saying is don’t destroy the functionality of your more useful desktop app for the sake of some sense of cross-platform cohesion. Remember “Windows Everywhere”? Snap the fuck out of it.
 Posted by at 12:31 pm
Oct 042013

Excellent piece in the Times Magazine about the road leading up to the most enormous engineering challenge in Apple’s history: transforming a computer running OS X into the pocketable device that was released in 2007. The scale of risks Apple was willing to take is astonishing. When you read about all of the blood and sweat – not to mention the broken marriages and clotted arteries of the engineers that pulled it off – that went into Jobs’s legendary January keynote, and then see soulless, classless hacks like Samsung continuing to coast off of those impossible formative years, it makes me a wonder if there is a future for innovation in this country.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm
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