go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

  • go ahead, mac my day

    why do you want OneNote on your Mac?


    I've been noticing several requests for us to add OneNote to our Mac product portfolio. I have some questions for those of you who want OneNote. Tell me how you have used OneNote. Where is it especially useful? How would you compare it to the Notebook Layout View in Word:Mac 2004? Be as explicit and detailed as possible!

    I should say that, as a non-Windows user, I've never used it myself and have no personal opinion about it. I've heard good things about it from both Windows and Mac users, though, so I'm curious.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the life and death of Virtual PC for Mac


    Most of the other MacBU folks have been talking about VBA while I've been gone, and I don't think that there's anything that I can really add to that discussion. VBA is much less of an impact on the apps that I focus on, and some of our other WWDC announcements were more near and dear to my heart anyway. Let's instead talk about my favourite team at Microsoft: the Virtual PC team. (Dear Entourage, PowerPoint, and Remote Desktop Connection: Yes, I still love you guys, and no parent is supposed to have a favourite child, but the VPC guys give me brandy.)

    The future of Virtual PC on the Mac had been in question for a year. The VPC team was happily working along on v8 (then code-named Oxygen), and an anvil dropped from the sky at the last WWDC. That anvil, of course, was the announcement of the move to Intel chips. VPC is an application that sits quite close to the metal. Any change in the operating system or the chip architecture has a huge impact on VPC. Throughout the history of VPC, any change to the OS had the potential to break VPC in new and interesting ways. Remember the introduction of the G5? It took the VPC guys quite awhile to get VPC to run on the G5. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was the combination of needing very specific expertise (which is to say, we couldn’t just throw more bodies at the problem) and needing some assistance from the folks over at Apple.

    So here comes the Intel chip, and Leopard too. VPC v8 would need the same move to Xcode that every other major Mac application has needed to make. On top of that effort (which is a huge effort, as any Mac developer on a big project can tell you), VPC would require a re-architecture of the bits of VPC that were PPC-specific. We could re-architect VPC v7, we could port code from VPC:Win, we could re-code it from the ground up, or some combination therein.

    We said that bringing VPC to the MacTels would be like doing a v1. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. It’s not just that VPC v8 would be like doing a v1. It’s that VPC v9 could also be just like doing a v1, or maybe it would be VPC v10. There’s a huge engineering effort involved in making a v1 product. But when would we be able to focus our engineering efforts on improving performance or adding features instead of having to update the existing code to work on the latest OS release? What happens if there’s another major chip change?

    ’But what about Parallels? What about VMWare?’ I hear you ask. Parallels has got a v1 out there right now. VMWare is about to enter beta on their v1. One of the great things about a v1 is that you don’t have expectations. Your feature set is determined by what you can get working. It’s not determined by what you had working before. I think it’s v2 where life gets interesting. Can you build upon what you have? Can you get more people using it? It’s the early adopters who jump on a v1, and they’re not a big market (although they are a vocal one). In some respects, you get an easier job on v2: you get to add features, you get to fix bugs, you get to tweak performance. You get to make v2 a better product for your users.

    But v2 is generally where you pick up the average user. VPC:Mac already has the average user as a part of our user base. For the average VPC user (who isn’t a Mac expert, and definitely isn’t a Windows expert), imagine buying VPC v8 and having very few new features over v7. A savvy user is more willing to let that slide because they’re aware of the enormous engineering effort behind moving to the MacTels. The average user, who doesn’t know or care about the change in chip, is going to be upset.

    We made a hard decision. It wasn’t undertaken lightly. The team wasn’t happy about the decision. Ultimately, MacBU made the decision that Mac users would be better served if we focused our resources on making the next versions of our other offerings as strong as possible. The decision to move away from developing v8 made sense from a development and customer perspective, even if it was a hard decision to make. We spent months trying to come up with alternatives that made sense. While we were working through it, including working on the codebase, we gave the MacTel version of VPC its own code name: Lanai, for the place that we'd all like to go on holiday. (Roz wouldn't let us move our operations there, although we did ask.)

    So where is the Virtual PC for Mac team? We got a lot of people from Connectix when we bought out VPC three years ago, after all. One of them moved to Redmond to become the General Program Manager of the MacBU team there. One of them is the Development Manager here in SVC. Another one is a Development Lead for Entourage. The PowerPoint tester in the office next to mine was a VPC tester in the Connectix days, and one of the other VPC testers just moved to the PPT team as well. Recently, with the death of VPC, the several remaining team members in dev, test, and program management have formed a new team at SVC to focus on some of the code that is shared across all of our apps. VPC:Mac might be dead, but it lives on in the great people that we have from that team who are contributing to the rest of our apps.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    security versus usability


    This morning, I noticed that we got some feedback from an unhappy Entourage user that says:

    How DARE you prevent, by DEFAULT, the ability to see images in my email program!?!?!?! I just forked out good money for Office 2004 thinking that there would be improvements - and instead I find some LUDITE has made a decision that should be left up to the user - I do not NEED to have my email "secured" from images - I LIKE the images appearing automatically - LIKE THEY DID BEFORE in the previous version of Entourage - in fact I'm switching back.
    THANKS FOR NOTHING!! Use your brains to improve a product - not diminish it.
    It's feedback like this which makes me amused at the assertion that I got via email a couple of months ago that we only set up the anonymous product feedback so that we'd get fawning we <3 Microsoft feedback.

    Usability doesn't exist in a vacuum. My life would certainly be easier, but a lot less interesting, if it did. When I study usability and try to make improvements, I have to deal with the real world, which means that we don't get to provide you with the perfect user experience. We have to make trade-offs. We don't have unlimited resources. We don't have a perfect technological solution to everything. And we have to deal with security concerns.

    Entourage 2004 has a couple of security features that has a detrimental effect on the short-term user experience. By default, Entourage doesn't automatically download any image that is sent to you via email. You can change that through the Preferences menu (Entourage -> Preferences -> Security -> Automatically download ...), but that doesn't get you every image that is sent to you. That only gets you images that is sent to you by people who are listed in your Entourage address book. If you get email with pictures from someone who isn't in your Entourage address book, you have to manually click that 'Download images...' link in the email message.

    This feature makes some of our users quite upset, as you can see from the above feedback. And I've already admitted that it has a detrimental effect on the short-term user experience. So why haven't I shouted at anyone who will listen until we change it? This is one of the more difficult trade-offs that we have to make: security versus usability. For Entourage users, the most usable thing to do would be to automatically download every image, so that you see the email that you expect to see and don't have to notice that there are missing images and then move your hand to the mouse (if it's not already there) and click the link.

    The problem is one of security. Think about the spam that you get, or those spoofed messages from banks (real or not) that want you to enter lots of your personal details on some random faked website. If Entourage automatically downloaded images from those messages, their servers would get a lot of information about you. For example, their server will record your IP address, which gives them a fair amount of information about your physical location. There's a lot of other information that they'll get automatically, which gives them lots of information to use to spam or phish you in the future.

    We made the decision to relinquish some of our short-term usability to enhance security. We tried to mitigate the usability effects of this decision. You can set the pref to automatically download images from people in your address book. This isn't a perfect solution, either: my address book has entries for Alaska Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, and my father. (Dad doesn't need to be in my address book. His is one of the few telephone numbers that I can actually recite at will, unlike (for example) my own home number.) I don't like having extra entries in my address book, but it's the best solution that we have to the problem of spam, phishing, and maintaining security.

    Making software is a series of trade-offs. This is just one example of one type of trade-off. Creating solutions to these problems is what makes my job interesting.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    small MacBook review


    As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a new black MacBook and named him Bernard. (Why? It's in the comments thread for that post.) I bought the black MacBook off-the-shelf, walking into my local Apple Store to do so. Separately, I ordered 2 GB of RAM and a 120-GB hard drive. Installation of both was a snap. I also got a purple foofbag, which I really like. It's just a little sleeve, but that's what I want to keep it from getting damaged while it's sitting in my messenger bag.

    Bernard is now my primary personal machine, and I couldn't be happier. I suddenly have wi-fi range that I didn't before. In my apartment (on the fifth floor of an eleven-story building), my old personal laptop (the last of the TiBooks) shows three or four different wi-fi networks, depending on its mood, the phase of the moon, etc. Bernard, on the other hand, has a list of 15-20, including my apartment complex's free wi-fi that's available by the pool (four stories below my flat).

    I wasn't sure about the glossy screen, but it hasn't been a concern so far. I've used it in several environments: at home, on a dark plane, outside on my balcony, in various cafés. I haven't had an issue with being able to see anything on the screen. I vastly prefer this screen to the one on my TiBook. It's certainly a lot brighter.

    The apps that I use the most are Entourage, Word, Safari, Quicken, Remote Desktop Connection, Xcode (just the interface builder, I'm not compiling code), and (oh yes) The Sims 2 with the University and Nightlife expansion packs. I'm not sure if launch times are longer or not, since I use these apps (aside from the game) on all of my Macs, all of which have different specs, so I'm not really used to a single launch time for any of them. I did try those apps before my extra RAM arrived, and they felt sluggish. I wouldn't dream of trying to use any laptop without at least a gig of RAM. I have run Photoshop a few times, but I cannot consider myself an expert Photoshop user. It's observably slower, but not so much that it actually impacts me. I'm not a Photoshop wiz, and I'm not doing anything very advanced.

    The Sims 2 runs quite well. It's a universal binary now. It runs significantly faster on Bernard than it does on my personal Mac Mini (which is the last of the PPC minis). I do have a MacTel Mini sitting on my desk in my office, so maybe I should install the game on there. ('Honest, Roz, I've just got this game on here to compare performance ... ') Scrolling on the edges of the screen can be a bit slow if you've got a lot of objects or people, but it's never horrible. I have to admit that I've always found the ports of The Sims to run slower than the Windows versions, but I don't envy the Aspyr guys their job of getting the graphics engine to port at all, not to mention compile under Xcode.

    Others have complained about heat issues or the sound of the fans. I haven't noticed anything at all. Bernard gets warm if I use him for several hours at a stretch, but not so warm that I'm uncomfortable with the computer in my lap. The fan noise has never disturbed me or anyone else.

    I adore the keyboard. I'm picky about my keyboards. I touch-type 120 wpm. I'm really hard on keyboards. I type with so much force that I usually rub the highly-used letters off of my keyboards within a few months. (I've got one of the Microsoft ergonomic keyboards sitting on my desk at the office. The N and M are gone, the E and L and T are mostly gone.) There are few laptop keyboards that meet my requirements. Thankfully, Apple laptops have always met my standards. (For Windows-based laptops, Thinkpads have always had my favourite keyboards.) I haven't made a final decision yet, but the MacBook keyboard might just be my favourite laptop keyboard of all time.

    I'd been a bit concerned about going from a fifteen-inch laptop to a thirteen-inch one, but that hasn't bothered me at all. The screen resolution is great, so I haven't felt like I'm missing out on anything.

    In all, I give the new MacBooks a hearty thumbs-up. For the price, they're really nice little laptops. I had been hoping for a backlit keyboard like the MacBook Pros, but that's mostly because it seems nifty. I wouldn't mind a beefier graphics card, but that's only on the assumption that The Sims would be a little bit better with a better graphics card.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    The MacBU beta trifecta: Entourage Exchange Web Services, Messenger, and Document Collaboration Companion


    Just before the holidays, we announced that we're releasing a public beta of Messenger:Mac that includes AV support on the personal side. Yesterday, we completed our trifecta of MacBU betas: Entourage Exchange Web Services (EWS) and Document Collaboration Companion.

    Last week, I mentioned that I've been dogfooding [redacted] for months. [redacted] referred to Entourage EWS. I've been living in it the second that our daily builds began to work against my Exchange server. The reason that I was chomping at the bit to switch to it is performance. For Entourage 2008 to connect to an Exchange server, it uses WebDAV for most things. (There's some things that use EWS, such as OOF.) When communicating via WebDAV, Entourage needs to send out up to six instructions. When communicating the same thing via EWS, it's one. Working with my Exchange 2007 server is faster. It also gives us access to more Exchange features than we could get via WebDAV, so Entourage now syncs better. It's faster, it's more reliable, and (oh yes!) my tasks, notes, and categories sync to Exchange. It's just fantastic. I've been using it for months, watching more and more Exchange features take shape. We're putting the finishing touches on the beta right now.

    The final third of our beta trifecta will come in the form of the Document Collaboration Companion (DCC). DCC is a standalone app that better enables Mac users to work with documents stored in SharePoint and Office Live Workspaces. This app has been one of my main focus points lately, so I'm looking forward to it getting out into our users' hands. Oh, and DCC is totally Cocoa, which my inner (or maybe not-so-inner) Mac geek adores.

    Those of you who attended my collaboration talk on Monday at our Power Tools session know that collaboration is near and dear to my heart. From my perspective, that's what all three of these betas are about, so I'm quite happy to see them getting close to being in your hands. Entourage EWS will be the first one to make it into your hands. If you're on an Exchange 2007 server, you should switch over to it as soon as humanly possible. (If you're on Exchange 2003 or earlier, you cannot use Entourage EWS. If you're using Entourage only with POP or IMAP, there's no reason for you to use the beta. We've only made changes to our back-end Exchange code.)

    There's more talk about our announcements out there. Here's Macworld's article (including some quotes from our fearless leader), and here's the official press release.

    Edit, 20 January 2008, 11:57am: The public beta for Entourage EWS is live now.

    Edited on 17 August 2009: The final version of Entourage for Web Services is now available, so you should update!

  • go ahead, mac my day

    'Microsoft cashes in on Mac'


    The thing that I didn't get about the rumours that we would pull out of the Mac business is that we make money on it. Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer includes a mention of it in their Software Notebook: Microsoft cashes in on Mac. We're successful, and we had our strongest year in 2005. Why would anyone think that we're going anywhere? Does anyone really think that we're just going to close up shop on a profitable unit one afternoon?

    Okay, it's time to stop being so amused by this. Everyone thinks of Windows software when they think of Microsoft, so I can't really be surprised that people forget that there are other non-Windows parts of the business.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Office:Mac update 11.2.3


    We've released the latest update to Office:Mac, 11.2.3. You can download it from Mactopia. There's performance enhancements across the suite, plus some new functionality for Entourage.

    The two major pieces of new functionality for Entourage are Sync Services and Spotlight support. With Sync Services, you can now synchronise Entourage with anything that you can sync with iSync. Brian Johnson created a demo movie to show you how to go through it. With Spotlight support, you can now search your Entourage database via Tiger's Spotlight.

    There's more details about this update in the Entourage blog.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    expanding the universe


    Last night, I popped into MacRumors to see what's up. There's nothing new and exciting there: rumours about potential new iTunes content, rumours about the next hardware to get revved to MacTel, etc. I noticed that they picked up on Adobe's recent FAQ about the MacTel conversion, wherein Adobe states that they'll go Universal on their next release. I didn't think anything of it until I noticed the ratings for that particular posting [1] were overwhelmingly negative. Many of the comments in the thread were amazingly vitriolic, although there were a few voices of reason.

    I just don't get the vitriol. Making a Universal Binary is less than trivial, especially when you're dealing with a codebase of an appreciable size. If the code isn't already in Xcode, then there's the additional (and significant) overhead of switching from [whatever they were using previously] to Xcode. This isn't a complaint about Xcode, it's just a fact of life when switching IDEs. If you're going to have to handle that kind of overhead porting code, not to mention that you've already started your development cycle for the next version, of course you're going to release the newest binaries on the next version.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I've seen people in other forums starting to get worried about the size of the Universal Binaries, and complaining about the wasted disk space. Maybe I'm just lucky that I have a big hard drive. (Not to mention the terabyte of storage connected to my home server.) But that never even occurred to me as a concern for the transition to the MacTels.

    The transition to MacTel is a big one. It's interesting to watch it play out, both in terms of the technical challenges and in terms of the users' expectations of the transition.

    [1] If you're not aware, MacRumors allows users to rate postings, a simple binary positive or negative.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    go ahead, ask


    Got a question?  Go ahead and ask me.  There are some questions I can't answer because they're under NDA or because I don't know, but I'll at least tell you that I can't answer your question.  Some questions will be answered in the comments.  If I find myself writing a lot in response to your question, I'll write a new post.  

    If you don't ask your question this week (which is to say, the week of 19 November 2007), I don't promise an answer.  Life is going to be busy over the next few months.  I do this whenever I've got a quiet week in the office, which tends to mean that it happens around US holidays.  

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Why is Office:Mac getting the Ribbon?


    Ever since our announcement last week that we're bringing the Ribbon to the Mac, I've been following various online forums to see what the response has been. I think I could characterise it in three groups:

    1. What's the Ribbon, and why do I care?
    2. I've used the Ribbon in Windows Office, and I hate it! Why would you bring it to Office:Mac?
    3. I've used the Ribbon in Windows Office, and I love it! Why did it take you so long to bring it to Office:Mac?

    For those of you who aren't aware, Office 2007 for Windows brought a new UI to many applications in the suite. It's called the Fluent interface, and the single most distinguishing characteristic of it is the Ribbon. Office 2007 did away with all of their menus, and replace them with a band across the top of the applications. The goal was to improve discoverability. Office 2007 has a lot of features available, sometimes buried deep in the menus and contextual menus, and the team often received requests for features that had been in the suite for years.

    In Office:Mac 2008, we tried a different approach: the Elements Gallery. Our goal was also to improve discoverability, but along very specific lines: we wanted to make it easier for you to find the features needed to create great-looking documents. I wrote a lot about the Elements Gallery at the time; evolution at work is a good overview of what we wanted to accomplish and how we set about doing it, as well as why our approach differed from that of the Windows Office team.

    Office 2010 for Windows has extended the Ribbon. Every Windows Office application has the Ribbon now (including Outlook, which had previously had the Ribbon in certain views but not all of them). The applications that already had the Ribbon made some tweaks to better improve the experience, as well as support new features.

    As we began our work on Office:Mac 2011, we had to make decisions about what the next generation of the Elements Gallery should look like. We made some great strides forward in improving discoverability, but there were still some improvements to be made. As we looked at our colleagues on the Windows Office team and considered what they had learned through their Ribbon work, we decided that we could do the Ribbon in a Mac way that works for our users.

    Our single most important decision for the MacRibbon is that we're still going to be a good Mac citizen. Our menus, not to mention the standard toolbar, stay. We knew that one concern that our users have is the availability of vertical screen real estate. As such, we quickly made the decision that our MacRibbon should be collapsible. If you're using the MacRibbon, then you've got easy access to our features; if you're not, then you can collapse it to get it out of your way. If you're feeling particularly minimalistic, you can collapse the standard toolbar too, leaving you with every pixel on your screen below the menu bar to dedicate to your document.

    One of the questions that we get asked about the MacRibbon is why it takes up vertical screen real estate at all. It's about how people work. If you're on a widescreen monitor, windows off to the side have the "out of sight, out of mind" problem. You're so focused on your content that's right in front of you that you don't look the few inches over to your right to see what's happening in the Toolbox. Moving the same features out of the Formatting Palette or Toolbox and into the Ribbon has drastically increased their discoverability, and makes it easier for you to get your work done.

    My team has done hundreds of hours of usability studies that focus on the MacRibbon across the suite, an effort spearheaded by one of my research colleagues. At each step of the way, we've made changes to the MacRibbon based on our research findings, and conducted additional research to determine whether our new design met its goals. We've had really positive feedback about this. I just wrapped up an Outlook:Mac study where one participant told me that he felt like he was getting the best of both worlds: the goodness of Outlook done in a way that fits right in to the rest of his Mac experience.

    Our friends at Macworld have posted some screenshots of Word 2011 in their article Microsoft announces Office for Mac 2011. Take a look at those to start to get a feeling for what you'll see in Office 2011. We'll be sharing more information, including more screenshots, as we get closer to the launch of Office 2011. In the interim, feel free to leave comments with any questions that you might have.

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