Monthly Archives: June 2010

Jumping on the ergonomic bandwagon

Microsoft Natural Ergonomics Desktop 7000

Admittingly I spend too much time in front of computers, but the thought of using an ergonomic keyboard or mice has never crossed my mind.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Dr. Dan Odell, an ergonomist at Microsoft Hardware, who after describing the risks of repetitive strain injury (RSI) and ergonomics, insisted I should just try them for myself. Being a doctor and all, I took Dan’s advice.

The desktop set I’ve been trying for the most of this week is the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 which includes the wireless version of the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 that I’ve since learned to be used by numerous people I know.

What surprised me first was how “right” the keyboard felt. From a glance, the aesthetics of it was a little unsettling, but for the same reasons it looks like a mini volcano on my desk, the huge resting pads and curve makes it practically relaxing for my hands to rest on. I was also equally surprised at my typing speed which was entirely unaffected by the tilt and huge bulge between my hands. My fingers are none the wiser.

Whilst the transition to the mouse wasn’t equally as transparent, it was nothing a little practice couldn’t get over. The tilt of the mouse, which is what makes it ergonomically comfortable to grasp, meant that a pushing motion with the back of my hand resulted in my cursor moving in the north-east direction rather than directly north. A couple hours later, I was pointing to where I wanted to again with pinpoint accuracy.

Of course, none of that mattered if I couldn’t play my beloved PC games. First person shooters and strategy to be exact. Knowing Dan warned me that ergonomic hardware won’t suit everyone, so with a hint of pessimism, I loaded up Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I’ll just say if scoring first over several rounds isn’t enough proof it works rather well, then I don’t know what is.

But perhaps the best indication of just how much I enjoy this is the fact that switching back to my old keyboard and mice feels like a downgrade. It’s alarming how I used it for so long and not realized how downright uncomfortable it was.

When Dan first told me people who switch to ergonomics rarely switch back, I didn’t believe him. Boy am I late to this bandwagon.

A peek in to Cairo and how Microsoft plans Windows

It’s funny how history has a way of repeating itself when it comes to overly-ambitious Microsoft operating system projects. A once confidential Microsoft document released as evidence in the Comes V. Microsoft lawsuit gives us a rare insider look at how Microsoft plans for a product as complex as Windows.

Although I have to admit I have not yet built up the courage to read this 76-page product planning document for Windows Cairo from 1993 word for word, but even skimming this document has revealed a number of interesting tidbits that shows just how forward-looking this project must have been for its time.

One example that stands out from the rest, the document describes the concepts of “Smart Folders” which presents folders to users that both store and view information based on metadata as well as “finding information through queries” – ideas later reanimated as part of the Longhorn WinFS vision but still not fully realized 17 years later even though the problem has been and is still relevant today.

The original case exhibit PDF is downloadable for bedside reading here.

Prototype Windows Phone 7 boots up really fast

As I’ve noted briefly in my TechEd 2010 coverage, Windows Phone 7 have come a long way in terms of responsiveness and performance. Perhaps a good benchmark of the improvements they’ve made to the operating system since MIX10 and certainly its debut at Mobile World Congress is the start up time.

The short video above features a prototype LG Windows Phone 7 device with a recent but still not final build of the OS doing a cold boot after removing and replacing the battery. Consistent across several tests, the device booted in an impressive 30 seconds. What’s remarkable is that as soon as the lock screen displays, it’s fully initialized and ready to be used.

Smartphones are not known for the fast boots and the fastest Windows Mobile 6.5 device on the market today, the HTC HD2, takes easily a minute to boot and at least a further 15 seconds before you dare to touch it. Earlier builds of WP7 at MWC took at least a minute to boot too. Considering this is still a work in progress, I’m optimistic they’ll improve it even further.

Windows Phone 7 developer phone unlock detailed

Windows Phone 7 developer phone unlock

Today at the TechEd North America 2010 event Microsoft has confirmed Windows Phone 7 developers will be able to register a number of devices which unlocks the capability to side-load applications on to devices directly from development tools such Visual Studio or Expression Blend.

Initially, Microsoft will offer three device registrations per Marketplace account ($99 per year) tied a Windows Live ID. Developers who legitimately require more will be considered by Microsoft on a case-by-case basis.

The registration process which occurs on a PC with the phone connected involves a small application which asks for the Windows Live account the developer wishes to register the device on. The process simply flags that device in the cloud backend and does not change the phone ROM in any way.

Windows Phone 7 developer phone unlock

Once completed, developers can view through the Marketplace website which contains a listing of all their registered devices as well as removing the device registration.

Trialing applications on Windows Phone 7 a breeze for users and developers

Windows Phone 7 Marketplace trial app

Windows Phone 7 might not launch with a catalog of applications the size of Apple’s, but Microsoft is definitely going to one-up Apple and Google in terms of the application marketplace experience with a refreshingly friendly implementation of a trial-mode for applications for both end-users and developers.

In contrast to what has naturally evolved into a set of free and pro versions of apps in the Apple app store, Microsoft’s solution simplifies the experience for users down to one application to download and run, and for developers, one application to submit to the marketplace and one codebase to support. A win-win situation for all.

To accomplish this, Microsoft has implemented a licensing system into the API that exposes to developers whether the user is trialing the application or has purchased it. Developers can determine the license with a single line of code not too far from “if (application.license = trial)” and adapt their application accordingly.

Windows Phone 7 Marketplace trial app

Microsoft is also giving developers free reign over what type of trial they want to do including but not limited to reduced functionality or timed trials. At the same time, developers can easily create up-sell opportunities inside their application and because it is just a change of license, users can receive instant gratification without downloading a new application.

Although the support for trials is not a requirement for WP7 applications, Microsoft is encouraging developers to take advantage of it to increase potential sales as it reduces risk for the end user. Considering all of the above, it would be silly not to take advantage of it.