An announcement before my team heads out for a long weekend ...
Solver for Excel 2008 is available for download today. The fine folks at Frontline Systems have released it as a free download. Make sure that you've updated to Excel 12.1.2, Solver won't work without the latest and greatest.
If you've got questions about Solver, you can post a comment to Gavin's blog post above, or you can head over to the Excel newsgroup to see if one of the experts there can help you out.
I've got some questions for the Entourage readers in the house ...
I've been remiss. Quite awhile ago, I promised to answer the question of what it's like to work in MacBU. I finally (!!) sat down and corralled my thoughts together enough to write something about it, and you can read my answer over at Mac Mojo.
Registration is now open for the 23rd annual ACM SIGPLAN conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications.
What's in store? Here are some highlights of keynotes to entertain, inform, and challenge you:
And, of course, there is more. Expect food for thought from Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, Mark Jason Dominus and David Gries.
Aside from the keynote programme, we've also got the research papers, world-class tutorials, plus the workshops, panels, practitioner reports, posters, demonstrations, the Onward! program and much, much more addressing a wide range of important new and well-established topics.
See you in Nashville!
There's a big difference between a big-market airport like SFO or ORD and a small-market regional airport. These days, I vastly prefer small-market airports to their bigger brothers. Okay, I might laugh at the security guard on a Segway in Columbus (when you can walk across the whole airport in eighteen steps, a Segway seems rather superfluous), but those quirks are so much nicer than the cattle-prod experience at the big airports.
You learn a lot of things when you fly. A few weeks ago, I learned something in New York. There, my United flight from LGA to IAD got cancelled. United rebooked me on Delta, flying into DCA (which was completely in my favour, since I was headed to Alexandria). This was the proximate cause of this travel lesson.
LGA has a small-market airport within it. It's the strangest thing. Delta Shuttle has its own little terminal (not Delta, mind you, just their shuttle flights -- and there's some commuter airlines and private aircraft too). It's buried out in the middle of nowhere. You get there via a slow shuttle bus, and then you think that you're suddenly in a small-market airport. The parking lot is close to the terminal and has lots of parking.
Inside, there are two agents. There is a lonely self-check kiosk, but it's off in a corner ignored by everyone. The agents are nice, and they check you in instead of making you deal with the annoying kiosk. Even better, they sorted out the problem with my itinerary that they inherited from United without blinking an eye, even though they hadn't caused it and they could have simply sent me back to United who had made the original mistake. I wanted to kiss them.
Then you get to security. Now this, this is what airport security should be like. There was no line. The agents are friendly and relaxed. Since I was technically on a just-purchased ticket, I got marked for special screening. The TSA agent asked why I had the extra screening, and I explained that I was rebooked from another airline. She smiled and said that she'd get me through as fast as she could. She pointed out that there was another shuttle flight to DC that I might be able to make. Even with the full pat-down and luggage once-over, I made it through security in less than a minute. That's roughly the time that it took to remove my laptop and shoes, then return them. The guy after me had a full bottle of water in his bag, and the agents kindly took the time to explain the rules to him, let him know that he had plenty of time to get to his flight, and point out some seats where he could drink his water before coming through security.
Delta was just closing the door to the aircraft when the gate agent saw me walk up. The gate agent asked if I was going to DC, I said that I was on the next flight. He said that I could take this one if I didn't want to wait the hour for the next flight. I told him that he was my best friend in the whole wide world.
This used to be the flying experience. I sincerely miss it. I've had similar experiences at small-market airports (you know, the ones with four or five gates), but it's a long-forgotten memory at the big airports. I miss having friendly airline employees there to help out when something goes wrong.
The user experience of airports doesn't need to be as bad as it is. There still are a few places where it's so much better than everywhere else. We can learn lessons from those few pockets, and try to ensure that they're not crushed out of existence.
(Edited on Tuesday, 25 August 2008 to include a Wikipedia link to the LGA terminal in question.)
Want to come work with me? The user experience team currently has two positions open: user experience designer (either in Redmond or here in lovely California) and a technical writer (that's in lovely California).
MacBU has lots of other open positions, too, but these are the two ones that are nearest and dearest to my heart.
Last Friday was a special day: here in MacBU, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of the developers on the PowerPoint team.
A long-standing Microsoft tradition is to decorate offices for special events. And a 20th anniversary is definitely a special event, so we felt compelled to do something for it. This particular developer has an affinity for moose, so we decided that filling his office with mooses was appropriate. Armed with arts and crafts supplies (paper bags, paper cups, construction paper, glue, googly eyes), most of our California office took a few minutes out of their day to make paper mooses. Then, the night before his 20th anniversary, his daughter helped to lure him out of the office early so that the rest of the team could decorate his office properly. The team strung up PowerPoint orange streamers and left their moose mark on his office. Here's a few of our handmade mooses adorning his ceiling:
Have you been having trouble updating Office 2008? Schwieb, developer extraordinaire, wrote up a great post about some of the most common reasons that our users have trouble updating Office 2008, including details about why some of these things that you might do to your Office install (such as running Monolingual or Xslimmer) will cause us problems. Awesome post, go check it out!
Office 2008, the latest and greatest, is now later and greater! (Hmmm, that doesn't sound right, does it?) Today, 12.1.2 leapt out into the world. Go forth and download! It's chock full of performance improvements, including (my favourite) improvements to Word boot-time performance.
I nearly forgot -- Office 2004 (not the latest and greatest, but now greater than before) got an update to 11.5.1 today as well. Look for some performance boosts there too!
Mac fanboys (this correspondent included) don't like to admit it, but there is one simple truth: Mac users are spoiled. And we can be awfully whiny about it, too.
The App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch is underscoring exactly how spoilt we are. Listen to the complaints about the apps available there. As Mac users, this kind of choice is completely foreign to us. We're used to having a pretty small range of top-notch apps available to us. We're also used to having to rely on word-of-mouth for our app recommendations if the app isn't available in the the Apple Store. Compare that to our Windows-using friends and family, who walk into Fry's and see hundreds of boxes on the shelf, and then walk into Best Buy and see hundreds of different boxes on the shelf. My local Fry's has a thinly-populated shelf dedicated to Mac games (a sizeable chunk of which are Sims 2 expansion packs), whereas it has two whole aisles dedicated to Windows games (which has even more Sims 2 expansion packs than available over in my lonely Mac aisle).
So us Mac users are whining about the quantity of the apps on the App Store, since such a quantity essentially guarantees that not everything will be of the highest quality. There are certainly plenty of apps in the App Store where I read the description, roll my eyes, and wonder why anyone would develop such a thing, let alone why anyone might buy (or even waste the bandwidth on downloading) it.
There's a certain segment of the Mac userbase which thinks that Apple should actively decide which apps go into the store based on quality. These users think that Apple should ensure that apps are of a sufficient quality, where quality is some undefined and nebulous idea. These users don't want to see the junk apps. I fundamentally disagree with them. I agree that Apple should provide some gatekeeping (I'd be pretty cranky if an app I downloaded somehow managed to turn my iPhone into a zombie spewing out spam), but I don't think that quality should be an axis on which Apple makes a decision about the apps.
I think that these users have identified a problem, but are articulating the wrong solution to the problem. They want to buy apps, but they feel stymied. While the App Store has made it easier for me to find all of the iPhone apps that are available, it's introduced a new problem. Browsing the App Store is pretty difficult, certainly more difficult than walking into Fry's and seeing what they've got on their shelves (even in the case of 2 aisles of Windows games). Search means that I have to have something in mind, plus it's really intended to search for app names instead of descriptions of apps. If I just want to get a feeling for the games in the App Store, I click on games, and then I get a pretty random-looking list of games. With 300+ games in there, that's meaningless. There's no categorisation, there's no sorting, there's nothin'.
With only a single source for getting apps for my iPhone, and with not a lot of information in the store about the apps (and no demo mechanism, except for the developer-dependent workaround of creating two different versions of the same app), how do I figure out which apps to buy? Users are frustrated at the lack of information for making a choice. Reviews only go so far — my tastes and needs differ from yours, so reading reviews is both time-consuming and not necessarily terribly helpful in my decision-making process.
Apple can't make judgment calls about the quality because the App Store is the single source for iPhone apps. There's someone at Fry's and Best Buy and the Apple Store who decides what software they're going to carry. They don't carry every app out there, and they don't have to carry every app because they're not the sole arbiter of what is available to you. When deciding what apps they'll carry, there's a decision-making process that they employ. Their processes might not be ones that I agree with, or I might not understand why they stock one app over another, but there is some kind of mechanism by which they determine which apps are worthwhile of being stocked. The App Store is more like a warehouse: everything's there, and it's all jumbled together.
A lack of information and a plethora of unwanted choices means that us Mac users are unhappy about it. We don't want to buy junk. We don't even want to see the junk. Having the choice of hundreds of apps isn't all it's cracked up to be. We want simplicity, and we just want the best. The App Store isn't giving that to us, and we're complaining about it.
How does this get fixed? Is it simply that I have to rely on word-of-mouth to hear about the best apps? Do I have to figure out which review website has the closest match to my needs and tastes? Should there be a mechanism for me to have Nadyne's App Store where I can somehow sell the apps that I think are worthwhile, just as I could set up shop in downtown Mountain View and sell the stuff that I think people want to buy?