go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the Microsoft fallacy

    • 9 Comments

    One thing that I've heard a lot of is the idea that Microsoft has a lot of money, so MacBU should be able to do anything: port a Windows app, add a feature to one of our existing apps, etc etc etc. I've come to think of this as the Microsoft fallacy.

    The Microsoft fallacy has the following components:

    • If a company has a lot of money, this means that they have sufficient resources to do anything.
    • If a company has a lot of money, every piece of that company has access to all of it.
    • Every large company acts as a single cohesive unit, and has one single goal.

    Most people take it for granted that money doesn't buy happiness. But those who subscribe to the Microsoft fallacy forget that there are many other things that money doesn't buy. Money doesn't buy more time. Money doesn't buy great developers with specific domain knowledge. (Money can assist with recruiting great developers, but it's not the only factor in that equation.)

    Those who forget that money doesn't buy a lot of things also forget that we might not have access to that money. Don't get me wrong, we're not pinching pennies over here, but we don't have access to an infinite amount of money. If money did buy everything that some people think it does, we might not be able to buy it anyway. I had an allowance when I was a kid. Today, as an adult, I have a budget instead.

    The Microsoft fallacy has one component that isn't exactly fiscally-related, although most of the supporting arguments that I see for it are fiscal ones. That's the assumption that Microsoft is, well, Borg: there's one central processing unit that makes all of the decisions, and everything is done to a single end. This is true, in that Microsoft as a publicly-owned corporation is attempting to make money. But this component never assumes that Microsoft is doing the same thing as every other publicly-owned company; instead, it is assumed that we have some big overarching nefarious purpose, usually with either Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer cackling somewhere. This component forgets that we compete with lots of companies, and competition has one great benefit for us as a company: innovation.

    MacBU is a small piece of Microsoft. We're ~180 people, out of a company of ~70,000. I'm reminded of this every time I meet a new person and they ask where I work, which often leads into a discussion of software that I don't use and know nothing about. The conspiracy theorists will tell you that MacBU is kept artifically small because Microsoft as an Empire wants you to buy WinOffice. Microsoft has lots of money, so MacBU could be a huge group if it weren't for the big mean Microsoft man keepin' us down. This argument forgets that, while MacBU is a nicely profitable business unit, we don't have as many users or we're not as profitable as as other parts of the business, so we simply don't get as many resources as other parts might.

    What surprises me about the Microsoft fallacy is that I haven't observed it being applied to other large technology companies that make a lot of money. Maybe it's simply that no other large technology company is quite as obviously ubiquituous, even if they are larger.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    why do you want OneNote on your Mac?

    • 61 Comments

    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

    data analysis in Excel:Mac 2008

    • 0 Comments

    Today, Gavin made a great announcement over on Mac Mojo: Now available: data analysis for Excel 2008. AnalysisSoft has created StatPlus:mac LE to provide analysis tools to Excel users. To quote from Gavin's post:

    StatPlus:mac LE is a free, downloadable data analysis application for Mac OS X that works with Excel 2008 (12.1.5 or later). It works on Tiger (10.4.11) and Leopard systems (10.5.6), as well as PowerPC and Intel processors. It's available in English, French, German, Italian, Portugese, Russian and Spanish.

    StatPlus:mac LE is not an Excel add-in. Like Solver for Excel 2008, it is a full-blown Mac application ("StatPlus.app") that uses AppleScript to communicate with and drive Excel. It provides all the same functions as Analysis ToolPak, which makes it a nice, drop-in replacement for ATP users.

    The Excel team has been working with AnalysisSoft, the makers of this app, to ensure that this helps fill the gap left by the loss of the Analysis ToolPack. So try it and post a comment to Gavin's post to let us know what you think!

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the life and death of Virtual PC for Mac

    • 40 Comments

    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

    Q&A: how do I fix the "Unable to establish a secure connection ..." issue in Entourage:Mac?

    • 7 Comments

    From my open question thread:

    When opening my inbox from an Exchange 2007 SP1 server with Entourage 12.2.3 I get a dialog saying "Unable to establish a secure connection to example.com because the correct root certificate is not installed."

    There's a few things that you can do to get rid of this dialog.

    One option is to ask your admin for a root certificate. After you receive that certificate from your admin, you can install it. If that solves the problem some but not all of the time, open the Microsoft Certificate Manager application (it's in the Office folder) and import the certificate there.

    Another option is to uncheck the "This DAV service requires a secure connection (SSL)" box. It's on the Advanced tab in your Account Settings for that Exchange account.

    If you're feeling particularly techy, you can check to see if your Exchange server's autodiscover service is set up properly. Amir wrote up some instructions in his blog post SSL warning issue in Entourage 2008. Look down to the note for the instructions that you as a user (and not an Exchange admin) can take to see if it's set up properly. If your autodiscover service isn't set up properly, you can at least inform your Exchange admin about it and ask them to fix it. There's a whitepaper for setting up the Exchange 2007 autodiscover service which has plenty of details for how your Exchange guys can get it set up properly.

    For additional troubleshooting without calling Microsoft tech support (for which you get two free calls with your purchase of Office 2008) or any internal tech support that you might have, you might want to try the Entourage public forum.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Outlook Web Access 2010 screenshots

    • 0 Comments

    Paul Robichaux, who's certainly in my Top Ten Favourite MVPs, has posted screenshots to his blog of Outlook Web Access in Exchange 2010. The screenshots were taken using Safari on his Mac.

    Like Paul, I've been using Exchange 2010 for some time. (And now, you can use it too: it's in public beta now.) I'm very pleased that Safari (and Firefox) on Mac is now fully supported: you can get the full OWA experience instead of the old OWA Light experience. OWA 2010 plus Entourage for Exchange Web Services means that I have more access to more of my data when I'm on the go.

    I especially love the support of categories in OWA. I rely heavily on categories to keep my sanity (well, what's left of it). Every contact in my address book is categorised (which means that all of their incoming email is automatically categoriesd), and every event on my calendar has a category too. That means that I can glance at my calendar and know that I'm spending most of my time on, say, Entourage this week. I like having my notes and tasks there, too, but the category support is the one that really helps me to be more productive.

    I'm sure that the folks over at the Exchange team blog (which has such a geeky name ("you had me at EHLO") that I can't help but love it) will be posting more details about Exchange 2010 in the future. If you're an Exchange user, I highly recommend keeping up with their blog.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Why is Office:Mac getting the Ribbon?

    • 22 Comments

    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.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: is Visual Basic returning to Office:Mac?

    • 11 Comments

    My post about questions we got at Macworld 2010 raised some questions, one of which was this one:

    The biggest question in my mind is: will Office 2011 support visual basic for excel?

    Yes. We announced in 2008 that Visual Basic for Applications will return to the next version of Office (you can read the blog post about it here: saying hello (again) to Visual Basic). And it's still true: Office:Mac 2011 will support VBA.

    We're bringing the latest and greatest version of VBA to the Mac, which is 6.5. We'll still continue to support AppleScript and Automator for your Mac-only scripting needs, and we'll also support VBA for your cross-platform scripting needs.

    For those of you who are interested in getting started with writing Office scripts with AppleScript, I have to recommend Mactech magazine's VBA to AppleScript transition guide. It's 150+ pages of AppleScript goodness, and I've only heard awesome things about it.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    small MacBook review

    • 35 Comments

    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

    security versus usability

    • 36 Comments

    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.

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