| Comments

I’ve never been so frustrated with a piece of software as I have been with iTunes lately.

NOTE: Yes, I work for Microsoft.  Yes I’m aware they make the Zune.  I’ve got years invested in hardware with iPods, and until someone makes an OEM integration kit as good as what I have, I can’t switch.  Truth be told, from a portable device player, I *do* think the Zune is better.  But let’s just leave that out of this argument for now.

In my home there are roughly 4 iPods floating around.  We have a library of over 5,000 songs both popular and not that are in our digital library.  That digital library is mostly MP3s, mixed with some iTunes purchased songs (although not since Amazon MP3 began).  That library sits on a shared drive on my Windows Home Server so it can be accessed through various streaming means (Home Server streams to iTunes software, XBOX, etc.).

Also in my home are roughly 6 computers ranging from desktop to laptops (mostly laptops).  These are used between my wife and myself (and one for the kids).

We all listen to music on our devices and via our machines.  We all want to listen to the same library, create our custom playlists and have them available everywhere.  We all want to be able to sync on whatever computer we want, but we’ll settle to be tied to one that you can pair with.

iTunes…sucks.

Yes, I’m looking at you iTunes.  I’m aware of the other options like Songbird, etc. but frankly I haven’t tried them out yet.  If you have and they will solve my woes, can you share your experiences?

Why does iTunes suck?  Easy…

  • It assumes 1 user/1 computer – the “library” is a local and static library unless the user interacts with it.  What I mean by this is it does not have the ability to monitor folders (like pretty much every other software out there for media does).  I want to point my iTunes library to my server share and whenever I add music to it via other computers, that other ‘libraries’ will be aware of it and just add it to my local library.
  • Portability sucks – try to transfer your iTunes library to another computer.  I dare you.  Navigate through all the Apple support suggestions and hacks online.  Frankly unless you are Mac to Mac migrating, it is not easy for a healthy configured library.
  • Not informative – one of my biggest issues is that when I configure the library to be a mapped drive (let’s say M:), if M: is not available for some reason, iTunes decides on it’s own without telling me that it is going to switch the library back to the local volume/hard drive.  Any future action (i.e., iTunes purchasing, Amazon purchasing, etc.) now doesn’t save to my server library.  WTF?!  Can you at least tell me: Hey user, that location you set for your library, ‘M:’ is not available right now…what would you like us to do.  Stop moving it around for me.
  • Home Sharing – what is this supposed to be again?  I thought this would save me.  I could have at least one place that would be the library and home share to other clients who could then use this feature to sync.  Um, nope.  This is basically the sharing they already had except with a new name.  Worthless.

I wish the iTunes team would put in their lab 3 iPods and 4 computers with 2 users and a library stored on the server.  Work toward making your software work in that environment as seamless as it does with 1 user and I’ll be happy.  Until then I have to navigate your changes and try my best to explain to my wife why the music we bough on the desktop is not on her laptop until she adds it to the library that is already mapped to the network share where the music already exists.  Yeah, that’s what I though.

| Comments

I had been a customer of T-Mobile for 10 years (through a few company changes) and only recently changed to AT&T about a year ago.  As a general assertion, I’ve been happy.  I like the 3G speeds and the coverage in my house is far better than T-Mobile, which was the ultimate driver as someone who works primarily from a home office.

That being said, I think I’m agreeing with what a friend said when the first iPhone launched.  He said (paraphrasing of course) If the iPhone has any shortcomings it won’t be because of the device or Apple, it will be AT&T and that could have been one of the worst decisions Apple could have made.  Now I’m not sure there is any “better” decision because in the US, mobile carriers all generally map to the same business plans.  But that being said, the first year of the iPhone seemed to be successful.  Sure, AT&T had the exclusive, but the plans were cafeteria style and relatively simple…you pretty much picked a minute plan.  I’m not arguing about any pricing, that’s for you to decide what is best for you.

Introduce iPhone 3G.

As much as I thought Apple really had changed the game for US mobile carriers, I’m starting to rethink that.  I think the power of the mobile industry is proving itself.  Why?  Well, Apple may have still changed the game with regard to the actual device and maintaining the purity of the platform (i.e., controlling the platform completely), but the carrier (AT&T) clearly decided that the time is up for other aspects of control.  The iPhone 3G plans I thought had gotten simpler, but it turns out the key feature for the iPhone 3G, the “3G” part, is becoming the most confusing.

It should be pointed out that Apple has had varying business and personal plans for a while, but with iPhone they weren’t present because of the exclusive deal, all company discounts, etc. never applied.  And there was a flat rate for unlimited data.  Now it’s $30 for “personal” or $45 for “enterprise.”  First, I hate the word enterprise to define a company.  Is a 10 person company who uses a hosted exchange platform an enterprise? 

Here is where the confusion begins.  Confusing and not-so-solid information on what the enterprise data plan will give you.  In an interview with some AT&T folks, NY Times columnist David Pogue asked the question to AT&T public relations personal specifically:

Q: Why is the business rate more expensive than the standard iPhone rate?

A: Business pricing for the iPhone is $45 for unlimited data, plus a voice plan. Business customers tend to be heavier users of data than consumers, and we price our service accordingly.

source: Questions — a Baker’s Dozen of Them — About the iPhone Calling Plans

So there is one answer.  Then there are others that say if you connect to an Exchange server you pay enterprise rates.  Well what about services that provide friend/family/small biz hosted Exchange platforms?  How is AT&T going to prevent these?

Here it seems just an added way to get an additional $15 from people.  Apple employee Nathan C responded on the forums discussion on this topic that:

The iPhone will support ActiveSync regardless of which data plan you are on with AT&T.

Sure, but is that only via WiFi, etc?  It’s an interesting thread from beginning to end to see peoples’ distaste for how AT&T is handling the plan changes.  And there in lies the rub.  Will iPhone 3G get a bad rap because of AT&T?  It already is in places like Canada because of Rogers pricing. 

I don’t think AT&T is equipped to monitor handsets all day long to determine if rate plans should increase.  And how is MobileMe any different?  Heck Apple is marketing it as Exchange for the rest of us.  So if AT&T policy indicates that if you connect to Exchange you should pay the higher data plan, shouldn’t the same apply for MobileMe users?  I mean the services provided by MobileMe are similar and still include the push email features…so really it should be considered the same at a carrier service provider level.  And what about Google Apps users?  How is that usage any different?  It might not be push, but heck they even label it Google Apps for Enterprise (GAPE) – so subscribers of that should pay enterprise data plans too?  This segmentation is just confusing even to smart people.  And AT&T has yet to come out with a clear answer.  Now the clearest I’ve seen is one of two things: if you are getting a corporate discount provided by a corporate plan and/or if you sign up for a voice business plan.  Even still though, I’d bring up the smaller businesses that aren’t necessarily “enterprise” how we usually define those companies.

SIDEBAR: Apple keeps throwing Exchange around like it is Kleenex or something.  No service/trade mark attribution or footnoting on who owns that name…shame on them :-).

If you take the AT&T PR response on “heavier users” – seriously?  Grab a college campus popular kid and give him an iPhone 3G.  I bet it is heavier data usage than your average employee at any company.  That’s just a cop out.  It is a poor benchmark of terms that PR person chose in my opinion.

So I think my friend might be right.  AT&T really has the potential of screwing up the iPhone.  Carriers have had a trend of not really caring for what their customers needs are..it’s a highly competitive business and customer service isn’t high on the priority list most of the time (at least that has been my experience when I’ve needed it).  So with regard to the plan debacle, I’ll end with this open letter to AT&T:

Dear AT&T,

Can you please clarify under what conditions the enterprise plan is required specifically?  For the companies who wouldn’t consider themselves ‘enterprise’ but still are able to take advantage of inexpensive hosted Microsoft Exchange for their companies (or purchase Small Business Server from Microsoft), why would they be lumped in with companies of 10,000 or more employees?

So bottom line it for us AT&T: If I have a personal data plan, will I be able to synchronize my email, calendar and contacts with my personal Exchange account that I either get for free or pay for via a hosted service?

Might I make a suggestion that you just come up with a single unlimited plan like you did with the iPhone first generation?  You made no distinctions there and yet ‘enterprise’ people were still able to get their mail.  If people who desire to use EAS over IMAP are penalized, that is ridiculous especially given that you’ve made no indication that a company choosing to use MobileMe or Google Apps for Enterprise would require such a distinction either.

kthxbye.

| Comments

it could be that december sucked and i was bored, or it could have been the pain killers, but i have found that the recent freecreditreport[dot]com television advertisements have been hilarious.

caveat: i am not promoting the service and i actually don't necessarily agree with it (as i think there is too much fine print involved and it isn't really 'free' but that is beside the point, this is about the commercials.

their latest one had me cracking up as the guy singing the jingle in what appears to be somewhat of a red lobster type restaurant ("they say a man should always dress for the job he wants, so why am i dressed up like a pirate in this restaurant"):

the previous one is about his girlfriend with bad credit ("so now instead of living in a pleasant suburb, we're living in the basement of her mom and dad's"):

there is another one about a new car, but i don't find that one as amusing.  the agency behind these is the martin agency.  who are they?  well, they are behind some of the more successful broadcast media campaigns around:

    • spiketv and the CSI campaign (the humorous ad showing a guy being dumped and he's telling the killer about all his mistakes)
    • geico -- they brought geico the gecko, as well as the advertisements featuring celebrities helping tell customer claim stories and the cavemen commercials
    • 'virginia is for lovers' campaigin in 1972, which apparently is still going strong.
    • wrangler
    • launched the UPS 'brown' campaigns

seems like a pretty talented agency balancing their abilities to serve different mediums as well as creative abilities catering to both the stiff corporate customers as well as enabling companies to see some humor in their own brands or bring something catchy to their advertising.

anyhow, nothing of significance here, just a random thought and appreciation for the creative talent.  i wonder what the martin agency could do for microsoft?

incidently did you know that the mac vs. pc ads (their agency is TBWA\Chiat\Day) are market specific?  check out the ones from the UK and Japan has some, but the link is bad now and i don't read japanese...but they featured a popular japanese comedy duo in their advertisements.

| Comments

well, it's been over 12 hours since leopard was available to the masses and the early reviews seem to be in.

yawn.

i just got my discs and will be updating my machines soon to see (i'm going to try to update one and clean install the other).  but i'm reading the reviews and they aren't promising.

dave winer says the upgrade process went fine, but he seems left with wondering what did he upgrade too? he says:

Net-net, my first impression of Leopard is that it isn't a big deal one way or the other.

interesting.  i thought this was supposed to be apple's biggest os ever.  i'm sure to some it will be.  when i look at the 'over 300 features' i laugh a bit.  since when do we call fixes and critical updates features that count toward a benefit to upgrade?  i see some key updates in leopard.  spaces, time machine, some UI glitz (transparencies and new dock features), etc.  but are those core enough to make it that much better?  ichat backgrounds...do those improve your daily experience with leopard?

and what is with the blue screen of death on leopard?!?!? i thought that was trademarked by microsoft?  i love the comment that at least steve jobs could have picked a different shade of azure or someting ;-) -- if more of these BSOD reports come in, wikipedia will have to change the definition of BSOD!

i'm doing a little wayne's world flashbacking in my head about all the vista reviews of how the UI improvements were crap if that is all that was included in vista.  flip3d, yawn, etc., etc. -- so there is some of that happening with leopard.  maybe the geniuses of user design/experience should have been more public with their beta to get feedback?

matt neuburg has a write-up that caught my eye as rather than just pointing out general statements he articulates on some of the key 'features' and what he sees the problems are.  i think his points are valid and does make me wonder about the user experience design elements that went into some of the things he's pointing out.

it also gets me wondering about what i just paid for.  did i just pay for a service pack?  sure, spaces and some things are new, but are those incremental improvements?  when i look at the 300 improvements i seem to see some service pack-y things rather than features:

    • Descriptive Error Messages
    • Dashboard -- are these new improvements or just new widgets?
    • Improved full-screen interface
    • Video quality improvements
    • improved iCal interface (not a new version, just 'improved')

you get where i'm going with this.  it somewhat bothers me as a msft employee a bit that leopard (OSX - 10.5) is considered a 'new operating system' when really it is an incremental improvement over tiger (10.4).  really, i think i just paid for a service pack.  apple has always said that microsoft took 5 years to update their operating system, but at the same time has considered 'dot' releases to OSX as major upgrades.  by that definition, what is XP, XP SP1, XP SP2, etc. -- those are 'dot' releases providing improvements and incremental updates.  c'mon apple, fess up that leopard is a service pack with some glitz.  it's okay to admit it, people will still by it.

i'm starting my upgrade/install now and will see how it goes.  i'm jaded by some reviews already but they seem to hit features that i use, so if i'm negatively affected, i'll be upset.  what is funny is that leopard seems to enable the ability to go back to different modes, but it involves terminal commands.  at least windows gives users UI options to toggle to their preferred settings.

another fair review from macworld themselves states "...in reality the changes are a mixed bag"

| Comments

someone asked if would work in an ...interesting thought i felt.  after all, the dashboard widget concept is similar to the sidebar gadget feature in vista in that it is essentially a packaged file with html, javascript, images, etc.  so i went to task and tried it out.

i first started with a media player that i had been working on and it didn't go so well...more on that at a later time (startup javascripts, etc.).  after that i just dumbed it down to a simple sample that had some animation and stuff.

packaged it up, deploy to dashboard...and...

nothing.

hmm...what is going on here.  ah, yes, there is a setting in the dashboard widget that requires you to turn it on to allow internet plugins to work...modify to enable, redeploy.

nothing.  blech.  actually, not "nothing" but the default install prompt for silverlight -- which upon clicking did nothing.

with some pointers, i started realizing that the dashboard is likely not registering as "safari" or "firefox" or anything of the like.  it's built using , but perhaps that is the problem.  some others pointed me to that it is likely a conflict with the detection script in silverlight.js and not being able to figure something out.

so i changed to hard-code in the embed/object tag and then was able to get it working like this:

<div id="SilverlightControlHost" class="silverlightHost">

    <object type="application/ag-plugin" id="SilverlightControl" height="100%" width="100%">
        <param name="source" value="Scene.xaml">
        <param name="onError" value="default_error_handler">
        <param name="onLoad" value="javascript:_sl0">

    </object>
    
</div>

i wouldn't necessarily recommend using the object tag as the detection script works perfectly in typical browser situations (typical meaning != dashboards or other hosted models).  i'm going to take a look at the detection script next to see if hacking it up might make this work easier.

i can't figure out how to take a screenshot of a dashboard gadget working (capture doesn't work in the dashboard view), so you'll have to take my word for it.  if you want to try it out on your osx dashboard yourself, the test file is at the end of this post.  I also did a quick and dirty wrapper of lutz roeder's digger to see if it would work.  the keyboard interaction doesn't, but again i suspect that is some javascript hacking that needs to be modified in the engine script (of digger) to enable it working in webkit.

File: SLDash.zip
File: Digger.zip