Saturday, 13 November 2010

My rant about upgrading to Windows 7

It's been a while since I've blogged but there is no better time to blog than when you have something to moan about. Today, it's Microsoft turn to be covered tar and feathers.

Just before leaving on a multi-month trip to South-East-Asia, I'm spending some time at home with my parents and friends - an excellent time for them to extract techie knowledge from me or to have their computers serviced. My dad asks me to upgrade his computer, built in 2000, and still running Windows XP. Piece of cake, I say, as I mock his feeble computer-building skills. I'd also install Windows 7, since he received a free (yet legal) copy from his employer.

After visiting the shop, and putting some new hardware (Dualcore processor, new motherboard, ram, harddisk etc), I jam the Windows 7 CD into the drive and boot up. I run the entire installation and just before finishing, it's asking me for my key. No problem, this is a legal installation and the key is just in front of me. I enter the key and wait for magic to happen. Instead, Windows vomits on my shoes and tells me the key is invalid. I key it in again, this time verifying every character. Again, wrong. It dawns on me that this is an upgrade version and that this key is not going to work if I perform a clean install. But why doesn't it verify upgradableness by asking me for a previous Windows key or installation, and why doesn't it tell me that the reason my key does not work is because I didn't do an upgrade? AND WHY OH WHY DO I HAVE TO SIT THROUGH THE WHOLE INSTALLATION TO BE TOLD SO?

Anyway, no biggie. I'll continue installing the original XP CD (again, legal). I insert the Windows 7 CD and run the setup. No! I need at least Service Pack 2 to continue. Fine, but I need to install my network drivers first. After installing them, Windows won't boot up, not even as far as the boot menu. Okay, so maybe the hardware is too new. I get an illegal XP CD with integrated Service Pack 2 off the internet (good thing that there is more than one computer in this house) and I install it. Done. I insert the Windows 7 CD and wait for the installation to start. Nosiree! XP was in English, Windows 7 was in Dutch, so there's no upgrading. This does not make sense: it's not like the 7 CD does not contain the necessary language files to make an English XP into a Dutch one. Also, Dutch Windows versions do not have customised folder names (i.e. Program Files is still Program Files, unlike German versions, that rename it to "Programme").

I'm starting to become a little annoyed now. But my father, a secondary school teacher, gets regular OS updates from his school's student licence, so there's also a Vista CD in the house. I reformat the drive and start the Vista installation. After another 45 minutes waiting, Vista is finally set up and I want to start the Windows 7 setup again.

It seems to work! I get as far as the licence screen! I click upgrade and... pow! Different Vista version. Indeed, I've installed Vista Enterprise and am now trying to upgrade to 7 Ultimate. Through Microsoft's glasses, this seems not to be an upgrade. Luckily, some site on the internet tells me that I can forge the Edition by changing a key in the registry to Ultimate.

I restart the 7 installation. Oh snap, this time I apparently need Vista's Service Pack 1. I'm getting used to the bullying and visit Windows Update. Of course, I need to update Windows Update first. And I need to reboot. And I need to re check and prevent Vista from already starting new downloads after I log in again. And I need to find out that the Service Pack 1 (or 2 for that matter) are not among the available 50-odd updates.

So I head over to Microsoft's site and find, after changing the URL, a Dutch language version of Service Pack 1. I download it - thank god for 30 Mbps pipes and increased data traffic allowances - and start installing it. I'm informed that it may take an hour or more. I sigh and sit it out with a book and start blogging all this. If, after installing SP1 and another reboot, I still cannot install Windows 7, I'm downloading an illegal copy.

There we go. After being stuck for at least 5 minutes on 100%, the SP1 installation finally finishes (seemingly successfully) and reboots the computer. Suspense. Phase 3 of 3 starts and stays stuck on 0% for a few minutes. I get some time to wonder why on earth I need a Service Pack update if I'm upgrading to another OS anyway. After completing phase 3 of 3, phase 1 of 3 starts and stays stuck on 0% for a bit. Then, logically, phase 2 of 3 starts and my computer is ... rebooting again! If I have to see that Asus screen one more time, I'm going to kill someone. Again, phase 3 of 3 commences and I'm advised not to switch off the computer. Like what, am I crazy? Aha, phase 1 of 3 is there again. It's good that users do not get a general idea of how long they're going to have to wait. They might sneak down to get some coffee which they might then spill over their computer, blaming Microsoft for it.

Another 15 minutes later, my computer reboots hopefully for the last time (before my 7 installation). Phase 3 of 3 again takes place. How difficult can it be to make all the changes at once and restart afterwards? Finally, I re-gain control over my computer. I fire up the Windows 7 installation and get past the upgrade screen. I suppress some loud cheering (people are already sleeping). Finally, done! I want my afternoon and evening back!

One of the questions I ask myself is: why do I have to wait so long to learn that something couldn't work anyway? Why does Microsoft not verify compatibility (language, version, system) ask for all the details (settings, language, product key) next and start installing after everything's clear? I could leave the computer unattended and come back and start using my computer. But no. Admittedly, it's a lot better since the Windows XP setup, but I still have to run up the stairs every now and then to push a button or two.

Another question is how much easier it would have been to simply download an illegal copy of Windows 7 Ultimate in the language I'd like? It would've taken, say, an hour, including downloading and burning. Now I've been sitting here for over 7 hours and I'm wondering how a layman like my father would've done this. So much for trying to use legal software.

My advice to Microsoft: want to keep your users? Make upgrades easy: ask for a valid Windows XP key or installation and allow upgrades to cross language and version boundaries.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Nokia 5800 firmware v50 changelog

Nokia Firmware v50 is here

Changelog (gathered from the web and from my own experience).

General changes:
- Increased intensity of touch screen vibration (a bit too much to my liking)
- All menus now have kinetic scrolling, also the main menu
- You can now set your default web browser to be Opera Mobile if you have it installed
- Enhanced performance while scrolling through lists (smoother)
- Windows 7 Device Stage support

Browser changes:
- Version v7.2 (still crashes sometimes though)
- Send URL option (over bluetooth, mail, message ...)
- Option to enable history list
- Separate access point for webfeeds
- Kinetic scrolling all over the browser
- Browser goes fullscreen automatically and shows title bar only when loading

Application changes:
- Ovi Sync 2.0 is now integrated
- Flashlite is upgraded to 3.1.7
- Quick Office v4.2 is apparently distributed with the update, but does not show up on my phone - perhaps the memory was full (I got a system error when booting after the update)

Music player changes:
- Music player 'hides' by default instead of exiting
- Album art visible when scrolling through songs
- Using the scrollbar to scroll songs list shows the initial letter of the song, making searching easier
- Smoother scrolling

Camera changes:
- Camera app opens instantly, shortening the time between pushing the button to open and to take a picture

- Better performance in week view (when scrolling)
- Still very buggy. Reproduceable bug: tap the left/right arrows a bit in week view and the app will crash.

Some things I found on dailymobile but I don't know what they're talking about because I don't see any changes:
- Ovi Store upgraded to v1.5.6
- Ovi Contacts upgraded to v1.50.8
- Lifecasting (with Maps 3.0T SR3.0)
- Gimlet Touch 2.2 (the e-mail app)
- Enable Side lock Key functionality during Swipe UI (doesn't seem to behave differently than in v40)
- Cherry v2.1 (settings assistant, didn't try this one out)
- Rihanna service launcher (if you don't get this, get it from the OVI store)
- Workaround for Niagara (SMD) display module for DFS52.50 based products

Monday, 25 January 2010

New Ovi Maps: The future is free!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Someone over at Nokia seems to be in an excellent mood. And it's rubbing off onto all of us. Shortly after Nokia made the v40-firmware available for its 5800 XpressMusic, they released a new version of their Ovi Maps (v3.03) through the new "SW Update" app. At the same time, they made all navigational services free. Free? Free. Forever? Forever.

Note: Possibly, I got this update only because I was already using Ovi Maps beta. At any rate, the all-new version is available on their web site.

Ovi Maps will henceforth replace Nokia Maps, which was unfortunately still included in the v40-firmware. That's a good thing: Ovi Maps has a slicker looking, easier-to-use interface and many extra features that Nokia Maps didn't have. Let's have a look.

* Amazingly fast map and UI display. Now, rolling through maps, even with many icons and 3D objects (yes, they're there), is pretty fluent on the 5800. That's an astonishing feat, given the limited processor power of that handset and the fact that all maps are vector images that are constantly being redrawn. The UI is usable, with big buttons and it responds reasonably fast.
Howard However says: I would like to see more big buttons and less menus so it becomes less dangerous easier to use in the car. Also, too much tapping has to be done to enter something (before the keyboard actually comes up), because the text area is too small. I suggest: one tap anywhere near the text field pops up the keyboard, and a big-ass button to initiate search.

* Free and complete navigation. That's right, kiss yo' ass goodbye, TomTom. All premium services that other providers - and until recently, Nokia - charge you for, are now fully fee-free. That means: fully-fledged navigation with voice-guidance (walking and driving), including traffic information. This generous act is sure to put a lot of pressure on competition (for instance TomTom, whose shares plunged by 15% already) and is bound to make a few users pretty angry that already paid good money for a full year licence. I on the other hand am jumping for joy. Cool feature: You can swipe your finger over the display while navigating to switch between 3D, 2D and Dashboard view.

* Extra services. You're in a new city and find yourself clueless as to where to head for some fun. No more. Tap the Lonely Planet icon and read up about the city you're in (automatically detected by GPS), find the nearest (listed) bars, restaurants, sights, shops, hotels ... in an instant. The built-in Michelin Guide brings you to the more exquisite restaurants and hotels and the events guide, well, gets you even more of the (often overlapping) information. When you've found something interesting, tap again to call, mail, visit the homepage or navigate right over. Urban adventurers will like the display of the nearest public transport station.
Bernard But thinks: One single way to search this kind of information would be nicer. Now, it's not always clear where which information comes from and you don't know if you should open the Michelin Guide or rather the Lonely Planet to find the nearest restaurant or hotel. It's not all that bad, but certain information is redundant, and that's not what we want in these times of information abundance.
Audrey Although adds: There's also another way to find certain places: through "Find places". This will find a lot of places (I personally tested a few bars in my 'hood) but not all. Some were listed in Google Maps but impossible to find through Ovi. I liked the way Google Maps could do "Search Nearby", type "Bar" and immediately presented a list of nearby bars.

* Tell the weather, wherever, whenever (well, in the next few days). Pretty straightforward. It auto-detects where you are, peers in its crystal ball and forecasts the weather for you. Indispensable tool for the traveller.

* Immediately share your location with friends on social networks. That's nice (although for privacy matters highly inadvisable). There's one short but, which I'm not going to devise another character for. There's only Facebook so far, which is a bit of a bummer. I reckon other networks will come soon, and I sure hope to see instant messenger integration there too.

The Verdict
So. What's bad, or ugly, then? Some remarks have already been made earlier in this post, but there's more. Of course, Nokia isn't Apple (which is both a good and a bad thing, but usually rather an ugly thing). Ovi Maps does a pretty good job on the functionality and usability levels. However, a few things definitely need improvement in future versions. To help Nokia on their way, I'll list my musings here.

- Integration with the phone's UI. They'll probably never get it right but here we go. It all looks pretty neat and I'd find it even very cool if the whole phone were like this. But it isn't so why don't they stick to the standard UI. But this is something that I can shut an eye to. Much worse is that in some lists (ie. where you select categories), when you're trying to use kinetic scrolling, you're already selecting the item you start swiping over. Further: The menus are suddenly two lines high, for no apparent reason.

- Still too many soft key menus. Nokia absolutely got it right when they introduced big, thumb-friendly buttons to do stuff, but it's not consistent, and you'll find yourself using the options button all too often to "Walk to", "Drive to" ... All of that could have been a nice button menu instead.

- Back-button lacking. Sometimes there's no back, but only a "menu" key, which doesn't bring you back in hierarchy, but rather to the main menu. For instance when you've navigated a few levels down the "Favourites" menu. Should be thought through.

- You can now instantly write Feedback to Nokia. However, it's limited to a few characters. Since I sort of wanted to include this whole blog post, that was a bummer to find out about.

- Maps and voices can be pre-loaded. However, if you use any of the extra content, such as the lonely planet, you're still depending on an internet connection. Which is not so nice since roaming costs are still sky-high.

- For the extra content, I get a slightly annoying website-in-an-app-feeling. Which means, some screen flickering and slower loading times in for instance the weather item, because graphics are being downloaded. Instead, all info should come in plaintext XML and the formatting should be done by the phone with pre-loaded graphics. This also means that when you go to search, you're first waiting for the search page to load before you actually can search.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Nokia 5800 Firmware v40

Kinetic scrolling! Qwerty auto-rotation! Performance boosts! New home screen!

Finally, firmware version 40 arrived for the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. And there's a good reason to dig up the good old annoyances and bugs list and give it an overhaul. Do check it out :)

The following is a short review of added/fixed functionality on the Nokia 5800 as well as some things that Nokia managed to fuck up with the new firmware.

Kinetic scrolling. Without doubt the most anticipated feature on the 5800, which only had a tiny scroll bar that was hardly usable because of the phone's edges.
* The good? It's fast, and it works virtually everywhere, even in the soft key menus.
* The bad? It doesn't work in the main (Symbian) or applications menu, or in notifications with scroll bars. I don't understand why though. It also breaks some applications that don't expect their content to scroll.
* The ugly? Well, they left the old scroll bar in, needlessly taking up space, which could be better used for check boxes, for more efficient selecting/marking of multiple items in a list. Now, you still need to use the menu. Also, it works in many cases where no scrolling is needed (because every item is visible, e.g. where you select the items you wish to see on the home screen).

New 5530-style home screen. Also something many people were dying for. Especially the ones that actually use their phone to call and text and check up on their friends. I'm not that kind of person :) I personally lament the bad and the ugly as described below, and stick to the shortcut view (even though only four shortcuts are available).
* The good? Now you can control your music from the home screen _and_ see your contacts _and_ have more than four (scroll horizontally) _and_ still have shortcuts to your favourite apps.
* The bad? The "contact screen" has no calendar view. But I guess it's either time management or friends, right? Still only four possibly shortcuts to apps. The music widget crashes easily (if you press forward when only playing one song, for instance).
* The ugly? The contact and music widgets appear on an ugly grey background (should be transparent) and the contacts font is jagged. On the bottom of the screen, two soft key-style buttons appear for contacts and the dialler. But they also look plain ugly and break the phone's style. Solution? Get a non-default theme. For instance on this dailymobile thread.

Keyboard rotation. Whenever you turn the phone in landscape mode, you will switch to full qwerty/azerty/qwertz/whatever-layout. Back in portrait mode, the T9-style keyboard will be available. Sheer logic, but it took Nokia over a year to implement.
* The good? It's fast, intuitive and works flawlessly.
* The bad or ugly? None. Although I can still moan about some more general issues with text input on the Nokia 5800.

New Real Player version. They do not mention what actually changed in this Real Player version, but I noticed a few things: The screen does no longer go black when you're streaming audio and lock the phone. It used to make the controls unavailable (the only way to summon them back, was to use the remote control).
* The good? Probably bug and stability fixes.
* The bad? It's still shit. Pauses streaming audio when no longer foregrounded (and there's no decent alternative to listen to audio streams like internet radio). No equaliser, or any of the functionality the music player offers.
* The ugly? Should be integrated in one media player, really.

New alarm and incoming call screens when the screen is locked. When your phone is on standby, it will now display a gorgeous screen when the alarm is triggered or when you have a call. It neatly states what's going on and gives two options: For alarm: snooze (slide to the left) or stop alarm (slide to the right), for incoming calls: answer (slide to the left) or unlock the phone to do something else (slide to the right).
* The good? No more accidental muting alarms/picking up calls with your thigh when the phone is in your pocket. The sliding works very well, too. And it looks very slick!
* The ugly? Style-break with the rest of the phone. As in: the rest of the phone should look like this.

New Upgrade SW application. The "Update applications" apps has been renamed, got a few buttons extra and looks slightly slicker.
* The good? Well. Nothing big really. I guess it's slightly more user-friendly.
* The bad? Still no manual update of the repositories possible. It updates only once every 24 hours, no matter how often you start and shut down the application.

Other features. Nokia obviously tweaked around a bit with other stuff. Most of it will go undiscovered because they're changes under the hood. Whatever I find, I will list here.
* Ovi Contacts pre-installed. I personally don't care too much for this, but if it does not hit performance, why not.
* Faster. Yes, again the phone seems to be faster and more responsive.
* Better touch screen sensitivity. This may be imaginary.
* More stable. This I've just read somewhere. I guess that with better memory usage (probably tweaks for better responsiveness), less crashes occur. Although the Ovi store already crashed on me in the first 2 minutes.
* Switch Phone is now under settings. True, it was a bit hard to find.
* Some new icons here and there. Waste of time.
* When typing full-size qwerty, the pop-up letters indicating which character you hit, have become slightly bigger. Waw.
* The "system tray" (right upper corner) menu now highlights where you tap. Still looks a bit silly with those red underlined links to for instance bluetooth or wifi connection. There's no need to use hyperlink-style buttons here.
* Download! application made way for the Ovi store. Ovi Store integration is still sad though: From the Symbian menu, there is still the soft menu option to "Download applications" which takes you to the bookmark section of the web browser, which has a bookmark to "download applications", which then sends you to the web version of Ovi Store, which then opens the Ovi Store app (which really is a web app). Go figure.

Overall impression of this firmware update? I never thought using the good, the bad and the ugly could be such a help in describing both functionality and usability problems with hardware. :) So with the help of this trinity, I present my final impression:
* The good? A lot of usable improvements made working with this phone easier, faster and more fun and give it a chance of surviving another year in smartphone land. Furthermore, Nokia is showing its customers that it cares, which most definitely is a good way to bind customers to your company.
* The bad? Some things feel like they're never going to change. Every time a firmware update is done, I need to hard reset the phone (several times even) because one feature or the other will have magically disappeared. This time, I haven't managed to get my e-mail widget back on the shortcuts home screen. And I'm not alone. Still no internet radio player (how long can it take them to convert the s60v3 one to touch?)
* The ugly? Actually, this is a bad too, but it dwells in the realms of usability and style. I feel like a guinea pig. Every firmware update for this phone works as a test case for one new feature or the other, seeing how people will receive this or that. But it is never consistently implemented (neither looks nor functionality) and it never gives us what we all want (even though a loud opinion exists on blogs and sites all over the net). Secondly but relatedly, the phone feels pieced together but lacks an overall usable interface still.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Use your phone flash as a flashlight

Again, some updates to the 5800 annoyances and bugs list.

Just when I was thinking "hey, this bright LED flash could surely function as a flashlight... Perhaps I should take up programming for Symbian and develop a programme which does just that!", someone came up with that very idea. No programming for me then, but all the more fun lighting dark spaces - including the ones in my head!

Phone Torch has been around a bit, but lately they released their version for Symbian 5th edition. Launching the programme, you are greeted with a screenwide Start/Stop button which -albeit with a second's delay- activates the flashlight and blinds your enemies/fills your room with pleasant LED light.

Lately, the developer has been tweaking his Torch app a bit, fixing a few bugs and adding a few functions, such as morse code, switching between the red and white light and allowing to light up when the application starts. All in all a great program to have. I even gave it an expensive place in my four-icon shortcut list!